Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for the ‘james stewart’ Category

For some reason, Hollywood keeps remaking classic movies. This summer they’re releasing a new version of the 1939 MGM classic, The Women. And back in 2004, Hollywood saw fit to remake Robert Aldrich’s 1965 masterpiece, The Flight of the Phoenix.

phoenixtitlecard.jpg

The premise is simple: A plane filled with passengers from different walks of life, crashes in the Sahara. After a few deaths and no rescue attempts, the remaining survivors attempt to rebuild the plane from the wreckage and fly themselves to safety.

I saw the original version last year on the Fox Movie Channel and I expected a good movie–what I got instead was a great movie, filled with interesting characters and a plot twist near the end that will either make you laugh or gasp in horror. For weeks after my initial viewing, I became obsessed with this movie. I must have watched it six times in two weeks. I just couldn’t stop. I loved the characters, their problems and the way they banded together despite some serious personality clashes. The story unfolds beautifully, leading to an ending that you won’t forget. Some people say The Flight of the Phoenix is a bit too long, but I don’t know what you could cut out to make it shorter. All the parts are important.

The majority of the film is mostly dialogue-based and while you might expect a movie of that nature that to be boring, it’s not. It’s exciting because of the top notch performances put in by Jimmy Stewart, Hardy Kruger, Peter Finch, Ernest Borgnine and Ian Bannen. My personal favorite of the bunch is Dan Duryea, who portrays a meek, religious businessman (a far cry from his villainous days opposite Stewart in many Anthony Mann westerns). This film was also my introduction to Richard Attenborough, an actor I’ve really come to enjoy over the past year of my ravenous movie consumption. And as always, Aldrich keeps the energy of the film afloat with many different subplots that focus on the personalities of each character. I love Robert Aldrich. Very rarely am I ever disappointed with one of his movies.

Director Robert Aldrich felt that rehearsals were an important process for his movies. In this behind-the-scenes picture, Aldrich stands in the center while the entire cast takes their spots in an outline of the doomed plane. His son, Bill, is seated at the top left.*

Sadly, stunt pilot Paul Mantz lost his life during the filming of this movie and if that weren’t disheartening enough, The Flight of the Phoenix bombed at the box office when it was released in December of 1965. In a 1974 interview, Aldrich lamented about it’s misfortune: “There are failures you never think are right or justifiable or understandable. For example I put Too Late the Hero, Flight of the Phoenix, and The Grissom Gang in a category that says these are all fine movies, very well made. People understood what they were about, what they aimed to say. They were entertaining and exciting and should have been a success. That they weren’t means that something else was wrong besides the way the picture was made. Maybe in another five years Phoenix will break even. I think it deserved to do infinitely better than it did.”**

I saw the 2004 remake a few weeks ago and was disheartened by how it lacked in comparison. There are (of course) CGI effects for the plane crash and the PC casting adds a woman to the crew. There’s a “music video” sequence to Outkast’s “Hey Ya” and somehow, the crew has working power tools in the middle of a desert. But mainly Dennis Quaid is no Jimmy Stewart. The one reason why I loved the original Phoenix so much was because Stewart wasn’t a very likable guy. In fact, his Captain Frank Towns is a stubborn jerk whose old methods are being replaced by modern ones and I liked that, mainly because Stewart is always the hero. I love when actors are cast against type because they’re fun to watch. Aldrich had plans to use him and John Wayne in a comedy called …All The Way to the Bank***, but that fell through when Phoenix bombed and Aldrich went on to making The Dirty Dozen instead. A good twist of fate!

One of the highlights (in a film of many highlights) is during the scene where everyone is stuck inside the plane during a sandstorm and Trucker Cobb (Ernest Borgnine) is playing around with his radio. And as he fiddles with the knobs, a faint love song comes across the airwaves. The injured Gabriel (Gabriele Tinti) hears it and perks up; he’s desperately missing his sick wife. With a bit of prodding from Towns, Cobb begrudgingly hands the radio over to Gabriel, but smiles as soon as he sees how much happiness it brings to him. See the You Tube Clip here.

Connie Francis

The ballad in question is called “Senza Fine.” It’s sung by perky 60’s singer and actress Connie Francis and it has an absolutely gorgeous and haunting melody. The snippet used in the movie doesn’t do the song justice. While she’s best known for songs like “Who’s Sorry Now” and “Where the Boys Are”, “Senza Fine” is one of those lost treasures that seem to be forgotten by record companies today. A search on Amazon brings up only one item, an out-of-print cd that includes the soundtrack to both Phoenix and Patton (one copy is selling for almost $160!).

This site discusses it a bit:

“The English version of the LP “Movie Greats” has the song Senza Fine (means Without End) from the movie Flight of the Phoenix. Senza Fine was only done in two versions that is known. There is a single version which is a beautiful release from England on a single and also released on CD there a few years ago. The other is on the LP “Movie Greats of the 60s.” Connie did one whole version in English and one in Italian and they spliced in and out different versions.”

I found my copy through a file sharing service. This is the version that combines both the Italian and English verses and it has a running time of 3:12 (the version on the Patton soundtrack runs at 2:14 seconds). It took me a long time to find, but when I did, I was beyond thrilled. It’s a gorgeous song, one of my favorites and I hope you enjoy it as much as I did when I first heard it:

Download MP3: “Senza Fine (Love Song From The Flight of the Phoenix)” – Connie Francis

Do not direct-link download. Page will open in another window and follow the link from there.

* The picture is scanned in from the book, What Ever Happened to Robert Aldrich: His Life and His Films by Alan Silver and James Ursini. Much of this information comes from this book as well. It’s a great read.

** From the book, Robert Aldrich Interviews edited by Eugene L. Miller Jr. and Edwin T. Arnold.

*** …All The Way to the Bank centered around “two retired safecrackers who steal money from a mob boss’s safe deposit box to benefit an old folks home.” Aldrich attempted to sell this project to 20th Century Fox, but fell through when he decided to make The Dirty Dozen instead.

Advertisements

Read Full Post »

While the rest of the world is asleep, I’m usually awake. I’ve been an insomniac since I was a child and it’s a habit I haven’t been able to shake. I’ve tried forcing myself to an early bedtime, but I wind up waking up halfway through the night and gravitate towards the television or computer (or sometimes I use the computer while leaving the tv on for background noise). And while I pay for it the next day, I find that massive amounts of coffee and a good healthy dose of Touche Eclat smeared under the eyes helps me become a somewhat fully functioning member of society.

During my insomniac hours, I usually surf through Amazon in search of classic dvds. Currently, they’re having a huge 50% off sale on Westerns, so I wound up grabbing the following titles:

Yellow Sky (1948) – directed by William Wellman, starring Gregory Peck, Anne Baxter and Richard Widmark

Lust For Gold (1949) – with Ida Lupino, Glenn Ford and Gig Young (one of my faves)

Broken Arrow (1950) – with James Stewart and Jeff Chandler

Duck, You Sucker (Special Edition-1971) – with James Coburn and Rod Steiger. I mainly got this one because I loved Once Upon a Time in the West and the title is pretty awesome. The only other spaghetti western with such an awesome title is God Forgives, I Don’t.

I can’t resist a good bargain. In addition to that, I also grabbed two of the Fox Film Noir titles, Fallen Angel (1945) and The House on Telegraph Hill (1951). I’m a bit wary of Fallen Angel because it’s directed by Otto Preminger and besides Laura, I’m not a huge fan of the man’s work. He just doesn’t do anything for me. I get to the end of one of his movies and go, “That’s it?” It’s like a big build up for nothing. However, Laura is a pretty awesome movie thanks to the performances by Dana Andrews, Gene Tierney, Clifton Webb and Vincent Price, so I’m willing to give another Preminger-directed Noir a chance. However, Skidoo (1968) will not be re-playing in my house–unless TCM would show a letterboxed version of it. I’m a glutton for punishment, but not for Carol Channing in a see-through bra.

I swear, nothing makes my day like checking my email and seeing the subject line “Your Order Has Shipped” sitting in my inbox. I should be getting them any day now and nothing makes me happier than building my dvd collection. Please don’t mention Netflix–it’s a long story which will either frighten you or bore you.

In other news, the Fox Movie Channel is showing 1937’s This is My Affair which features the pairing of Robert Taylor and Barbara Stanwyck before they were hitched. If you don’t happen to catch it, the FMC website says it’s going to be repeated on March 8th and 18th at 6:00 am.

If you’re into Jimmy Stewart movies (and expect to see plenty of his movies in May, since it’s going to be his hundreth birthday), FMC is also showing three of the five collaborations between James Stewart and director Henry Koster: Take Her, She’s Mine (1963), Dear Brigitte (1965) and No Highway in the Sky (1951), which features a reteaming with Marlene Dietrich. He plays a character that is really socially inept, yet brilliant–it’s almost as though he has Asperger’s Syndrome (but really, no one even knew about that yet). It’s a bit strange–the plot doesn’t work out to what I thought it would be (a disaster movie), but it’s decent. I have yet to see Dear Brigitte, but I expect it to be something like the lukewarm Take Her, She’s Mine. Midly funny in spots, but really forgettable once you’ve seen some of his other, better films.

Read Full Post »

Oscar month on TCM is always a source of debate for devoted followers of the channel since Oscar month = More modern movies = More complaints. However, compared to years past, I think this years lineup is pretty damned good. The daytime hours consists of movies grouped together by theme, while the nighttime movies are lumped together by decade. It should also be of note that a good chunk of the movies shown during February may fall under the category of “One Time Leases”, which is great because they’re shown in the letterbox format instead of pan-and-scanned. Another site I read, Popdose, has five of their own selections. But here are mine:

Tuesday Feb. 19
9:30 pmDuel in the Sun (1946) – Selznick’s answer to Gone With the Wind, Western-style. Upon it’s release, it was deemed “racy”–no doubt in part to Jennifer Jones and Gregory Peck’s lusty, outlaw romance. There are some unintentional moments of hilarity thrown in for good measure. I won’t spoil it for you, but wait for the scene with Lionel Barrymore and Lililan Gish that comes nears the end of the movie. It’s tragically hilarious.

Thursday Feb. 21
5:45 pmKing Rat (1965)
I have never seen King Rat, so I’m hoping it’s good. However, I tend to enjoy war movies. This synopsis from the TCM guide: A U.S. officer in a World War II Japanese POW camp tries to raise money to buy his fellow prisoners’ freedom. I have high hopes for this one.

8:00 pmThe Dirty Dozen (1967)
10:45 pmThe Great Escape (1963)
The Dirty Dozen is one of my favorite movies of all time. I’m so thrilled to see it back on TCM, since it’s been on AMC for the last few months (which means no letterboxing and tons of commercials. UGH). I always take offense at the idea that this is just a movie for men. Pshaw. It’s funny, it’s action filled and it’s got great character development. What more could you want? The Dirty Dozen is a masterpiece. It’s funny and smart with a kick ass performance by Lee Marvin and directed by one of my favorites, Robert Aldrich.

Everyone knows what The Great Escape is about. The Simpsons spoofed it in the episode “A Streetcar Named Marge” (Two classic movie references for the price one, three if you include the Hitchcock “cameo” as well). But for me, the standout performance comes from Charles Bronson, “The Tunnel King”.

Saturday Feb. 23
5:45 amSummer Wishes, Winter Dreams (1973)
Another movie I haven’t seen, but has been VERY high on my must-see list. IT features the greatly underrated Joanne Woodward as a wife who goes through a midlife crisis and the even more underrated Martin Balsam as her husband. I’ve been dying to see this one. I’m hoping it doesn’t get taken off the schedule at the last minute.

7:30 am – 8:00 pm: Hitchcock movies all day long.
The majority have been off TCM for the past two years, but now a good portion of Alfred Hitchcock’s movies are back (they were last on in October 2005 when TCM devoted an entire week to his movies). The marathon kicks off with my personal Hitchcock favorite, Shadow of a Doubt (1943) with Joseph Cotten (love!) and Teresa Wright, and then is followed by Notorious at 9:30 am, The Man Who Knew Too Much at 11:15 am (it’s the 1956 version with James Stewart and Doris Day), North by Northwest at 1:30 pm (a TCM owned network staple), Psycho at 4:00 pm and finishing off with The Birds at 6:00 pm. Fantastic!

Sunday Feb 24.
5:45 pmAnnie (1982)
I needed to include this since Annie was a huge part of my childhood. I can’t tell you how many times I saw this when I was a child, but I remember loving it. I’ll be seeing this for the first time in about 20 years, so I can’t wait to see what I think of it now. I thought Carol Burnett’s character was funny, not a lush. See how innocent I used to be?

And veering off the TCM topic: today would have been Arthur Kennedy’s 94th birthday. Those of you who know me (even just slightly) know how much I love him. It’s a safe bet to say that he’s my favorite actor, even though he did mostly character work with one or two turns as a leading man. Still, it’s kind of disappointing to any classic movie fan who’s b-day falls in the months of February or August (Summer Under the Stars), since you know they won’t be getting a day long TCM birthday salute. And of course, Arthur Kennedy falls in that category.

One of my favorite Kennedy movies is Bend of the River (1952)–which also happens to be my favorite Stewart/Mann western. It’s the first one I saw and you always remember your first. One of my favorite scenes comes right after the start of the bar brawl, where Rock Hudson, Kennedy and Stewart start slowly backing out of the bar…

bendoftheriver.jpg

It’s just a great scene. And according to his biography, Arthur Kennedy: Man of Characters, it was one of his favorite movies as well. I have to admit one of my other favorite scenes comes right after Julie Adams tries to pull a gun on him and Kennedy says with a twisted, mischievous grin, “I like a woman who’s not afraid to kill”. This–I have to say–is kinda hot.

Oh stop looking at me like that.

Anyway, Happy Birthday to one of the greatest, 5 time Oscar nominated character actors to ever grace the silver screen.

Read Full Post »