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Kyle Kersten was a true friend of TCM. One of the first and most active participants of the Message Boards, “Kyle in Hollywood” (aka, hlywdkjk) demonstrated a depth of knowledge and largesse of spirit that made him one of the most popular and respected voices in these forums. This thread is a living memorial to his life and love of movies, which remain with us still.

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TopBilled’s Essentials


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#201 Jlewis

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Posted 10 December 2016 - 03:32 PM

Oh Topbilled... ha ha!... you must really like Gregory Peck's Atticus in TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD. You never really know somebody until you walk in their shoes.

 

Trouble is... I often walk in others' shoes in order to understand THEM but so many of them are way too stubborn to walk in mine. I try my best to be flexible, but it is a challenge when dealing with a human version of the Rock of Gibraltar.

 

 

My favorite line: "What about dinosaurs? Were dinosaurs on The Ark? Sure they were! We don't know."

 

The guy totally contradicts himself!


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#202 TopBilled

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Posted 10 December 2016 - 09:38 AM

Essential: DARWIN, THE VOYAGE THAT SHOOK THE WORLD (2009)

 

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This dramatized documentary was made in Australia a few years ago. Certainly it is not a conventional choice for me to include as an essential. The subject matter is not wrong, and possibly even the aims of the project are not wrong, but the approach seems very wrong. In fact, several historians who were interviewed for this film have since denounced their participation. If you take a look at the video, you might see what I do– a clear violation of truth, but a shining example of how media can be used to manipulate viewer outcomes. On that count alone, it’s essential– and people should watch it.
 

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In 2008, Fathom Media sent a letter to the participants who had agreed to be interviewed for this look at Darwin’s historic journey on the HMS Beagle. To be fair, the producers told the historians they wanted to explain why Darwin took a five-year trip on the Beagle. They also wanted to examine his influences (meaning his scientific and religious values), and they hoped to show what happened when Darwin’s ‘Origin of the Species’ was published. It all sounded good. They also said they would include nature footage; dramatic re-enactments (with paid performers); and actual writings by Darwin from his own diaries. Again that seemed reasonable, and I’m sure it’s why the historians agreed to take part in the project.
 

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But here’s where it went wrong, incredibly wrong. The historians were not told the 52-minute video was being funded by a Christian ministries group. That Fathom Media was a ‘dummy company’ of sorts to conceal the fact a Christian group was making this particular documentary. The historians later claimed they would not have agreed to be interviewed if they knew the inherent bias and how their comments might be misconstrued to sound as if they were not endorsing Darwinism but Creationism instead.
 

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In all honesty, it’s a very provocatively made short film, and the questions raised are worth pondering. One thought I took away from this is how much science has changed since Darwin’s time. Organized religion has probably changed just as much. I didn’t feel the historians’ comments were being undermined at every turn, though it was noticeable every time one of them made a sensible argument in favor of evolution, the film-makers quickly cut to a reverend or some sort of ‘believer’ who could potentially refute the information or at least make a counter-claim. If these segments had been presented in reverse, with the historians’ comments coming after the the ministers’ comments, it could just as easily be seen that they were successfully refuting the notions put forth by the Creationists.
 

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Another thought I took from this film was what Darwin had dealt with earlier in his life that caused him to lose faith in religion. Also, what might he think if he were still alive to see this documentary. The journey he took around the tip of South America from 1831 to 1836 was so significant we still discuss it today. A Christian ministry group finds it necessary to superimpose its own views on his journey and the meaning others may take from it. Doesn’t that bending of truth seem unfair? If Darwin’s views didn’t matter, nobody would even care about it now.
 

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DARWIN, THE VOYAGE THAT SHOOK THE WORLD can be streamed on Amazon Prime.


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"The truth? What good is the truth if it destroys us all..?" -- Mady Christians in ALL MY SONS (1948).


#203 TopBilled

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Posted 09 December 2016 - 08:22 AM

I will be posting my twenty-second essential tomorrow.

 

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It's a different sort of documentary film.


"The truth? What good is the truth if it destroys us all..?" -- Mady Christians in ALL MY SONS (1948).


#204 Jlewis

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Posted 04 December 2016 - 11:38 AM

Great read is American Way of Sex: An Informal Illustrated History (1978, pre-AIDS) by Bradley Smith. Religion is either TOTALLY against it or TOTALLY supportive of it depending on what "era" you reside in. The Mormons of the mid-19th century have their own section. Sometime you need to visit historic Ambridge (Old Economy Village), Pennsylvania where one religious community went without... and substituted with something else: making money. Worked quite well for a time.


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#205 TopBilled

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Posted 04 December 2016 - 11:18 AM

This movie may be "rather interesting" in how it covers religion, but the 1830s-50s were "rather interesting" decades in America with an explosion of all kinds of radical faiths. Surprisingly many were quite progressive, not only in race relations (a.k.a. the abolitionists), but also in "free love". Sex wasn't all that taboo and many of these spiritual mid-19th century folk were not much different than the Woodstock generation.

 

Thanks for the reply. Never considered that before. Interesting.


"The truth? What good is the truth if it destroys us all..?" -- Mady Christians in ALL MY SONS (1948).


#206 Jlewis

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Posted 03 December 2016 - 02:07 PM

This movie may be "rather interesting" in how it covers religion, but the 1830s-50s were "rather interesting" decades in America with an explosion of all kinds of radical faiths. Surprisingly many were quite progressive, not only in race relations (a.k.a. the abolitionists), but also in "free love". Sex wasn't all that taboo and many of these spiritual mid-19th century folk were not much different than the Woodstock generation.


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#207 TopBilled

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Posted 03 December 2016 - 01:49 PM

Essential: EMMA SMITH, MY STORY (2008)

 

 

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This month’s theme is ‘Significant Journeys,’ and it seems to me that Emma Smith had a journey that was quite unlike most of her contemporaries. As the wife of Joseph Smith, the founder of the Latter Day Saint movement, she encountered a great deal of hardship as they moved from New York to Illinois during the years of their marriage. She sort of lives in the shadow of her famous husband, but this film attempts to share her unique story.
 

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I chose this film to review because it’s essential in several ways. First, it’s an essential look at how a religious group sees one of its leaders. It doesn’t matter if the viewer believes in the same things or not. Second, it’s an essential document of conservative feminism. And third, it’s essential as a historical biopic depicting life during a certain period of American history. I should also point out that this film is a companion piece to another project presented by the Mormon church, called JOSEPH SMITH: THE PROPHET OF THE RESTORATION. Both movies were directed by T.C. Christensen and Gary Cook. Cook was really the producer who took a co-directing credit; and Christensen who has worked as a cinematographer gives both films their distinctive, highly polished look. They’re visually stunning, given the rather modest budgets involved.
 

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The actors are all professional, but vary in experience. Nobody gives less than a competent performance. I was astonished at how much the performers look like the actual people they play. They don’t seem to be using heavy make-up or other acting tricks. I think Christensen and Cook just happened to find the right people who could embody Joseph and Emma. There are two Emmas– one is younger and played in the flashbacks by Katherine Nelson; and the other one is older, reflecting over her life’s experiences, played by Patricia Place. Miss Place has over 100 credits on the IMDb, and she does an extraordinary job conveying the quiet strength of the older and wiser Emma Smith. I really felt connected to the character when watching her scenes.
 

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The film that focuses on Joseph was produced first, to coincide with his 200th birthday in 2005. It was screened at Mormon visitors’ centers until 2015. Imagine a motion picture that remains in theaters for a decade. On that count alone, it must be highly influential. The second film, about Emma, uses leftover footage from the first film, plus new footage (probably the scenes with the older Emma) and it’s a half-hour longer. I feel it was probably put together so the women in the LDS faith had something they could look at in order to draw inspiration.
 

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There is no way even the most casual viewer cannot be inspired by Emma’s story. The things she endured were beyond belief. She was disowned by her parents for marrying Joseph (they considered him a radical, and he certainly was); she lost her first few children at childbirth; she was kicked out of towns– make that states– because of the enemies her husband and his followers made; she served as counsel for the men in the church and wasn’t afraid to be called rebellious if she disagreed with their limiting patriarchal views; and of course, she was widowed with young children when Joseph was killed with his brother by an angry lynch mob.
 

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There was also the polygamy issue, which this film does address. I won’t spoil the scenes, but I think the filmmakers handle it very responsibly and you feel a sense of pity that a man’s legal wife had to put up with such things because her husband insisted his god called him to have other wives. Emma was not a fool; and she certainly had to be a remarkable woman to tolerate the polygamy not only from within the community but from outside it, as her husband became persecuted for it. This motion picture could easily have gone much longer to cover all the ramifications of the other wives. But it’s not about them, and it doesn’t need to get hung up on polygamy. The main point is to present Emma’s journey– the years she had with Joseph, as well as the years without him.
 

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One more thing impresses me about this production. You have to know a bit of Emma’s personal history to understand that she broke away from the church when her husband died. She and his successor, Brigham Young, were not in agreement on many things. In fact, she did not go west to Utah; Emma remained in Illinois for the rest of her life and she helped her son, Joseph, reorganize the church. That off-shoot is still in existence. All this notwithstanding, the filmmakers do not lessen the importance of Emma’s life or her role in their own modern faith, despite the fact she did not remain a “traditional” Mormon. The film is to be commended for showing us Emma not how Joseph or his church might wanted her to be, but how she actually was. Detractors might say the production is a form of LDS propaganda, but I see it as a tribute to a most remarkable woman of faith.
 

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EMMA SMITH, MY STORY can be streamed on Amazon Prime.


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#208 TopBilled

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Posted 02 December 2016 - 02:54 PM

I will be posting my twenty-first essential tomorrow.

 

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It's a rather interesting film.


"The truth? What good is the truth if it destroys us all..?" -- Mady Christians in ALL MY SONS (1948).


#209 TopBilled

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Posted 28 November 2016 - 08:46 AM

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Theme for December 2016: Significant Journeys

 

Saturday December 3, 2016

EMMA SMITH, MY STORY (2008), starring Patricia Place & Katherine Nelson. Studio/production company: Morning Dew/Candlelight Media Group. Source: Amazon Prime.

 

Saturday December 10, 2016

DARWIN, THE VOYAGE THAT SHOOK THE WORLD (2009), narrated by Matthew O’Sullivan. Studio/production company: Fathom Media. Source: Amazon Prime.

 

Saturday December 17, 2016

THE JEWISH CARDINAL (2013), starring Laurent Lucas & Aurelien Recoing. Studio/production company: A Plus Image 4/Arte France. Source: Amazon Prime.

 

Saturday December 24, 2016

WAR CHILD (2008), featuring Emmanuel Jal. Studio/production company: 18th Street Films/Independent Producers Alliance. Source: Amazon Prime.

 

Saturday December 31, 2016

THE FRANCIS EFFECT (2014), with Sebastian Gomes. Studio/production company: Salt and Light Catholic Media. Source: Amazon Prime.

 

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"The truth? What good is the truth if it destroys us all..?" -- Mady Christians in ALL MY SONS (1948).


#210 TopBilled

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Posted 26 November 2016 - 12:32 PM

Essential: THE PURPLE PLAIN (1954)

 

Gregory Peck worked with an American director and a British crew when he made THE PURPLE PLAIN. The film’s subject matter meant something personally to the actor. At the time many Hollywood stars only did British pictures when their American careers were in decline. You might say they were shopworn– a kind euphemism for washed up or has-been. But Peck was never washed up or a has-been. He occasionally made British films in between his bigger assignments in the U.S., because he wanted to attach himself to stories he considered to be of merit.

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In this film he is paired with yet another newcomer to the screen. Her name is Win Min Than, and she was discovered at a party by a friend of the director. At the time Win was married to a high-ranking politician in Burma, and this was the only motion picture she would ever make. Because she’s so new to the medium, she has to rely on Peck’s guidance, like Audrey Hepburn did in ROMAN HOLIDAY, as well as her own natural instincts. The result is that we’re not getting a highly artificial, extremely mannered actress in this role. She is very realistic and vulnerable.

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The plot is fairly straightforward. A flyer in the war is haunted by personal demons, which includes the loss of a wife who was killed in London. Upon his arrival in Burma, he meets Win and tells her he doesn’t really want to live. But this begins to change as he spends the next few days with her. He starts reaching out to her in order to strengthen his own sense of self.

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In the next part, he goes out to fly a mission with two other men. Soon their plane experiences engine trouble and goes down. One of the men has been critically injured, and it’s up to Peck to get them safely back to civilization.

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In Burma Win learns about the plane’s disappearance. She receives moral support from a missionary woman (Brenda De Banzie) who has faith the couple will be reunited. De Banzie plays a type of Christian we’ve seen in other movies that take place in remote settings. In some scenes, she is slightly over-the-top and appears with very thick pasted-on make-up; almost a caricature– a melodramatic woman with religious fervor. But it works when contrasted against Win’s much less pretentious, more earthy characterization.

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Back near the crash site, one of the men has committed suicide. The tragedy causes Peck to develop an even stronger will to live, and he soldiers on. Finally, he makes it to a river where he is saved. With help, he goes back to get the other flyer who’s still alive in the jungle.

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Earlier in the film there’s a line where Peck says he really doesn’t long for home, and we believe him. For him, home is a state of mind wherever he may be. And in the same way, a Gregory Peck movie is a state of mind, too. Especially THE PURPLE PLAIN, where a human life has been reinstated and brought back to paradise.

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THE PURPLE PLAIN was directed by Robert Parrish and can be streamed on Amazon Prime.


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"The truth? What good is the truth if it destroys us all..?" -- Mady Christians in ALL MY SONS (1948).


#211 TopBilled

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Posted 25 November 2016 - 02:41 PM

I will be posting my twentieth essential tomorrow.

 

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I highly recommend this film.


"The truth? What good is the truth if it destroys us all..?" -- Mady Christians in ALL MY SONS (1948).


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Posted 19 November 2016 - 05:28 PM

I must confess that I used to like this one until I saw it way too many times. It is among TCM's most frequent Paramount airings, after all. Even in their advertising, you always see a shot of Audrey culled from here. In contrast, we rarely see others featuring the mountain of stars that were made post-ROMAN HOLIDAY and SABRINA in the fifties and sixties unless it is one of the MCA/Universal owned Hitchcocks. Have they aired ROMEO & JULIET on TCM yet? The Zeffirelli version is among the most discussed movies on these message boards that is NOT shown on TCM.

 

Although his performance isn't that great, Eddie Albert definitely deserves attention in setting some fashion trends. His character is employed as a photographer but is essentially Hollywood's first take on beatniks, which would be literally everywhere in movies, TV and animated cartoons before the end of the decade. Yet his scruffy look was not-of-the-norm in 1952 when this was shot. Later Audrey would go all beatnik in FUNNY FACE.

 

Great post. Thanks for commenting. 

 

ROMAN HOLIDAY is an iconic film with iconic images. The plot itself is rather inconsequential-- what is it really, other than people from different worlds who have a fling/adventure..? And yes, Eddie Albert's character plays a unique part in it.

 

As for the 1968 version of ROMEO AND JULIET-- I will be reviewing it around Valentine's day, since during the month of February, I will be looking at love stories.


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"The truth? What good is the truth if it destroys us all..?" -- Mady Christians in ALL MY SONS (1948).


#213 Jlewis

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Posted 19 November 2016 - 04:48 PM

I must confess that I used to like this one until I saw it way too many times. It is among TCM's most frequent Paramount airings, after all. Even in their advertising, you always see a shot of Audrey culled from here. In contrast, we rarely see others featuring the mountain of stars that were made post-ROMAN HOLIDAY and SABRINA in the fifties and sixties unless it is one of the MCA/Universal owned Hitchcocks. Have they aired ROMEO & JULIET on TCM yet? The Zeffirelli version is among the most discussed movies on these message boards that is NOT shown on TCM.

 

Although his performance isn't that great, Eddie Albert definitely deserves attention in setting some fashion trends. His character is employed as a photographer but is essentially Hollywood's first take on beatniks, which would be literally everywhere in movies, TV and animated cartoons before the end of the decade. Yet his scruffy look was not-of-the-norm in 1952 when this was shot. Later Audrey would go all beatnik in FUNNY FACE.


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#214 TopBilled

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Posted 19 November 2016 - 03:17 PM

Essential: ROMAN HOLIDAY (1953)

 

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Some films are pure in their message, and yet so entertaining. It’s not surprising they do well with contemporary audiences, and also with audiences decades later watching for the first time. That’s what makes something a classic, if you ask me. And there can be no better example of classic film making than William Wyler’s ROMAN HOLIDAY.

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A large part of the pureness of this film is due to its two remarkable stars, Gregory Peck and Audrey Hepburn. There isn’t anything less than sincerity in their performances. Even when Peck is trying to mislead Hepburn in order to get the story of the year, his character is still strangely genuine. It doesn’t matter that this is a romance between a reporter and a royal princess; it’s a romance between real human beings. The story might have been mishandled by other actors, but these two can do no wrong with it. Maybe they were really playing a part of themselves on screen, and that’s why it’s so magical.

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Hepburn would win an Oscar for her work and she shot to super stardom because of this film. But Peck brings great skill and a quiet strength to his role. He almost seems to be underplaying and letting her lead the emotions of the situation. In fact Peck seems very conscious of what his character represents, and in the final scenes, where they have a bittersweet parting, it still manages to be a happy ending because Peck’s earnestness assures us it has to be.

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William Wyler would direct Peck five years later in the western THE BIG COUNTRY; and he would direct Hepburn twice in the 60s, in the remake of THE CHILDREN’S HOUR and in HOW TO STEAL A MILLION. Arguably, those later productions do not contain the kind of pureness we find in ROMAN HOLIDAY.

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Sometimes filmmakers put whatever they can into a motion picture, just to make it work. The labor involved is evident. Other times, it is easier and just flows on to the screen beautifully. And what we get out of it is a most pleasant surprise.

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ROMAN HOLIDAY is available on Paramount home video.


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Posted 18 November 2016 - 10:10 AM

I will be posting my nineteenth essential tomorrow.

 

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A truly special classic film.


"The truth? What good is the truth if it destroys us all..?" -- Mady Christians in ALL MY SONS (1948).


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Posted 12 November 2016 - 11:32 AM

I remember in the early years of 1980s VHS, this was among a select number of big budget studio classics that had fallen into Public Domain, so there were multiple versions out in different levels of visual preservation quality.

 

Amazon is using a restored print of THE SNOWS OF KILIMANJARO from Fox. Good news for admirers of the film's marvelous cinematography.


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"The truth? What good is the truth if it destroys us all..?" -- Mady Christians in ALL MY SONS (1948).


#217 Jlewis

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Posted 12 November 2016 - 11:18 AM

I remember in the early years of 1980s VHS, this was among a select number of big budget studio classics that had fallen into Public Domain, so there were multiple versions out in different levels of visual preservation quality.



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Posted 12 November 2016 - 11:04 AM

Essential: THE SNOWS OF KILIMANJARO (1952)

 

During Darryl Zanuck’s years at 20th Century Fox, he made a handful of films based on Ernest Hemingway’s stories. This is probably because Zanuck identified with the author’s wanderlust and sense of adventure. If Zanuck had not been a movie mogul, he might have been another Hemingway.

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The first adaptation Zanuck did of a Hemingway work was UNDER MY SKIN. It was produced in 1950 and filmed in black and white. But two years later, when it came time to adapt the writer’s celebrated short story ‘The Snows of Kilimanjaro’ (which Hemingway himself considered to be one of his finest stories), a much larger budget was allocated.

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The budget allowed for stunning Technicolor; on-location filming along the French Riviera and in various parts of Africa; plus a star-studded cast. Gregory Peck was chosen to play the main character, who is essentially a stand-in for Hemingway. And a trio of leading ladies were hired that included Ava Gardner, Susan Hayward and Hildegarde Neff. The film was exquisitely made and wowed critics as well as audiences. It became one of the year’s most stylish films to see, and deservedly earned two Oscar nominations.

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Significantly, Casey Robinson’s script expands on the possibilities suggested by the source material. Gardner’s character was not in the original story, and she was invented as a nod to one of Hemingway’s great loves. When the hero goes into the jungles of Africa, he gets infected and is near death. A woman in his party (Hayward) tends to him. In an increasingly delirious state he reflects on the beginning and end of his marriage with Gardner, as well as a rebound relationship with Neff.

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The scenes where Gardner has left Peck, and he finds her again driving an ambulance during the war, is probably pieced together from another work, ‘A Farewell to Arms.’ And some of the safari scenes are reminiscent of ‘The Macomber Affair.’ So what we have is a collection of Hemingway’s greatest hits representing his passions and his sorrows. And that’s not a terrible thing, because it makes for a compelling motion picture.

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THE SNOWS OF KILIMANJARO was directed by Henry King and can be streamed on Amazon Prime.


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Posted 11 November 2016 - 08:01 AM

I will be posting my eighteenth essential tomorrow.

 

2d8a0-screen2bshot2b2016-11-102bat2b7-33

 

It's such a great film.


"The truth? What good is the truth if it destroys us all..?" -- Mady Christians in ALL MY SONS (1948).


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Posted 05 November 2016 - 12:23 PM

Essential: THE GUNFIGHTER (1950)

 

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The opening images of THE GUNFIGHTER tell us the character played by Gregory Peck is the fastest gunman who ever lived. He's faster than all the others– Billy the Kid, Wild Bill Hickok and even Wyatt Earp. So fast that when he rides into a new town, his reputation precedes him. And during the film’s first few minutes, a squirt named Eddie (Richard Jaeckel) makes the fatal mistake of challenging him to a duel. Immediately, we learn just how fast Jimmy Ringo is when he’s forced to defend himself.

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Eddie’s three brothers are soon out to settle the score, but Jimmy is too smart for them and of course, too fast. He gets them off their horses out in the desert and lets the animals run off. But this only just the beginning; after Jimmy rides into another town, we can be sure the brothers will catch up to him and try once more to even things out. In the meantime, Jimmy has other matters to take care of, and these include finding his girl (Helen Westcott) and her boy.

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He soon learns Peggy has changed her name and is trying to live a new life, free of Jimmy and the violence that comes with him. The marshal (Millard Mitchell) happens to be an old pal, and he goes to speak to Peggy. She is now working as a schoolteacher and they discuss what to do. We learn she is Jimmy’s wife and her boy is Jimmy’s son. But the reason for Jimmy’s return is not yet clear. Has he changed?

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The casting of this film is exemplary, and Peck’s a perfect fit. His previous western was YELLOW SKY, and in that one, he was a gunman headed for redemption; but this time around, redemption may not be in the cards. The leading lady, Helen Westcott (not usually the lead in top-drawer productions) gets a chance to shine. And in a supporting role is Jean Parker as Molly, an over-the-hill barroom singer. Minor characters are played with flourish by esteemed character actors Karl Malden; Alan Hale Jr.; Ellen Corby; and Verna Felton.

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There are some excellent scenes where Molly tries to aid a reconciliation between Jimmy and Peg. Some good stuff where Jimmy Jr. wants to see his father involved in a shootout, not realizing he’s the son of the famed gunfighter. And a very humorous scene where the society women try to force Jimmy’s removal from town. At every twist and turn, the story is loaded with irony as a man, once wild, tries to reconnect with those he loves. But there’s an old coot across the street who wants to kill Jimmy for supposedly shooting his son. Plus another young squirt (Skip Homeier) desperate for glory; and the three brothers of the kid he gunned down in the beginning, who are still after him. They will make it nearly impossible for Jimmy to have a normal family reunion.

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THE GUNFIGHTER was directed by Henry King and can be streamed on Amazon Prime.


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"The truth? What good is the truth if it destroys us all..?" -- Mady Christians in ALL MY SONS (1948).





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