Tag Archives: illeana douglas

TCM Cruise Report #1: Surprises & the Dreyfuss/Douglass Debates

28 Oct

First, a note about this Slight Return:

I haven’t added to this blog for months – solid workload with a Shakespeare festival throughout the spring and summer was tremendous, lovely, sweaty, and made me very happy. But there was no time for writing random thoughts about old movies. Scarcely time to watch them.

But The Wife and I also spent the bulk of that time anxiously anticipating the TCM Cruise. In that special way only two Virgos can: checking and rechecking packing lists, schedules, schedules and packing lists, pretending that new information is being added when we know in our hearts it’s just an excuse to gleefully obsess.

So we did that. Then we went on the cruise. On which I shall now report in a couple of manageable-sized posts.

I don’t know how long this will last. Life is busy and part of that busyness involves writing other stuff, which often keeps me from writing this stuff. Plus, it’s Christmas gift knitting season. Priorities.

The TCM Cruise Overview:

We loved it.


Rather than a dull chronology, I’ll try to bounce from highlight to highlight. This post will be on one minor and one major surprise.

MINOR – the screening of Mildred Pierce involved, as screenings of Mildred Pierce often do, Jack Carson. I don’t care much for Jack Carson. He bugs me. I don’t have to explain this to you. It’s visceral.

Then I saw him on the big screen, on which he has, and there’s no other way I can put this, sclera. Whites in both of his beady little eyes. Apparently that’s where he was hiding his acting. On my TV, he’s got shark eyes. Lifeless eyes, black eyes like a doll’s eye.  But on a full movie screen, he was… pretty good.

And dammit, now I have to reconsider Jack Carson. I DO NOT HAVE THAT KIND OF TIME. *shakes fist* “Carson!!!!”

phffft_9MAJOR – There was onboard tragedy during the cruise with the passing of Frank Mankiewicz, Really Impressive Human Being and father of TCM host Ben Mankiewicz. Ben left the ship at Key West, which I hope didn’t prevent him from finding out about the sizeable and sincere outpourings of sympathy from the screening audiences as they heard the news.

This also made for some serious schedule wiggling behind the scenes, obviously. There was, for example, a “Meet Ben” event slated for Saturday morning (we were fortunate enough to see the Wednesday edition) in which he was to be interviewed by Illeana Douglas. This was replaced by a conversation between Douglas and Richard Dreyfuss on the craft of acting.

What this meant was that over the course of two days, The Wife and I saw Douglas interview Dreyfuss in a general way for an hour, then heard them talk shop for another hour, then heard a solo Dreyfuss’s Q&A after a screening of Jaws.

It was the greatest thing ever.


One of our favorite takeaways was that Dreyfuss has what I will gently describe as a tendency to digress (that’s by no means a dig – the path is curvy but leads to fascinating places) and their mutual enjoyment of each other’s company makes Douglas a dab hand at the dropping of breadcrumbs to remind him how he got there and bringing him back. We enjoyed this because in telling a story in our own lives, I am the wandering Dreyfuss and my wife the jovially restraining Douglas.

Anyway, many tales were told, of hero-to-both Spencer Tracy, of the Adler acting legacy (the Brando meeting), of those moments onstage when the actor is a conductor and the audience an orchestra. Douglas confessed to having used “What Would Dreyfuss Do?” as a fallback acting strategy, finding out that Dreyfuss did the same thing but with Tracy, and therefore there were moments in her career in which she may have been doing Dreyfuss doing Tracy. (Leading the Wife and I to talk later about what ours might be – it’s entirely possible our most common Emergency WW_D? go-tos are Gene Wilder and Madeleine Kahn. Though mine might also be Frank Morgan. Not sure how to feel about that.)

We had a couple of questions – about whether they thought it might be an effective acting strategy for a young actor to do just that, to seek inspiration from actors of the opposite sex, because they’ll be making choices that you won’t be able to/asked to replicate exactly and therefore will give you a more distinctive perspective. Also, why hasn’t Dreyfuss played Theodore Roosevelt in a film about the Amazonian River of Doubt expedition? – but as with all Q&A sessions in the world, the majority of the questions are from well-meaning people who more or less say, “mostly I want to have a private moment with you in public where I tell you you’re great.”

Though there was an attendee who asked him a question about academics studying his work that allowed for a really nice moment about self-confidence, depression and perseverance that was worth ten of the “that was great; you’re great” questions. And after this Dreyfuss spent the Jaws Q&A trying to encourage the audience’s impulses to dig deep. Some did. Some didn’t. Admirable effort at any rate.

It wasn’t supposed to happen, but that whole conversation about craft was one of the accidental highlights of the cruise and the sort of thing I hope TCM is encouraged to include on the slate next time. The audience got less anecdote and more nuts-and-bolts, but seemed to enjoy it just as much. Or perhaps I project.


TO COME: Tales of My Wife Trying Not to Weep on Ann Blyth; Social Encounters with Fellow Travelers; Why We Totally Skipped Key West to Watch Even More Movies; and more!

Looking Backward: Second Looks, Friday, May 31

2 Jun

To begin: at the risk of gushing…

newleafMy glee in watching A New Leaf was theoretically palpable to anyone, for tears of joy (etc.) could indeed have been touched if they hadn’t already been absorbed by my fingertips.

There. I said it. That’s not hyperbole. It’s fact.

I want less to talk about the specifics (the perfection of the acting ensemble, the howls I settled into during Mattheau’s scene with his lawyer that continued through May’s every tick as Henrietta, only paused while I wept openly and shamelessly through the whole fern-naming scene) than I want to go out and grab strangers on the street and bring them to my house to watch it. 

Also, the dialogue: ‘She’s unscrewing my Montrezzini!,” almost everything out of George Rose’s mouth, “Heavens!” A thing of beauty. And yet I still dream of the darker director’s cut. Though I’m nothing but happy with this.

Lee & Mifune 1941I’d like to take a look at the director’s cut of 1941, too, but it was a pleasure to watch again for the first time in probably 30 years, since the days when it was on cable every 20 minutes between Beastmasters. Still a mess, still too much screaming, but I still did a lot of laughing. Also, Mifune and his glove gesture. A master in everything he did. And let’s lament again the premature losses of Belushi and the underappreciated Wendy Jo Sperber.

thoselipsThose Lips, Those Eyes very much has the sentimental sensibilities of its era in a Summer of ‘42 way, but is very sweet and mostly you’re signed on for Langella’s tremendous performance. A lot of actors-playing-actors-sentimentalizing-A-Life-On-The-Stage movies collapse into a romanticism that bugs the crap out of me (full disclosure: I make a living as a stage actor), but this is more of an elegy to someone trying to maintain that romanticism than it is a celebration of it. Which is a pleasant surprise, as is the intriguing father/son relationship of Hulce & Stiller.

absolute-beginnersAbsolute Beginners was more touch & go for me than the rest (Fascist Dude: “That’s the last white breath you’ll draw!” Which, what does that even mean?), but despite marrow-level tonal problem, the Gil Evans score, the performances of Bowie and Ray Davies (!!) and the general stylishness have their cheesy 80s charms- I had to give up early on as far as my historical geekery is concerned (“’So What’ and ‘Boogie Stop Shuffle’ are both from 1959!”), though the Bowie number really finally morphed into a Donen-esqueness.

I’m not sure what I’m going to do with my Friday nights until Second Looks returns (which I’m led to believe is likely – and TCM would be foolish not to bring Illeana Douglas and this spotlight feature back as soon as they can).

Looking Backward: Our Man in Havana (1960)

17 May
Our Man in Havana (1960)

“Oh, there are lots of other jobs that aren’t real…”

I couldn’t resist. I knew Our Man in Havana was coming up on TCM Second Looks Friday night, but I’ll be zonked by 2:00 a.m., and I came across a copy, so I jumped the gun. Sue me.

The moment I knew I loved this movie: Wormold (Sir Alec Guinness), about to scale a wall, takes a moment to say a friendly howdy to a local blind beggar of his acquaintance (“Fidel”), who responds in kind as he ambles down the street. (A bit later, Noël Coward closes a bamboo door – secrecy, you know, old man – which I had to run back and watch again out of pleasure, but still I’m sticking with the blind man moment.)

Weird, lovely, dry little movie, and quite a thing it is: a man learns quickly that feeding the narrative is more profitable than providing the truth. Without giving too much away, only the Cuban setting feels dated (and was dated already when filming started, apparently, just after the revolution). Well, that and the vacuum cleaner technology, which has come a long way. But I’m referring as much to the direction and performances as the subject matter. Three cheers, as always, for Carol Reed.

(The whole thing made me wonder whether Steven Soderbergh, avowed fan of Reed’s The Third Man and inveterate crooked-angle user, has ever considered any Graham Greene…it does adapt well.)

Another tremendous dopily hono(u)rable Everyman performance from Sir Alec. If you’re keeping track, this one falls between his horse’s ass in The Horse’s Mouth and his Arabian prince in Lawrence. So it’s not like he had range.

Ernie Kovacs

It isn’t whether you win or lose…

And this is one more reason to mourn the early passing of Ernie Kovacs. I have nothing against James Dean or Heath Ledger or anything; I’d just like to propose a spare seat at that gone-too-soon table, is all. I’m intrigued still, after pondering Bell, Book & Candle again recently, at his ability to be comic and sinister at the same time in a way that resembled no one else’s comic villainy (in the case of BB&C, that’s too strong a word – perhaps rascality). Then he starts talking about torture and creeps me the hell out.

This is also a film that almost never turns up on the schedule, so catch it while ye may – and enjoy the always-enjoyable pre-/post- viewing discussions that start with Second Looks host Illeana Doiglas and spread like kudzu over Twitter via the TCMParty hashtag.

Looking Backward: The Great Moment (1944), “Second Looks,” and The Horn Blows at Midnight (1945)

11 May

When I lived in Boston, I used to read in the Public Garden, usually in the shadow of a column not too far from the equestrian statue of Washington. Throughout the first autumn I was there, the weather was so nice that I kept dozing off every time I started to read. Eventually I took a closer look at the column – a monument to the discovery of the painkilling properties of ether. So the dozing made sense, I guess.

My understanding of the story behind the studio’s meddling with The Great Moment (gleaned from the magical community that is the TCMParty hashtag) is fairly (I almost said “patently”) obvious throughout. The pace just isn’t a Sturges pace, and it’s clear that a few conversations are joined in medias res but weren’t filmed that way. Things are missing, the tone is uneven. But there’s something about watching the Sturges/Paramount stable get to try something unusual that has its pleasures. For me.

Demarest and McCrea

The man knew his business.

Kudos to William Demarest for doing what he clearly knew to be his job – his repetitive “night of September 30th” story is a highlight, or at least a running gag that works. It’s a tricky proposition for an actor: will I be known for range (Streep, Day-Lewis) or for reliability (everyone in this cast)? Coming from the world of Clown, there’s something really appealing to me about being a Pangborn, a Kibbee or a Hale. No one is ever unhappy to see your face, and after a certain critical mass of exposure/dependability you start to take on an important Brechtian function, becoming a human shorthand character that starts communicating expectations just by showing up (which can then be used or abused as necessary).

As I write this, The Horn Blows at Midnight is still on – Benny just did his brilliant read of the “eight beautiful – nine beautiful – TEN beautiful girls?” line. Like nearly anyone who knows this movie, I knew the jokes at its expense first (one of the first videotapes I ever owned, circa 11 years old, was a pair of Jack Benny Programs from the early 50s, one of which featured Humphrey Bogart and a cheap stab at this movie). Its charms are hard for me to resist or further explain. I will simply sit here quietly, laughing to myself and getting the Fallen Angel Twinges every sixty minutes. Pardon me.

The Horn Blows at Midnight (1945)

Oh, come on, it’s not THAT bad.

Again, both of these are a result of TCM’s decision to do these “Second Looks” Fridays hosted and curated by Illeana Douglas, who has equaled any (and surpassed most) of the channel’s celebrity programmers. Douglas clearly has a level of enthusiasm, knowledge, and articulation that really hit the sweet spot for an ideal guest host. Here’s hoping they decide to bring her and this feature back on an at least semi-regular basis. It’s nice to have the obscurities treated with the delight and information usually reserved for name pictures and the “problematic” seen as worth watching for all kinds of reasons.

Looking Forward: The Great Moment (1944)

9 May

Week Two of the already splendid enough Illeana Douglas-curated “Second Looks” Fridays in May on TCM starts off with The Great Moment, another one I’ve been looking forward to for a long while and haven’t ever watched. (I even own it. It’s pathetic.)

The Great Moment (1944)

See? Doesn’t that look like fun?!?

I’ve seen The Sin of Harold DIddlebock (which I’m prepared to defend); The Beautiful Blond from Bashful Bend (which I’m not). I’m apparently not averse to watching non-classic Sturges. But this one has slipped through the cracks.

See you Friday, May 10 at 8:00 p.m.

(Side note: the “Second Looks” feature that follows, The Horn Blows at Midnight, I can’t accept as a second look movie, but that’s because I’ve had my eighth and ninth look and love the lumpy little thing like it was my own pointy-headed infant. I’ve nothing blogworthy to say about it, but you should watch it anyway.)

Looking Backward: Alice in Wonderland (1933)

4 May

I couldn’t help but think that had the studio sprung for Technicolor, this version of Alice in Wonderland (shown as the inaugural pick in the Illeana Douglas-curated “Second Looks” Fridays in May) would be well known to us all. Such are the fickle ways of syndication.

Brilliant design by William Cameron Menzies. And an adaptation that’s surprisingly…not faithful, exactly, but certainly uses more Carroll material than most film versions: case in point the extended Schlesinger-produced “The Walrus & the Carpenter,” which is lovely. And the visual effects (Alice’s blurred growing/shrinking, the looking glass) more than make up for the stagey quality of the non-fx camera work.

Alice in Wonderland (1933)

Someone can rock ME to sleep tonight, thank you very much. Hold the pepper.

The costumes, which are said to be to blame for the film’s initial box office failure (because they seem to take great pains to obscure every celebrity puss to the point of complete unrecognizability), are fascinating anyway, almost into the puppet realm of at least Kroft if not quite Henson. Though I’m pretty sure I’ll be seeing the Pudding from the final What-The-Hell?! Banquet in my waking nightmares for years to come…

At any rate, as cinematic Alices go, this was such fun – occasionally upsetting and freakish, but isn’t the book?