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Why Can’t They Be Like We Were?

For a decade, George Sidney was the enthusiastic vulgarian who enlivened MGM’s immaculately tasteful musicals with such lurid displays as “Bathing Beauty” (1944) and “Kiss Me Kate” (1953 — and reportedly set for a 3-D Blu-ray release by Warner Home Video). But when he crossed over to Columbia, he immediately became one of the most dignified directors on Harry Cohn’s lot, with the elegant, distinctly Borzagian “The Eddie Duchin Story” and the ambitious but oddly compromised “Pal Joey” (1957). But he got his mojo back with the 1963 “Bye Bye Birdie,” a loose adaptation of a Broadway hit to which Sidney added both the mercilessly catchy title song and the astounding young redhead, Ann-Margret, who performs it in a single, super-charged take before the opening credits. There are times when the film’s bright, bouncy satire on/celebration of early 60s pop culture evokes the genius of Frank Tashlin — such as a vision of a Russian ballet on crystal meth — though Sidney isn’t able to sustain Tashlin’s energy level through the romantic subplot centered on Dick Van Dyke and Janet Leigh. Twilight Time has released a gorgeous Blu-ray transfer from Sony in its limited edition series, along with Blake Edwards’s rarely seen 1960 ‘scope musical “High Time,” in which Bing Crosby tries to make his peace with Fabian.

Also out: a highly improved edition of Delmar Daves’s sensitive Western drama “The Hanging Tree,” with Gary Cooper as a frontier doctor who collects lost souls. The film’s delicacy of emotion and unusual use of vertical space to evoke the precarious inner lives of its characters has always reminded me of Jacques Tourneur’s 1946 masterpiece “Canyon Passage,” and now that Daves’s images have been returned to their original, 1.85 dimensions and their color restored, its distinctive qualities are very much enhanced. From the Warner Archive Collection, again in a limited edition.

Reviews of the above here, in the New York Times.

154 comments to Why Can’t They Be Like We Were?

  • Joe

    Never appreciated the film version of “Bye Bye Birdie,” Dave. It was too much of an, ahem, adaptation. Disappointed that Sidney and scenarist Irving Brecher, largely a TV hand, truncated the wonderful stage score and essentially compromised the material to showcase A-M (on whom Sidney reportedly had a terrible crush, to put it politely euphemistically). But your invoking the name Frank Tashlin gave me pause and made me think. Could I be wrong? Could the film be a minor cartoon masterwork? Nah. Thinking more about it, I realized that I’ve seen Frank Tashlin movies and Sidney was no Tashlin. Too bad Tashlin wasn’t hired to direct. Too bad the film’s original director, Gower Champion, who helmed the material on stage, didn’t take a try at it (it would have been his directorial debut on film), but he famously bailed once he read the bastardized script. He would go on to made his debut with “My Six Loves” with Debbie Reynolds, who he actually wanted to play Rosie in “Birdie.” Nevertheless, Dave, I’ll try watching it yet again. BTW, great news about the upcoming 3-D “Kate.”

  • jbryant

    Given that TCM and Warners are under the same corporate umbrella, why on earth has TCM been showing THE HANGING TREE only in full frame? My understanding is that it was masked for theatrical, which would explain why the full frame compositions don’t seem compromised. But great news that the new disc is 1.85:1. A really fine film.

  • MikeBSG

    I had never thought of “The Hanging Tree” and “Canyon Passage” as being linked, but now that you mention it, putting the two movies together does make sense.

    Just watched “Cowboy,” another terrific western directed by Delmer Daves. The Fifties were just blessed with terrific westerns, weren’t they?

  • One of the reasons why the films Sidney made at Columbia (EDDY DUCHIN STORY, PAL JOEY, JEANNE EAGELS) seem more “dignified” and otherwise different from his MGM work is his extensive use of real locations – Central Park in EDDY DUCHIN, streets of San Francisco in PAL JOEY, and so on.

  • D. K. Holm

    For some reason Birdie always “felt” an awful lot like Rally ‘Round the Flag, Boys, in tone, color, aesthetics, framing, broadness of humor, and all that.

  • Barry Lane

    It was a thrill to see Canyon Passage described as a masterpiece. I saw it on initial release in 1946 and loved it.

  • David Cohen

    I had no idea that the Rodney Dangerfield comedy BACK TO SCHOOL was some sort of a remake. Especially since they built in a plot about a college diving team with a huge following(!) to reflect his particular show-biz background. And somehow got Kurt Vonnegut to show up.

  • Robert Garrick

    It’s odd that neither Dave Kehr (in the New York Times) nor anyone on this site has mentioned George Sidney’s most delirious, sex-infused, and Tashlinesque film. That would be 1966’s “The Swinger,” starring Ann-Margret at the peak of her ripeness.

    The film is meant to be a spoof of magazines like “Playboy.” Ann-Margret is supposed to be a good girl who “pretends” to be sexy to get a story.

    Certainly the film belongs in a time capsule, but it is not without its charms. Sidney was always willing to push the envelope stylistically, and here, in his penultimate film, he continued that trend. I haven’t seen the film for at least twenty years, but I remember one crazy shot in particular, of Barbara Nichols. She’s emceeing a burlesque show, as I recall, in a theatre setting. At one point, Sidney shot her from beneath floor level. The floor became transparent (briefly) in order to enable this shot. I remember thinking, when I first saw the film as a [delighted] teenager: “This guy is nuts.”

    The film is full of gorgeous women and pin-ups from the ’50s and ’60s: In addition to Ann-Margret and Nichols, it features Roger Ebert favorite Phyllis Davis, Kellie Everts, China Lee (wasn’t she married to Mort Sahl at one point?), Diane Webber, on so on and so forth.

    This is another tie to Tashlin, who used pin-up quality females in most of his films, and in many of his cartoons.

    Another Tashlin relation would be Russ Meyer, but I will let someone else pick up that ball and run with it.

  • If I may be so bold, I wrote up the Twilight Blu-ray of BYE BYE BIRDIE here:

    Spoiler alert: I liked it a lot – especially Janet Leigh, who I often think missed out on her true calling as a comedienne; see also THREE ON A COUCH.

  • Johan Andreasson

    Haven’t seen BYE BYE BIRDIE, but I agree that Janet Leigh had a flair for comedy. I remember her as funny in ANGELS IN THE OUTFIELD (Eisenhower’s favorite movie, I think) and her first musical MY SISTER EILEEN.

    George Sidney’s most memorable contribution to cartoons must be having Jerry the mouse dance with Gene Kelly in ANCHORS AWEIGH.

  • CB

    Johan! Janet Leigh’s fist screen musical was “Two Tickets to Broadway” in 1951; “Eileen” was a 1955 release.

  • Barry Putterman

    Well, that poster leaves little doubt as to where the focus of the film is. Of course, a movie musical centered on Ann-Margret is no more about rock and roll than is a stage musical centered on Dick Van Dyke and Chita Rivera.

    I’ve been watching a great many episode of “Tha Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet” over the past few years and it has its own very subtle fascination. Like another show that springs entirely from the psyche of its star, Jack Webb’s “Dragnet,” it presents a rather placid surface for the projection of some very idiosyncratic underpinings. An example being in the way that David and Ricky Nelson’s life in high school and college are presented. Which is to say that Ozzie is always in the middle of it. He is on as casual terms with David and Ricky’s friends as they are and usually gets caught up in their problems. Further, he is a regular at that inevitable teenage hangout “the malt shop,” continually popping in for some ice cream to stay or to take home to the family. Gradually it becomes clear that what we are seeing is an unstable mixture of Ozzie’s memories from his own high school and college days and his hopeful projections of what his sons’ experience is.

    You don’t often get that concept as literalized as it is in HIGH TIME, but, in fact, just about all of the films which depict school life in a “lighthearted” vein during the studio system era are more detached versions of the same idea. They are films made by middle aged adults, primarily for an audience of peers, and are built on similar memories and projections.

    The filmmakers never really capture the subject accurately, but neither do we in the audience. What we remember of our school days is a grab bag of snatches from countless hours spent in classrooms and socializing with the people whom circumstances had thrown us together with. Don Novello’s “Fifteen Minute University” is an acute observation on many different levels.

    The shift from the studio system era to the “New American Cinema” basically meant that these kinds of movies were now being made by filmmakers who had just recently graduated from these environs for an audience which, to a great extent, was still experiencing it. As such, BYE BYE BIRDIE became I WANNA HOLD YOUR HAND, and HIGH TIME became ANIMAL HOUSE.

    Were these new films any more accurate than the older ones? Probably not. But the dynamic was very different. At the very least, except for period pieces, nobody was going to be pictured hanging out at “the malt shop” anymore.

  • Another Frank Tashlin connection: George Sidney was also deeply involved in animation as a co-founder of Hanna-Barbera Productions (Huckleberry Hound, Quick Draw McGraw, The Flintstones, Yogi Bear, Top Cat, The Jetsons). Some of those characters (they belong to my earliest animation memories) appear in BYE BYE BIRDIE. Interestingly, after a successful career in the movies Sidney started a long and completely different phase of life.

  • CB

    Sidney also used animation for a sequence that was cut during the roadshow engagement of “Pepe” which may be his most Tashlinesque movie. And why on earth isn’t that on DVD?

  • Johan Andreasson

    CB: I didn’t know about TWO TICKETS TO BROADWAY. I was tricked by the TCM website into believing EILEEN was Janet Leigh’s first musical.

    Since Leigh and animation seems to be the subject: BFI now has published the lists of individual voters (much more fun to read than the consensus list). As an animation fan I’ve been browsing it looking for directors with animated films among their top ten. The most surprising result so far is Winsor McCay’s HOW A MOSQUITO OPERATES (1912) on Mike Leigh’s list.

  • jbryant

    I have somehow never seen BYE BYE BIRDIE or VIVA LAS VEGAS, but I’m a big Sidney fan on the strength of KISS ME KATE, SCARAMOUCHE and SHOW BOAT. I manage to miss his take on THE THREE MUSKETEERS every time TCM airs it, which is fairly often (it was on last week for Gene Kelly’s birthday, I believe).

    Had no idea Sidney was involved with Hanna-Barbera.

  • David Boxwell

    Pictured on the poster, in blue (center frame), but that which could not be named: Paul Lynde.

  • CB

    Johan- FYI. Leigh also sang her own songs in “Pete Kelly’s Blues,” the Jack Webb film.

  • Center square, don’tcha mean, David?

  • jbryant (August 28, 2012 at 7:14 pm), George Sidney’s friendship with William Hanna and Joseph Barbera started with ANCHORS AWEIGH and the Gene Kelly dance with Jerry the Mouse. Sidney’s basic weakness: his movies tend to be too long. SCARAMOUCHE is my favourite Sidney, but there are good sequences in many others, including KISS ME KATE (“Brush Up Your Shakespeare”). A big credit for showcasing Ann-Margret, the best movie partner Elvis ever had, so electrifying that Honoré de Balzac might have called her La Torpille.

  • Johan Andreasson

    In The Flintstones she was called Ann-Margrock. Here she is singing with Fred and Barney:

  • Gregg Rickman

    Winsor McCay’s HOW A MOSQUITO OPERATES is a perfect metaphor for capitalism and as such something Mike Leigh would like. It’s also appropriate election-year viewing.

    McCay of course was in the golden shackles of a Hearst contract through much of his career, and as such the film can also be seen as highly personal.

    And… it’s a great vampire movie!

  • Oliver_C

    “McCay was unquestionably one of the greatest American artists of the twentieth century. His most personal contribution, however, was to a medium — the comic strip — in which orthodox opinion has refused ever to detect greatness.”
    — Gilbert Adair, writing in Flickers

  • Alex

    THE THREE MUSKETEERS gets by as an entertainment one can at least bear to stay with until the end on the basis of its robust plot, gorgeous color, nicely choreographed action and fair casting –even though the acting keep drift into a sort of unintentional parody that Sidney –quite unlike Lester in his great MUSKETEER films–can’t control. Not as effective as the fine SCARAMOUCHE, in part because Stewart Granger, Janet Leigh and Eleanor Parker actually act where Lana Turner looks far too dumb for the famously cunning Lady d’Winters Gene Kelly mainly muggs.

  • Alex


    “Read my lips…” –Clint Eastwood, Tampa, evening, 08-29-2012

    (Whiskey Tango Foxtrot!)

  • Barry Lane


    Yes, about The Three Musketeers relative to Scaramouche. Add Mel Ferrer and Henry Wilcoxon to the effective players. And Victor Young’s score. I thought Gene Kelly athletic enough. Van Heflin glum and fascinating. John Sutton just fine. But, Lana Turner as a shop girl, okay. As Milady De Winter, not so good.

  • Alex

    “Read my lips…” –Clint Eastwood, Tampa, evening, 08-30-2012 (?)

  • Alex

    “Kelly athletic enough. Van Heflin glum and fascinating.”

  • Alex

    No need to be shy.

    Clint Eastwood has always been an A-list director and an A-list performer; and last night was A word quality all the way. For me this firmly establishes Clint on yet a third A-list.

    I guess it’s all prefigured in the the almost metaphisically scatological HEARTBREAK RIDGE, but genius is free to bide its time.

  • Tony Williams

    Exactly! Last night was really a rehearsal for Clint’s version of MACBETH that will be a musical (following A STAR IS BORN). Didn’t any of you get the Banquo’s chair reference. I can’t wait for the “Birnam Wood coming to Dunsinane” scene when Clint will belt out, ” I talk to the trees but they don’t listen to me!”

  • Craig

    Eastwood’s performance art piece last night was surreal on a number of levels. Most significant perhaps was his ability to get a room full of Republicans to applaud the idea of immediately ending the US conquest of Afghanistan (and by extension Iraq and much of the rest of the world). A very surreal moment. Who knew that the Republican party was such a bastion of anti-imperialism! Also extremely strange was his declaration that lawyers should not be elected President of the United States as an introduction to a candidate with a law degree from Harvard!

  • Clint Eastwood scholars (of whom our host is perhaps the most accomplished) will be parsing his appearance at the Republican convention for decades to come. I’d rather return to the halcyon days of Winsor McCay’s HOW A MOSQUITO OPERATES, referenced above, which I’ve been thinking about in reference to the S&S all-time-greats poll. Now that their top 250 list has been published, it’s sad to see that only three films on that list predate 1920: A TRIP TO THE MOON, INTOLERANCE, and CALIGARI. While the 40 or so films that at any given time may be found in any given day’s “top ten” list of mine are all largely vintage 1920-80, it’d be easy to put together an entire list of pre-1920 films as great as any films ever made. In no particular order, I’d suggest Sjostrom’s THE OUTLAW AND HIS WIFE and THE SONS OF INGMAR parts 1 and 2; Stiller’s SIR ARNE’S TREASURE; Feuillade’s JUDEX (among others); Griffith’s TRUE HEART SUSIE (among many others); Chaplin’s THE IMMIGRANT (among many others); Arbuckle’s HE DID AND HE DIDN’T, FATTY & MABEL ADRIFT, THE BELLBOY, THE COOK; Tourneur’s THE WISHING RING and ALIAS JIMMY VALENTINE; Weber’s SHOES; Micheaux’s WITHIN OUR GATES (many sources though list this as 1920); DeMille’s THE CHEAT and THE WHISPERING CHORUS; and there are more I’ve forgotten, haven’t seen, or have been lost. To which “all time great film list” may be added copious titles by the Lumieres, Melies, Porter, Alice Guy, Max Linder and others operating in the very free conditions of 1895 to 1912 or so… and, lest we forget, a number of animated films by Winsor McCay,including HOW A MOSQUITO OPERATES.

  • Alex

    SPeaking of the “greats,”

    By my tally the Directors with the most films listed by respondednt to the 2012 BFI poll are in descending order of “most (and with # of fiulms listed in parentheses:
    1. Godard (31)
    2. Ford (22)
    4. Bunuel (21)
    4. Hitchcock (21
    7. Bresson (16)
    7. Lange (16)
    7. Renoir (16)
    9. Chaplin (15)
    9. Mizoguchi (15)

    The director most often mentioned by those polled is clearly Hitchcock, whose mentions for Vertigo, Psycho and NxNW and Rear Window alone do, by my somewhat rushed but systematic count, outnumber all mentions for Godard, Bunuel and Ford.

  • Alex

    “Bergman (17)” should be substituted for “Bresson (15)” –for whom 13, not 15, films got a vote.

  • Barry Lane


    Janet Leigh did not sing in Pete Kelly’s blues. Peggy Lee, who did that on a regular basis, sing, performed musically and dramtically in that picture.

  • Dear Alex (September 1, 2012 at 9:20 am), thank you for this fascinating list! Jean-Luc Godard has 31 different movies on professionals’ top ten lists – awesome! Has anyone counted how many different movies are mentioned altogether in those 1200 top ten lists? No movie from the last 44 years made it to the critics’ top ten – but of all the movies mentioned, how are they distributed by decade (the 1970s, the 1980s, the 1990s, the 2000s…)? My impression is that the nearer to the present we come the greater the dispersion. And the strong representation of silents on the top ten is based on the fact that the votes for silents were concentrated on generally known titles.

    The film director Mika Taanila pointed out to me that 11 different Stan Brakhage movies appear on the top ten lists.

  • 12 films by Robert Bresson appear on the lists – all the feature films he directed except Les Anges du péché (plus somebody got away with “Bresson’s entire oeuvre”). All seven feature films directed by Andrei Tarkovsky appear on the lists.

  • Alex

    Ten great films for which no one voted:
    Altman’s THIEVES LIKE US
    Grémillon’S REMORQUES
    Kazan’s WILD RIVER
    Lee’s 25th HOUR
    Tanner’s IN THE WHITE CITY
    Wyler’s DODSWORTH

  • Oliver_C

    I am
    I said
    To no one there
    And no one heard at all not
    Even Clint’s chair

  • Alex

    Ten more BFI-neglected greats:

    Marlon Brando’s One Eyed Jacks
    William Dieterle‘s The Hunchback of Notre Dame
    Stanley Donen‘s Charade
    Jack Gage’s The Velvet Touch
    David Mamet’s House of Games
    Chris Menges’ A World Apart
    G. W. Pabst’s, The Love of Jeanne New
    Ivan Passer’s Cutter’s Way
    Andres Techine’s Wild Reeds
    Jan Troell’s The Emmigrants

  • Craig

    @Gregg- I actually was thinking of our virtual host while watching that amazingly strange performance by Eastwood at the RNC. When someone from the convention floor yelled out “Go Ahead, make my day” and Eastwood improvised that into getting the entire convention floor to chant this famous line from SUDDEN IMPACT (1983) I immediately thought of Dave Kehr’s remarkable review of this film (collected in his recent WHEN MOVIES MATTERED).

    In the last paragraph of that review Kehr states “Eastwood’s camera lingers briefly on the new couple as they emerge into the dawn light, and the shot- of an exhausted, hollow-eyed Eastwood and a still keyed up Locke- is one of the most ambiguous and unsettling images I have ever encountered in the American cinema….Where can this couple possibly go from here? This isn’t the didactic conclusion of a right-wing tract, but a moment of deep subversion. All the certainties have been erased, and the dawn rises on a frightening new world”. I couldn’t agree more with this assessment of the film. This makes it all the more strange that Eastwood would tether himself to a party and candidate that seems so diametrically opposed to a complex vision of the world. Mitt Romney and the Republican/Tea Party act out of a place of extreme clarity about history, morality, and power. One wonders if Todd Akin would conclude that Jennifer (the Sondra Locke character) and her sister had been the victims of a “legitimate” gang rape?

    My fascination here is the ways that Eastwood as artist seems to contradict his professed ideological commitments. Much of Eastwood’s body of work seems to me more useful to the center-left then it ever would be to his pals at the convention. I am also interested in how conservative people receive the ambiguity within his work. SUDDEN IMPACT was the most successful of the Dirty Harry films and to my mind is clearly the most subversive. How does that work for people? Or, more to the point how do people work out these contradictions? Is there something hopeful about the chanting of a line from such a subversive film?

    Finally, does anyone know the ideological position of Sondra Locke? It would be hilarious for the Democrats to get her to appear as a special guest at the upcoming convention. Now that would make my day!

  • Tony Williams

    Despite probably irritating Gregg by again going off topic, I’d like to affirm Craig’s comments above. After finishing WHEN MOVIES MATTERED, I contacted our “invisible host” (who is probably seated in a chair)at this moment!) by mentioning how much I liked his review of this film. It seemed to sum up what I felt about something regarded as just another violent DIRTY HARRY movie at the time.

    As to Eastwood as artist, don’t we have something parallel to Marx’s recognition of the work of Balzac the monarchist and the complexities of late Ford whose last words on receiving his honorary Academy of Motion Picture Award was “God bless Richard Nixon”? That statement that can not even encompass the complexities of his post-war work. Neither can Clint’s stand-up comic version of Banquo’s Ghost did on Thursday night. As Jerry Lewis told Laurence Olivier comedy is hard work and Clint’s embarassing performance matched Lord Olivier attempting to do pratfalls at that notorious party.

    I’m afraid the Democrats will play safe and get boring George Clooney rather than Sondra because he is in the limelight.

  • Craig

    Another ten worthy films that did not appear on the Sight And Sound critics list.

    Little Toys (1933) Sun Yu
    Ganga Bruta (1933) Humberto Mauro
    Aniki Bobo (1942) Manoel de Oliveira
    Maria Candelaria (1944) Emilio Fernandez
    Kanal (1957) Andrej Wadja
    A Valparaiso (1963) Joris Ivens
    The Earth (1969) Youssef Chahine
    The Courage of the People (1971) Jorge Sanjines
    Insiang (1977) Lino Brocka
    The Man Who Envied Women (1985) Yvonne Rainer

  • Alex

    Eastwood’s Thursday performance should not by and large reflect adversely on his films, but neither should the merits of those films excuse that performance — and neither should the blandness and predictability of Clooney’s direction imply anything remotely comparable to Eastwood’s dithering Thursday complicity in pernicious political opportunism.(I write “by and large” because it does cast a cold light on the likes of ABSOLUTE POWER and the similarly propagandistic –if symptomatically quite interesting– HEARTBREAK RIDGE.)

    As for libertarian Eastwood on American society as an analog to Monarchist Balzac on Restoration France and July Monarchy, I don’t think the comparison holds well. Balzac covered the derelictions of his old regime as well as he shed new light in those of the new financial potentates their still aristocratic patrons and goons. he dissected amoral power of emergimng institution and its and its victims –his Abbé Carlos Herreras and Lucien Cardons– without illusions. I see no comparable social scope cum acuity in the work of Eastwood, who as his best tends to deconstruct earlier personae who are themselves more directly and memorably embedded in generic precedents than in any capacious engagement with The World –although MYSTIC RIVER does some social breadth and depth and there are impressive leaps of empathy in “Million Dollar Baby” and “Letters from Iwo Jima.”

    As for SUDDEN iMPACT, it’s a fine psychological thriller, but it’s especially, if not unusually, true to Kehr’s generalization that “Eastwood’s movies don’t really work on a surface, social level at all; at their best they operate in a realm of inner experience, emotional archetypes (WHEN MOVIES MATTERED, p.80). It’s hardly Balzackian in its virtues. But then Balzac is one of those giants who operates simultaneously on social and social psychological and archetypal levels, levels which are in his work fused.

  • I have mixed feelings about BYE BYE BIRDIE. A-M does indeed sizzle in it, and it’s a smashing debut for her. Paul Lynde’s “Ed Sullivan” number is a hoot. But it does bastardize the souce material, and as much as I love Janet Leigh, seeing her in brownface (and dubbed), in a role written for Chita Rivera that makes a point of the character being a Latina, grates.

    However, I question that BIRDIE, or especially VIVA LAS VEGAS, were ever aimed at the teenaged audience. BIRDIE was a 1960 stage musical inspired by something that happened in 1957. By the time the film came out, the teenagers who were distraught by Elvis’s induction into the army would have been adults with full-time jobs, and many of them would have started families. How much would “Conrad Birdie” actually have meant to someone who was 17 in 1963?

    VIVA LAS VEGAS was one of the greatest Elvis vehicles, with Ann Margret his best-ever partner. She handily steals the film, with George Sidney’s blessing. Col. Tom Parker saw this coming and protested vigorously, but Elvis was either nice enough or so smitten with A-M that he didn’t care.

    The movie was a big hit, but how much of that was attributable to teenagers? It was eight years after “Hound Dog” and “Love Me Tender” and the first wave of Elvis fans was in their mid-twenties. Neither Elvis or A-M are playing teenagers in the film and Las Vegas wasn’t exactly known as a teen mecca. A-M plays a swimming instructor at a Vegas hotel and Elvis is a professional race car driver. His crew and friends all seem to be in their thirties or older. He’s not a rebel without a cause, or even with one, but the kind of daring professional that Howard Hawks often celebrated, a younger version of the ones played by Wayne and Grant.

  • Alex, I share your enthusiasm for WILD RIVER, THE LOVE OF JEANNE NEY and CUTTER’S WAY. I’ll take the others on your lists (and on, ahem, Craig’s list) as recommendations to see, or see again. And thanks for compiling the directors’ tallies for the S&S poll. I remember a conversation with a friend who was distressed that certain directors hadn’t made the top 50, and my opinion was that there might be less consensus for particular titles of Mann, Ray, Minnelli et al than there were for Ford or Hitchcock. I’m curious as to the vote totals some of these directors ran up.

    Tony, I’m always happy to read commentary on Clint Eastwood at the level you and Craig offer. I really haven’t followed his career the way that many on this board have, but I read him as only two thirds of a great star-director. Yes, he’s an icon (like Chaplin, Keaton, Welles, Lewis, Allen) whose films skillfully make use of a distinctive star persona. And yes, he’s a more than competent director, an inheritor of the classical tradition. But he’s missing the third leg of this chair, the ability of a Chaplin or Welles to make anything they touch uniquely and powerfully theirs. It doesn’t matter (as it does with Eastwood) if Welles is dominating the screen or is just an off-stage voice. Shakespeare or Mankiewicz, it’s all Welles.

    Reviewing the films of Eastwood’s I’ve seen, the outstanding entries in his filmography come from genres he’s associated with and/or feed on his inspired use of his star persona (his westerns, to a lesser degree his crime films, projects like GRAND TORINO). I can’t say they’re great movies, but commercial successes like THE BRIDGES OF MADISON COUNTY and SPACE COWBOYS also work to the degree they work with that persona. With many of his other projects (MIDNIGHT IN THE GARDEN OF GOOD AND EVIL, MYSTIC RIVER, MILLION DOLLAR BABY, THE CHANGELING, J. EDGAR) however Eastwood turns into John Huston: he’s respectful of the material, he tries to execute it faithfully, but he’s like a tourist, pointing his camera at what seems like it might be interesting. I sit through those films impatiently, with all good will waiting for something to catch fire. (The Japanese panel of his Iwo Jima diptych does succeed in this.) His utter dependence on his screenplays is pointed out by his famous filming of the script as written of UNFORGIVEN. In that case the material was ideal for him, but when he takes on something outside his wheelhouse, as with J. Edgar Hoover’s sexuality, or the ethics of mercy killing or of vigilante justice, he’s at sea.

    But compare Ford when he’s outside his regular range: THE FUGITIVE, THE RISING OF THE MOON, GIDEON OF SCOTLAND YARD, SEVEN WOMEN, all pure Ford, whatever you think of the result. Ford is to Eastwood
    as Nixon is to Mitt Romney: Ford the great and tormented artist/Nixon the great and twisted failure; Eastwood the icon who at best knows who he is/Romney the empty suit with no there there.

  • Gregg,
    That is a terrific post on the 1910’s.

    This decade is so rich in all art forms, whether classical music and painting, film, or prose mystery fiction. Maybe cinephiles will start treasuring films like THE OUTLAW AND HIS WIFE, JUDEX and ALIAS JIMMY VALENTINE.
    High Time shares imagery with Blake Edwards’ later masterpiece The Great Race:

    Comic subplots lead to actual social protest. One of the main characters is a student from India, and he leads a massive student protest against the events, that is explicitly tied in the dialogue to Gandhi. These 1960 scenes were made long before the anti-Vietnam War rallies led people to associate students and protests. They form an example, along with the suffragette protests in The Great Race, of Edwards’ interest in non-violence.

    The many shots of the male students stripped to the waist anticipate the duel Tony Curtis fights without his shirt towards the end of The Great Race.

    Gavin MacLeod’s chemistry professor anticipates a bit the mad scientist imagery associated with Dr. Fate. Both men produce billowing clouds of smoke, for instance, and both laugh dementedly.

    The hero’s attempts to scale heights, during the bonfire and at the graduation, recall a bit Dr. Fate’s exit from the boardroom window, and the villain’s exit after the duel in The Great Race.
    During the 1960’s, Paul Lynde was highly regarded as a comic actor. In BYE BYE BIRDIE, he sings, acts, creates a character and contributes to an overall narrative film. He did the same in countless TV appearances.

    It is too bad today that people think of him almost entirely in terms of cornball jokes on HOLLYWOOD SQUARES. He had much more to offer than this minor schtick.

  • At the end of High Time, Bing Crosby arranges to “fly” via a wire.
    I wanted to do this ever since I saw PETER PAN at age 5.

    Unexpectedly, got a chance to do this in 1985. Was on a standard tour of Universal Studios in LA. They had an exhibit based on the science fiction film 2010. They need a volunteer from the tour group who was exactly 5’9” tall and who weighed 180 pounds. I kept raising my hand…

    Half an hour later, I was in a spacesuit, “flying” twenty feet above ground using wires.
    It was unforgettable.

  • Alex

    A big beneficiary of 2012 BFI ballotting as opposed to 2002 BFI ballotting is the reputation of Joseph von Sternberg, who received votes for each of the following films:
    Blonde Venus (1932)
    Blue Angel, The (1930)
    Dishonored (1931)
    Docks of New York, The (1928)
    Last Command, The (1928)
    Morocco (1930)
    Saga of Anatahan, The (1953)
    Scarlet Empress, The (1934)
    Shanghai Express (1932)

    Only Saga of Anatahan and Scarlet Empress recieved any votes in 2002.