Happy Birthday Shemp Howard: BRIDELESS GROOM (Columbia short 1947)


cracked rear viewer

shemp3

The very funny Shemp Howard was born Samuel Horwitz on March 11, 1895. He got the moniker Shemp because his immigrant mother had trouble pronouncing his first name. Shemp and his younger brother Moe formed a vaudeville act and toured the circuit, until being discovered by Ted Healy. Healy incorporated the two into his act and, together with Larry Fine, made them his “stooges”. They worked together until Shemp left Healy in 1932, replaced by his youngest brother Curly. Eventually Moe, Larry, and Curly struck out on their own, and became The Three Stooges.

shemp1

Meanwhile, Shemp began appearing in Vitaphone short subjects. He was given the role of Knobby Walsh in the “Joe Palooka” series, and his comic improvising soon became the focal point of the shorts. Shemp graduated to comic relief in mainstream films, and comedy stars like W.C. Fields ( THE BANK DICK ) and Abbott & Costello ( BUCK PRIVATES

View original post 92 more words

In Memory of Keith Emerson


Tarkus

When I was growing up, I used to watch my Dad and his band rehearse in our den.  Hanging on the wall, directly behind the dummer, was a poster of a strange armadillo that was also a tank.  I later found out that the armadillo was named Tarkus and he was the star of his very own album by a group called Emerson, Lake, and Palmer.

I just heard the very sad news that the Emerson in Emerson, Lake, and Palmer, the legendary Keith Emerson, died yesterday.  He was 71 years old.

Whether it was as a member of the Nice, ELP, the Best, or the Keith Emerson Band or as a solo soundtrack artist, Keith Emerson is one of the men who made synthesizers cool.  After starting out playing a Hammond organ, Emerson soon discovered and popularized the Moog synthesizer.  In doing so, he changed music forever.

Rest in peace, Maestro Emerson and thank you for the music.

The one, the only Keith Emerson

The one, the only Keith Emerson

 

 

Cleaning Out The DVR #14: The Letter (dir by William Wyler)


The_Letter_poster

After watching Break-Up Nightmare, I watched one more film that was sitting on my DVR.  That film was 1940’s The Letter.  I had recorded it off of TCM and, up until last night, I had never seen it before.  I’m happy to say that I’ve seen it now because it’s a great movie, featuring a fascinating mystery, feverish atmosphere, excellent supporting performances, and a ferociously brilliant performance from the great Bette Davis.

Filmed in a dream-like noir style by William Wyler, The Letter opens on a rubber plantation in Malaysia.  It’s night and the camera pans over the native workers all trying to sleep through the hot night.  Eventually, the camera reaches the big house, where the plantation’s wealthy and, of course, white manager lives.  (The contrast between the wealthy Europeans interlopers and the natives who work for them is a reoccurring theme throughout The Letter.)  A gunshot rings out.  A man stumbles out of the house.  Following after him is Leslie Crosbie (Bette Davis).  She is carrying a gun and, as we watch, she shoots the man a few more times.  She shoots him until she’s sure that he’s dead.

Leslie is the wife of Robert Crosbie (Herbert Marshall, who also played Davis’s husband in The Little Foxes) and the man that she just killed is Geoff Hammond, a respected member of Malaysia’s European community.  When the police arrive, Leslie explains that Hammond “tried to make love to me” and that she was forced to kill him in self-defense.  Leslie is arrested for the crime and will have to face trial but everyone knows that she will be acquitted.  After all, Leslie and her husband are members are well-connected members of the upper, European class.

However, Leslie’s lawyer, Herbert Joyce (James Stephenson), has doubts about Leslie’s story.  He points out that she sounds just a little too rehearsed.  His suspicions are confirmed when his clerk, Ong Chi Seng (Sen Yung), tells him about the existence of a letter that Leslie wrote on the day that Hammond was killed.  In the letter, Leslie orders Hammond to come see her and threatens to reveal the details of their relationship if he doesn’t.  Ong explains that he only has a copy of the letter.  The original is in the hands of Hammond’s widow (Gale Sondergaard) and she’s willing to sell the letter for a substantial price.

Not surprisingly The Letter is dominated by Bette Davis but, for me, the most memorable character is the outwardly obsequies but inwardly calculating Ong Chi Seng.  Sen Yung plays him with such a polite manner and a gentle voice that it’s actually incredibly shocking when he reveals his true nature.  And yet, even after he’s been exposed as a potential blackmailer, his manner never changes.  Meanwhile, Gale Sondergaard only appears in a handful of scenes but she steals every one of them with her steely glare.

In order to get the letter away from Ong and Mrs. Hammond, Leslie and Joyce have to convince Robert to give them the money without allowing him to learn the letter’s content.  But, what neither one of them realizes, is that Mrs. Hammond has plans that go beyond mere blackmail.

The Letter is an atmospheric melodrama that plays out almost like a fever dream and it also features one of Davis’s best performances.  It was nominated for best picture but it lost to another atmospheric melodrama, Alfred Hitchcock’s Rebecca.

Cleaning Out The DVR #13: Break-Up Nightmare (dir by Mark Quod)


breakupp-900x440

After I tried to watch Bad Sister, the next film on my DVR was Break-Up Nightmare, a film which premiered on Lifetime on March 6th.

Break-Up Nightmare is a film from The Asylum, the same wonderful people who have given us the Sharknado films, Wuthering High School, and Santa Claws.  As I’ve made clear on this site, I absolutely love Asylum films.  Though their films may be low-budget, they’re often more entertaining than the big budget epics that are released by the major studios.  Full of inside jokes and deliberately over-the-top storylines, Asylum films are the perfect party movies.  These are movies that demand to be seen with a group of your closest and snarkiest friends.  Needless to say, when Break-Up Nightmare opened with that “The Asylum presents…” credit, I was excited.

Break-Up Nightmare is actually a little bit more serious than your typical Asylum film but then again, it’s not about flying sharks or talking kittens.  Instead, Break-Up Nightmare deals with a serious subject.  Or, I should say, at the least first 45 minutes deal with a serious subject.

Recent high school graduate Rachel (Celesta DeAstis) is taking a year off before going to college, mostly so she can work and actually be able to afford to go to the best music school possible.  Her jerky jock boyfriend, Troy (Mark Grossman), has received a football scholarship and will be leaving in the fall.  However, before Mark leaves, he convinces Rachel to pose for some pictures (yep, those type of pictures) so he won’t forget her while he’s away.  Rachel later asks him to delete the pictures but soon discovers that Troy didn’t do so.  She also discovers that Troy has been getting texts from another girl and she dumps him.  When Troy starts to get belligerent, Rachel’s mother — Barbara (Jennifer Dorogi) — kicks him out of the house.

Free of Troy, Rachel looks forward to getting on with her life.  Except, of course, people are looking at her strangely.  At work, scummy frat boys show up and ask her provocative questions.  At the movies, a creepy middle-aged man sits down behind her and asks, “How’s it going?”  Finally, Rachel’s best friend, Ryan (Freeman Lyon), shows her a revenge porn site called LifeRuinerz.com.  On the site, Rachel sees the pictures that Troy took of her.

Rachel’s life starts to spiral out of control as, apparently, everyone in the world has either seen the picture or heard about them.  When she goes to the police, she’s told that the cops are busy solving real crimes and don’t have time to help someone who voluntarily posed for smutty pictures.  At church, the sermon is about the dangers of lust and a judgmental old woman glares at Rachel and tells her that she should dress more modestly.  (Been there.)  Someone breaks into the house and spray paints “Whore” on the garage door.  When Barbara demands that the site remove her daughter’s pictures, she soon finds that her face has been photoshopped into a pornographic image and she loses her teaching job.

And, through it all, Troy continues to deny having put the pictures on the site.  It’s easy to suspect Troy because he’s such a jerk but then suddenly, he’s arrested on child pornography charges.  Rachel only has to look at one picture to realize that, just as happened to Barbara, Troy’s face has been photoshopped onto someone else.  But if Troy isn’t the one responsible, who is?

Meanwhile, pervs across the world are sitting in front of their laptops and watching Barbara undress, the result of a hidden webcam that someone has placed in the house…

So, Break-Up Nightmare starts out as a fairly serious look at revenge porn and it actually makes a lot of important points, the big one being that the whole “pay us and we’ll remove your picture” thing is a scam.  There were certain parts of Break-Up Nightmare that hit close to home and made me cringe because, quite frankly, we’ve all been there and we’ve all done things without considering the consequences.  But, of course, this is an Asylum Film and, once the important lessons have been taught, the film goes totally batshit crazy in that way that we all love.  Suddenly, the film isn’t just about revenge porn.  It’s about a diabolical stalker who has come up with a needlessly complicated scheme to accomplish a single goal.

And you know what?

We wouldn’t expect or want anything less from either The Asylum or Lifetime.  All you people who complain about plausibility or plot holes, you can go watch another network and think about how you’ve got it all figure out.  It’s the implausible melodrama that makes a movie like Break-Up Nightmare fun.

That said, the main reason I liked Break-Up Nightmare was because of the very realistic and truthful depiction of the loving, protective, and occasionally testy relationship between Barbara and Rachel.  Jennifer Dorogi and Celesta DeAstis were totally believable as mother and daughter.  Barbara may have been overprotective but she was also not going to let anyone get away with hurting her daughter.  Barbara basically spent the entire movie kicking ass and it was a lot of fun to watch.

Go Barbara!

Go Asylum!

Go Break-up Nightmare.

Cleaning Out The DVR #12: Bad Sister (dir by Doug Campbell)


bad-sister-9

Last night, after I finished with Going My Way, I decided to stick with the Catholic theme by rewatching Bad Sister.  Bad Sister aired on Lifetime on January 3rd.  Having seen several wonderfully sordid commercials, I watched it and I loved every minute of it.  I was really looking forward to watching it again but apparently, there was some sort of screw-up with my usually ultra-dependable DVR.  It only recorded bits and pieces of Bad Sister.

I was so disappointed!  Fortunately, however, I still remember Bad Sister well enough to review it.  For instance, who could forget this scene?

Okay, technically, that was a scene from the episode of King of the Hill where Peggy pretends to be a nun so she can get a job teaching at a Catholic school.  (“Sister Peggy, will my cat go to heaven?”  “Well, I’ve heard that all dogs go to Heaven so I’m pretty sure that cats do not.”)  For whatever reason, I couldn’t find any Bad Sister clips on YouTube but really, the movie has pretty much the same plot.  It’s just, in the case of the movie, the fake nun is also a sociopath who starts to obsess on one of her students.

From the minute Sister Sophia (Alyshia Osche) shows up at her new job as a teacher at a Catholic boarding school, it’s obvious that she’s not like the other nuns.  For one thing, she’s awfully enthusiastic about her students, especially the male ones.  Plus, there’s not many nuns who specifically make it a point to strip down to sexy red lingerie while being watched by a teenage boy.  Even beyond that, Sophia refuses to take part in Morning Prayer and she doesn’t seem to know much about … well, anything Catholic.  Is Sister Sophia just young and naive or is it possible that she’s actually an escaped mental patient named Laura?  And could it be that, perhaps at the start of the movie, Laura murdered the real Sister Sophia and stole her identity?

Well, this is a Lifetime movie so, of course, that’s exactly what happened!

As a result of seeing him sing on YouTube, Sister Sophia is obsessed with Jason (Devon Werkheiser, the star of Ned’s Declassified School Survival Guide, all grown up).  Jason’s a student who dreams of being the next Justin Bieber.  However, to get to Jason, Sister Sophia has to deal with not only Jason’s girlfriend (Sloane Avery) but also Jason’s suspicious sister, Zoe (Ryan Newman).  And, of course, there’s Sister Rebecca (Helen Eigenberg), another nun who is starting to suspect that Sophia might not be who she says she is…

Bad Sister was a totally over-the-top masterpiece of Lifetime moviemaking.  Director Doug Campbell is one of my favorite Lifetime directors and he doesn’t disappoint with Bad Sister, playing up the sordid melodrama while, at the same time, never making the mistake of taking this story too seriously.  Alyshia Osche was brilliant as Sister Sophia.  One of the most entertaining parts of the film was watching her switch back and forth from being the enthusiastic Sister Sophia and the perpetually annoyed Laura.  (Just watch the scene where she goes through the real Sister Sophia’s stuff and discovers the boring, dowdy underwear that she’s expected to wear.  The look of total and thorough annoyance that flashes across her face is absolutely brilliant acting on Osche’s part and, within seconds, totally and completely defines the character of Laura/Sister Sophia.)

Bad Sister was the first great Lifetime film of 2016!  Keep an eye out for it.

(I should add that you probably don’t have to come from a Catholic background to enjoy Bad Sister.  But it definitely helps!)

Cleaning Out The DVR #11: Going My Way (dir by Leo McCarey)


GoingmywayBing

Last night, continuing my effort to watch 38 movies in 10 days (and, for the record, I have 7 days left as of today), I watched the 1944 musical-comedy-drama Going My Way.

Going My Way tells the episodic story of Father Chuck O’Malley (Bing Crosby), a priest from St. Louis who is assigned to take charge of a struggling parish in New York City.  O’Malley is meant to replace Father Fitzgibbon (Barry Fitzgerald), a stubbornly old-fashioned priest who is struggling to keep up with a changing world.  Though O’Malley is to take charge of the parish’s affairs, Fitzgibbon is to remain the pastor.  However, the compassionate O’Malley doesn’t tell Fitzgibbon about the arrangement and allows Fitzgibbon to believe that O’Malley is only meant to be his assistant.

It’s obvious from the start that Fitzgibbon and O’Malley have differing approaches.  Fitzgibbon is a traditionalist.  O’Malley, on the other hand, is a priest who sings.  He’s a priest who understands that the best way to prevent the local teens from forming a street gang is to convince them to start a choir instead.  When it appears that 18 year-old Carol (Jean Heather) is “living in sin,” it is the nonjudgmental O’Malley who convinces her to marry her boyfriend.

And, slowly but surely, Fitzgibbon and O’Malley start to appreciate each other.  O’Malley is even able to convince Fitzgibbon to play a round of golf with him, while Fitzgibbon tells O’Malley about his love for his mother in Ireland.

What’s interesting is that we learn very little about O’Malley’s past.  In many ways, he’s like a 1940s super hero or maybe a less violent and far more ethical version of one of Clint Eastwood’s western heroes.   He shows up suddenly, he fixes things, and then he moves on.  Instead of a cape or a poncho, he wears a collar.

(And, of course, he doesn’t kill anyone.  Actually, that’s probably a lousy analogy but I decided I’d give it a try anyway…)

At one point, O’Malley does run into an opera singer named  Genevieve Linden (Rise Stevens).  He and Genevieve (whose real name is Jenny) talk briefly about their past and it becomes obvious that they once had a romantic relationship.  We don’t learn the exact details but it does bring some unexpected melancholy to an otherwise cheerful film.  It reminds us of what O’Malley gave up to become a priest.

Fortunately, Genevieve is more than happy to help out with O’Malley’s choir, even arranging for them to meet with a record executive (William Frawley).  The executive doesn’t have much interest in religious music but then he hears Bing O’Malley sing Swinging On A Star.

It’s a bit strange to watch Going My Way today because it is a film that has not a hint of cynicism.  There’s no way that a contemporary, mainstream film would ever portray a priest as positively as Father O’Malley is portrayed in this film.  Indeed, it says something about the world that we live in that I instinctively cringed a little whenever O’Malley was working with the choir, largely because films like Doubt and Spotlight have encouraged me to view any film scene featuring a priest and an pre-teen boy with suspicion.  O’Malley is the ideal priest, the type of priest that those of us who were raised Catholic wish that we could have known when we were young and impressionable.  Bing Crosby does a pretty good job of playing him, too.  Watching Going My Way felt like stepping into a time machine and going to a simpler and more innocent time.

In the end, Going My Way is a slight but watchable film.  It doesn’t add up too much but, at the same time, it’s always likable.  Though the film may be about a priest, the emphasis is less on religion and more on kindness, charity, and community.  Going My Way was a huge success at the box office and even won the Oscar for best picture.

Personally, I would have given the Oscar to Double Indemnity but Going My Way is still a likable movie.

Speaking of likable, the Academy was so impressed with Barry Fitzgerald’s performance that they actually nominated it twice!  He got so many votes in both categories that Fitzgerald ended up nominated for both Best Actor and Best Supporting Actor.  Subsequently, the Academy changed the rules and decreed that a performance could only be nominated in one category.  As for Fitzgerald, he won the Oscar for best supporting actor.  He later broke the Oscar while practicing his golf swing.

Barry and Oscar

Barry and Oscar

(Don’t worry.  The Academy sent him a replacement.)