Lisa’s Editorial Corner: 10 Things For Which I Am Thankful In 2017


Well, it’s that time.

Every Thanksgiving, I come up with an even-numbered list of things for which I’m thankful.  I know some people are saying that we shouldn’t be thankful for anything this year.  These are the people who say that, because they’re miserable, it’s somehow offensive that everyone else isn’t miserable.

But you know what?

Fuck that.

No one tells me what to believe or whether or not I can celebrate a holiday.  That freedom is something that I’m very thankful for!  Here’s a few more things that I’ve been thankful for this year:

  1. I’m thankful for this site.  Arleigh Sandoc founded Through the Shattered Lens in December of 2009 and, about four months later, I posted my very first review on this site.  A lot has changed since that first review.  New contributors have added their own unique perspectives to this site and I’d like to think that, on a personal level, I’ve grown as a writer since I wrote that first review.  But one thing that has always remained consistent is just how much I love doing this.  I’ve posted over 4,000 posts on Through the Shattered Lens and I’ve had a blast writing every one of them!

2. I’m thankful for our readers.  Seriously, you are the ones who make all of this worthwhile.  We currently have somewhere around 28,000 subscribers and to each and every one of you, I say, “Thank you.”  Thank you for reading and thank you for commenting.  Just as I hope I’ve introduced some of you to some new movies, quite a few of you have also inspired me to take a second and third look at some of the films I’ve reviewed.

3. I’m thankful for all of the brave women (and men) who have shared their stories in an effort to make this world a safer place.

4. I’m thankful that this was the year of Twin Peaks.  On this site, starting with the original series and extending all the way through the end of the Showtime revival, we shared our thoughts on everything Twin Peaks this year.  Years from now, we’ll still be debating why Laura screamed.

5. I’m thankful that this has been a great year for genre films.  While so many of the year’s “prestige” films fell flat, 2017 will always be remembered as the year of War of the Planet of Apes, Wonder Woman, The Lego Batman Movie, Beauty and the Beast, Split Kong: Skull Island, Get Out, It, Spider-Man, The Big Sick, Logan, and Thor: Ragnorak.

6. I’m thankful for networks like TCM, which introduce classic movies to new viewers.

7. I’m thankful for my friends in the Late Night Movie Gang.  Every Saturday night, we watch a movie.  Sometimes the movie is bad and sometimes, the movie is really bad.  But we always have a blast.

8. I’m thankful that, in just another few weeks, I’ll be able to see The Disaster Artist.

9. I’m thankful for the artists who, in this time of rampant conformity, are still fighting to maintain their own unique and individual vision.

10. I’m thankful for Chinese food.  Seriously, who doesn’t love Chinese food?

Happy thanksgiving!

Here’s Looking at You On The Big Screen, CASABLANCA!


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Longtime readers of this blog know CASABLANCA is my all-time favorite film. It’s blend of stars, supporting cast, script, direction, drama, romance, and humor is the perfect example of 1940’s Hollywood storytelling,  when Tinseltown was at the peak of its moviemaking powers . I’ve seen the film at least 80 times in many different formats, from broadcast television to cable and satellite, from VHS to DVD to DVR, but never before on the big screen – until this past Sunday, that is!

Fathom Events, in conjunction with TCM, presents classic films on a monthly basis in theaters across the country. In my area, they’re shown at Regal Cinemas in Swansea, MA, a half hour drive down the highway. I’ve been tempted to make the trip a few times, but never got around to it for one reason or another. But when I heard CASABLANCA was this month’s feature, I knew…

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Say Goodbye to Hollywood: RIP Robert Osborne of TCM


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“Hi, I’m Robert Osborne”.

Those four words, delivered in a smooth-as-honey voice, were delivered to classic films lovers watching TCM for over twenty years. Now that voice has been silenced, as fans learned today of Osborne’s death at the age of 84. He had been off our screens since early 2016 due to an undisclosed ailment, and we all eagerly hoped and prayed for his return. Alas, it’s not to be.

Robert Osborne wanted to be an actor when he first arrived in Hollywood in the 1950’s. He signed a contract with Desilu Studios, and soon began a close, lifelong friendship with superstar Lucille Ball. Osborne had small roles in episodic TV, and a couple of films (but I’d be hard-pressed to pick him out in SPARTACUS or PSYCHO), but his acting career went nowhere. Ball suggested he put his journalism degree from the University of Washington to good use, along…

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A Few Thoughts On The Passing of Robert Osborne


Robert Osborne, the longtime host of TCM, passed away today.  He was 84 years old.

I write those words with the heaviest of hearts.  I never met Robert Osborne.  I did not actually know Robert Osborne but, like a lot of classic film lovers, I felt as if I did.

Usually, I am not the most patient of film watchers.  When I show up for a movie, I want the movie to start as quickly as possible.  In theaters, I’m usually the one who is cursing under her breath during the whole spiel about how to safely exit in case of a fire.  I once got in trouble in a film class when the professor heard me muttering, “Shut up and start the movie.”

But, whenever I watched a movie on TCM, I always made sure to watch Osborne’s introduction.  It didn’t matter what movie he was introducing.  Over the years, I watched Robert Osborne introduce everything from acclaimed Oscar winners to quirky grindhouse features.  And, without fail, his introductions always made the viewing experience better.  It wasn’t just that he was knowledgeable.  It wasn’t just that he was erudite.  It was that he loved the films as much as I did.  Robert Osborne was just as happy to introduce a film directed by Jess Franco as he was to introduce one directed by William Wyler.  Regardless of genre, regardless of director, regardless of reputation, Osborne treated all films and all filmmakers with equal respect.  Today’s film community, so full of elitism and willful ignorance, could stand to learn a little from Robert Osborne.

I’m going to miss Robert Osborne.  In many ways, he was the mentor that every film lover wishes that they could have had.

Don’t get me wrong.  I will never stop watching TCM and Ben Mankiewicz is a wonderful host in his own right.

But I will never forget Robert Osborne and I imagine that I’ll never watch or discover another film on TCM without missing him and his articulate love for the movies.

The Films of Dario Argento: The Cat o’Nine Tails


(I’m using this year’s horrorthon as an excuse to watch and review all of the films of Dario Argento.  Yesterday, I reviewed The Bird With The Crystal Plumage.  Today, I take a look at The Cat o’Nine Tails.)

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In 1971, Dario Argento followed up the massive success of The Bird With The Crystal Plumage with his second film as a director, The Cat o’Nine Tails.  While The Cat o’Nine Tails was another huge financial success, it’s never been as a critically acclaimed as Argento’s first film.  Argento, himself, regularly cites The Cat o’Nine Tails as being his least favorite of all of the films that he’s directed.

Much like The Bird With The Crystal Plumage, The Cat o’Nine Tails is a giallo that uses it’s rather complicated mystery as an excuse (a MacGuffin, to quote Hitchcock) for several suspenseful set pieces, the majority of which end with someone suffering some sort of terrible fate.  In this case, a series of murders are taking place around a mysterious medical complex, the Terzi Institute.  The murders are connected to some research being done at the institute.  I’m not going to spoil things by revealing what exactly is being researched but I will say that the key to the mystery is vaguely ludicrous, even by the typically flamboyant standards of the giallo genre.

But, then again, so what?  The fact that the genre’s mysteries are often overly complex and feature solutions that don’t always make sense is actually one of the appeals of the giallo film.  You don’t really watch a giallo for the mystery.  You watch it to see how the story will be told.  Perhaps more than any other genre, giallo requires a director with a strong vision.

And, if nothing else, Argento has always had a strong directorial vision.  Even when you may disagree with the choices that he makes (and I’m sure we all wonder why, in his later films, Argento grew so obsessed with telepathic insects), you can’t deny that they’re always uniquely Argento.  Though the film never reaches the delirious heights of The Bird With The Crystal Plumage, The Cat o’Nine Tails still has several strong set pieces.  There’s a sequence involving a poisoned glass of milk that I particularly appreciate.  And then there’s the long scene at the crypt, in which our two protagonists realize that they don’t really trust each other all that much.  And, of course, there’s the ending.  For a film that’s often dismissed as being lesser Argento, The Cat o’Nine Tails features one of Argento’s darkest endings.

The Cat o’Nine Tails is unique as being one of the only Argento films to regularly show up on TCM.  A lot of that is because The Cat o’Nine Tails is perhaps the least gory of all the films that Argento has made.  That doesn’t mean that there isn’t plenty of death and mayhem.  There is.  Blood is spilled but it never exactly flows.  The Cat o’Nine Tails is an Argento film that you could probably safely watch with an elderly relative.  That’s not necessarily meant as a complaint.  It’s just an observation that, when compared to the panty murder in The Bird With The Crystal Plumage or the skewering in The Mother of Tears, Cat o’Nine Tails is definitely a toned down Argento film.

The other reason why The Cat o’Nine Tails is popular on TCM is because it stars none other than that classic film mainstay, Karl Malden.  Continuing the Argento tradition of featuring protagonists who aren’t sure what they’ve witnessed, Malden plays a former newspaper reporter who is now blind.  He teams up with another reporter (played by James Franciscus, who may not have been a great actor but who did have perfect hair) to solve the murders.  Franciscus has the eyes.  Malden has the brains.  And Malden’s niece, Lori (Cinzia De Carolis), is largely present to provide the film with its final ironic twist.

Malden does a pretty good job in the role, too.  I’ve read some reviews that have complained that Malden overacts but actually, he gives the perfect performance for the material.  In fact, Malden’s unapologetically hammy performance contrasts nicely with the work of James Franciscus, which could  charitably be called subdued.  (Perhaps a better description would be dull…)

Cat o’Nine Tails may not be Argento’s best but I still like it.  If for no other reason, watch it for Malden and that wonderfully dark ending.

 

Lisa Reviews An Oscar Nominee and It’s Damn Important: The Hollywood Revue of 1929 (dir by Charles Reisner)


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Last night, I really needed a break from thinking about this stupid, asinine presidential election that we have coming up here in the U.S.  Fortunately, TCM provided me with one by showing The Hollywood Revue of 1929!

The Hollywood Revue of 1929 is probably one of the most obscure film to ever be nominated for best picture.  It’s a plotless collection of songs and comedy bits, all performed by actors who were under contract to MGM.  In fact, the movie might be best described as a two-hour commercial for MGM.  The message of the film seems to be: “Now that movies have sound, look what MGM can do!”

With the exception of Greta Garbo and Lon Chaney, every MGM star makes an appearance in Hollywood Revue.  Everyone sings a song and does a dance, even if some of them are better singers and dancers than others.  The revue is hosted by Conrad Nagel (who looks very dapper in a tux but still seems to be strangely uncomfortable with his hosting duties) and Jack Benny (who plays his violin and gets annoyed every time he’s interrupted by an MGM stock player).  Joan Crawford (who Nagal describes as being “one of my favorites”) sings, “Got A Feeling For You,” and she may be off-key but you can’t help but appreciate the fact that she’s doing her best.  Buster Keaton does a dance.  Laurel and Hardy perform a magic act that doesn’t go very well.  Marion Davies does a tribute to the military and I’m sure that, somewhere, William Randolph Hearst was smiling.  Chorus girls sit in the background and smile at the camera and, as someone who knows what it’s like to be in the chorus, I enjoyed watching as a few of the smarter and braver ones attempted to steal the audience’s attention away from the headliners.

At one point, Jack Benny reached into his suit jacket and revealed that a miniature version of actress Bessie Love was apparently living in the pocket.  He held Bessie in the palm of his hand and proceeded to have a conversation with her and all I could think about was the end of Mulholland Drive, when that tiny old couple cornered Naomi Watts in her apartment.  When Benny placed Bessie on the ground, she grew to normal height and sang a song.

During the second half of the film, silent screen star John Gilbert plays the balcony scene from Romeo and Juliet, opposite Norma Shearer.  First he does it in Shakespeare’s words and then he does it again in 1929 language.  Lionel Barrymore directs them.  Interestingly enough, Shearer (who was married to The Hollywood Revue‘s producer, Irving Thalberg) would later play Juliet in 1936’s Romeo and Juliet.  Barrymore, though best remembered as Mr. Potter from It’s A Wonderful Life, actually was a prominent film director in 1929 and would even invent the boom mic.  As for Gilbert, legend has it that the Hollywood Revue was the first time that audiences actually heard him speak and they were so unimpressed with his voice that his career ended.  Having now seen Gilbert speak — well, he didn’t have the greatest or sexiest voice but he still sounded better than Jean Hagen did in Singin’ In The Rain.

Speaking of Singin’ In the Rain, that song was specifically written for Hollywood Revue!  The entire cast sings it at the end of the film.

Seen today, there’s something charming about how old-fashioned and corny The Hollywood Revue is.  I imagine that some people will laugh at it but, honestly, it’s still more entertaining than that stupid live version of The Sound of Music that they put on TV two years ago.  The Hollywood Revue is basically the classic film equivalent of a high school talent show, where everyone does their best and a good deal of the charm comes from seeing how silly it all is.  If you love TCM, you’ll enjoy seeing all the Golden Age performers trying to do their best.  If you don’t love TCM, then go to Hell.

The Hollywood Revue is usually listed as being a nominee for best picture.  Actually, the truth is a little bit more complicated.  For the 2nd annual Academy Awards, there were no nominees.  Instead, the awards were determined by a select committee and only the winners were announced.  Much like the Cannes Film Festival, no film received more than one award.  Broadway Melody (which starred Hollywood Revue‘s Bessie Love) was named best picture.

However, notes were kept of the committee’s meeting and those notes indicate that Hollywood Revue was considered as a possible pick for best picture.  Hence, Hollywood Revue is considered to be a best picture nominee even though there were no official nominees that year.

Anyway, if you’re a classic film lover, keep an eye out for Hollywood Revue the next time that it shows up on TCM!

Lisa Reviews An Oscar Nominee: Broadway Melody of 1936 (dir by Roy Del Ruth)


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It’s Oscar month and you know what that means!  It’s time for TCM to do their annual 31 Days of Oscars!  For the next 31 days, TCM is going to be showing movies that were nominated for and occasionally won Oscars.  This is a great month for me because it has long been my goal to see and review every single film that has ever been nominated for best picture.  Considering that close to 500 movies have been nominated, that’s no small task.  However, over the past four years, I have definitely made some progress, as you can see by clicking on this link and looking at a list of every single best picture nominee.  Thank you, TCM, for helping me get closer to my goal!

For instance, if not for TCM, how would I ever had the chance to watch Broadway Melody of 1936?  Broadway Melody of 1936 was one of the twelve films to be nominated for best picture of 1935 but it’s now largely forgotten.  When film loves discuss the best musicals of the 30s, it’s rare that you ever hear mention of Broadway Melody of 1936.

Technically, it can be argued that Broadway Melody of 1936 was the first sequel to ever be nominated for best picture, despite the fact that it has little in common with Broadway Melody, beyond taking place on Broadway and being nominated for best picture.  (Broadway Melody won the award.  Broadway Melody of 1936 lost to Mutiny on the Bounty.)  Silence of the Lambs, The Godfather, Part II, Mad Max: Fury Road, Toy Story 3, and The Bells of St. Mary’s are all sequels that were nominated for best picture but Broadway Melody of 1936 did it first.

As for what Broadway Melody of 1936 is about … well, it’s really not about anything.  Oh, don’t get me wrong.  The film has a plot.  Irene Foster (Eleanor Powell) wants her former high school boyfriend, Broadway director Robert Gordon (Robert Taylor), to cast her in his new show but Gordon refuses because he doesn’t want the innocent Irene to be exposed to the sordid world of show business.  Fortunately, Irene has some allies who are willing to help her get that role.  Ted Burke (Buddy Ebsen) is an appealingly goofy dancer who, at one point, wears a Mickey Mouse sweatshirt.  Bert Keeler (Jack Benny) is a columnist who rattles off his “New Yawk cynical” dialogue in the style of most 1930s news reporters.

Broadway Melody of 1936 has a plot but it’s not really that important.  The story is just an excuse for the songs and the dance numbers.  And while none of the numbers are spectacular (especially when compared to other 30s musicals, like 42nd Street), they are all definitely likable.

Seen today, Broadway Melody of 1936 seems like an odd best picture nominee.  It’s not bad but there’s nothing particularly great about it.  To truly appreciate the film, it’s probably necessary to try to imagine what it was like to watch the film in 1935.  At a time when the country was still in the throes of the Great Depression, Broadway Melody of 1936 provided audiences with an escape.  Audiences could watch the film and imagine that they, just like Eleanor Powell, could leave behind the dullness of reality and find stardom in the glamorous and glitzy world of Broadway.

Never doubt the power of escapism.