The Best Book about Hollywood, Ever

Is ‘Bring on the Empty Horses’ the best book ever written about Hollywood? I really think it is.

It’s a book written from first-hand experience for starters. The author, British born movie actor David Niven arrived in Hollywood in the early 1930’s. He had decided to try his luck in the movie business and he had come to the right place because Hollywood, California was the centre of the film making universe.

Some years previously it had been a rural backwater of lemon and orange groves but the silent film pioneers had found it had the perfect climate for film making. Back then in the silent days films were made in the open air shot on sets with no ceilings to let in the abundant California light.

By the 1930’s, sound had well and truly arrived and the big studios all had their coterie of stars and David Niven has a pocketful of stories, anecdotes and sketches about them and the other bit players, extras, directors and writers who inhabited Hollywood between the years 1935 to 1960.

Working as a boat hand to make some extra cash, Niven came on board a small vessel one morning. His job was to mop the boat down, get the fishing rods and bait ready and make sure some coffee and breakfast was on the go. The charter that day was for a man known as the King of Hollywood, none other than Clark Gable. Gable turned out to be a friendly customer who enjoyed his fishing. Some years later when Niven had made his first forays into acting and had a seat at a table at the Oscar ceremony, he was understandably very happy indeed to find Gable greeting him enthusiastically, his stock at that particular table rising dramatically after Gable came over to talk about fishing.

Niven goes on to paint an affectionate portrait of Gable alongside some other essays on various stars of the time. My favourite must be the short chapter on Errol Flynn. Flynn and Niven shared a house at one time and Niven comments that Flynn was completely trustworthy in a way, because whatever happened, he would always let you down!

During the making of ‘the Charge of the Light Brigade‘ which Warner brothers decided to set in India rather than the Crimea, Flynn, the new star started to get a little big headed. One big brute of an extra decided to waggle a lance under the behind of Flynn’s horse to teach Flynn a lesson.  The horse consequently threw Flynn off. He got up, dusted himself down and proceeded to teach the big guy a lesson of his own by beating him into a pulp!

Flynn had a yacht named the Zaca and weekends on the boat included sailing trips full of wine, women and song. Many young girls appeared on the boat, none of whom produced any ID which was unfortunate for Flynn as he was later charged with statutory rape. The accusing girls appeared in the courtroom wearing school uniforms and in pigtails but happily for Flynn the court saw through that and he was acquitted, although the image that the press painted of him was one that he was happy with.

In later life Flynn was bankrupt and became a floating shadow of his former self, sailing the seas in the Zaca. Later he made a great Hollywood comeback playing his great friend John Barrymore in ‘Too much Too Soon.’ He died in 1950 aged only 50 and in a poignant moment, Niven living then in the south of France, takes a walk along the French coast only to find the dis-masted remains of the Zaca lurking quietly in a boat yard.

Another great portrait is the one that Niven gives us about Prince Romanoff, known as Mike to his friends who ran the famous Romanoff’s restaurant on North Rodeo Drive in Beverley Hills. He was also a former conman once known as Harry F Gerguson. Harry or Mike possessed an immaculate old Etonian accent and assumed the identity of the late Romanoff prince. His restaurant became a popular venue and by the end of the Second World War was a well-established Hollywood eating house. Niven tried to haggle with Mike many times and break down his stories of mingling with royalty, of Eton and Harrow and military academies like Sandhurst but to no avail. If he was a con man he was in the top echelon of his profession.

I’ve always loved George Sanders with his easy smooth talking suave style. Niven recounts various stories about him including some about his relationship with Zsa Zsa Gabor. During the break up of their marriage they stayed fairly friendly. However, George was well aware of the California divorce laws and decided that it was important to have evidence of Zsa Zsa’s relationship with her new lover. His plan was to break into his house –that Zsa Zsa had contrived to still live in- and photograph her in the arms of her new man. In case entry to the house proved difficult he took along his lawyer, a photographer and a brick with which to break in. Conscious of looking suspicious carrying the brick he gift wrapped it. On arrival at the lover’s nest the bedroom door was conveniently unlocked. They entered, took the appropriate evidentiary picture and then when tempers had cooled they all trooped down to the lounge. It was Christmas time and Zsa Zsa mentioned that George’s present was under the tree. Sanders passed her the brick, still gift wrapped and said ‘and here is yours!’

Many famous places appear in Niven’s book; the Brown Derby restaurant, Chasen’s and many other bars and restaurants frequented by long gone stars; Ava Gardner, Monroe, Rita Hayworth, Orsen Welles and many more. Niven also recounts a visit to some distant drinking den frequented by Robert Newton who appeared with Niven in ‘Around the World in 80 Days’. Niven and Newton imbibed a generous amount of alcohol but when Newton began to disclaim various Shakespearean passages to the locals Niven realised it was time to leave. The pair had arrived straight from the studio and David had no money with him so it was with some surprise that he heard Newton hiss that he had none either. “We have a tricky situation here” observed Newton rolling his eyes.

Happily the two made a quick exit in Newton’s Chauffeur driven ancient Rolls.

The book tells of the big studios like Warner Brothers and MGM and their great back lots.  There was little location filming in those bygone days and on the back lots could be found entire New York streets, French and Spanish villages, frontier towns, Indian camps, medieval castles, a railroad station complete with rolling stock, lakes with wave making machines and a Mississippi steamboat.

Small wonder then says Niven that ‘Gone with the Wind’ was filmed in Culver City, ‘Mutiny on the Bounty’, just off Catalina Island, and ‘The Charge of the Light Brigade’ in the San Fernando Valley.

I actually own two copies of this wonderful book. One is a smart hardback copy for my bookshelf. The other is the copy photographed for this post, a well-thumbed tatty copy that I pick up and take to the garden now and again or to the dentist or whenever I have a spare moment to spend in Hollywood’s golden years.


Floating in Space is a novel set in Manchester, 1977. Click the links at the top of the page to buy or for more information.

 

6 Great British Films You May Never Have Heard Of!

The Night my Number Came up (1955) starring Michael Redgrave, Sheila Sim, Alexander Knox and Denholm Elliot. Directed by Leslie Norman.

A senior Royal Air Force officer (Michael Redgrave) is at a dinner party in Hong Kong and a naval Commander played by Michael Hordern, talks about a dream he had in which the Air Marshal and a group of 5 other companions were flying from Bangkok in a Dakota which crashed on a rocky shore. The Air Marshal is due to fly to Tokyo the following day but he is not unduly bothered as many of the details differ from his planned flight including using a different kind of aircraft, a Consolidated Liberator.

When technical issues ground the planned aircraft a Dakota airliner, like the one seen in the dream, is substituted, and a number of other passengers arrive to make the total number of people on board 13, the same number of people as in the dream. As the flight proceeds, other circumstances change so that eventually most of the details correspond to the dream. When the aircraft runs low on fuel due to becoming lost in bad weather the pilot manages to bring the aircraft down in emergency landing in a snowfield in the mountains and all on board survive. The naval commander hears about the missing plane and arrives at the RAF base to direct search parties to the correct area.

The director, father of the film critic Barry Norman, builds the tension in the aircraft as more and more people come to know about the dream and gradually become more and more anxious. It was interesting to find out when I researched the film that it was based on a real incident in the life of British Air Marshal Sir Victor Goddard. All in all, an excellent film with good performances from Michael Redgrave, Alexander Knox and a young Denholm Elliot.

The Dead of Night (1945) starring Mervyn Johns. A series of short stories that combine together. Each instalment had a different director.

This is probably one the great horror movies of the 1950’s, in fact, one of the great movies full stop. It’s a series of short stories all linked together by the central character played by Mervyn Johns. His character architect Walter Craig, arrives at a house in the countryside where he has been consulted on some building work. The house seems all too familiar to him and then he then realises that everything that happens he has already lived through in a dream, a nightmare in fact. As more guests arrive for the weekend he recognises them from the dream and is convinced something terrible is about to happen. When he confides this story to the others, they in turn all relate a supernatural story before the central theme reaches a terrifying climax. Two stories that were particularly good were one in which an unbalanced ventriloquist (Michael Redgrave) believes his dummy is alive and another where a woman played by Googie Withers buys an antique mirror for her husband and finds that the mirror has an hypnotic effect on the man.

An outstanding film and one that was highly rated by director Martin Scorcese and was voted the 35th best horror film of all time by Time Out magazine.

The Intruder (1953) starring Jack Hawkins. Directed by Guy Hamilton.

Another classic 50’s film starring Jack Hawkins. Hawkins plays Colonel Merton, an ex-army officer who returns home one night to find his London flat being burgled by a petty thief. Merton confronts the man played by Michael Medwin, only to find that the intruder is in fact Ginger Edwards, one of the men from his old command. He is shocked to see one of his former soldiers reduced to crime. He tries to talk to Ginger but accidentally knocks over his phone in another room which leads Ginger to think he has called the Police. When there is a knock at the door Ginger bolts and makes a hasty departure. Merton then decides to visit some of his old army comrades – Ginger mentioned he was in touch with one of them – in order to track the man down. Each old comrade tells a story about Ginger which all nicely link together to show how circumstances have worked against their old friend. A lovely film with excellent performances and a number of familiar faces from British film and TV, among them Dennis Price, Dora Bryan and George Cole.

The Long Arm (1956) starring Jack Hawkins and directed by Charles Friend.

This is a brilliant film, it really is. It’s a sort of CSI London from the 1950’s. Like the present day CSI series, this film shows the crime detection process using the then start of the art technology. Jack Hawkins is a police inspector and is called on to look at a robbery in London. The theft was from a safe manufactured by a company called Rock. There is little to go on and Jack returns to his 1950’s suburban home feeling rather disappointed. Happily his typical 1950’s housewife is there waiting for him, his tea is ready and his evening bottle of beer also all ready too. Hawkins spends a little time with his son before bed time and tells him all about his current case and the lack of clues. Well, says the boy, perhaps the thief is a super thief who has never been caught. This revolutionary thought rings a bell for Hawkins and he goes back down to Scotland Yard straight away for a meeting with the records guy played by Geoffrey Keen. Together they trawl through the card file (no computers back in the 1950’s!) of unsolved cases and find one relevant link. A set of robberies all from  safes manufactured by, yes you’ve guessed it, Rock.

OK next up is a visit to the Rock factory for more investigation but then the robber makes a fatal mistake. While fleeing from the scene of his latest heist the robber runs over and kills a passerby. Later the abandoned murder car is found and 1950’s style forensic technology uncovers various clues. The most interesting one is a rolled up newspaper used to clean the window. A fascinating look at newspapers and how they are produced and distributed follows and the police are soon on the trail of their man. I won’t give away the ending but the film kept me on my toes throughout and Guy Hamilton who directed some of the early Bond films throws in a little action to bring the film to a climax.

No Highway in the Sky (1951) starring James Stewart, Marlene Dietrich, Glynis Johns. Directed by Henry Koster.

James Stewart plays an aircraft technical expert Theodore Honey who is trying to solve the mystery of a crash involving a new aircraft, the Rutland Reindeer, which has crashed in Canada. Honey theorises that the crash was a result of metal fatigue and sets up an experiment which involves the tailplane of the aircraft subjected to continual vibration in a controlled environment. When Mr Honey flies home on another Reindeer he is shocked to find that the aircraft is an early production model and is fast approaching the flight time that he has theorised the tailplane will fail. Mr Honey decides to warn the crew and also a famous film star aboard played by Marlene Dietrich. Consternation reigns in the cockpit but the pilot has no choice but to carry on. On arrival at Gander the pilot consults with experts in London and the aircraft is cleared to fly on. In a desperate act, Honey retracts the undercarriage and wrecks the plane to stop it from flying.

Stewart plays Mr Honey as a slightly eccentric character, very similar to his character in the film Harvey. Marlene Dietrich takes quite a liking to him as does the stewardess and they are both eager to help and support him and his young daughter when his theory is attacked from all sides. Needless to say, he is proved right in the end.

Last Holiday (1950) starring Alec Guinness. Directed by Henry Cass.

Guinness plays a pleasant mild-mannered salesman called George Bird who has no friends or family and finds out he only has a few weeks to live. He decides to spend the time he has left by going to a rather posh residential hotel where the residents find him a sort of enigma. His star rises here as he becomes involved with the residents and staff and people start to wonder about him. Who is he? Is he rich? Lucrative job offers come his way as well as love but only one person knows his secret, a member of staff that he confides in. In the end Mr Bird finds out he was wrongly diagnosed but the film ends on a sad note when he is killed in a car crash. Penned by author J.B.Priestley, it’s another wonderful British picture full of excellent performances with a whiff of sadness and poignancy about it.  Guinness’ performance is excellent and the underlying sense of inevitability is further enhanced by a haunting musical theme that we hear throughout the film.

If I had written this a few years back I might have been tempted to add this to a blog like Unseen TV which was a post about cinema and TV films which rarely get an airing on terrestrial TV. However, I am happy to see that all of the above films can be found on the new freeview channel 81 Talking Pictures.


Floating in Space is a novel set in Manchester, 1977. Click the links at the top of the page to buy or to find out more!

Adventures on eBay!

ebayOn eBay a while ago I came across a listing for a razor handle for a pound. I remember thinking at the time what plonker is going to even think about buying that? Well, more about that later. Still, there are a huge amount of crazy things on eBay, things like broken items for instance. Quite a few times I’ve come across something on eBay at a fraction of its usual value. That’s where you have to stop and take a closer look. Check the small print because many times you will find something like ‘not working’ or ‘for parts only.’ That’s right, your old mobile phone packs up -flog it on eBay because somewhere, there is someone either collecting broken mobiles or using the parts to fix other broken mobiles and re selling them to make money. Of course it could just be some weirdo who collects broken phones, who knows?

Not long ago, my partner Liz, asked me to bid on a dress or a top on eBay and ever since I have been getting e-mails from eBay advising me about even more ladies dresses and tops. I also bought an iPad on eBay so now I’m inundated with emails about iPads for sale. Pay attention eBay, – I’ve already bought an iPad. I don’t need another! And please stop sending me emails about ladies dresses!

I do love old movies and eBay is the perfect place to find them. Yes, enter a film title into the search page, click on movies and DVDs and within a few moments there will be the DVD you are after. You can search by price, by time left to the end of the auction or by distance to your home but if the movie is on DVD and is out there, you will find a copy. Here are a few of my e-bay buys, some successful, some not so . .

High Noon.

I picked up a very cheap copy of this on e-bay a while ago. No cover or box, just the disc in a plastic wallet and I parted with just £1.60 for my purchase. High Noon is the story of a small town sheriff who has just got married. He is about to hand over to a new sheriff due to arrive the next day when he hears that the murderer, Frank Miller – the man he sent to prison when he cleaned up the town – is on his way back and gunning for revenge.

The sheriff played by Gary Cooper has just married the lovely Grace Kelly, but how can he leave when the killer, along with his gang, plans to get him when he arrives on the noon train? If he leaves, the gang may hijack him out in the country, so the sheriff reasons his best bet is to stay in town and fight it out on his own turf. However, for one reason or another, the help he is hoping for from the town’s residents fails to appear and Cooper must face the men alone. The movie counts down relentlessly towards noon with the memorable sound in the background of ‘Do not forsake me oh my darling’ sung by Tex Ritter.

I mentioned this to my brother the other day and he related a story my Dad had told him. My Dad saw the film during his army days in Hong Kong. The film was shown in a corrugated Nissen hut and afterwards when everyone had left the hut all that my Dad could hear was his fellow soldiers humming and whistling the theme song.

The Ghost and Mrs Muir.

By Trailer screenshot (The Ghost and Mrs. Muir trailer) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

By Trailer screenshot (The Ghost and Mrs. Muir trailer) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

This is a movie that I could add to a previous blog, one about movies rarely seen on TV. I have seen it on TV though, some years ago. Mrs Muir is played by Hollywood star Gene Tierney and Rex Harrison is perfect as the formidable sea captain whose ghost scares off all occupants of the cottage his former living self once inhabited. Mrs Muir – a widow who longs to live by the sea – defies him and after a while the ghostly sea captain begins to fall for his mortal tenant. Money problems beset Mrs Muir but the captain decides to dictate his memoirs to her in the hope that when published, his tales of seafaring will make enough money for her to buy the house. This she does but also meets a suave writer played by that elegant actor, George Sanders. Mrs Muir falls for him much to the chagrin of the captain. Didn’t he – the captain – advise her to go out and meet other men and to enjoy herself, asks Mrs Muir when confronted with the captain’s jealousy? The captain retreats then, back into his ethereal world and leaves Mrs Muir with only the memory of old daydreams about sea faring captains. I won’t tell you about the end in case you want to see this lovely film but rest assured you will enjoy it. In some ways it’s a bit of a theatrical film with a lot of stage set scenes and there is an overriding sense of sadness in the film; a bittersweet feeling of lost love. Rex Harrison and Gene Tierney both give excellent portrayals.

The Signed Letter from Richard Nixon.

Yes, only £1.50, a signed letter from Richard Nixon. Couldn’t be real could it? Well, that’s what the eBay listing said, signed by Richard Nixon. I paid my money and guess what? It was a photocopy! When I complained the guy said did I really expect a signed letter from President Nixon for £1.50? Well no, but where did it say ‘Photocopy’? Somewhere in the small print obviously.

The Clothes that were Too Small.

Yes, it only goes to prove that one man’s XXL is another man’s XL. I keep saying I’ve learned my lesson but one day I will buy a leather jacket that actually fits me!

The Razor Handle.

I had one of those Wowcher emails a while ago offering me thirty razor blades ‘compatible’ with my Wilkinson’s razor at a very cheap price indeed. Blades are pretty pricey these days, so, OK, I clicked on the link, bought my voucher, then went to the razor blade site, and added my voucher code. OK so far but then I had to add a few quid for postage. Well, I wasn’t happy about that. That extra money was eating into my savings. Anyway, eventually the blades arrived at my door. Not sure what kind of service was used but it certainly wasn’t the next day courier service, more like the next month slowest possible but we get there in the end service. OK, I get the blades but then there’s another problem: They won’t fit on my razor! Now, things get confusing because there are so many razors available these days. There’s the Hydro, the Quattro, the Quattro Titanium, and a shed load of others I couldn’t even begin to name. The blades were for a Hydro which I didn’t have but guess what? Remember that razor handle I told you about earlier? The one selling on e-Bay for a pound with free postage? Remember I asked what plonker would even think of buying that?

Yes, that plonker would be me!


If you liked this post, why not try my book, Floating In Space? Click the links at the top of the page for more information.

Three Restored Movie Classics

edclapperboard-311792_1280So what actually is a ‘restored’ movie? Well, it is simply this; an old movie restored to its original condition, with deleted scenes added, lost scenes and dialogue inserted and basically restored to its former glory. In some cases, movies are restored to more than their former glory as on many occasions, producers, sensitive to preview audiences and running times, have unscrupulously cut movies and left many a director fuming. A lot of older films, unless preserved in the studio vault have been lost and restorers have hunted down copies of those lost films and those excised scenes that have been lost over the years. Here are three classic restored films.

Lost Horizon
Directed by Frank Capra and starring Ronald Colman, Lost Horizon was shot in 1936 and seriously went over budget. Issues that contributed were scenes shot in a cold storage area, used to replicate the cold of Tibet: The cold affected the film equipment and caused delays. There was also a great deal of location shooting and scenes where Capra used multiple cameras shooting lots of film. Wikipedia reports that the first cut of the film ran for six hours! Studio Boss Harry Cohn was apparently unhappy with the film and edited it himself, producing a version that ran for 132 minutes. Further cuts were later made and as a result, Capra filed suit against Columbia pictures. The issue was later resolved in Capra’s favour. The film did not turn a profit until it was re-released in 1942. A frame by frame digital restoration of the film was made in 2013 and various missing elements of the film were returned, including an alternative ending.
Lost Horizon is one of my favourite books ever and this movie adaptation is nothing short of wonderful, in fact it is one of my favourite films of all time. The casting of the urbane Ronald Colman as diploment Robert Conway is perfect. If you see this movie on DVD make sure you take it home and settle down for a wonderful film experience.

Spartacus.
You probably thought film restoration was only about really old films from the early years of cinema but it’s about any classic film that needs work. Spartacus was made in 1960 meaning it is 56 years old this year and was restored in 1991. The movie was produced by and starred Kirk Douglas and was directed by Stanley Kubrick, whom Douglas brought in to direct after becoming disenchanted with the original director, Anthony Mann. The film is the story of a revolution, or at least a near revolution in ancient Rome. Spartacus, played by Kirk Douglas is a slave who starts off a rebellion in a gladiator camp; the rebellion gets bigger and bigger until it threatens the entire fabric of ancient Rome. Laurence Olivier played the part of the Roman general and politician Marcus Licinius Crassus who uses the rebellion to further his own dreams of dictatorship. Peter Ustinov plays the gladiator school owner and Charles Laughton plays Roman senator Gracchus. Ustinov, Olivier, and Laughton are a wonderful trio, their performances superb, so much so that other actors who share the screen with them seem to pale in comparison.
Tony Curtis plays another slave who calls out famously; ‘I am Spartacus’ towards the end of the film, heralding a chorus of similar calls.
In the restoration, 37 mins of cuts were restored to the film including a scene where Anthony Hopkins had to dub the sound for a sequence involving Laurence Olivier who had died two years previously.

Lawrence of Arabia.

Directed by David Lean from a screenplay by Robert Bolt, Lawrence of Arabia is a visually stunning film, shot in 70mm. The movie is based on the book ‘Seven Pillars of Wisdom’ by the enigmatic T.E. Lawrence himself, and won seven academy awards including Best Director and best Picture.
Peter O’Toole stars as Lawrence although he was not the first choice for the part. Lean actually wanted Albert Finney but Finney had reservations about the film and wasn’t keen on being locked into a long term contract so he declined, despite shooting an expensive test at MGM studios in Borhamwood. It was then that Lean cast O’Toole after being impressed by his performance in ‘The Day they robbed the Bank of England’.
Director Lean wasn’t too pleased with the original script so Robert Bolt was brought in to essentially rewrite the film. A further complication was added when Bolt was arrested for his part in an anti-nuclear protest in London and so the production started without Bolt’s completed re write.
The film is famous for a number of classic shots. One is the cut from Lawrence blowing out a match to a shot of the rising sun in the desert and another is the famous long shot of Sherif Ali, played by Omar Sharif, who trots from the horizon astride his camel towards the well where Lawrence has stopped for water.

Steven Speilberg has been quoted as saying that this was the film that made him want to be a director and perhaps that is why so many of his productions have a sort of ‘David Lean’ feel about them.

The film was restored in 1989 with various cuts returned to the film. One sequence involved the late actor Jack Hawkins and Charles Gray had to dub dialogue for Hawkins’ character.


If you enjoyed this post, why not try my book, Floating In Space, a novel set in Manchester, 1977. Click the links at the top of the page for more information, or the icon below to go straight to Amazon.

Why I love Casablanca (and why you should too!)

casablancalead1After a hard shift at work, it’s nice to go home, pour yourself a drink and settle down by the TV to watch something while you unwind. Now despite these days of multiple TV channels it’s not always easy to find something worth watching. I remember the days when there were only three channels but strangely, even though we have have undergone the digital revolution and have cable and satellite channels, sometimes we find ourselves clicking the remote vainly in search of something that is even remotely interesting. Happily, over there in the DVD cupboard, I have plenty of things I enjoy watching. One of those is my much watched DVD of Casablanca, the classic Hollywood movie. I can watch it time after time and there is so much to enjoy in the movie; the wonderful Humphrey Bogart, The suave Paul Henreid, the rotund Sydney Greenstreet, the villainous Conrad Veidt, the slimy Peter Lorre and my favourite character in the film, Claude Rains, not to mention the lovely Ingrid Bergman.

Casablanca was only Bergman’s fifth Hollywood movie. She had been brought over from Sweden by producer David O Selznik to star in the English language version of Intermezzo, a successful Swedish film. She spoke no English but learned quickly. Ingrid expected to make the movie and then return to her career in Sweden, so much so that her husband did not even come to Hollywood with her. However, Ingrid made more movies in Hollywood, then came Casablanca; a movie that was a product of the Hollywood studio system. It was filmed at the Warner Brothers studios in Burbank with one location shoot, a short sequence at Van Nuys airport. Shot in 1942, Casablanca made Ingrid a star and remains probably her best known role. Released in the USA at the end of 1942 and internationally in 1943, the film won three Oscars. Its reputation has grown over time, eventually becoming known as one of the all-time classic motion pictures. Berman herself once commented that the film had a life of its own. The great performances, the memorable lines and the film’s music all contributed to the public affection for the movie. There’s a great sequence in When Harry Met Sally, where Meg Ryan and Billy Crystal discuss the ending and Sally, the Meg Ryan character, asserts that Ingrid Bergman would rather leave with Henreid and be the first lady of Czechoslovakia than stay with a man who runs a bar in Casablanca.

I’ve always liked Claude Rains and I like the way it becomes apparent that his character is not a Nazi or even a Nazi sympathiser, but someone who is something of a rascal, who uses his position for his own ends but also someone who chooses his own friends and his own path, as he does at the end of the movie. My favourite sequence is where he closes down Rick’s bar at the request of Conrad Veidt’s Nazi officer. Humphrey Bogart complains, “How can you close me up? On what grounds?” Rains replies, “Rick, I’m shocked to learn there is gambling on the premises!”

Just then the croupier arrives with some money, “Sir, your winnings!”

Ingrid Bergman became a great Hollywood star and perhaps was associated too much in the eyes of the public with her role of Joan of Arc, because when she fell from Grace, she fell big style.

Bergman was fascinated with the work of Italian director Roberto Rossellini and in 1949 she wrote to him expressing a wish to work in one of his pictures. He cast her in his film ‘Stromboli’ and during the production Bergman fell in love with him, had an affair and became pregnant with his son. This led to a huge scandal in the USA and a divorce and custody battle with her Swedish husband Petter Lindstrom. She eventually married Rossellini and had more children including future actress Isabella Rossellini. She was never reconciled with her former husband but Hollywood welcomed her back in 1956 when she starred in the movie Anastasia for which she won an Oscar.

Humphrey Bogart went on to make many classic movies. He died from cancer in 1957 aged 57. He had been a heavy smoker and drinker.

Claude Rains died in 1967. His last film appearances were in ‘Laurence of Arabia’ and the ‘The Greatest Story Ever Told.’

Conrad Veidt fled the terrors of Nazi Germany in 1933. He was a fervent anti-Nazi donating his personal fortune to the British government to help in the war against Nazi Germany. He died in 1943 of a heart attack aged only 43.

Sydney Greenstreet died in 1954. He was 62 when his movie career began. He made his debut on the stage in 1902.

Hungarian born Peter Lorre was another refugee from Hitler’s Germany. He appeared in the German movie ‘M’ directed by Fritz Lang but fled Germany in 1933. He died in 1964 aged 59.

Paul Henreid came from an aristocratic background and was born in Trieste, then part of the Austrian-Hungarian empire in 1908. He has many credits to his name as an actor and director. He died in 1992.

The movie was directed by Fritz Lang, another refugee from Europe. Lang had a lifetime of problems with the English language, so much so that David Niven named his book of Hollywood reminiscences after one of his sayings. When he wanted a posse of riderless horses to come into the scene he shouted ‘bring on the empty horses!’


If you liked this post you might also like my book, Floating In Space! Click the links at the top of the page for more information!

my novel

 

100 Great Movies you Must See!

I really do love movies. Well, my movies, my own personal favourite movies and I don’t always care for other people’s movies. I tend to like classic movies rather than modern ones, not that I’m denigrating modern film. Anyway, I started off trying to work out my top 10 and ended up with, well, a hundred!

Yes, I can also tell you that because of the list maniac that I am, I decided to make the list into a spreadsheet which is great because I can sort the data and throw certain things back at myself, or in this case, at you, the reader. Here are a few examples; A Number of directors had multiple entries, people like Oliver Stone, Michael Curtiz, Martin Scorcese, John Ford, and David Lean (all with three entries.) My top two directors came out as Woody Allen and Stanley Kubrick each with five entries. Woody Allen, Robert Redford and Humphrey Bogart were my favourite leading men and Liz Taylor and Mia Farrow my favourite leading ladies. My favourite years for movies appears to be 1946 with four favourite films and 1956 with five. Anyway, the complete list is below, in no particular order:

A Kind of Loving
A Taste of Honey
Alfie
Blithe Spirit
Broadway Danny Rose
Casablanca
Charlie Bubbles
Dead of Night
It’s a Wonderful Life
Lost Horizon
On the Waterfront
Radio days
Rebecca
Saturday night and Sunday Morning
Serpico
Seven days in May
Spartacus
Sunset Boulevarde
Sweet Smell of Success
The Bad and the Beautiful
The French Connection
The Last Picture Show
The Long Arm
The Maltese falcon
The Man in the White Suit
The Quiet man
The Searchers
The spy who came in from the cold
The Treasure of the Sierra Madre
The VIP’s
2001 A Space Odyessy
A Hard Days Night
A Man for all Seasons
A Matter of Life and Death
Alien
All the President’s men
Angels One Five
Angels with dirty faces
Annie Hall
Around the world in eighty days
Awakenings
Back to the Future
Billy Liar
Bullitt
Citizen Kane
Crimes and Misdemeanors
Dances with Wolves
Desperately Seeking Susan
Dog Day Afternoon
Fail Safe
Fatal Attraction
Four Weddings and a Funeral
Get Carter
Get Shorty
Giant
Gladiator
Goodfellas
Great Expectations
Green for Danger
Gregorys Girl
Hannah and Her Sisters
JFK
Kes
Lawrence of Arabia
Little Man Tate
Lost in Translation
night Of The Demon
North by Northwest
On Her Majestys Secret Service
One Flew over the Cuckoos nest
Paths Of Glory
Platoon
Pulp Fiction
Rocky
Shane
Smokey and the Bandit
Snow White and the Seven dwarfs
Some Like it Hot
Taxi Driver
The Adventures of Robin Hood
The Big Sleep
The Candidate
The Cincinatti Kid
The Cruel Sea
The Dambusters
The day the Earth stood still
The Godfather
The Graduate
The Great gatsby
The Ipcress File
The King of Comedy
The man who shot Liberty Valance
The Misfits
The Shining
The Silence of the Lambs
The Thief of Bagdad
The Third Man
The Wizard of Oz
Three days of the Condor
To Catch a Thief
Viva Zapata
Wall Street
Whats new Pussycat?
Whats up Doc?
When Harry met sally

Hope you enjoyed the list. What are your personal favourites?

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My Love Affair With Back To The Future

The world of the cinema is filled with great movies; Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, Orson Welles’ Citizen Kane, John Ford’s The Searchers and Michael Curtiz’ Casablanca, to name but a few.
One movie, that I saw described on one web page as a ‘phenomenon of popular culture’ is a movie as good, certainly as entertaining and probably more accessible than any in the list above. Yes, I’m talking about Back To The Future.
The movie was directed by Robert Zemeckis. Zemeckis and Bob Gale wrote the screenplay and Steven Speilberg produced and the stars of the picture were Michael J Fox and Christopher Lloyd.

5274270428_c4dff8b634_bIt was released in 1985 and was the biggest grossing movie of that year. It was also in the headlines again this year because 2015 was featured in Back To The Future 2 and the reality in 2015 was a little different to what the producers imagined! No hover boards, no self tying shoelaces!
Even so, Back To The Future is one of those movies that I loved straight from the opening titles and one that gets a regular airing on my DVD player.

Just in case you didn’t know, the movie is about a scientist called Doctor Emmet Brown who invents a time machine and installs it in his DeLorean. Michael J Fox plays Marty McFly who is helping him in his experiments but things go awry and it’s Marty who ends up in 1955 and he turns to the Doc’s younger self for help. The younger Doc Brown agrees to assist but warns Marty not to interact with anyone from 1955 in case the future is affected. Too late because Marty’s Mum – the 1955 version that is – already has a crush on him and Marty needs to get her focussed on his future Dad George, otherwise he’ll cease to exist!

Now what I really love about the movie is that all the little things that you see come together to make the plot work. The lady in the town square who is collecting for the clock tower restoration fund and the flyer she gives away that proves to be the key to getting 20,000 gigawatts of power into the time machine. (That’s the time machine that’s built in the Docs car, a DeLorean DNC-12.) The guy who works in the coffee shop who we know will become Mayor in 1985. The ‘enchantment under the sea’ ball where we know Marty’s Mum and Dad will fall for each other. I could go on, so there’s so much I love in this movie!

Huey Lewis and the News play the wonderful title track ‘The Power of Love’ and Huey himself makes an appearance in the movie as a judge at a talent competition who rejects Marty and his band for being too loud.

To finish here’s a couple of things you didn’t know about Back To The Future:

Michael J Fox was the first choice to play Marty McFly but the producers of his TV show Family Ties refused to release him from the show. The producers then engaged Eric Stoltz to play the role, however during filming, Zemeckis felt that Stoltz’ portrayal was a little dramatic. They were after someone more like, well more like Michael J Fox, so they went back to the TV show producers, came to an agreement and Michael was given the OK to star in the movie, but only after his day’s shooting was finished on the TV show. That meant a full day on the TV set for Michael, and then he started shooting on Back To The Future in the afternoons and evenings. Most of the daytime shots were done on the weekends as of course on a weekday he was still doing the TV show. Must have been one heck of a work schedule for Michael!

Ever wonder why Marty’s Dad doesn’t appear much in the sequels? Crispin Glover played the part of George McFly, Marty’s dad and both he and Lea Thompson who played Marty’s mum had to age from teenagers to middle age in the movie. Glover fell into a dispute with the producers because he asked for too much money to appear in part 2, so they dropped him. That’s the reason!

US President Ronald Reagan quoted the film in his 1986 State of the Union Address. Apparently when he first saw the joke about him being President, he asked the projectionist to stop the film, rewind and play the sequence again.

This year, 2015, the thirtieth anniversary of the film’s original release should see the first performance of a Back To the Future musical based on the original movie.


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