Lisa Marie Reviews An Oscar Nominee: In Old Arizona (dir by Raoul Walsh and Irving Cummings)


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Since the Oscars are approaching, I thought I would devote February to continuing my never-ending quest to watch and review every single film nominated for best picture!

With that in mind, I recently watched the 1928 film In Old Arizona.  In Old Arizona is a bit of an oddity in Oscar history.  Even though it is considered to have been a best picture nominee, it was never officially nominated.  In fact, in 1929, there were no official nominees.  Instead, the Academy simply announced the names of the winners.  The winners were selected by a small committee of judges.  The committee’s intentions are particularly obvious when you notice that not one film won more than one Oscar in 1929.  At a time when the industry was struggling to make the transition from silent film to the talkies, the 1929 Oscars were all about spreading the wealth and reassuring everyone that they were doing worthwhile work.  In Old Arizona‘s star, Warner Baxter, was named the year’s best actor while Broadway Melody was declared to have been the best picture.

(At that year’s Oscar ceremony, the second in the Academy’s history, the awards were reportedly handed out in 10 minutes and nobody gave an acceptance speech.  If this all seems strange when compared to the annual extravaganza that we all know and love, consider that Louis B. Mayer originally formed the Academy in order to give the studio bosses the upper hand in a labor dispute.  The awards were largely an afterthought.)

Years later, Oscar historians came across the notes of the committee’s meeting.  The notes listed every other film and performer that the committee considered.  Before settling on Broadway Melody, the committee apparently considered In Old Arizona.  For that reason, In Old Arizona is considered to have been nominated for best picture of the year.

If it seems like I’ve spent a bit more time than necessary discussing the history behind the 1929 Oscars, that’s because In Old Arizona isn’t that interesting of a film.  It was a huge box office success in 1929 and it was an undeniable influence on almost every Western that followed but seen today, it’s an extremely creaky film.  Influential or not, there’s not a scene, character, or performance in In Old Arizona that hasn’t been done better by another western.

Based on a story by O. Henry, In Old Arizona tells the story of a bandit named The Cisco Kid (Warner Baxter).  Cisco may be an outlaw but he’s also a nice guy who enjoys a good laugh and occasionally sings a song while riding his horse across the Arizona landscape.  (California and Utah stood in for Arizona.)  The Cisco Kid may rob stagecoaches but he always does it with a smile.  Besides, he only needs the money so that he can give gifts to his girlfriend, Tonia (Dorothy Burgess).  What the Cisco Kid doesn’t know is that Tonia is bored and frustrated by his frequent absences and she has been cheating on him.  Then she’s approached by Sgt. Mickey Dunn (Edmund Lowe), the big dumb lug who has been ordered to bring the Kid in (dead or alive, of course).  Will Tonia betrayed the Kid?

If you’re watching In Old Arizona and hoping to be entertained, you’ll probably be disappointed.  Almost everything about this film has aged terribly.  Watching the film, it’s obvious that none of the actors had quite figured out how to adapt to the sound era and, as such, all of the performances were very theatrical and overdone.  Probably the easiest to take is Edmund Lowe, who at least managed to deliver his lines without screeching.  Sadly, the same cannot be said of Dorothy Burgess.  As for Warner Baxter, he may have won an Oscar for playing the Cisco Kid but that doesn’t make his acting any easier to take.

And yet, if you’re a history nerd like me, In Old Arizona is worth watching because it really is a time capsule of the era in which it was made.  In Old Arizona was not only the first Western to ever receive an Oscar.  This was also the first all-talking, all-sound picture.  Watching it today, without that knowledge, you might be tempted to wonder why the film lingers so long over seemingly mundane details, like horses walking down a street, the ticking of a clock, a baby crying, or a church bell ringing.  But, if you know the film’s significance, it’s fun to try to put yourself in the shoes of someone watching In Old Arizona in 1929 and, for the first time, realizing that film could not just a visual medium but one of sound as well.  For some members of that 1929 audience, In Old Arizona was probably the first time they ever heard the sound of a horse galloping across the landscape.

(I have to admit that, as a student of American history, I couldn’t help but get excited when one of the characters mentioned President McKinley.  McKinley may be forgotten today but audiences in 1929 would not only remember McKinley but also his tragic assassination.  By mentioning that McKinley was President, In Old Arizona not only reminded audiences that it was taking in the past but that it was also taking place during what would have been considered a more innocent time.  Much as how later movies would use John F. Kennedy as a nostalgic symbol of a more idealistic time, In Old Arizona uses William McKinley.)

In Old Arizona is no longer a particularly entertaining film but, as a historical artifact, it is absolutely fascinating.

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A Movie A Day #37: The Challenge (1970, directed by Alan Smithee)


A U.S. spy satellite has crashed onto an uninhabited island in the Pacific Ocean.  Both the United States and an unnamed communist country (described as being “a fifth-rate China,” but obviously meant as a stand-in for not only China but North Korea and North Vietnam as well) have both lay claim to the satellite.  To prevent a possible war, the two countries agree to a compromise.  One American and one communist will be dropped off on the island and will fight to the death.  The survivor gets the satellite.  The communists send the disciplined Yuro (Mako).  The American select Jacob Galley (Darren McGavin), a grizzled Vietnam veteran-turned-mercenary.  Jacob is armed with the latest advancements in weaponry, including a double-barreled sub-machine gun.  Yuro is armed mostly with his wits and an endless supply of booby traps.  Jacob and Yuro fight to a stand still, growing to respect each other even as each tries to kill the other.  However, both countries are willing to cheat to win the challenge.

Originally made for television, this is one of the many films to have been credited to Alan Smithee, the pseudonym that directors used to use whenever they felt that the finished film, usually because of studio interference, did not properly represent their vision.  According to the imdb, The Challenge was actually directed by veteran television directed George McGowan, whose other credits includes episodes of shows like Fantasy Island, Starsky and Hutch, and Charlie’s Angels.  I am surprised that McGowan chose to take his name off of The Challenge because, for a television movie, it’s not bad.  The Vietnam analogy is laid on a little thick but the action is exciting and both McGavin and Mako give excellent performances as the two very different combatants.

The Challenge can be viewed on YouTube.  Keep an eye out for a very young Sam Elliott, in the role of America’s insurance policy.

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My Favorite Super Bowl Commercial 2017


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I admit I didn’t pay much attention to the ads during last night’s nail-biting Super Bowl, but this one caught my eye. A rowdy gang of bikers are partying hardy, when one comes in and tells his brothers they’re “Blocked in!”. The gang goes outside ready for action, when they see a shiny new Mercedes AMG GT Roadster. Who’s driving? None other than Mr. Easy Rider himself, Peter Fonda! The ad was directed by the Coen Brothers, and as we say in New England, it’s “wicked funny”! Enjoy!

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Art Profile: The True Detective Covers


Long before it lent its name to HBO, True Detective was one of the most popular of all the pulp magazines.  Founded in 1924, the American version of True Detective was published for 71 years, while the British version is still going!  True Detective started out publishing a mix of crime fiction and nonfiction.  Eventually, fiction was phased out and True Detective became the first “true crime” magazine.

Over 71 years, there were many covers that were painted by many different artists, some well-known and others forgotten.  Below is a small sampling of the True Detective covers:

by Onzi Brown

by Onzi Brown

Unknown Artist

Unknown Artist

Unknown Artist

Unknown Artist

Unknown Artst

Unknown Artst

Unknown Artist

Unknown Artist

By Brendon Lynch

By Brendon Lynch

By Brendon Lynch

By Brendon Lynch

By Brendon Lynch

By Brendon Lynch

By Griffith Foxley

By Griffith Foxley

By Joe Little

By Joe Little

Artist Unknown

Artist Unknown

Artist Unknown

Artist Unknown

Artist Unknown

Artist Unknown

Music Video of the Day: Go Away by Jakalope (2005, dir by Lisa Mann)


Hi, everyone!

Normally, this is Val’s feature but she’s currently in recovery after overdosing on Abba-related videos and attempting to watch Rob Zombie’s Halloween, all in the same night.  So, I’m going to take this opportunity to toss in a music video from my favorite Canadian band, Jakalope!

(Jakalope was not only heavily featured on Degrassi but they even did a version of that show’s timeless theme song.)

From their debut album, It Dreams, here is Go Away!

The video for Go Away continues the story that was started in the video for Feel It.  Both videos were directed by Lisa Mann.

It Dreams was produced by Trent Reznor and his also one of the five writers credited for this song.  His influence certainly is felt, in both the song and the video!

Enjoy!

THE NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS ARE YOUR SUPER BOWL LI CHAMPIONS!!


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As you may or may not know, I’m a native New Englander, born and raised in Massachusetts. I watched the Patriots back when, quite frankly, they sucked. It was only when Bill Bellichick became coach and Tom Brady took over at quarterback they turned into an NFL powerhouse. Since then, I’ve watched many a classic football game and enjoyed their victories in Super Bowls past.

But nothing compares to last night. Last night was absolutely incredible. In all my years of watching football, it was… dare I say it?… the Greatest Game Ever!!

I knew the Falcons were no joke, but the way they dominated in the first half was shocking. The party I was at had grown eerily silent, and many people chose to leave after watching Lady Gaga perform. My fellow diehards and I stayed, hoping for a miracle.

We were not disappointed.

Down 28-3 in the third quarter…

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