4 Shots From 4 Films: The 4 best Best Picture Winners


4 Shots From 4 Films is just what it says it is, 4 shots from 4 of our favorite films. As opposed to the reviews and recaps that we usually post, 4 Shots From 4 Films lets the visuals do the talking.

Today is Oscar Sunday!  Tonight, a new film will join the exclusive list of the 90 previous best picture winners!

Sometimes, we spend so much time focusing on the winners that shouldn’t have won that we forget that some truly great films have managed to take the top prize.  So, with this edition of 4 Shots From 4 Films, I’m highlighting for the four best Best Picture winners!

4 Shots From 4 Films

All About Eve (1950, dir by Joseph L. Mankiewicz)

The Godfather Saga (1972 and 1974, dir by Francis Ford Coppola)

It Happened One Night (1934, dir by Frank Capra)

West Side Story (1961, dir by Robert Wise and Jerome Robbins)

4 Shots From 4 Marilyn Monroe Films: All About Eve, Don’t Bother To Knock, Bus Stop, The Misfits


4 Shots from 4 Films is just what it says it is, 4 shots from 4 of our favorite films. As opposed to the reviews and recaps that we usually post, 4 Shots from 4 Films lets the visuals do the talking!

If only she hadn’t been destroyed by the Kennedys, Marilyn Monroe would be 92 years old today.  Though Marilyn died in 1962, her performances will live forever.  This is…

4 Shots From 4 Marilyn Monroe Films

All About Eve (1950, dir by Joseph L. Mankiewicz)

Don’t Bother To Knock (1952, dir by Roy Ward Baker)

Bus Stop (1956, dir by Joshua Logan)

The Misfits (1961, dir by John Huston)

4 Shots From 4 Films: Special Cleopatra Edition


4 Shots From 4 Films is just what it says it is, 4 shots from 4 of our favorite films. As opposed to the reviews and recaps that we usually post, 4 Shots From 4 Films is all about letting the visuals do the talking.

Let’s celebrate the Ides of March with four shots from four films about Caesar’s one true love, Cleopatra!

4 Shots From 4 Films

Cleopatra (1917, dir by J. Gordon Edwards)

Cleopatra (1934, dir by Cecil B. DeMille)

Cleopatra (1963, dir by Joseph L. Mankiewicz )

Cleopatra (1970, dir by Osamu Tezuka and Eiichi Yamamoto)

4 Shots From 4 Films: Cleopatra, The Fall of the Roman Empire, Caligula, Titus


4 Shots From 4 Films is just what it says it is, 4 shots from 4 of our favorite films. As opposed to the reviews and recaps that we usually post, 4 Shots From 4 Films is all about letting the visuals do the talking.

Welcome to a special Ides of March edition of 4 Shots From 4 Films.  These 4 shots are taken from 4 diverse films about the Roman Empire (which, of course, was a direct result of events that occurred long ago on the Ides of March).

4 Shots From 4 Films

Cleopatra (1963, directed by Joseph L. Mankiewicz)

Cleopatra (1963, directed by Joseph L. Mankiewicz)

The Fall of the Roman Empire (1964, dir by Anthony Mann)

The Fall of the Roman Empire (1964, dir by Anthony Mann)

Caligula (1979, dir by Tinto Brass, et al)

Caligula (1979, dir by Tinto Brass, et al)

Titus (1999, dir by Julie Taymor)

Titus (1999, dir by Julie Taymor)

Film Review: There Was a Crooked Man… (1970, directed by Joseph L. Mankiewicz)


Crooked_manI first saw There Was A Crooked Man as a part of TCM’s tribute to the great actor Warren Oates.  Warren Oates was rarely cast in the lead but, as a character actor, he appeared in supporting roles in several great films.  Unfortunately, There Was A Crooked Man is not one of them.

Directed by Joseph L. Mankiewicz and written by the screenwriting team of Robert Benton and David Newman (best known for writing Bonnie and Clyde), There Was A Crooked Man is meant to be a comedic western.  Outlaw Paris Pittman (Kirk Douglas) is arrested while visiting a bordello.  Paris is sent to an Arizona prison, where everyone tries to get him to reveal where he has hidden the stash from a $500,000 robbery.  Pittman uses everyone’s greed to manipulate them into helping him attempt to escape.  Standing in Pittman’s way is the new warden, a liberal reformer played by Henry Fonda.

There Was A Crooked Man is a long movie that features a lot of familiar faces.  Burgess Meredith plays The Missouri Kid, who has been in prison for so long that he is now an old man.  Hume Cronyn and John Randolph play a bickering gay couple who eventually become a part of Pittman’s scheme to escape.  Even Alan Hale, the skipper from Gilligan’s Island, shows up as a guard named Tobaccy!  There Was A Crooked Man is a big movie but it’s also not a very good one.  It’s not serious enough to be a good drama but it’s not funny enough to be a good comedy either.

At least the movie has Warren Oates going for it.  Oates plays Harry Moon, a prisoner who is drafted into Pittman’s escape plot.  It is a typical Warren Oates supporting role but he steals every scene that he appears in.  Even in the smallest of roles, Warren Oates was worth watching and he’s the best thing about There Was A Crooked Man.

Hume Cronyn, Warren Oates, Kirk Douglas, Michael Blodgett, and John Randolph in There Was A Crooked Man

Hume Cronyn, Warren Oates, Kirk Douglas, Michael Blodgett, and John Randolph in There Was A Crooked Man

Embracing the Melodrama Part II #26: Cleopatra (dir by Joseph L. Mankiewicz)


Cleopatra_posterWhile watching the 1963 best picture nominee, Cleopatra, I had many thoughts.  The film lasts over 4 hours so I had a lot of time to think.

For instance, I often found myself impressed by the sheer size of the production.  I marveled at the recreation of ancient Greece and Rome.  I loved looking at the ornate costumes.  I loved feeling as if I was taking a look back at what Rome may have actually looked like at the height of the Roman Empire.  Making it all the more impressive was that this film was made in the days before CGI.  When the film’s Romans walked through the streets of Rome, they weren’t just actors standing in front of a green screen.  They were walking down real streets and surrounded by real buildings.  It reminded me of the awe and wonder that I felt when I was in Italy and I was visiting the ruins of ancient Rome.

(I don’t know if any of the cast accidentally flashed everyone like I did when I visited during Pompeii on a windy day but considering how short some of the skirts on the men were, it wouldn’t surprise me if they did!)

And, as I marveled at the recreation of Rome, I also thought to myself, “How long is this freaking movie?”  Because, seriously, Cleopatra is an amazingly long movie.  It’s not just the film is over four hours long.  It’s that the film feels even longer.  Gone With The Wind, The Godfathers Part One and Part Two, Once Upon A Time In America; these are all long films but, because they’re so great, you never find yourself checking the time while watching.  Cleopatra is the opposite of that.  Cleopatra is a film that, at its slowest, will make you very much aware of how many seconds are in a minute.

I found myself marveling at the lack of chemistry between Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton.  If anything, this is the most shocking thing about Cleopatra.  If Cleopatra is famous for anything, it’s famous for being the film where Elizabeth Taylor (cast in the role of Cleopatra) first met Richard Burton (who was playing Mark Antony).  Their affair dominated the gossip headlines.  (If TMZ and YouTube had been around back then, there would be daily videos of Richard Burton punching out paparazzi.)  Cleopatra was the first of many big-budgeted, overproduced films that Taylor and Burton co-starred in.

(Then again, they also starred in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf, a film that is almost the exact opposite of Cleopatra.)

In the role of Mark Antony, Burton spends most of the film looking absolutely miserable.  Elizabeth Taylor, meanwhile, seems to be having a lot more fun.  It’s almost as if she understood what Cleopatra was going to become so she went out of her way to give the type of over-the-top performance that the film deserved.  The same can also be said about Rex Harrison, who plays Julius Caesar and who, perhaps because he appears to have shared her attitude, actually does have some chemistry with Taylor.

Actually, if anyone gives a truly great performance in Cleopatra, it’s Roddy McDowall.  McDowall plays the future Emperor Augustus with a mesmerizing intensity.  Again, McDowall’s performance is not exactly subtle but Cleopatra is not a film that demands subtlety.

As the film finally neared its end, I found myself wondering how Joseph L. Mankiewicz went from directing two close to perfect films, A Letter To Three Wives and All About Eve, to directing this.  Even more amazing, Mankiewicz had previously directed one of the best Roman Empire films ever, 1953’s Julius Caesar.  (When compared to Cleopatra, the low-key and thoughtful Julius Caesar appears to have been filmed on an entirely different planet.)  Well, in Mankiewicz’s defense, he was not the original director.  He was brought in to replace Rouben Mamoulian, who had previously attempted to make the film with Joan Collins, Ben-Hur‘s Stephen Boyd, and Peter Finch.  When Mankiewicz was brought in, the cast was replaced with Taylor, Burton, and Harrison.  Between the expensive stars, the troubled production, and all of the offscreen romantic melodrama, Mankiewicz probably did the best that he could.

Today, Cleopatra is mostly interesting as an example of a film from the “Only Gigantic Productions Will Save Us From Television!” era of Hollywood filmmaking.  Cleopatra started out as a $2,000,000 production and ended up costing $31,000,000.  It was the number one film at the 1963 box office and it still nearly bankrupted 20th Century Fox.  While the film does have some kitsch appeal, the critics hated it and it’s easy to see why.

And yes, it was nominated for best picture of the year, a tribute to the size of the production and the determination of 20th Century Fox to get something — anything — in return for their money.

Cleopatra is a bit of a chore to sit through but it can be fun if you’re in a snarky mood.  It’ll do until the inevitable Angelina Jolie remake comes along.

Embracing the Melodrama Part II #18: A Letter To Three Wives (dir by Joseph L. Mankiewicz)


220px-A_letter_to_three_wives_movie_poster

Last week, I started a little series that I call Embracing The Melodrama, Part II.  Over the next three weeks, I will be reviewing, in chronological order, 128 cinematic melodramas.  I started this series with the 1927 silent film Sunrise and now, we have reached our 18th film, the 1949 best picture nominee, A Letter To Three Wives!

Now, I’m going to start this review by pointing out something that will probably scare off some of our readers.  So, before you read the next paragraph, understand that A Letter To Three Wives is a great film that’s full of great performances and witty dialogue and you really should watch it the next time that it’s on TCM.  Got all that?  Okay.  Good.  Moving on…

A Letter To Three Wives feels a lot like a 1949 version of Desperate Housewives.  Now, before you freak out, I’m talking about early Desperate Housewives as opposed to later Desperate Housewives.  The similarities are actually pretty striking.  Both A Letter To Three Wives and Desperate Housewives take place in an upper class suburb.  Both of them deal with women who appear to have happy marriages but who are all actually dissatisfied with how their lives have turned out.  Both of them are satires disguised as mystery stories.  (The mystery in Desperate Housewives involved murder.  The one in A Letter To Three Wives involves adultery.)  Perhaps most significantly, both Desperate Housewives and A Letter To Three Wives are narrated by a snarky woman who exists largely off screen.

The narrator in A Letter To Three Wives is named Addie Ross and voiced by Celeste Holm.  We never actually see Addie but we hear a lot from her and a lot about her.  Apparently, every man in town has, at some point, been in love with Addie.  Every woman is jealous of her.  And Addie, amazingly enough, seems to have the power to know exactly what’s happening in everyone else’s marriage.  At the start of A Letter To Three Wives, Addie has sent … well, a letter to three wives.  In the letter, Addie explains that she’s run off with one of their husbands but she declines to reveal which husband.  Each one of the wives thinks back on her marriage and wonders if her husband is the one.

Deborah (Jeanne Crain), for instance, is a country girl who met and married Bradford “Brad” Bishop (Jeffrey Lynn) during World War II.  Deborah is insecure about the fact that Brad comes from an upper class background and that he was apparently engaged to marry Addie before he met Deborah.

(Here’s an interesting piece of trivia for those of you who, like me, are into true crime stories.  Along with the movie character, there’s also a real-life murderer named Bradford “Brad” Bishop.  Like the character in the movie, he came from an upper class background.  Unlike the film character, the real Brad Bishop ended up murdering his wife, his children, and his mother and then fled to Europe.  He’s been a fugitive for close to 40 years and is believed to still be alive.  He’s currently on the FBI’s most wanted list.)

And then there’s Rita (Ann Sothern), who is an old friend of Brad’s.  Rita is married to George.  George is a quiet and intellectual English professor who is insecure over the fact that Rita, working as a soap opera writer, makes more money than he does.  George is played by Kirk Douglas and, admittedly, it does take a while to get used to the idea of Kirk Douglas playing an introverted intellectual.  But, once you get over the initial shock, Kirk Douglas gives a pretty good performance.  Kirk may be miscast but that actually works to the film’s advantage.  In a world where surface appearances hide the unexpected truth, it only makes sense that a mild college professor would look like Kirk Douglas.

My favorite wife was Lorna Mae (Linda Darnell), who grew up next to the train tracks and who pursues and eventually married a wealthy, older man (Paul Douglas).  It was impossible for me not to relate to and even admire Lorna Mae.  Much like me, Lorna Mae was determined to get what she wanted.  Perhaps my favorite scene with Lorna Mae was when she blatantly did everything possible to get stuffy old Paul Douglas to look at her legs, largely because I’ve done the exact same thing on occasion.

A Letter To Three Wives is an entertaining and witty film that still holds up today.  Director Joseph L. Mankiewicz deservedly won the Best Director Oscar for his work here.  The film itself was nominated for best picture but lost to All The King’s Men.  I actually happen to like All The King’s Men but, if I had been an Academy voter in 1949, my vote would have totally gone to A Letter To Three Wives.