Thoughts

Mel Blanc: the man of a thousand voices

I found and watched a documentary about Mel Blanc today, entitled “Mel Blanc, Man of a Thousand Voices“, and I wanted to share it with you as well. This one man has given me and countless other people so much joy over the years, that I can’t thank him enough. He’s gone, but knowing the kind of person he was, I’m sure he would have appreciated my thanks and would have been glad to say hi to me, if we’d have met, just as he did with all his fans.

Photos used courtesy of Mel Blanc and Warner Brothers. 

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Reviews

I like "The Saint"

It got panned by the critics. Val Kilmer’s acting was indulgent at times. It was somewhat cliché. What was up with those knee-high socks that Elizabeth Shue’s character wore throughout the movie? Those are some of the things that come to mind when I think of “The Saint” (1997). But it struck a chord with me, from the first time I saw it, and I like it even after all these years.

I think it evokes the feel of that time in Eastern Europe very well. I visited Romania in December 1998, for the first time since I’d left in 1991. The movie and the impressions from my trip match. It was cold, snowy, in many ways dreary, there was poverty all around, but still somehow enchanting, inspiring, in a way that made you feel you could do almost anything, as if the slate had been wiped clean and people were free to start things over.

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Simon Templar, the character played by Val Kilmer in the movie, has a long heritage that started in books in 1928. The character itself has been played in movies and on TV by several other actors, Roger Moore being one of the more notable ones. I remember watching Moore in the Saint series as a child growing up in Romania. The films were gripping and I loved seeing a modern-day Robin Hood escape from dangerous situations, just as I enjoyed seeing Kilmer’s character escape from similar situations in this latest installment.

Given the character’s long history, Kilmer had some big shoes to fill in this movie. For example, I thought there were too many close-ups of him. Perhaps the director was trying to establish character, and the close-ups were meant to give us an insight into what S.T. was thinking, but at times, I could see the actor hamming it up behind a thinner-than-usual mask. Still, I always thought Kilmer was charismatic and I don’t begrudge him the less than stellar acting here. Every actor goes through a ham stage in his or her career — most notably of all, the famous John Barrymore, who quite possibly illustrated the very phrase in some of his later film roles.

The film’s tech was amazing for its time. Simon Templar’s phone in the movie — that Nokia phone was something else. It blew me away. I think it could do everything modern phones could do — at slower speeds, naturally — except play movies. I learned it was a Nokia 9000 Communicator, thanks to the Saint.org website. And to think, all of that technology was available in 1997! Nokia was very happy about the phone’s appearance in the movie and even issued a press release about it that same year.

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nokia-9000-communicator-in-movie

All in all, “The Saint” is one of a handful of movies in my library that I’ve watched multiple times, and will probably watch again. I like it.

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Thoughts

George Bush is a dead ringer for Guinn Williams

I was watching Rafter Romance a few months ago, when I saw Fritzie, the cab driver with a supporting role in the movie, and my mouth dropped. There, on the screen, in front of my eyes, was GW, in 1933! It was almost the same man — the resemblance was uncanny.

There it was: an incredibly similar voice, the same face, the same facial expressions, the same stature (although Fritzie was a little taller than GW). Here’s a short clip from that movie; it’s a scene where Fritzie defends the heroine from the clutches of her lecherous employer.

That cab driver was Guinn “Big Boy” Williams, a popular actor with a very long career, who appeared in over 200 movies from 1919 till 1961 [reference]. At first a silent film star, he made the transition to talkies just fine, but his popularity as a leading actor waned in the 30s, and he started taking supporting roles as a character actor, which were his staple for the last 30 years or so of his career. Although smart and polished in real life, he “portrayed characters who were long on muscle and short on brains and grace, and he often emphasized their comedic aspects” [reference].

→ Updated 23.04.2017: Guinn Williams’ great niece, Liz Bewley, reached out to me in order to set his record straight. I obtained her permission in order to publish the information you see below:

“Guinn Williams was my Great Uncle. Guinn was from Texas and his father was a Texas Representative in D.C. Guinn pretty much bedded any woman with a pulse; I doubt very much that Barbara [Bush] would have wanted anything to do with him. Aside from acting, riding a horse well, and hitting a polo ball extremely far, he was an asshole supreme. One time, he got very angry at this one horse, because he was being very stubborn and tried to bite him. He got so mad that he hit the horse right between its eyes (hardest part on a horse) so hard that he literally “sat” the horse down. He broke just about every bone in his hand in the process. Another time, he and Errol Flynn crashed a party on a large private yacht. They were drunk, as usual, and being extremely obnoxious. When they were asked to leave, Big Boy picked up one of the men who had asked them to leave and threw him overboard. When he was playing the role of army Lieutenant Finn in The Alamo with John Wayne, he injured two Mexican actors badly. Apparently, the scene was on the roof and called for Big to grab the two Mexican actors with each arm and jump off. There was nothing below but ground. Big’s landing was cushioned by the two actors who suffered some big injuries. Needless to say, he was a self-centered man.”

I invite you to look for photos of Guinn Williams. The facial and bodily similarities between him and George W. Bush will amaze you.

Guinn “Big Boy” Williams George “GW” Bush
Initials are GW Known as GW or W
Born and raised in Texas. Moved to Texas.
His father was a politician. His father was a politician.
His father unhappy with his choice of career, practically disowned him. His father unhappy with GW for a long time, almost disowned him.
Played the hero in movies. Wanted to be a hero in real life, things didn’t quite work out.
Liked to punch and shoot villains. Liked to shoot rockets at the axis of evil.
Portrayed slightly dumb but lovable characters in movies. Behaved like a dumb character while in office.

If you find more similarities, feel free to post them as comments. Here are a few biographical resources to get you started:

All these similarities got me thinking. What if W had been an actor? Hmm…

  • W would have made a nice action movie star, sort of the Chuck Norris of the 21st century. He could have teamed up with Chuck Norris, come to think of it, or with Stallone. Imagine W and Rambo, deep in North Korea, hunting for dictators…
  • The War on Terror would have made a nice series of action movies, and we’d have been victorious.
  • W could have taken on Saddam, single-handedly, and he’d have chucked a grenade in the hole where he hid.
  • He could have murdered Bin Laden, by shooting napalm into his cave, after spending months tracking him down in the mountains of Aghanistan.
  • He’d have made mince meat of Kim Jong-il, after catching him at home, in his underwear.
  • What about Ahmadinejad? Dead as nails. Seriously, W would have put them all down while leading elite Delta Forces into enemy territory.
  • We wouldn’t be in Iraq right now. Or in Afghanistan. Or threatening Iran. And pissing off the rest of the world.
  • We wouldn’t have mangled soldiers coming back from the war — you know, entrails sewn back together, heads stapled together, missing arms, missing legs, missing other body parts, etc. We wouldn’t have broken families because soldiers were deployed for too long. We wouldn’t have the massive numbers of PTSD and other pervasive syndromes in so many of our men and women, stuff that’s going to haunt them for the rest of their lives.
  • We wouldn’t have spent trillions of dollars on this pointless war with no benefits. No, we’d have spent at most 200 million on each action movie, most of which, if not all, would have been recouped at the box office.
  • Dick Cheney would have remained in the past, not haunted us for the last 8 years as the evil VP from hell.
  • Rumsfeld would have continued to wear his cardigans around the office and hope for “transformation”, but without presiding over the disastrous Iraq invasion and the Abu Graib torture scandal.
  • This list could go on and on…

What a pity W didn’t become an actor. This country would have been a better place, the movies might have been more entertaining, he would have gained a nice reputation as a likable all-American action hero with a Texas accent, and we wouldn’t be in the huge mess that we’re in today.

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Reviews

Three classic movie duds

If you follow along with my classic movie reviews, you may think I have only good things to say about them. Truth is, I don’t usually choose to write up movies I don’t like. But I’ve recently seen three classic movies that were so bad I needed to point them out. I’ll look at each in the order I’ve seen them.

Chicken Every Sunday (1949)

Made after a book which can still be found in print (at least the book was good), this movie is a convoluted, drawn-out, syrupy mush that does not entertain. It only frustrates.
One good thing is that it has Alan Young, one of my favorite actors, but he’s stuck in this horrible, lily-livered role that has him meowing and crying his way through the movie, and it’s just sad.

Individually speaking, the actors are good. They’re talented, they can play good parts when they get them — but this movie’s script doesn’t have a single good part in it. It just plain sucks. Stay away from it. Did I mention it’s long and you’ll be sorry if you’ll watch it?

Platinum Blonde (1931)

This is one of Frank Capra’s earlier movies. Any movie by Frank Capra ought to be good, right? WRONG. This movie is a real stinker. The direction is off. The dialogue is slow. The editing sucks. The script is pathetic. There are long, dead pauses, and the chemistry between the actors is non-existent.

As if that’s not bad enough, the movie’s principal roles were miscast. We have Jean Harlow playing the part of an aristocrat. Excuse me? JH?! A platinum blonde best suited for the more tawdry, tough roles, playing an innocent, educated, mannered, high class lady?! That’s a riot… Every move Harlow makes is a verdict against the part she’s playing. Every sway of her hip convicts her, calls her a liar. She simply wasn’t made for that role. It’s the antithesis of her.

Then we’ve got some dude I’ve never seen before in the principal role. Who he is, I don’t know, and I don’t really want to know. He’s not likable, and he’s not meant for principal roles, end of story.

The movie’s saving grace is Loretta Young, who’s stuck as Gallagher, the office girl men see as one of them, until the dude in the principal part gets things right in the last scene. You’ve got to be kidding me… Loretta Young is NOT a man and you can’t look at her that way. Frank Capra was cuckoo to cast her in that part, sorry — although she made the best of it and was the one shining actor in the whole movie.

How can I put it? This movie stinks. Don’t watch it.

Second Chorus (1941)

Here we’ve got another example of a movie that should have been good, but it’s most definitely NOT. You’d have to get a really crappy writer and director to mess up a movie with Fred Astaire and Paulette Goddard. Guess what? They found both “geniuses” for this movie.

The plot is just pathetic. Two guys fight for the affections of one girl. Should be good, under the right circumstances, but it’s horribly complicated, and the plot devices are terrible and amateurish, the sort of stuff that made me cringe. The writing, the lines: yuck.

You know who else is in this movie? Rocky’s trainer — Burgess Meredith. He looks pretty much the same in 1941 as he did in 1976 for Rocky, and for the sequels. He was like George Burns. Looked old from his youth. And he’s unlikable in this movie.

There’s one scene that’s good in this movie, and it’s when Fred and Paulette dance together. Why couldn’t they do more of that throughout the movie? Why did they stick Fred Astaire, a dancing man, in a trumpet player role? Why do they have him trying to conduct an orchestra while dancing and playing the trumpet?

The movie is full of hair-pulling questions like these. It made me want to get a bunch of rotten tomatoes and start throwing them at the director and the other people responsible for making this idiotic waste of time.

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Theodora Goes Wild (1936)

Movie poster for Theodora Goes Wild.

One of the many wonderful comedies made during the Great Depression, Theodora Goes Wild explores a young woman’s quest for freedom in a society where tight constraints are the norm. The film’s humorous and entertaining look at some of the hang-ups of the period is a very fun way to spend about 90 minutes. Interestingly enough, we discover that not many things have changed since. Gossip still rules, small town folk are always too interested in each other’s lives, and people still yearn to live their lives the way they see fit.

Theodora Lynn, a respected daughter of the town’s prominent family, has written a book called “The Sinner”. It’s a wildly successful look at the life of an imaginary woman who does things her own way, very much unlike Theodora. She has penned it under the name Caroline Adams, to protect her identity. Meanwhile, the town is in an uproar over the scandalous morals of the book’s main character, all the while unaware that the very same young woman that plays the organ in church every Sunday morning and obeys her aunts to the letter is the author of said scandalous book.

Theodora visits her publisher on an occasion, and while there, meets Michael Grant, played by Melvyn Douglas, a debonair artist who works for the publisher but is very informal. He takes an immediate liking to her, and coaxes his way into having dinner with her and the publisher that evening. During dinner, he gets her to drink (which she never does) and as she unwinds and lets loose, he enjoys his little game more and more. He decides to pursue her back to her town and “free” her, as he puts it. He succeeds, but he has unleashed a force greater than him. She now intends to “free” him.

The film’s gloriously funny twists and turns had us in fits of laughter throughout. And the skewering of the old biddies in that small town was great fun too! The film showcases Irene Dunne’s incredible talent for comedy and sexiness (it’s no wonder she made such a great on-screen pair with Cary Grant), and fits Melvyn Douglas to a tee. He has an endearing quality that shows through his devilish smirks and his on-screen antics. That same quality made him perfect for the role of Leon in Ninotchka (opposite Greta Garbo) three years later. I can safely say that he’s become one of my favorite actors.

Just one year later, Irene Dunne made The Awful Truth (1937) with Cary Grant, one of my all-time favorite movies. It’s so funny to see her honing and refining the same skills she used to great success in that movie while watching this one. The same little trills of laughter, the same thin smiles, the same looks, glances… It’s wonderful to catch great actors doing some of their best work. It’s time well spent to watch them act.

There’s an important lesson to be learned from the movie as well. It’s easy to forget nowadays how stifling society used to be, and how scandalous certain behaviors were considered just a few decades ago. To some extent, that was a good thing, but it must have driven some people mad with frustration. Nowadays, things are much more relaxed, although we still tend to be judgmental. It seems we always want to tell others what to do and what not to do. Sure, it’s important to point out what’s morally and ethically wrong, but that’s the duty of our parents and families, NOT our neighbors and townsfolk. I don’t believe in the saying that “it takes a village to raise a child”. No it does not! That sort of a village would be the quickest way to get me to rebel if I were still a child.

It’s also important to point out that while Theodora rebelled against the gossipy old biddies and against society, she did it all with a purpose, all while not compromising her own morals. She did not demean what she saw as her true worth. She simply put on a show to prove a point, and she certainly proved it. That’s something to keep in mind for the young people of today, who are so ready to step over any rules they might have set to get at what they want. Sometimes there are horrible consequences to that sort of behavior. If you watch the movie, you’ll remember that Theodora kept “both feet on the ground”. Keep that in mind. Have your fun, achieve your dreams, prove your point, but don’t do something you’d later regret.

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Condensed knowledge for 2008-03-05

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Reviews

The Insider (1999)

The Insider (1999), is a thrilling, suspense-filled movie depicting the events that surrounded the 60 Minutes Interview with Dr. Jeffrey Wigand, a former tobacco executive. He was the first to give public testimony that the addictive properties of nicotine were well known, and manipulated, inside tobacco companies.

I saw it last night, and it was my first time seeing it. All of the actors in it were really good. I understand that the movie fictionalized some of the events that took place, for dramatic effect, but the general gist of what went on is certainly portrayed.

This is a wonderful movie to watch, because it portrays one man’s struggle with his conscience. Should he do the right thing, and risk losing his job? Then, should he continue to do the right thing, and risk losing everything, including his family, and possibly incur jail time? Those were tough times for Dr. Wigand, and because he chose to do the right thing, people are much more aware of the negative health effects of nicotine. The backhanded tactics used by tobacco companies are now common knowledge, and consumers are safer because of it. Millions of people can probably thank him for motivating them to stop smoking, and this movie played no small part in that.

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Thoughts

Michael J. Fox campaigns for stem cell research

Michael J. Fox appeared in some TV ads recently, to support stem cell research for Parkinson’s disease. The ads showed him moving uncontrollably, due to Parkinson’s. They were candid, and truthful. I’ve always liked Michael as an actor, and I thought he’s been a real gentleman throughout his ordeal with Parkinson’s. I agree with him, and with the ads. Stem cell research should be allowed, because it holds the potential for so many cures. So I was shocked to hear that Rush Limbaugh — although it shouldn’t be a surprise that he’s callous and inconsiderate — accused Michael of faking it in the ads. I love Michael’s response, which shows, again, how much of a gentleman he is:

“The notion that you could calculate for effect … People out there with Parkinson’s are going, would that we could.”

If I had been in his place, I wouldn’t have minced my words — and perhaps, that’s why I’m not in his place. Bravo to you, Michael! Keep up the fantastic work you’re doing, and I do hope they find a cure for Parkinson’s soon!

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A Guide To A Good Life, Reviews

Easter Parade (1948)

Easter Parade“Easter Parade” is a veritable showcase of talent: Fred Astaire, Judy Garland, Irving Berlin, Ann Miller… need I say more?

There are many memorable scenes in this movie. One such scene is at the opening of the movie, where we see Fred, who plays Don Hewes, a famous dancer of his time, strolling through the streets of his town and buying gifts for his sweetheart, who is also his dancing partner. Happy as can be, he loads the arms of his gift carriers, while unbeknownst to him, his sweetheart is signing a contract and leaving their act. In this particular scene, Fred sees a rabbit he really wants to buy. Unfortunately, a little boy has sighted that same rabbit. Fred has to dazzle the boy with his dancing, and manages to draw his attention away to other toys – namely, drums. One can’t help thinking the boy’s mother would have preferred the rabbit! Nonetheless, Fred dances amazingly here. The absolute ease with which he dances still leaves me speechless.

To this day, I have not seen anyone dance as gracefully and as effortlessly as Fred Astaire, and this scene shows why. Every other tap dancer I’ve seen struggled through difficult movements, while Fred lightly tosses them at the viewer, nonchalantly, as if to say, “Look, it’s no big deal, I’m just enjoying myself…” Wow!

Ann Miller plays her usual role of hard-working girl, and her legs take center-stage in one of the movie’s big numbers. I think she manages to show her legs in most, if not all of the movies where she acts, but nowhere as prominently as in Kiss Me Kate (1953). I wonder if she wanted to do that, or the directors pushed her to do it. Peter Lawford also reprises his usual role of the time, that of the English pal, and does a great job at it, too.

Check out the trumpet player in the scene where Judy sings “That’s why I wish-igan I was in Michigan”. He can’t help smiling as Judy stands next to him. He’s starstruck, and it’s pretty funny.

In the scene where Fred tests out Judy as his dancing partner, Judy quips “I’m never sure” when he asks her whether she knows her left foot from her right, then goes on to explain why. When she was little, her doctor advised her family to force her to write with her right hand, even though she was left-handed. You might think that’s just a funny line, but it’s true, and it really wasn’t that funny for the children who were beaten and forced to use their right hands.

Another truly funny scene is when Fred asks Judy (the future “Juanita”) to walk ahead while on the street, so he could see whether men would notice her. The poor Judy tries saying hello to them, only to be ignored ruthlessly, until she makes the funniest face! Suddenly, everyone takes notice of her! To me, this is one of the most hilarious movie moments ever, and ranks right up there with the face that Cary Grant makes in the ending scene of Charade (1963).

Their first dance together as Hewes and Juanita is a disaster, and is worth watching for the wonderful counterpoint that it presents. There’s Fred, being truly professional, looking great, and thrown constantly off balance and out of poise by Judy’s confused prancing. And let’s not forget the flying feathers! The stage is filled with them. Judy ends up looking like a mad mother hen, turning out and looking for her chicks, while Fred, the elegant rooster, is ignored and stepped on. Wonderful, just wonderful!

I couldn’t find out the name of the frustrated head waiter at the restaurant featured in the movie. He’s snubbed not once, but twice, by Fred, Ann Miller and Peter Lawford, when they leave the restaurant without dining. His facial expressions and gestures are great fun to watch.

Fred’s “Steppin’ Out” number is the most interesting and difficult one in the movie. Besides the coreography, which is complicated enough, Fred does something amazing here. When you watch the scene, you wonder why it’s raised by about 2 inches halfway down its depth. Fred and the dancers have to watch out for that ledge, and it just doesn’t make sense, until something amazing happens at its end. The camera angle changes suddenly, and Fred starts moving in slow motion while the dancers in the background continue through at a normal pace. It is then that we realize the raised floor was used to delineate between the two shots, which were superimposed to create this wonderful effect. Today, this might not seem like much, but back then, this was amazing stuff. It’s similar to the special effects used by Fred in the Bojangles dance of Swing Time (1936).

Finally, it’s wonderful to watch the Fred and Judy’s vagabond dance. They’re dressed in the funniest outfits, and they play the roles of two “well-to-do” tramps who would like to make it to the town’s upper crust social events, but have no transportation. Ligia and I were rolling in laughter on our couch as we watched this. Judy’s got the ugliest wig, and they both have one of their front teeth blacked out. Come to think of it, it reminds me of Cary Grant’s wig in I Was a Male War Bride (1949). It does my heart good to see a number like this. It’s just wonderful!

Easter Parade is a wonderful movie, made memorable by the amazing coreography, music, and the chemistry between the actors who play in it – all true masters of their craft.

(This review has also been published at BlogCritics.)

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