"Pre-Code refers to the four-year period before the Production Code was strengthened and enforced. There had been a Code since 1930, but the studios negotiated with it, bypassed it, or just plain ignored it." - Mark A. Vieira
For true classic movie fans, it's not enough to just watch our favorite films. We need to extend the experience. We watch, research, learn, share, repeat. We relish the details. One of the reasons I love classic film books is that they provide me with context on why these films were made. They help me understand how movies were influenced by politics, culture, social mores, industry trends and the lives and careers of the key players involved.
Mark A. Vieira's new book Forbidden Hollywood does just that for the Pre-Code era. It provides the context needed to fully appreciate what made 1930-1934 a unique period in film history. Movies were an increasingly popular form of entertainment and with the threat of government regulation looming over them, Hollywood decided to self-regulate. But during the Great Depression, stakes were high and a power struggle ensued between the studios and the censors. Who were the people on both sides of the table? First who have the studio execs, the directors, the producers, the writers who were all trying to circumnavigate the system, one they had originally agreed upon but prevented them from producing the scandalous movies that Depression era audiences would put their hard earned money towards. On the other side you have the censors, Will Hays, Joseph Breen, the MPPDA, the SRC and countless state regulators who were fighting a losing battle. When the censors finally put their foot down and the production Code was finally enforced the way it was intended to be, the Pre-Code era was officially over.
Forbidden Hollywood is the ideal film book. It's the perfect marriage of information and entertainment. The text focuses on the people behind-the-scenes and the beautiful photographs showcase those in front of the camera. This coffee table style book is compact enough to read comfortably but large enough to be displayed in all its glory. The text starts with an introduction from the author and a section devoted to the 1920s, which set the stage for what was to come. Then each section is a year-by-year analysis, breaking down the escalating factors that made Hollywood filmmakers bolder and the censors weaker. Within each section are chapters based on themes that help readers tie the threads together of what exactly what was going on in the Pre-Code era. And for anyone whose studied this era, it's not an easy one to follow which makes Vieira's direction all that more helpful.
Source: Running Press
Source: Running Press
Source: Running Press
Some of the films discussed include: Little Caesar (1931) The Public Enemy (1931) A Free Soul (1931) Mata Hari (1931) The Easiest Way (1931) Possessed (1931) Cock of the Air (1932) Scarface (1932) Red Headed Woman (1932) Grand Hotel (1932) The Mask of Fu Manchu (1932) Freaks (1932) Call Her Savage (1932) Sign of the Cross (1932) Island of Lost Souls (1932) So This Is Africa (1933) She Done Him Wrong (1933) 42nd Street (1933) Gold Diggers of 1933 Footlight Parade (1933) Baby Face (1933) Tarzan and His Mate (1934) and more
If you want to know more about how the book is structured, what it looks like inside and more, check out my video review of the book below!
Book Review: Forbidden Hollywood by Mark A. Vieira - YouTube
Stay tuned as I have an interview with Mark A. Vieira coming up soon on the TCM website and Tumblr!
Thank you to Running Press for a review copy of this book!
My 2019 Cinema Shame challenge got off to an auspicious start. Seven days into the year not only had I posted my challenge but I had also already seen two of the movies on my list. Then months passed, I never reviewed those films and now I find myself mid-April having to start all over again. But no sweat. Let's begin from the beginning.
My challenge for this year is to watch 10 films from my birth year 1980. These are films I've never seen before (hence "Cinema Shame"). I kick off the challenge anew with American Gigolo (1980).
Written and directed by Paul Schrader, American Gigolo stars Richard Gere as Julian Kaye, a handsome gigolo whose clientele mostly consists of the wealthy elite of Beverly Hills. With the help of his madame/boss Anne (Nina van Pallandt), he plays both escort and sex therapist to older rich ladies. Julian, or "Julie" as some call him, is very devoted to his job. He wears Armani suits, drives a Mercedes Benz (a 450 SL R107), speaks multiple languages and knows how to navigate the social scene. One day he meets Michelle (Lauren Hutton), the wife of Senator Stratton (Brian Davies). The two have a wild love affair. In the midst of it all, Julian gets a secret side gig from his shady pimp friend Leon (Bill Duke) who sets Julian up with a couple. Weeks later the wife from that gig has been found brutally murdered and detective Sunday (Hector Elizondo) is on the case. All fingers point to Julian who is clearly innocent. He's been set-up. But by who? And why?
"Legal is not always right. Men make laws. Sometimes they're wrong." - Julian Kaye
American Gigolo was filmed in early 1979 and released February 1980. Something I love about the 1970s and the early 1980s is Hollywood's newfound comfort with on-screen sexuality. We lose that later on and to this day people are more put off by sex in film than they are violence which, in my opinion, is an utter shame. I love how Julian Kaye enjoys his work and takes pride in offering quality service to the women who hire him. In one scene he discusses working for three hours with a client to achieve a particular goal that had previously seemed impossible. The portrayal of gender dynamics in the film was perhaps what drew me in the most. Julian's boss is a woman, his most trusted allies are women and any toxic relationships in his life all come from men.
It's not a perfect film but I enjoyed American Gigolo not only for the portrayal of sexuality (which at times was still a bit corny but hey its 1979/1980) and the exploration of gender roles but also for the crime drama aspect. Julian Kaye is solving a murder mystery while simultaneously trying to clear his name without revealing his own illegal activities. Richard Gere is charming as the debonair yet reserved gigolo and he's worth the price of admission alone. I had never seen Lauren Hutton in a film. I remember growing up in the 1990s, the age of the supermodel, and Hutton was still highly revered as one of the greats.
Have you seen American Gigolo? If so, what did you think?
The year was 1937. Comedic duo Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy, simply known as Laurel and Hardy, were at the top of their game. While filming Way Out West, Laurel, who had been taking a more active role in the writing, direction and production of their films, had a falling out with producer Hal Roach. When Laurel parted ways with Roach, Hardy didn't follow suit and found a new partner in Harry Langdon. But there was no Hardy without Laurel and vice versa. The two quickly reunited and continued their legendary collaboration.
"We're not exactly spring chickens anymore."
Fast forward to 1953 when Laurel and Hardy are about to embark on their second European tour. They traveled all across the UK doing stage productions of their famous skits. The tour's main purpose is to drum up the needed support to make their next film, a spoof on Robin Hood, for the Associated British-Pathe studios. That film was never meant to be. This tour inevitably was to be their last hurrah. Before Hardy shuffled off his mortal coil and Laurel retired, they would prove once again that they could make 'em laugh. Directed by Jon S. Baird, Stan & Ollie (2018) is a heartfelt ode to two comedic geniuses whose identities were inextricably tied to each other. Written by Jeff Pope and A.J. Marriot, the story focuses on Laurel and Hardy's final European tour in 1953 but dips back to 1937 when they were at a crossroads in their life and career.
The film stars Steve Coogan as Stan Laurel and John C. Reilly as Oliver "Babe" Hardy. Coogan and Reilly embody the spirit, the mannerisms, the personalities almost effortlessly. They really captured the magic of Laurel and Hardy's comedic chemistry and how their characters drew from their real life temperaments. It's quite astonishing how Coogan and Reilly transformed themselves into their characters. Reilly wears a prosthetic suit made to look different depending on if the scenes were set in 1937 or 1953. Usually prosthetics look rather fake but the make-up team on this movie did an amazing job because Reilly really indeed look like Hardy. They made several, more subtle changes to Coogan's appearance but they were still incredibly effective.
Coogan and Reilly are playing two sides of Laurel and Hardy. We see them as performers but much of the film is about them as business partners. Laurel is the tireless workaholic always coming up with new ideas and ventures and Hardy is the more relaxed fun loving one who just enjoys performing. Coogan and Reilly do a great job portraying both sides of their personalities and the film shows how these sides sometimes blend together.
Paralleling their story was Lucille Hardy (Shirley Henderson) and Ida Laurel (Nina Arianda), the two devoted wives who have their own comedic dynamic as polar opposite characters. Danny Huston plays the irate Hal Roach and Rufus Jones plays Bernie Delfont, the duo's tour manager.
By the end of the movie I was working my way through a box of tissues because I got so emotional. This is a beautiful film. A sincere portrait of a partnership and a friendship. It's essentially one big love story that turned me into a puddle of goo.
I watched this movie with my husband Carlos and he had confessed to me that he'd never seen a Laurel and Hardy film. I stopped Stan & Ollie to show him Liberty (1929) which is my favorite of their films. We also watched the original dance sequence from Way Out West (1937) which is recreated a couple of times by Coogan and Reilly in the film.
You don't have to know Laurel and Hardy to appreciate the film. However, if you are indeed a fan it makes Stan & Ollie all the more special. This film is a treasure. Go seek it out.
Stan & Ollie is available on DVD and Blu-ray from Sony Picture Classics. The Blu-ray extras include three vignettes: Making of Stan & Ollie (4 min.), Playful Prosthetics (3 min.) and Dancing Duo (3.5 min), a Q&A with Cast & Crew (30 min.), deleted and extended scenes, theatrical trailer and other Sony related trailers.
Please visit my MovieZyng Store for other Sony Picture Classic releases and a wide variety of classic film related DVDs and Blu-rays.
STAN & OLLIE - OFFICIAL MAIN TRAILER [HD] Steve Coogan, John C. Reilly - YouTube
Founded in 1921 by Charlie Chaplin, Mary Pickford, Douglas Fairbanks, and D.W. Griffith, the Motion Picture and Television Fund Home (television was added later) seeks to care for members of the industry who were in need of full-time support. More than just a nursing home, the MPTF is a thriving community of retired visionaries. As Ted Witzer, former talent agent says, MPTF's community boasts "an incredible wealth of talent... just a little bit older."
Directed by Uli Gaulke, Sunset Over Mulholland Drive is a documentary that takes an intimate look at a group of MPTF residents and how they come together to collaborate on a project. The film was shot on the campus in 2017 and features the following residents:
Connie Sawyers - Actress
Ted Witzer - Talent Agent
Joel Rogosin - Television Producer
Deborah Rogosin - Therapist
Tony Lawrence - Screenwriter
Jerry Sedley Kaufmann - Director
Anne Faulkner - Actress
Daniel Selznick - Television Producer
Wright King - Actor
Phil Haberman - Sound Editor
Dena Dietrich - Actress
Duke Anderson - Sound Engineer
Maggie Malooly - Actress
Brett Hadley - Actor
I had the pleasure of visiting MPTF last Spring so I was particularly excited to see this film on the slate for this year's SXSW Film Festival. It's important for us to recognize the contributions, both big and small, that the MPTF residents made on the entertainment industry. So many figures from the past have been forgotten and overlooked and that's why classic film fans, like myself, know how valuable it is when the spotlight is focused on them. We cannot risk losing their stories forever.
The film focuses on a creative writing group which is organized by an MPTF staff member. It encourages individuals to write down their stories to preserve their legacies for their families and for future generations. About half way into the film we see the group work on a sequel to Casablanca, imagining what would happen if Rick and Ilsa reunited many years later. It's not the most interesting part of the documentary. This helps to give the film a storyline but I was much more interested in hearing from the different subjects than I was in finding how their project turned out.
Classic film lovers will appreciate all the references to films like Gone with the Wind, 2001: A Space Odyssey, Planet of the Apes, A Streetcar Named Desire, American Graffiti and many others. The different residents discuss working with people like David O. Selznick, Susan Hayward, Dean Martin, Elvis, etc.
Some of my favorite moments in the film included Connie Stevens talking about her career, the sweet story about how John Lawrence found love again after his wife passed away and seeing actor Wright King watch his scene with Vivien Leigh in A Streetcar Named Desire. Pretty much any moment when the film lingers on a scene or interview with one of the residents is a highlight for me. A few of the subjects have passed away since the filming making these moments even more special.
There are beautiful shots of the MPTF campus. And as someone who's been there I can tell you it's stunning in real life. There is a short tour at the beginning but I wish we learned more about the history of MPTF and about the different facilities on campus.
Sunset Over Mulholland Drive is an important documentary for the sole reason that it brings awareness to those elderly members of the entertainment industry who have contributed so much but are at risk of being forgotten. There are times I felt the film a bit rushed and that perhaps it could have gone in a different direction. Until I get the MPTF documentary of my dreams, I'll be pointing people to this one as essential viewing.
Sunset Over Mulholland Drive - Trailer - Vimeo
Sunset Over Mulholland Drive had its world premiere at the 2019 SXSW Film Festival as part of their Documentary Spotlight series.
Tony Baxter (Joel McCrea) is a full-time lawyer, part-time womanizer. He sets his sights on Ann Gray (Maureen O'Sullivan) when he spots her at the court house. Little does he know she's the defendant in a murder trial led by District Attorney Martin (Lewis Stone). When the jury finds her guilty, Ann is whisked away by a police escort which is later involved in a car crash. In the chaos of the accident, Ann makes her escape and by chance catches a ride with Tony who takes her back to his place. Baxter tries to hide Ann from his glamorous fiancee Betty (Adrienne Ames) with the help of his devoted butler Peedles (Robert Greig). When Tony finds out that not only is Ann on the lam from the cops she's also wanted by gangster Smiley (Louis Calhern), the real murderer, he helps her escape. Even embroiled in a sticky situation, Tony is determined to get the girl. Can they prove that Ann is innocent of this heinous crime?
Woman Wanted (1935) was directed by George B. Seitz for MGM. It's based on an original story by Wilson Collison and adapted to the screen by Leonard Fields and David Silverstein. According to the AFI, "following the release of Woman Wanted, a Hollywood Reporter news item noted that, due to a studio error, too many names appeared in the writers credit in the preview credits. Only Fields, Silverstein and Collison were intended to receive writing credits." It was originally called Manhattan Madness before it was eventually changed to Woman Wanted.
The production was plagued with setbacks. Richard Boleslawski was set to direct but left two days into the project to work on O'Shaughnessy's Boy instead. Two more directors, Harry Beaumount and J. Walter Ruben, were assigned but eventually abandoned the film. MGM finally they settled on director George B. Seitz. For the lead role of Tony Baxter, Franchot Tone and Wallace Beery were considered but those plans fell through. MGM got Joel McCrea on loan. This is the only film McCrea and O'Sullivan made together. It was filmed over a couple of weeks in May 1935 and released later that year.
"Don't you worry about me, I can take care of myself." - Ann
Woman Wanted is cute movie with totally ridiculous and implausible scenarios. If you suspend your disbelief enough you'll find it enjoyable. There were several moments in the film that reminded me of other movies including Singin' in the Rain (1952) and Sullivan's Travels (1941). I couldn't help compare this with Hide-Out (1934), which also stars Maureen O'Sullivan in a story about a fugitive on the run. I reviewed that film in a previous Warner Archive Wednesday post. While Hide-Out is the better of the two films, O'Sullivan's character in Woman Wanted is a more complex character. She's strong-willed but also plagued with fear. There are two suicide attempts and while she is the victim of the story, I didn't get a sense that Tony (Joel McCrea) is coming to her rescue. The Tony-Ann dynamic is more like two partners-in-crime than a one-man rescue mission.
This movie has a superb supporting cast. I love McCrea and O'Sullivan but I also couldn't pass up the opportunity to see a movie featuring two of my personal favorites: Louis Calhern and Lewis Stone. I only wished they had a bit more screen time. I really loved the scenes with Adrienne Ames who plays the glamorous socialite Betty. She's basically playing herself but does it so well. Robert Greig does a superb job in the role of Peedles, Tony's loyal butler who cleverly maneuvers around his boss' sticky situations. He has some great lines and is the sources of most of the film's humor. Who doesn't love a good butler role? They're often the unsung heroes of a film.
Woman Wanted is a light drama that is equal parts endearing and eccentric. Worth watching for the superb cast. The brief running time of 67 minutes is also a bonus!
On the heels of A Star is Born (1937), William Wellman and David O. Selznick teamed up again to make Nothing Sacred (1937), a screwball comedy starring Carole Lombard and Fredric March. The story was based on James H. Street's "Letter to the Editor" published in International-Cosmopolitan in 1937 and adapted to the screen by Ben Hecht. According to the director's son William Wellman Jr., Wellman's contract restricted the overbearing Selznick only 6 visits to the set max. Selznick's enthusiasm for the project can be seen in the following telegram he sent to John Hay Whitney, chairman of the board of Selznick International Pictures:
"Nothing Sacred started shooting this morning. You wanted comedy— boy you're going to get it, and bet it on your own head. After this one I am either the new Mack Sennett or I return to Dr. Eliot."
Ace reporter Wally Cook (Fredric March) finds himself in a pickle. He's been recently demoted to obituaries after he wrote a piece about a Sultan turned out to be a fake. Hoping to make good by his editor-in-chief Oliver Stone (Walter Connolly), he tackles his next big story which he's sure we'll get him back on track. Wally learns of a young woman dying of radium poisoning. He visits the fictional town of Warsaw, Vermont to find Hazel Flagg (Carole Lombard), a young woman dying of radium poisoning. Turns out town physician Dr. Downer (Charles Winninger) had misdiagnosed her. She hides this fact from Wally who offers to fly her and her doctor out to New York City for one last hurrah. There she becomes the toast of the town, a pathetic subject for the community to fawn over. Her "final days" become a spectacle making it a big story for the newspaper. When things start begin to unravel it becomes clear that Wally has fallen in love with Hazel and must find a way out of their predicament.
Produced by Selznick International Presents, Nothing Sacred was distributed by United Artists and was a hit with both critics and audiences. Shot in Technicolor, it offers a visual splendor enhanced by the recently remastered Blu-ray from Kino Lorber. From the elegant costumes, elaborate sets and gorgeous aerial footage of 1930s era New York City, this film is a feast for the eyes.
Nothing Sacred is a comedy through and through. Subtle jokes are weaved in throughout along with zany situations that make this a classic screwball comedy. According to historian Frank Thompson, the set was "pandemonium [because] Lombard had every bit the talent and enthusiasm for pranks and mischief as Wellman." It was remade as Living it Up (1954) starring Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis and also became a Broadway production known as Hazel Flagg.
There are lots of great supporting roles including Margaret Hamilton who plays an uptight store clerk. Hattie MacDaniel has a bit part as the wife of a boot black (Troy Brown Jr.) who pretends to be an African Sultan. Frank Fay plays the Master of Ceremonies at a gala thrown in Hazel's honor.
Nothing Sacred is a must-see for fans of the screwball comedy genre. With that said, I wanted to like this film but I thought it was just okay. I appreciated the performances, the visuals and the clever jokes. I definitely want to rewatch it to pick up on subtleties I may have missed. In the end, it didn't captivate me the way I wanted it to. Unfortunately, I've never cared for Carole Lombard as an actress, no matter how much I admire her as a person nor how many Lombard films I've seen to get over this aversion. I'll keep trying but for now I'm not there yet.
**** Spoilers Start ****
I've always been weary about films depicting liars and frauds. It has to be done well for me to appreciate the story. Honestly I was surprised that Hazel gets away with her fraud. The story has Wally and Hazel sailing off into the sunset. I guess what she did is not technically a crime so it didn't have to be punished according to the Production Code. The dying Hazel becomes a larger-than-life persona that transcends Hazel herself. The community wants a martyr they can fawn over and celebrate. In the end it didn't matter if Hazel was for real or not.
Nothing Sacred (1937) is available on Blu-ray and DVD from Kino Lorber Studio Classics. When you use my buy links you help support this site. Thanks!
Kino Lorber's Blu-ray is exceptionally vivid in color and crispness. I wish I could show you a still or video from the Blu-ray so you can see just how stunning this restoration is! The Blu-ray comes from a brand new HD Master created from a 2k scan of a restored fine grain master. The disc also includes audio commentary by William Wellman Jr as well as a variety of Kino Lorber trailers.
Thank you to Kino Lorber for sending me a copy of Nothing Sacred (1937) for review.
Jean-Pierre Aumont and Susan Peters in Assignment in Brittany (1943)
After completing a dangerous mission in North Africa, Captain Pierre Metard (Jean-Pierre Aumont) is sent back to France for a new assignment. And this one is a doozy. Pierre happens to bear a striking resemblance to one Bertrand Corlay, a French Nazi collaborator who was injured and imprisoned by the British. Pierre receives a makeover to look exactly like Bertrand, complete with a fake birthmark on his back. His goal is to uncover the secret German submarine port before the Germans attack the French/British forces guarding the shore. When Pierre goes to Bertrand's home and assumes his identity he fools everyone except Bertrand's mother Mme. Corlay (Margaret Wycherly). She's on to him but allows him to proceed with his mission. Pierre meets with Bertrand's fiancee Anne Pinot (Susan Peters) a deeply religious woman who was never in love with Bertrand but was still upset to find out he had a mistress. And that woman is Elise (Signe Hasso), a woman of questionable morals and a participant in Bertrand's political exploits. Pierre falls in love with Anne and she returns the sentiment when Pierre saves her from an attack. In order for Pierre to infiltrate the underground Nazi network in this region of France and to keep up appearances to fool everyone into thinking he's Bertrand, he must go through an elaborate series of performances and escapes. Will Pierre as Bertrand be able to save the French forces from the Nazis before it's too late? What will happen when Anne finds out who Pierre truly is?
Assignment in Brittany (1943) was directed by Jack Conway for MGM. The story is based on the novel Cross Channel by Helen MacInness, serialized in The Saturday Evening Post in 1942. MGM snapped up the rights fairly quick and the film was shot later that year. MacInness' story was adapted to screen by film writing team Anthony Veiller, William H. Wright and Howard Emmett Rogers.
The story requires a leap of faith for plausibility. Pierre fooling everyone because he looks like Bertrand seems very unlikely and if you don't suspend your disbelief you might scoff at the idea like Wycherly's character does. However, the viewer never sees the real Bertrand so as far as we know they could be identical twins!
Like many other WWII films, Assignment in Brittany is a tale of wartime resistance and espionage with a tender love story at its center. It marked the American film debut of French actor Jean-Pierre Aumont (simply billed as Pierre Aumont) and Swedish actress Signe Hasso. Aumont is charming as the conniving yet soft-hearted Pierre. The plot was not a stretch from Aumont's own military experience. According to a TCM article by Frank Miller, "Aumont had served heroically in North Africa during the war and received the Legion of Honor and the Croix de Guerre. Even in Hollywood, he supported the war effort, appearing at special screenings of Assignment in Brittany, to help raise funds for the Resistance. "
If you know me, you'll know that I've been excited for Assignment in Brittany for two reasons: Susan Peters and Darryl Hickman. Studying Peters' life and filmography has always been a pet project of mine and I was thrilled to see her in another starring role. The character of Anne Pinot fit Peters like a glove. The reserved Anne who comes out of her shell to fall in love with Pierre and help with the resistance just suited Peters sensibilities as a person. Anne plays off the polar opposite character of Signe Hasso's Elise in a Madonna/Whore dynamic. Elise is the femme fatale who breaks men's hearts, including that of Richard Whorf's character Jean, and whose Nazi activities threaten to bring harm to the community. Anne on the other hand has a sense of purity and nobility helps saves Pierre and France, for the time being.
Darryl Hickman in Assignment in Brittany (1943)
A few years ago I had the pleasure of meeting Darryl Hickman at the TCM Classic Film Festival and I asked him about this film. Hickman plays Etienne, a child who serves as a political messenger for his restaurateur uncle played by William Edmunds.
Spoiler alert: Hickman plays the hero of the film! At first he betrays Pierre but only to keep a secret that is vital information later on. It's a delightful role and I absolutely adored the scene between Aumont, Peters and Hickman toward the end of the film. Hickman is a highly underrated actor. He's always delivered wonderful performances as a child, teen and adult. Seek out his work (and his book about acting!). You won't be disappointed.
Jean-Pierre Aumont, Susan Peters and Darryl Hickman in Assignment in Brittany (1943)
Assignment in Brittany (1943) is a WWII curio that hasn't been available on home video until now. It pairs nicely with another WWII film starring Susan Peters, also featuring a young Darryl Hickman, Song of Russia (1944). Both of these are available from the Warner Archive Collection and for that I'm truly grateful.
Warner Archive Wednesday - On (random) Wednesdays, I review one title from the Warner Archive Collection. Thank you to Warner Archive for sending me a copy of Assignment in Brittany (1943) on DVD for review!
Promotional Still from The Last Command (1955). The film was shot in TruColor. (Photo Source)
Director Frank Lloyd's The Last Command (1955) tells the story of Jim Bowie (Sterling Hayden) and the events leading up to the Battle of the Alamo in 1836. Tensions between the Mexican government and American settlers in the territory of Texas, before it became a state in 1845, were high. Bowie hears of the imprisonment of political prisoner Austin (Otto Kruger) and pleads with William B. Travis (Richard Carlson) and Mike Radin (Ernest Borgnine) for a peaceful resolution. Having fought with Mexican General Santa Anna (J. Carroll Naish) and marrying a Mexican citizen, he feels some loyalty to that side until young Jeb Lacey (Ben Cooper) tells him of the Mexican's mistreatment of Americans. Things shift for Bowie when he meets Consuelo (Anna Maria Alberghetti), a beautiful teenager whose father supports the American side. Tragic loss and illness comes to Bowie and when it becomes clear that Santa Anna will attack, Bowie, Davy Crockett (Arthur Hunnicutt), Travis and their men must prepare for a battle of no return.
This film is perhaps most well-known for its connection to John Wayne. A few years earlier Wayne had wanted to make this film with Herb Yates of Republic Pictures. These two could not see eye-to-eye on the project. Wayne wanted to film in Mexico and Yates insisted on Texas. The two had a falling out which resulted in Yates making the film without him. Wayne left Republic and directed, produced and starred in his own version of the story The Alamo (1960). Yates and Wayne never spoke to each other again and as a big middle finger to Yates, Wayne re-used a lot of the same sets that were in Yates' film.
Promotional shot of Anna Maria Alberghetti and Sterling Hayden from The Last Command (1955). (Photo Source)
The Last Command (1955) is not exceptional but is enjoyable. Hayden is perfectly suited to play the loner and free spirited Bowie. The sheer size of Hayden dwarfs pretty much every other cast member. He was truly larger-than-life in more ways than one. The Consuelo-Bowie love story was frustrating. When they meet Bowie is married and Consuelo is only 17 years old. The plot conveniently gets rid of Bowie's wife and children with the plague making room for their affair. In real life Bowie did suffer this devastating loss but it seems Consuelo only exists to add a love story to the film. I'm not well-versed in the history of the Battle of the Alamo and the key figures involved. From what I understand, this film does a good job staying true to the historical events but also using fictional elements to delivering the story as entertainment. According to the AFI, director Frank Lloyd said the following:
"The addition of fiction to fact is permissible and often dramatically desirable so long as the fiction does not contradict the fact, but is presented as a logical and reasonable development. It is the perversion of facts, not their augmentation, that destroys authenticity."
The movie is well-worth watching not only for the cast but also the attention to detail that went into the costumes by Adele Palmer, for Max Steiner's score and for the great battle scenes. There is a great knife fight scene between Ernest Borgnine and Sterling Hayden that reminded me of Borgnine's fight with Montgomery Clift in From Here to Eternity which released a couple years before.
The Last Command (1955) is available on Blu-ray and DVD from Kino Lorber Studio Classics. When you use my buy links you help support this site. Thanks!
Kino Lorber's Blu-ray is from a brand new HD master from a 4K scan of the 35mm Trucolor original negative. It includes audio commentary by Alamo historian Frank Thompson and a variety of Kino Lorber trailers.
While the publicity stills above are in black-and-white the film was shot in Trucolor.
Thank you to Kino Lorber for sending me a copy of The Last Command (1955) for review.
New year, new books! I'm excited to present to you another classic film book round-up. There are so many new releases that I had to be a tad more selective this time. I didn't include some of the higher priced scholarly books and kept mostly to trade and books that I thought you all would be interested in. If you think I overlooked an important title, let me know and I'm happy to add it in!
Are you new to my list? Here are the details. Links lead to Goodreads or the publishers' page. Books include biographies, memoirs, scholary texts, coffee table books and more from a variety of publishers. Publication dates range from January to July and these are subject to change.
If you want to hear me chatting about classic film books (and why wouldn't you?) I was a special guest on two episodes of The Movie Palace Podcast including one I did just with host Carl, Classic Film Books episode, and one I did with Carl and my good friend Vanessa, Gift Ideas episode.
For my 2019 Cinema Shame challenge I'm shaking things up a bit by watching films from the year I was born. And there is no shame in telling you that 1980 happens to be my birth year. Although there is a bit of shame in admitting how few films released in 1980 I've actually seen. Not very many. So I plan to correct that in 2019 with this new challenge.
If you're not familiar with Cinema Shame, make sure to visit the official website for details.
Which of these films from 1980 have you seen and which do you recommend? Here is what I'm planning on watching this year:
American Gigolo (1980)
dir. Paul Schrader
starring Richard Gere, Lauren Hutton and Hector Elizondo
The Blues Brothers (1980)
directed by John Landis
starring John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd
directed by Harold Ramis
starring Chevy Chase, Rodney Dangerfield, Ted Knight, Henry Wilcoxon
Dressed to Kill (1980)
directed by Brian De Palma
starring Angie Dickinson, Michael Caine, Nancy Allen
directed by Anne Bancroft
starring Dom DeLuise, Anne Bancroft, Ron Carey
Flash Gordon (1980)
directed by Mike Hodges
starring Sam J. Jones, Melody Anderson, Max von Sydow
directed by Ronald Neame
starring Walter Matthau, Glenda Jackson, Sam Waterston
Tom Horn (1980)
directed by William Wiard
starring Steve McQueen, Linda Evans, Richard Farnsworth, Elisha Cook Jr.
Urban Cowboy (1980)
directed by James Bridges
starring John Travolta, Debra Winger, Scott Glenn, Madolyn Smith Osborne
directed by Robert Greenwald
starring Olivia Newton-John, Gene Kelly, Michael Beck, James Sloyan
What's on your Cinema Shame list for 2019? Tell me in the comment section below!