Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Starting Friday - Buster Keaton Weekend At Niles



The Niles Essanay Silent Film Museum tips the battered vintage porkpie hats to the great Buster Keaton all weekend.



Movie buffs in the San Francisco area, come meet Harry Keaton and enjoy Buster's best films. Some will be shown in glorious 35mm!

Saturday, March 18, 2017

From The Bandstand To Hollywood: Musicians In The Movies, Part 2


Part 1 of  From The Bandstand To Hollywood: Musicians In The Movies covered vocalists who doubled as character actors - Bing Crosby, Rudy Vallee, Mel Tormé among them. Also noted such entertainment icons as Louis armstrong and Harry Belafonte. Did not leave much for Part 2, but here goes - starting with a host of crooners who successfully made the jump to acting in Hollywood movies. Several who started in big bands would become the most iconic entertainment figures in the mid-20th century.

Dean Martin


Dino did not necessarily want anyone to think he was anything but the Glenlivet-sipping host of The Dean Martin Show and/or one-liner machine entertaining an SRO audience on such records as Dino In Vegas and in The Rat Pack, but he also possessed a conscientious side; Dean took his movie roles seriously, showed up on time, prepared and ready to roll. It's a good bet that Dino never admitted to having that side as long as he lived!

Especially in Some Came Running and Rio Bravo, he demonstrates undeniable character role mojo.




Bobby Darin
Bobby Darin, among the few to sing swingin' Rat Pack-Tony Bennett-Mel Tormé style standards, then shift gears, whip out an acoustic guitar and sing gospel and folk numbers (at one point, Bobby's accompanist was none other than guitarist Roger McGuinn, soon to form The Byrds and rule the L.A. rock scene), is a favorite here at Way Too Damn Lazy Too Write A Blog.



Bobby epitomized the concept of "all-around entertainer", as did his friend Sammy Davis Jr. Although character acting was not Darin's primary focus - delivering a show-stopping musical mix with a touch of comedy and celebrity impersonations for SRO audiences was - but he has his moments as a supporting player in several movies. Most notably, Bobby co-stars in Hell Is For Heroes with none other than macho screen icon (and big time jazz enthusiast) Steve McQueen.





Doris Day
Vocalist and silver screen star Doris Day, who began her career as the vocalist from Les Brown and His Band Of Reknown, remains to movies what Dionne Warwick is to 1960's pop records: both made it look easy.



For decades the Doris Day - Rock Hudson comedies were met with snickers and snark by the hipper than thou. Seen 50 years after packing the movie palaces and neighborhood theaters, surprise - these light romantic comedies strike this writer as surprisingly fun, nicely done and entertaining, to no small degree because of the deft work of the two stars and, in key supporting roles, Comic Character Actor Hall Of Fame first ballot selection Tony Randall. It should not be a surprise, given Day's abilities as an entertainer and how Hudson co-starred with heavy hitters James Dean and Elizabeth Taylor in Giant without getting overpowered or defined as a pretty boy lightweight.



Formulaic? Sure. Hollywood entertainment? Of course. That said, seeing how skillfully the cast handles the character relationships and farcical situations, the reaction is, "damn, they're good!"



Essential to Day's success as a star of movie musicals is her ability to not just belt out those songs but get into character. In Calamity Jane, she is not a singer-movie star cast in a role but essentially portraying herself. The key to the movie is that one believes she IS Calamity Jane.






Further demonstrating versatility: Miss Day's role as Ruth Etting - and co-starring with the great James Cagney - in the biopic Love Me Or Leave Me.





Whatever tumult was transpiring offscreen, in a wide range of movies, Doris Day, onscreen, exemplifies the line "nice and easy does it every time."

Dick Powell
Before Crosby, Sinatra and Doris Day starred in Hollywood movies, there was a crooner who became a headliner of movie musicals: Dick Powell. The Pittsburgh master of ceremonies and singer debuted in feature films in 1932, AFTER Bing and would, as part of a team with ever-spunky Ruby Keeler, headline musical after musical after musical for Warner Brothers, before his second career in hard-boiled film noir roles, and third career as a prolific director/producer in television.



Transitioning from chorus boy to hard-boiled gumshoe, Powell proved one of the stellar presences in film noir. He is believable, either as Philip Marlowe or the poor sap targeted by the femme fatale, in several unbeatable classic movies.






Frank Sinatra
The legend of Sinatra can overwhelm everything, including his work as a character actor. While he won the Oscar for Best Actor In A Supporting Role as Maggio in From Here To Eternity won an Oscar, there were many examples of stellar film acting from The Voice. One imagines that Sinatra, if he cared to talk about it, would insist that it was not a jump at all, that singing was the purest method acting a person could do; "you can't do the song justice, pally, without feeling what the lyrics mean and giving them your all.

The Man With The Golden Arm is fascinating. While Frank did not have issues with opiates, no doubt a good number of his friends, band mates and colleagues in the music world did, and having an idea of how they suffered very likely informed this part.





The Chairman Of The Board's musical bent meets the character acting impulse in Pal Joey. While it's a 1950's style musical in which Frank appears to be playing his "ring-a-ding-ding" self, there are moments when he gets into the part and the character evolves, slowly, from womanizing bastard to someone who might actually choose a partner and become emotionally involved with her. It is one of the better showbiz flicks, and it never hurts to have iconic stars Kim Novak and Rita Hayworth in the cast.



Sinatra's performance in Some Come Running, in an ensemble cast with Dean Martin and Shirley MacLaine, would be a standout.


Between tours, Frank would tackle the occasional character role thoughtfully and with the same conviction with which he sang, right up to his last appearance in the 1980 crime thriller The First Deadly Sin.

The trend of musicians transitioning into acting, prevalent in mid-20th century entertainment, would continue into the 1990's - not surprisingly, as vocalists/lyricists from hip-hop are actors and performance artists who would carry their success into movies and television - and, to a lesser degree, influence entertainment into the 21st century.

Thursday, March 09, 2017

Thanks, Robert Osborne and We'll Miss You!


In yet another sucker-punch to the forces of civility, Turner Classic Movies host Robert Osborne passed at 84 earlier this week.



Since, for this blogger and many more, classic movies rank very high among those brilliant yet remarkably reliable north stars to follow when those pesky pot holes, valleys and dilemmas of life (both unexpected and totally expected) rear their snarky little heads, seeing Robert Osborne on TCM was always most welcome.



Robert's mojo was straightforward: urbane, sophisticated, intelligent, charming, funny and well-spoken. The author of Academy Awards Illustrated and former columnist for The Hollywood Reporter also knew more about stage, screen, showbiz and the history of motion pictures than anyone! Madame Blogmeister and I were big fans of his weekly show The Essentials: Mr. Osborne's enthusiastic co-hosts included Alec Baldwin, Drew Barrymore and Sally Field.







Found the discussions before and after the movie on The Essentials to frequently be great television.





We especially loved Mr. Osborne's numerous informative and perceptive stories about great movies that played on TCM. Here's a preface and coda to Scarface, the hard-boiled 1932 Howard Hawks crime thriller starring Paul Muni - it is brilliant and the tidbits on product placement and the soon-to-be-enforced Production Code are fascinating.



It would be an understatement to say that Mr. Osborne possessed uncanny interviewing skills. Here he is, getting interviewed - and talking classic movies and theater - on Theater Talk.



There are some other very enjoyable interviews, such as Robert Osborne's appearance with avid classic movie buffs Gilbert Gottfried and Frank Santopadre on an outstanding episode of Gilbert Gottfried's Amazing Colossal Podcast.

This writer and equally avid classic movie buff did not get to meet him, but did see Robert introduce what turned out to be an amazing lecture by his fellow film historian Kevin Brownlow. Funny, I have an inkling that bringing up the subjects of recent posts at Way Too Damn Lazy To Write A Blog, very likely Robert would have immediately launched into GREAT stories about each and every of them.



R.I.P. and thanks, Robert - film buffs around the world are missing you big time! Turner Classic Movies will be presenting a tribute to Robert Osborne, featuring many exceptional interviews he conducted for the Private Screenings program, on March 18-19.

Saturday, March 04, 2017

And This Blog Loves V-Discs


Since 20th century music has clearly been the topic du jour at Way Too Damn Lazy To Write A Blog so far in 2017, Mr. Blogmeister has been, while watching YouTube clips in the process of researching posts, stumbling upon excellent Swing For Victory 1940's recordings, most waxed smack dab in the middle of the World War II-era recording ban.



While writing the January 7 post about the astonishingly talented pianist Hazel Scott, found just one of her many V-discs. Not surprisingly, Ms. Scott is outstanding!



Ms. Scott is followed here by power-packed percussionist "Big Sid" Catlett, known for his work driving the latter 1940's lineup of Louis Armstrong's All-Stars (from Satchmo At Symphony Hall and The Complete Town Hall Concert).



Now what were these V-discs, anyway? Records for the armed forces that to some degree circumvented the wartime recording ban and in many cases featuring two recording artists. They are chock full of top 1930's and 1940's big bands and jazz artists, such as Gene Krupa, Count Basie, The Don Redman Orchestra, Red Norvo and Mildred Bailey (a.k.a. "Mr. And Mrs. Swing"), and ace Benny Goodman Quartet pianist Teddy Wilson.







And John Kirby's Sextet AND Nat King Cole.



Could the following be the last recorded appearance of Thomas "Fats" Waller?



Guitar geeks will go gaga over the numerous Les Paul appearances on v-disc.









Here's a wonderfully schizoid record in which the King Sisters (who may or may not have been related to 1960's variety television's squeaky-clean King Family), offering a bit of 1940's style sibling harmony on "When The Swallows Go Back To Capistrano", are followed by none other than the soulful swing-to-bop saxophone genius Lester "Pres" Young, performing his signature tune, Lester Leaps In.



V-discs continued to be recorded and issued for a bit after World War II. One of this writer's favorites from all the v-discs is the Duke Ellington Orchestra's performance of Deep South Suite.



There is a YouTube channel that consists entirely of these V-discs and the sheer number of top performers from jazz and swing represented is impressive.