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Picture of the Week

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    Stage Door

    Which picture did Katharine Hepburn, Ginger Rogers, Lucille Ball, Eve Arden and Ann Miller all appear in together? It was the funny and touching 1937 adaptation of Edna Ferber’s and George S. Kaufman’s Broadway success about a bunch of struggling actresses in a New York women’s boarding club, STAGE DOOR (available on DVD). Directed with a discreet and delicate touch by Gregory LaCava (whose Carole Lombard-William Powell classic, My Man Godfrey, had come out the previous year), this comedy-drama--remember those?--has boundless energy and charm, thanks mainly to his sure hand and the superb ensemble performances he inspires from a once-in-a-...

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    Pickup On South Street

    Sam Fuller directed, wrote and produced his pictures in headlines. There was always a kind of tabloid journalistic stylization to his work, mixed with the boldness of a scandal sheet’s lead story, the succinctness of boiling it all down to as few striking words as possible. Fuller became a moviemaker with rich first-hand experiences of life as a copy boy from age 12 for the old New York Journal, by age 17 a crime reporter for the San Diego Sun, and as a soldier in World War II, fighting with the First Infantry Division—“The Big Red One”—throughout North Africa and Europe, awarded the Bronze Star, the Silver Star, and a Purple Heart. By t...

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    History Is Made at Night

    One of my favorite movie titles is also, as Andrew Sarris has said, probably the most romantic title in pictures, and names a film directed by an Italian-American from Salt Lake City who is responsible for several of the most intensely affecting love stories ever made: Frank Borzage’s 1937 European triangle tale, HISTORY IS MADE AT NIGHT (available on DVD"> Starring France’s biggest American screen star, Charles Boyer, and Frank Capra’s “favorite actress,” Jean Arthur, the story is set in Paris and on a doomed ocean liner—-inspired by the Titanic calamity. (Surely someone involved with Jim Cameron’s Titanic saw this, because there are ce...

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    High Sierra

    As nearly everyone seems to know, Humphrey Bogart became a romantic star-leading man with the success of Casablanca (1943), in the role first offered to, and rejected by, George Raft, at that moment still a bigger star than Bogart on the Warner Bros. lot. What less people perhaps remember is that Bogart had already become an A-list star with the triumph two years earlier of another movie-role George Raft also turned down first: the over-the-hill modern outlaw Roy Earle in Raoul Walsh’s memorable 1941 gangster tragedy scripted by John Huston and W.R. Burnett, HIGH SIERRA (available on DVD). Among vigorous pioneer Walsh’s most representative ...

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    Ball of Fire

    Gary Cooper was the archetypal American long before either John Wayne or James Stewart moved into that spot, but he died relatively young fifty years ago and the passionate fervor with which he was adored has been forgotten.  His tall good looks combined with a little-boy innocence was like catnip for women:  the word is that of all Hollywood players, Cooper had the highest score.  His acting style was imitable but not emulatable.  Orson Welles told me he’d stood not more than three feet away from Coop while a close-up of the actor was being made and was convinced that it would have to be re-taken because he could see not...

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    Meet Me in St. Louis

    Gene Kelly is often credited as the key man in the birth of the modern movie musical of the late 1940s, but Gene himself said he felt the first modern picture musical was released in 1944, starred Judy Garland as she became a woman, and was directed by her soon-to-be first husband, Vincente Minnel...

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    Love Affair

    The movie that inspired the popular Sleepless in Seattle (1993), director-producer Leo McCarey’s An Affair to Remember (1957) with Cary Grant and Deborah Kerr, was actually the remake of a picture McCarey had conceived and directed nineteen years before with the suave French star Charles Bo...

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    A Woman Under the Influence

    In the history of America’s modern independent film, Orson Welles was first—-with his self-financed 1952 production of Othello—-and next, eight years later, came John Cassavetes with his self-financed Shadows.  Like Welles, Cassavetes used his acting salaries (mainly from indifferent films or TV shows) to pay for his directing-writing career, and to keep himself free and his pictures made without interference or compromise.  To protect the work, he even self-distributed two of the most successful of independent films:  his first mature masterpiece, Faces (1968), and A WOMAN UNDER THE INFLUENCE (available on DVD), perhaps his fi...

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