Lisa Reviews An Oscar Nominee: Dodsworth (dir by William Wyler)


(With the Oscars scheduled to be awarded on March 4th, I have decided to review at least one Oscar-nominated film a day.  These films could be nominees or they could be winners.  They could be from this year’s Oscars or they could be a previous year’s nominee!  We’ll see how things play out.  Today, I take a look at the 1936 best picture nominee, Dodsworth!)

Dodsworth is the type of film that makes me thankful for both TCM and my own obsession with Oscar history.

Based on a Sidney Howard-penned stage adaptation of a Sinclair Lewis novel, Dodsworth tells the story of an American couple abroad and how their travels change them as both individuals and as a couple.  Sam Dodsworth (Walter Huston) is a wealthy man living in the middle of the United States.  20 years ago, he founded Dodsworth Motors and now, he’s finally reached the point where he can sell his company and retire.  Sam doesn’t have any big plans, not yet anyway.  Mostly, he just wants to visit Europe with his wife, Fran (Ruth Chatterton).  They’ve never been.

Walter Huston is perfectly cast as Sam Dodsworth.  When we first meet Sam, we’re not really sure whether we’re going to like him or not.  He seems to be a decent human being but he also seems to be rather resistant to change.  He’s a self-made man.  He’s smart but he’s not well-educated.  He’s honest but he’s stubborn.  He’s rich but he’s hardly sophisticated.  He says that he wants to experience new things but we can’t help but wonder how he’s going to react when he actually has the opportunity.

The cracks in Sam and Fran’s marriage become obvious as soon as they board a luxury liner heading for England.  Sam meets another traveler, Edith (Mary Astor).  Edith is divorced and lives in Italy, two things that make her very exotic to a proud product of middle America like Sam Dodsworth.  Edith and Sam immediately hit it off but there’s no way that Sam would ever consider having an affair.  Meanwhile, Fran finds herself attracted to a series of different Europeans, played by David Niven, Paul Lukas, and Gregory Gaye.  While Fran loves Europe, Sam finds himself yearning to return to the small town world that he knows best.

For a film that was released 82 years ago, Dodsworth remains a remarkably watchable and involving film.  Along with featuring brilliant lead performances from Walter Huston, Ruth Chatterton, and Mary Astor, Dodsworth touches on universal themes that remains as relevant as today as when the film was first released.  Though neither Sam nor Fran would probably recognize the term, their trip to Europe leads to an existential crisis that will be familiar to anyone who has ever looked at their life and wondered, “Is this all there is?”  At the start of the film, both characters believe that they’ve found perfection in their marriage, their family, and their money.  By the end of the movie, both of them realize just how wrong they were.

If not for my love of Oscar history, I never would have seen Dodsworth listed among the films nominated for best picture of 1936.  And, if not for TCM, I wouldn’t have had the opportunity to DVR Dodsworth this morning and then watch it earlier tonight.  That’s why it pays to know your history and to take chances on films of which you previously may not have heard.

Dodsworth was nominated for 7 Academy Awards but it only won the Oscar for Best Art Direction.  It lost Best Picture to a far less memorable film, The Great Ziegfield.

Celebrate National Trivia Day With The Actors Who Could Have Been James Bond!


 

Today is National Trivia Day so I thought why not share some trivia?  I love film trivia.  I especially love trivia about who was considered for certain films.  Hell, one of my most popular posts on the Shattered Lens dealt with all of the actors who were considered for the Godfather!

(I even came up with an alternative cast for The Godfather, even though I consider the actual film to be the best cast film in history.)

I also happen to love the James Bond films.  (Well, not so much the recent Bond films.  I’ve made my feelings on SPECTRE clear.)  As a franchise, I absolutely love them.  So, with all that in mind, here is a look at the actors who could have been Bond.  I’ve compiled this article from many sources.  And yes, you could probably just find a lot of the information on Wikipedia but then you’d miss out on my editorial commentary.

Hoagy Carmichael

Ian Fleming himself always said that his pick for Bond would have been the musician, Hoagy Carmichael.  He even made a point, in Casino Royale, of having Vesper Lynd exclaim that Bond looked like Hoagy Carmichael.  Of course, the first actor to actually play Bond was Barry Nelson in a 1954 television adaptation of Casino Royale.  Nelson is probably best remembered for playing Mr. Ullman in Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining.

Barry Nelson, the first James Bond

When Dr. No went into production in 1961, many actors were considered for the role before Sean Connery was eventually cast.  Many of them were very well-known actors and, had they been cast, Dr. No would not have been remembered as a Bond movie.  Instead, it would be remembered as a star vehicle for … well, let’s take a look at some of the better-known possibilities:

Among the famous actors who were mentioned for Bond in 1961: Cary Grant, Richard Burton, James Mason, Trevor Howard, Stanley Baker, George Baker, Jimmy Stewart, Rex Harrison, and David Niven.  (Of that list, I think Burton would have made for an interesting Bond.  If the Bond films had been made in the 1940s, Grant would have been my first choice.  Trying to imagine Jimmy Stewart as a British secret agent is … interesting.)

Once it became obvious that a star was not going to play Bond, the role was offered to Patrick McGoohan and Rod Taylor.  McGoohan had moral objections to the character.  Rod Taylor reportedly felt that the film would flop.  Steve Reeves, the American body builder who became famous for playing Hercules in Italy, was reportedly strongly considered.  At one point, director Terrence Young wanted to offer the role to Richard Johnson, who later played Dr. Menard in Lucio Fulci’s Zombi 2.

Of course, the role went to Sean Connery and made Connery a huge star.  In 1967, after Connery announced that he would no longer play the world’s most famous secret agent, there was a huge and widely publicized search for his replacement.  Some of the names that were considered are intriguing.  Others are just bizarre.

Oliver Reed

To me, perhaps the most intriguing name mentioned was that of Oliver Reed.  Reed definitely would have brought a rougher edge of the role than some of the other actors considered.  However, that’s one reason why Reed wasn’t picked.  Apparently, it was felt that he did not have the right public image to play the suave Mr. Bond.

Somewhat inevitably, Michael Caine was sought out for the role.  Caine, however, refused to consider it because he had already starred in three back-to-back spy thrillers and didn’t want to get typecast.  Caine’s former roommate, Terrence Stamp, was another possibility but wanted too much control over the future direction of the Bond films.  Future Bond Timothy Dalton was considered to be too young.  Another future Bond, Roger Moore, didn’t want to give up his television career.  Eric Braeden has the right look for Bond but was German.  Rumor has it that producer Cubby Broccoli even considered Dick Van Dyke for the role, though I find that hard to believe.  An even more surprising possibility was the nobleman Lord Lucan, who was offered a screen test in 1967 and who, ten years later, would vanish after being accused of murdering his children’s nanny.

Lord Lucan

Among the actors who auditioned before George Lazenby was cast in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service: Michael Billington, Jeremy Brett, Peter Purves, Robert Campbell, Patrick Mower, Daniel Pilon, John Richardson, Anthony Rogers, Hans De Vries, and Peter Snow.

After the mixed reception of both Lazenby’s performance and On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, Lazenby was soon out as James Bond.  Even today, there’s a lot of controversy about what led to Lazenby being dismissed from the role.  Some say Lazenby demanded too much money.  Some say that Lazenby was merely used a pawn to try to get Sean Connery to return to the role.  Regardless, Lazenby only made one film as Bond.  (Of course, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service has retroactively been recognized as being one of the best of the series.)

With Connery still claiming that he would never return to the role, the film’s producers went through the motions of looking for a new Bond.  Once again, Roger Moore and Timothy Dalton were considered.  Connery suggested that a talk show host named Simon Dee should play the role.  An actor named Roger Green auditioned.  So did Michael Gambon, though he later said he was turned down because, in his own words, he “had tits like a woman.”  Interestingly, several Americans were mentioned.  Clint Eastwood as James Bond?  Burt Reynolds?  Adam “Batman” West? The mind boggles but their names were mentioned.

John Gavin

And interestingly enough, an American was cast.  John Gavin is best known for playing Sam Loomis in Psycho but he was also, briefly, James Bond.  After Gavin accepted he role and signed a contract, Sean Connery announced that he would be willing to return to the role.  Gavin was paid off and Connery went on to star in Diamonds are Forever.

After Diamonds, Connery left the role for a second time and, once again, Bond was recast.  This time, Roger Moore would finally accept the role.  However, before Moore was cast, several other actors were considered.  Some of the regular possibilities were mentioned again: John Gavin, Simon Oates, Timothy Dalton, and Michael Billington.  Others considered included Jon Finch, Ranulph Fiennes, Peter Laughton, and Guy Peters.  Some of those names are probably as unknown to you as they are to me but it’s intriguing to think that Guy Peters may not be a well-known name but, at one time, there was a possibility that he could suddenly become one of the biggest stars in the world.

Looking over the history of the Bond franchise, it’s interesting to see the number of times that Moore tried to leave the role, just to be talked into returning.  Every time that Moore considered quitting, a new group of actors would be considered for the role of Bond.  In 1979, when Moore said he might not return after Moonraker, Timothy Dalton, Michael Jayston, Patrick Mower (who was also considered for On Her Majesty’s Secret Service), and Michael Billington were all considered as replacements.  So was Julian Glover.  Ironically, when Moore did agree to return to the role, Glover was cast as the villain in For Your Eyes Only.

David Warbeck

To me, the most intriguing actor mentioned as a replacement for Roger Moore was David Warbeck.  Warbeck was a television actor and model who subsequently had a nearly legendary film career in Italy.  Not only did he play a key role in Sergio Leone’s Duck You Sucker!, but he also starred in Lucio Fulci’s The Black Cat and The Beyond.  He also appeared in the best of Italian Apocalypse Now rip-offs, The Last Hunter.  In interviews, Warbeck claimed that he was under contract to Cubby Broccoli to step into the role in case Roger Moore ever walked off the set.  The likable and rugged Warbeck would have been an interesting Bond.

In 1983, when Moore again said he might not return to the role, Michael Billington (who actually did appear in a Bond film when he played a KGB agent killed at the start of The Spy Who Loved Me) would be once more considered as a replacement.  British TV actors Lewis Collins and Ian Ogilvy were also considered for the role.  In a repeat of what happened with John Gavin in Diamonds are Forever, American actor James Brolin was actually put under contract until Moore agreed to play the role in Octopussy.

James Brolin, in a screen test for Octopussy

After A View To A Kill, Moore left the role for the final time.  Famously, future Bond Pierce Brosnan was actually cast as his replacement until the surge of interest created by his casting led to the renewal of Remington Steele, the American television show in which Brosnan was starring.  Once the show was renewed, Brosnan could no longer work the Bond films into his schedule.

Among the other names mentioned: Sean Bean, Simon MacCorkindale, Andrew Clarke, Finlay Light, Mark Greenstreet, Neil Dickson, Christopher Lambert, Mel Gibson, and Antony Hamilton.  Sam Neill was another possibility and reportedly came very close to getting the role.  Watch any of the films that Neill made when he was younger and you can definitely see hints of Bond.

Sam Neill

In the end, Timothy Dalton finally accepted the role.  Ironically, for an actor who spent 20 years being courted for the role, Dalton turned out to be a bit of a flop as Bond.  He made two movies (both of which were considered to be disappointing when compared to the previous Bond films) and then left the role.

Looking over the contemporary reviews of Dalton as Bond, one thing that comes through clearly is that a lot of people resented him for taking a role that they felt should have gone to Pierce Brosnan.  When the Bond films resumed production with Goldeneye in 1994, Brosnan finally stepped into the role.  Reportedly, if Brosnan had turned down the role, the second choice was Sean Bean.  Much like Julian Glover, Bean may have lost out on 007 but he did end up playing the villain.

Sean Bean

Among the other actors who were reportedly considered before Brosnan accepted the role: Mark Frankel, Paul McGann, Liam Neeson, Russell Crowe, and Lambert Wilson.  Ralph Fiennes, who has been M since Skyfall, was also considered.

As opposed to his predecessors, Brosnan seemed to be very comfortable with the idea of playing Bond and never threatened to leave the role.  Looking over the Bond-related articles that were published from 1995 to 2004, I found the occasional speculation about whether Rupert Everett would be the first gay James Bond or if Sharon Stone would be the first female James Bond but I found very little speculation about Brosnan actually leaving the role.  Indeed, when Brosnan officially retired as Bond in 2004, it was less his decision and more at the prodding of the franchise’s producers, who felt that the series needed to be rejuvenated with a new (and younger) actor.  After Brosnan left, the series was rebooted and Daniel Craig played the role in Casino Royale.

In the past, I’ve made it clear that Daniel Craig is hardly my favorite Bond.  I loved Skyfall (and I consider it to the 2nd best Bond film, after From Russia With Love) but, even in that case, I felt that the film succeeded despite Craig instead of because of him.  With Casino Royale, we were supposed to be seeing a young and inexperienced Bond.  That’s never come through to me, probably because Craig looked like he was nearly 50 years old when he made Casino Royale.

Among the actors who were mentioned for the role before Craig received the role: Ralph Fiennes (again), Colin Salmon, Ewan McGregor, Henry Cavill, Rupert Friend, Julian McMahon, Alex O’Laughlin, Clive Owen, Dougray Scott, and Goran Visjnic.  Dominic West, who I think would have been great in the role, reportedly ruled himself out because he heard a rumor that Brosnan would be returning to the role.

Dominic West

Daniel Craig, of course, has been talking about leaving the role ever since he was first cast.  I think Skyfall would have been a perfect movie for him to leave on.  (It would have saved the world from SPECTRE.)  However, Craig has apparently agreed to do at least one more Bond film.  Maybe two.

When Craig does leave, who will replace him?  Idris Elba, of course, is probably the most widely discussed possibility.  James Norton has also been named as a possibility.  Others that I’ve seen mentioned: Tom Hardy, Jack Huston, Aidan Turner, Tom Hiddleston, Michael Fassbender, Jamie Bell, and Henry Cavill (again).

My personal choice?  Dominic Cooper.  He’d be an off-center Bond but I think it would still be an intriguing pick.

Dominic Cooper

Who knows what the future may hold for 007?  All I know is that I look forward to the speculation.

Happy National Trivia Day, everyone!

Lisa Watches An Oscar Nominee: Separate Tables (dir by Delbert Mann)


As some of you may know, I have been on a mission for a while now.  My goal is to see and review every single film that has been nominated for best picture by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.  (Of course, with the 1928 nominee, The Patriot, being a lost film, that may seem like an impossible mission.  No matter!  For me, nothing is impossible.  What Lisa wants, Lisa gets.)  For that reason, I spent part of last night watching the 1958 best picture nominee, Separate Tables, on TCM.

Separate Tables is one of the more forgotten of the best picture nominees but then again, the 50s were not the greatest decade as far as the Academy was concerned.  Consider some of the other films released in 1958: Big Deal on Madonna Street, High School Confidential, Indiscreet, The Last Hurrah, Machine-Gun Kelly, The Fly, The Blob, The Horror of Dracula, The Revenge of Frankenstein, Some Came Running, Thunder Road, A Touch Of Evil, and Vertigo!  The thing they all have in common is that none of them were nominated for best picture but Separate Tables was.

That’s not to say that Separate Tables was, in any way, a bad film.  Actually, it’s a pretty good film and I’m glad that I watched it.  It’s not bad at all.  However, it is … what’s the right term to use here?  Stately perhaps?  Maybe stagey.  Separate Tables is based on two one-act plays and, though it’s obvious that some effort was made to open up the material, it still feels undeniably stage-bound.  Separate Tables was directed by Delbert Mann, who had previously won an Oscar for his lively direction of Marty.  With Separate Tables, his direction is far less lively.  Watching it, you get the feeling that he was not only straight-jacketed by the theatrical origins of the material but also by the fact that the film was clearly made to win Academy Awards.

So, ignore the direction and pay attention to the performances.  Separate Tables works best as a tribute to good acting.  The film follows the lives of several guests at an English seaside hotel.  Some people are just staying for a few days.  Some people live at the hotel.  John Malcolm (Burt Lancaster) is a moody writer, a recovering alcoholic who is planning on asking the hotel’s manager, the level-headed Pat Cooper (Wendy Hiller), to marry him.  Of course, then his ex-wife, Anne (Rita Hayworth), shows up.  As quickly becomes obvious, John and Anne may hate each other but they also love each other.  Neither one is particularly sympathetic but, in their scenes together, Lancaster and Hayworth do create a fascinating portrait of mutual self-destruction.  Ultimately, you’re left with the impression that both of them are so self-destructive that they belong together, if just to keep from drawing anyone else into their messed up orbit.

And then there’s Major Pollock (David Niven).  David Niven won the Oscar for Best Actor for his role as Major Pollock and he does give an excellent performance.  Major Pollock is one of those roles that often seems to attract comedic actors looking for a chance to prove their dramatic abilities.  When he first appears, he seems to be a bit of a joke but then, as the film progresses, we learn that he’s actually struggling with his own demons.  In the case of Major Pollock, those demons are more hinted at than defined.  As we learn at the start of the film, Pollock was convicted of “harassing” several “young women” at a movie theater.  Separate Tables does not make clear how young or, for that matter, the exact details of the harassment.  Some residents of the hotel want Major Pollock to be kicked out of the hotel.  Some residents say that it is none of their business and that everyone deserves a second chance.  John Malcolm is in the latter group, though he’s more concerned with his ex-wife than with the scandalous Major (who, to no one’s great surprise, isn’t actually a major and whose war stories have all largely been lies).  Also seeking to defend Major Pollock is the shy Sibyl (Deborah Kerr, playing against type).  Sibyl’s mother (Gladys Cooper) is among those most determined to exile Pollock.

And really, the only reason this plotline works is because of the performances of Niven and Kerr.  As written, it’s way too vague about the exact details of what it was that Pollock did.  We’re just told that he was caught “behaving immorally.”  (According to Wikipedia, Pollock was originally written as being gay but, apparently, that was considered to be too controversial for 1958, hence the mention that Pollock’s crime involved “young women.”)  But Niven gives such a soulful and wounded performance that, much like Sibyl, you want to believe the best about him.  You want to give him a second chance, even though you know he’s going to let you down.  As Major Pollock, David Niven uses his trademark charm to paint a portrait of a man who is painfully aware that he has little to offer beyond charm.

At the same time, I was surprised by how little screen time Niven actually had in Separate Tables.  The majority of the film is taken up with Lancaster and Hayworth.  Niven definitely deserved some consideration for best supporting actor but best actor?  Not in the year that saw Orson Welles in Touch of Evil and James Stewart in Vertigo.

Separate Tables is not a great film, at least not in the way that we might wish that a film nominated for best picture would be.  It’s way too stagey and vague.  But, with all that in mind, it’s still wonderfully acted and always watchable.  It may not be great but it is very, very good.

Separate Tables was nominated for best picture but lost to Gigi.

The Fabulous Forties #26: The Way Ahead (dir by Carol Reed)


The_Way_Ahead_VideoCover

The 26th film in Mill Creek’s Fabulous Forties box set was the 1944 British film, The Way Ahead (or, as it was retitled when it was released in America, The Immortal Battalion).

Directed by Carol Reed (who was five years away from directing the great The Third Man), The Way Ahead is a British propaganda film that was made to boost the morale of both a weary British public and the army during the final days of World War II.  Usually, when we call something propaganda, it’s meant as a term of disparagement but The Way Ahead is propaganda in the best possible way.

The film follows a group of British soldiers, from the moment that they are conscripted through their training to their first battle.  (In many ways, it’s like a more refined — which is another way of saying “more British” — version of Gung Ho!)  As usually happens in films like this, the newly conscripted soldiers come from all sections of society.  Some of them are poor.  Some of them are rich.  Some of them are married.  Some of them are single.  In fact, when the film first begins, the only thing that they all have in common is that they don’t want to be in the army.

As they begin their training, they resent their tough sergeant, Fletcher (William Hartnell), and are upset that Lt. Jim Perry (David Niven, giving a very likable performance) always seems to take Fletcher’s side in any dispute.  However, as time passes by, the soldiers start to realize that Fletcher is looking out for them and molding them into a cohesive unit.  Under his training, they go from being a group of disorganized and somewhat resentful individuals to being a tough and well-organized battalion.

Though they’re originally skeptical that they’ll ever see combat, the battalion is eventually sent to North Africa.  However, their ship is torpedoed and, in a scene that remains genuinely impressive even when viewed today, the men are forced to abandon ship while explosions and flames light up the night sky.  By the time that they do finally reach North Africa, they are more than ready to fight…

The Way Ahead plays out in a semi-documentary fashion (it even features a narrator who, at the end of the film, exhorts the audience to stay firm in their commitment) and it’s a fairly predictable film.  If you’ve ever seen a war film, you’ll probably be able to predict everything that happens in The Way Ahead.  That said, The Way Ahead is a remarkable well-made and well-acted film.  The cast is well-selected (and features a lot of familiar British characters actors, some making their film debut) and David Niven is the perfect choice for the mild-mannered but firm Lt. Perry.  Even though I’m not a huge fan of war films in general, I was still impressed with The Way Ahead.

And you can watch it below!

Cleaning Out The DVR #5: Around The World In 80 Days (dir by Michael Anderson)


Last night, as a part of my effort to clean out my DVR by watching and reviewing 38 movies in 10 days, I watched the 1956 Best Picture winner, Around The World In 80 Days.

Based on a novel by Jules Verne, Around The World In 80 Days announces, from the start, that it’s going to be a spectacle.  Before it even begins telling its story, it gives us a lengthy prologue in which Edward R. Murrow discusses the importance of the movies and Jules Verne.  He also shows and narrates footage from Georges Méliès’s A Trip To The Moon.  Seen today, the most interesting thing about the prologue (outside of A Trip To The Moon) is the fact that Edward R. Murrow comes across as being such a pompous windbag.  Take that, Goodnight and Good Luck.

Once we finally get done with Murrow assuring us that we’re about to see something incredibly important, we get down to the actual film.  In 1872, an English gentleman named Phileas Fogg (played by David Niven) goes to London’s Reform Club and announces that he can circumnavigate the globe in 80 days.  Four other members of the club bet him 20,000 pounds that he cannot.  Fogg takes them up on their wager and soon, he and his valet, Passepartout (Cantinflas) are racing across the world.

Around The World in 80 Days is basically a travelogue, following Fogg and Passepartout as they stop in various countries and have various Technicolor adventures.  If you’re looking for a serious examination of different cultures, this is not the film to watch.  Despite the pompousness of Murrow’s introduction, this is a pure adventure film and not meant to be taken as much more than pure entertainment.  When Fogg and Passepartout land in Spain, it means flamenco dancing and bullfighting.  When they travel to the U.S., it means cowboys and Indians.  When they stop off in India, it means that they have to rescue Princess Aouda (Shirley MacClaine!!!) from being sacrificed.  Aouda ends up joining them for the rest of their journey.

Also following them is Insepctor Fix (Robert Newton), who is convinced that Fogg is a bank robber.  Fix follows them across the world, just waiting for his chance to arrest Fogg and disrupt his race across the globe.

But it’s not just Inspector Fix who is on the look out for the world travelers.  Around The World In 80 Days is full of cameos, with every valet, sailor, policeman, and innocent bystander played by a celebrity.  (If the movie were made today, Kim Kardashian and Chelsea Handler would show up at the bullfight.)  I watch a lot of old movies so I recognized some of the star cameos.  For instance, it was impossible not to notice Marlene Dietrich hanging out in the old west saloon, Frank Sinatra playing piano or Peter Lorre wandering around the cruise ship.  But I have to admit that I missed quite a few of the cameos, much as how a viewer 60 years in the future probably wouldn’t recognize Kim K or Chelsea Handler in our hypothetical 2016 remake.  However, I could tell whenever someone famous showed up on screen because the camera would often linger on them and the celeb would often look straight at the audience with a “It’s me!” look on their face.

Around The World in 80 Days is usually dismissed as one of the lesser best picture winners and it’s true that it is an extremely long movie, one which doesn’t necessarily add up to much beyond David Niven, Cantinflas, and the celeb cameos.  But, while it may not be Oscar worthy, it is a likable movie.  David Niven is always fun to watch and he and Cantinflas have a nice rapport.  Shirley MacClaine is not exactly believable as an Indian princess but it’s still interesting to see her when she was young and just starting her film career.

Add to that, Around The World In 80 Days features Jose Greco in this scene:

Around The World In 80 Days may not rank with the greatest films ever made but it’s still an entertaining artifact of its time.  Whenever you sit through one of today’s multi-billion dollar cinematic spectacles, remember that you’re watching one of the descendants of Around The World In 80 Days.

Shattered Politics #8: Magnificent Doll (dir by Frank Borzage)


Poster - Magnificent Doll_02

I’ve always been tempted to write one of those quizzes that you always see on Facebook, “Which American first lady should you be?”  That’s a question that I’ve often asked myself.  I know that I would not want to be any of our most recent first ladies.  (Sorry, Michelle.  Sorry, Laura.  Sorry, Hillary.)  Occasionally, I think that I would have liked to have been Jacqueline Kennedy, if not for what happened in Dallas.  Teddy Roosevelt’s daughter, Alice, is definitely a historical role model for me but it’s debatable whether she could truly be considered a first lady.  And, of course, there’s always Grover Cleveland’s wife Julia but ultimately, for me, there’s really only one choice.

If I could be any American first lady, I would be Dolley Madison.

Dolley, of course, was the wife of James Madison, who was not only our fourth President but also one of the smartest.  Madison was a skilled writer and scholar but he had absolutely no social skills.  Dolley, on the other hand, was vivacious and was, by the standards of the dentistry-free days of the 19th Century, one of the most beautiful women in America. Whereas James was uncomfortable meeting with people and struggled to express himself, Dolley was the world’s greatest hostess, bringing opposing forces together through the sheer force of her own charm and ability to throw a great party.  When the British invaded Washington D.C. during the War of 1812, Dolley was the one who saved the famous portrait of George Washington from being burned with the rest of the White House.

So, yes, I would definitely be Dolley Madison.

(Yes, I know that there’s some debate over whether her name should be spelled Dolly, Dolley, or Dollie.  I spell it Dolley and since I would have been her, I think my opinion counts for something.)

It’s a shame that there haven’t been many movies made about Dolley Madison.  Perhaps the best known is 1946’s Magnificent Doll, which is not a very good movie but which is amusing if you know something about history.

Magnificent Doll opens with young Dolley Payne (Ginger Rogers) being forced to marry John Todd (Horace McNally), a much older lawyer.  (John saved the life of Dolley’s father and, in gratitude, Dolley’s father gave him his daughter.)  Though John falls in love with her, Dolley refuses to show him any sign of affection and good for her!  (Seriously, arranged marriages suck.)  But then John dies of yellow fever and Dolley declares that she did love him all along.

But life goes on!

Soon, Dolley and her mother are running a boarding house in Philadelphia.  Fortunately, they happen to be running it at the same time that the Continental Congress is attempting to write the Constitution.  Several of the delegates are staying at the boarding house and two of them take a romantic interest in Dolley.

First there’s Aaron Burr (David Niven), a charming scoundrel who appeals to Dolley’s wild side.  Aaron does things like take her to a bar and kiss her underneath a staircase.  Aaron is vain.  Aaron is self-absorbed.  Aaron is an ambitious and charismatic brooder whose moods can be unpredictable.  Aaron is exiting!  Aaron is dangerous!  Aaron is a rebel!

And then you’ve got Aaron’s friend, James Madison (Burgess Meredith).  James is shy and gentle.  He’d rather read a book than go out.  He’s the type of smart kid who all the other kids make fun of but he’s also a good, decent man who has a great future ahead of him.  He just needs someone to bring him out of his shell.

In short, Aaron is the type of boy that you hope invites you to prom.  James is the type of boy that you marry.

And, when Dolley does marry James, it sends Aaron Burr into such a tail spin that he nearly prevents Thomas Jefferson from becoming President in 1800…

And, needless to say, this film is in no way historically accurate.  It is true that Aaron Burr was nearly elected President in 1800 and, had he been, Thomas Jefferson would never have been President.  However, most historians seem to agree that has more to do with Aaron Burr being ambitious and nothing to do with Dolley Madison.  In the end, Magnificent Doll may be amusing in its inaccuracies but bad history is still bad history.

That said, there’s still a part of me that enjoyed Magnificent Doll, despite the fact that it moves way too slowly and none of the actors (with the exception of David Niven) appear to be all that invested in their roles.  I think, ultimately, the reason I enjoyed Magnificent Doll was because it really is basically just a YA version of American history and, as a result, it does have some curiosity value.  One gets the feeling that if Magnificent Doll were released today, it would be split into two different films and that it would be promoted on social media with hashtags reading #TeamAaron and #TeamJames.

That said, if there’s any first lady who deserves a biopic (one that’s good as opposed to so-bad-its-interesting) it’s Dolley Madison.  (Personally, I would cast Amy Adams in the role.)  #TeamDolley all the way!

James Bond Film Review: Casino Royale (dir by Ken Hughes, John Huston, Joseph McGrath, Robert Parrish, Val Guest, and Richard Talmadge)


As you probably already know, we here at the Shattered Lens have been counting down the days until the American release of Skyfall by reviewing every single film in the James Bond franchise.  Today, we take a look at the first non-EON Bond film, the epic, psychedelic 1967 spoof Casino Royale.

Where to begin?

When Ian Fleming’s first James Bond novel, Casino Royale, was published in 1953, veteran Hollywood producer Charles K. Feldman bought the film rights.  However, Feldman didn’t buy the rights to Fleming’s subsequent novels and was forced to sit by and watch as Albert Broccoli and Harry Saltzman had unexpected success with Dr. No and the subsequent EON-produced Bond films.  Much as Kevin McClory did with Thunderball, Feldman first attempted to co-produce a serious adaptation of Casino Royale with Broccoli and Saltzman.  However, when Feldman, Broccoli, and Saltzman couldn’t come to an agreement on how each side would be compensated in the proposed production deal, Feldman decided to make Casino Royale on his own.  He also decided that, instead of trying to compete with EON by making a “straight” James Bond film, his version of Casino Royale would be a satirical extravaganza.

Feldman’s vision of James Bond is apparent from Casino Royale’s opening credits.  While the credits are definitely based on the iconic openings of the EON Bond films, they’re also designed to play up the fact that Casino Royale — in the grand tradition of the Hollywood studios at their most excessive — is meant to be a big budget, all-star extravaganza.

Casino Royale actually starts out with a pretty clever premise.  It seems that the name “James Bond,” is simply a code name that has been assigned to several British spies over the years.  As M (played by John Huston, who also directed the first third of the film), explains it, the name “James Bond” strikes such fear in the hearts of Britain’s enemies that the name must be kept alive.

(Speaking for myself, this is an idea that I kinda wish that the official James Bond series would adopt.  If nothing else, it would certainly explain how Pierce Brosnan and Daniel Craig could possibly be the same person.)

The original James Bond (played by David Niven) has long since retired to his stately country estate, where he spends his time playing the piano and complaining about how the agents who have inherited his name are sullying his reputation with excessive womanizing and violence.  It turns out the Sir James Bond is a man renowned for his “celibate image.”  At the start of the film, Bond is asked to come out of retirement by not only M but the heads of the CIA, KGB, and French secret service as well.  SMERSH, an organization of female assassins that’s led by the mysterious Dr. Noah, has been eliminating agents worldwide and only the original (and very chaste) Bond can defeat them.  Bond, however, refuses and M responds by ordering a mortar attack on Bond’s estate.  The estate is blown up but so is M and Bond soon finds himself returning to London as the new head of MI6.

Interestingly enough, David Niven was one of the actors who was considered for the role of James Bond in Dr. No.  Reportedly, Ian Fleming was quite enthusiastic for Niven to take the role but, by the time that Dr. No went into production, Niven was considered to be too old.  There’s a nice bit of irony here in seeing David Niven playing a retired James Bond who spends a good deal of the film complaining about the men who have subsequently assumed his name.

Once Niven takes over MI6, he orders that, in order to confuse SMERSH, all British agents (including female agents) will be known as James Bond.  The rest of the film is divided into episodes that feature these new James Bonds battling SMERSH and the mysterious Dr. Noah.

Among these agents, there’s the handsome Coop (played by Terrence Cooper) who has been trained to resist all sexual temptations.

There’s Mata Bond (Joanna Pettet), the daughter of Sir James Bond and Mata Hari.

There’s Vesper Lynd (Ursula Andress) who is sent to seduce and recruit the expert gambler Evelyn Tremble (Peter Sellers) so that Tremble can beat SMERSH agent Le Chiffre (Orson Welles) at the Casino Royale.

Best of all, there’s Sir James Bond’s nephew, Jimmy Bond.  Jimmy Bond is played by Woody Allen and … well, let’s just take a look at Jimmy’s first scene in the film:

Casino Royale had a notoriously troubled production history and most of those troubles seemed to center on Peter Sellers.  While the film was designed to be a broad, slapstick comedy, Sellers reportedly insisted on trying to play his role straight and even rewrote his lines to make his scenes more dramatic.  Welles eventually grew so disgusted with Sellers that he refused to be in the same room with him.  This caused quite a bit of difficulty since Sellers was in almost every scene that featured Welles.  Eventually, Sellers walked off the film and the film had to be hastily (and awkwardly) rewritten to account for his sudden absence.

When one watches Casino Royale today, it’s hard to escape the conclusion that Sellers was essentially correct.  While most of Casino Royale often feels disjointed and incoherent, the scenes featuring Sellers, Andress, and Welles are some of the strongest in the film.  Sellers’ dramatic approach doesn’t negate the film’s comedy.  If anything, it makes the comedy even stronger because Sellers actually seems to be invested in the reality his character, regardless of how ludicrous a situation that character may find himself in.

When I watched Casino Royale, I was struck by the stark contrast between the parts of the film that worked and the parts that didn’t.  This is a movie that truly swings from one extreme to another.  Either the film’s satire is working  brilliantly (mostly in the scenes featuring Woody Allen and Peter Sellers) or it’s falling completely flat (like in an extended sequence that features Deborah Kerr as a SMERSH assassin).

I found myself laughing more at the little scenes than the big set pieces.  For instance, I loved it when David Niven embraces Miss Moneypenny (Barbara Bouchet) just to be then told that she’s actually the daughter of the original Miss Moneypenny.  I don’t know much about the actor Terrence Cooper (though, according to Wikipedia, he was also a contender to take the role of James Bond in the official series) but I enjoyed the brief sequence where Moneypenny “tests” him to see if he can take on the Bond identity.  Unfortunately, the film doesn’t really have enough of these small, clever moments.

Ultimately, I found that Casino Royale works best when viewed as a time capsule.  Casino Royale was made at a time when the established major Hollywood studios (and veteran producers like Charles K. Feldman) were struggling to remain relevant.  Foreign films (including, it must be said, the James Bond films) were challenging the common assumptions of what could and what couldn’t be shown on-screen and the studio system reacted by trying to make films that would appeal to younger audiences while also reassuring older audiences that the movies hadn’t really changed that much.  The end result were films like Casino Royale that featured the occasional psychedelic sequence along with cameos from old (and safe) Hollywood stars like George Raft, William Holden, and Charles Boyer.  Casino Royale is the type of self-indulgent film that could only have been made in 1967 and, as such, it’s a valuable time capsule for all of us cinematic historians.

I also have to admit that, as excessive as Casino Royale may be, I happen to love excess.  Casino Royale might be overlong and occasionally incoherent but the costumes are simply to die for.  The film is a visual feast, if nothing else.

Casino Royale was released to scathing reviews and terrible box office but, in the years since, it has become something of a cult favorite.  Our own Trash Film Guru has identified Casino Royale as his favorite Bond film.  Myself, I found the film to be extremely flawed and yet oddly fascinating to watch.  Casino Royale is a total mess and that is both its greatest flaw and greatest strength.

Tomorrow, we’ll return to the official James Bond series by taking a look at You Only Live Twice.