They always get the best seat in the house.
Below, a collection of film stars, in Hollywood and other places, looking large and in charge while seated in director's chairs. In panel three the actress in the “Bonanza's guest” chair is Karen Sharpe. We don't expect you'll need help with the others, but if so our keywords list them in order.
There's nothing better than a memorable Win.
Win Min Than was born in what was then known as Rangoon, Burma, and became known to the world when she co-starred in the war drama The Purple Plain with Gregory Peck. Ethnically, Than was actually only half Burmese. Her father was Austrian, and she was born Helga Johnson. The movie, obscure today, was successful, but it turned out to be Than's only role. In 1957 she married the Burmese politician Bo Setkya and spent some years in her home country, but today she lives in Austria. This very nice shot was made the year her film came out, 1954.
Hitchcock's epic thriller shows his directorial gifts but misses the mark.
This Italian poster for Io ti salverò, aka Spellbound is wonderful. The movie, directed by Alfred Hitchcock, isn't. The central plot device involves a man who may have blacked out committing a murder. That's a good place for a thriller to start, but the actual psychiatric science is approached clumsily, the love story is overwrought, and the orchestral musical score is omnipresent and overbearing. You have to wonder if composer Miklós Rozsa actually watched the film, because while Spellbound is big, his music is positively galactic. A re-edit with 60% of his output removed would make this one a much smoother ride. It's always a danger to criticize a classic film, we know, but not all classics are created equal. This one lives on Hitchcock's reputation, the overall technical execution, and a groundbreaking dream sequence designed by renowned artist Salvador Dalí. At the end of the dream a faceless man drops a wheel. Maybe it was a steering wheel, because despite all the money and star power poured into Spellbound, somehow it went down a middling road. It premiered in 1945 and reached Italy as Io ti salverò today in 1947.
You know the saying there’s a thin line between love and hate? Duel in the Sun shows just how thin.
Duel in the Sun was a huge movie. We mean important stars, vibrant Technicolor, David O. Selznick in the producer’s chair, King Vidor directing the action, and a gigantic promotional budget. It’s a movie made by people absolutely sure they’re dealing with the hit of the year. Not because the movie is good. But because with so many important people involved it simply had to succeed. And like so many other movies of that stripe, its failures are manifold. We could talk about the overcooked score, the bombastic acting, the improbable script, and more, but there’s no point. Let’s just say a story about two people who love each other so much they end up shooting each other in the final scene is going to be hard to pull off under the best of circumstances. Spoiler alert, by the way. Or were we supposed to write that first?
Well, in any case, the best of circumstances are not those provided by Duel in the Sun’s old West backdrop. Still, though, if a movie is big enough it can bludgeon people into acceptance, and Duel in the Sun today rates well on various review sites. But all of those reviewers are wrong. And the funny thing is they know it, too. They all say things like, “Preposterous but worth the ticket price because it’s beautifully shot.” One critic calls it “fragmented and ultimately destroyed by its obsessive producer,” yet goes on to give it a positive recommendation. You see what we mean? Even professional critics sometimes suffer from cognitivedissonance. A movie that is destroyed by its producer is not good—period—and movie going shouldn’t be a mercy fuck.
On the plus side, Gregory Peck is always fun to watch and Jennifer Jones as the dusky Pearl Chavez cannot fail to stir something inside you, but the whole proposition is just silly. Really. If you want to see a big studio flick implode spectacularly, this may be the one. And if you want to know how studios began to understand that they didn’t need to make good movies to make money, this is a prime example, because in adjusted currency it remains one of the most successful productions of all time. But at least the promo poster is a total winner. It was made for the movie’s Japanese premiere, which was today in 1951.
You have the right to remain dead!
Director J. Lee Thompson’s Cape Fear, for which you see a rare lobby card above, isn’t just a great film. Embedded in its tale of an ex-convict terrorizing a family is an examination of American attitudes toward civil liberties. And if we contrast Cape Fear with modern thrillers like Edge of Darkness or Taken, what we begin to ask is whether America has crested the hill of its own belief in high principles and is now steadily rolling down the other side. Where Cape Fear presents the legal concept of due process as inviolable, and builds tension by asking if star Gregory Peck will resort to vigilantism to protect his family from a murderous Robert Mitchum, in Liam Neeson’s Taken, the hero intentionally shoots his friend’s wife in the arm with no more worry than stepping on a bug, and zero moral hesitation at making an innocent woman collateral damage in his holy war against the villains. Of course, movies are not real life. But they can be a reflection of it, and Cape Fear shows just how much attitudes toward legal protections may have changed in America in the last fifty years. We strongly recommend this film—as both entertainment and a historical study. It opened in the U.S. today in 1962.
Crazy legs Peck gets a lower body transplant.
As long as we’re on the subject of Stanley Donen movies, here are two one-sheets painted by Robert McGinnis for the 1966 caper Arabesque, starring Gregory Peck and the great Sophia Loren. Donen was trying to capture the mod magic of his earlier feature Charade, which had starred Audrey Hepburn and Cary Grant. We can’t say he fully succeeded there, but he did make an adventure romance full of joie de vivre that’s well worth seeing. The two posters differ in one fascinating aspect—Gregory Peck’s lower body has been transplanted in the bottom version. We know the dancing pose at top was the original, but we think the upright stance in the re-do is an improvement, as is the cool magenta background. It’s killer art for a killer flick, and we recommend you check it out.
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
1922—Challenge to Women's Voting Rights Rebuffed
In the United States, a conservative legal challenge to the nineteenth amendment to the U.S. Constitution establishing voting rights for women is rebuffed by the Supreme Court in Leser v. Garnett. The challenge was based partly on the idea of individual "states rights" to self determination. The failure of such reasoning as it applied to basic human rights created a framework for later states rights losses involving the denial of voting rights to African-Americans.
1917—First Jazz Record Is Made
In New Orleans, The Original Dixieland Jass Band records the first ever jazz record for the Victor Talking Machine Company in New York. The band was frequently billed as the "Creators of Jazz", but in reality all the members had previously played in the Papa Jack Laine bands, a group of racially mixed performers who helped form the basis of Dixieland while playing under bandleader George Laine.
1947—Prussia Ceases To Exist
The centuries-old state of Prussia, which had been a great European power under the reign of Frederick the Great during the 1800s, and a major influence on German culture, ceases to exist when it is dissolved by the post-WWII Allied Control Council comprised of the United States, the United Kingdom, and the Soviet Union.
1964—Clay Beats Liston
Heavyweight boxer Cassius Clay, aged 22, becomes champion of the world after beating Sonny Liston, aka the Dark Destroyer, in one of the biggest upsets in boxing history. It would be the beginning of a storied and controversial career for Clay, who would announce to the world shortly after the fight that he had changed his name to Muhammad Ali.
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