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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Thoughts

The story of Fry & Laurie

The BBC put together a Fry & Laurie reunion show in which I got to see them together after many years. I was glad to learn more about their start in showbiz and about how they met, which was the biggest surprise of all. I had no idea Emma Thompson went to school with them, introduced them and did comedy with them. No idea at all.

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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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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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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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Reviews

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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