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Sandrahn

TCM's treatment of Ronald Colman

30 posts in this topic

Since I have no way of complaining directly to Ben Mankiewicz or TCM, I just wanted to post this rant here. 

Last night TCM aired the non-musical version of Kismet starring Ronald Colman and Marlene Dietrich. As he always does with Colman films, Ben Mankiewicz ignored Colman entirely and talked about his co-star in his pre-film & post-film commentaries. He talked about Marlene's contributions to the war effort - yet Colman immersed himself in contributing to the war effort too, going all over the country on war bond tours and collapsing during one of them because his schedule was so intense (he was in his 50s during the war). Colman had a great career and led an interesting life, he was a huge star with greats like John Ford calling him "the greatest actor I've ever known" and Frank Capra making similar comments. We all hear about Olivia DeHaviland's fight for independence and lawsuit from her studio yet it was Colman who was the first star to go on his own as a freelancer in 1934 after threatening to sue Sam Goldwyn - Goldwyn refused to let him out of his contract (he had 2 yrs left) so rather than continue to work for Goldwyn, Colman took off on a trip to Europe & Asia and left his career for 2 yrs, risking his chance of being able to make a comeback. Colman is one of the few handful of actors who won the George Eastman award, he's one of the few silent film stars to make a seamless transition to talkies, he's one of the handful of first stars to have a star on the walk of fame (he has 2 I believe). He won polls of Hollywood actors/actresses/directors/producers/etc naming him among the top 3 greatest actors of the pre-1950 era. At one point he won a poll of Hollywood actresses for handsomest actor in film. He was a huge star - premieres of his films attracted massive attention. Yet even when TCM devotes a month to his films as they finally did this past July, Ben Mankiewicz talks about none of this nor does he talk much about Colman himself. Instead he talks about his co-stars like Gary Cooper and Dietrich. I don't understand why Colman gets this treatment.

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Great post, OP. I think sometimes they're afraid the audience doesn't know who the person is, but everyone knows about Cooper and Dietrich. So again they play up the household names, when this is the perfect opportunity to make Colman (rightfully) more of a household name, too. It's almost as if the writers and presenters don't have much faith or interest in the featured performer so they choose to talk about their favourite performer instead, the other person who costarred with Colman in the movie we are about to see.

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18 minutes ago, TopBilled said:

Great post, OP. I think sometimes they're afraid the audience doesn't know who the person is, but everyone knows about Cooper and Dietrich. So again they play up the household names, when this is the perfect opportunity to make Colman (rightfully) more of a household name, too. It's almost as if the writers and presenters don't have much faith or interest in the featured performer so they choose to talk about their favourite performer instead, the other person who costarred with Colman in the movie we are about to see.

As we have discussed TCM does tend to focus on the hit-parade performers.   This creates a self fulfilling loop;  the well known actors \ directors get more exposure while the so called lesser known get less exposure and thus continue to be lesser known (generally).

 

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TopBilled, that's a great reply and your argument makes perfect sense. Robert Osborne used to value educating the audience as well as entertaining them - that seems to be gone now.

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7 minutes ago, Sandrahn said:

TopBilled, that's a great reply and your argument makes perfect sense. Robert Osborne used to value educating the audience as well as entertaining them - that seems to be gone now.

Thanks. Mr. Osborne had his favourites too (Bette, Olivia, Natalie). But yes, he did try to expand the discussion. 

One thing that bothers me is when they have an evening theme and maybe for the first film they stick to a discussion of the theme. But by the time they get to the wraparounds for the second and third film they've pretty much abandoned the theme and degenerated into gossip about a star's personal life. 

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19 minutes ago, jamesjazzguitar said:

"As we have discussed TCM does tend to focus on the hit-parade performers.   This creates a self fulfilling loop;  the well known actors \ directors get more exposure while the so called lesser known get less exposure and thus continue to be lesser known (generally)."

And that's a shame because there is SO MUCH rich, vibrant, brilliant performers/films/other artists from the classic Hollywood era to learn about and be exposed to. TCM does its audience no favors by recycling the same names and films over and over again.

 

19 minutes ago, jamesjazzguitar said:

 

 

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To be fair, TCM did have Ron as SOTM not so long ago, so he did get to be the center of attraction at that time.

I think it's more a case of varying the focus of the intros over time, with some leaning toward the theme in play at the time (despite it not being that uncommon for BM to more or less re-quote from his earlier intros when a film reappears on the schedule).

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1 minute ago, limey said:

To be fair, TCM did have Ron as SOTM not so long ago, so he did get to be the center of attraction at that time.

I think it's more a case of varying the focus of the intros over time, with some leaning toward the theme in play at the time (despite it not being that uncommon for BM to more or less re-quote from his earlier intros when a film reappears on the schedule).

I did mention that SOTM in July - yet much of the commentary done on RC for his films was paltry and focused on his co-stars or other matters, not very much on Colman himself

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Sandrahn, thank you for your writeup on Ronald Colman. Clearly you are a fan who has done some research.

I didn't watch many of the Colman films during Colman month because I already had them all on DVD. Therefore I missed most of the commentaries surrounding the films, as well as last night's broadcast of Kismet. If those comments were short on information about the actor himself that's a shame.

But let's be realistic. Between Colman month (last July?) and the channel's broadcast of Condemned the following month TCM showed 21 of Colman's 26 talkies, with at least three of them premieres (Clive of India, Man Who Broke the Bank at Monte Carlo, Light That Failed). That's a pretty impressive number, to put it mildly.

For viewers who knew little about Colman TCM gave them a magnificent opportunity to become far more familiar with the vast majority of his talkie film career. I think that TCM should be commended for that fact rather than castigated if they failed to provide more information about his private life. If they had done more of the latter, so much the better, of course but, in an overall appraisal of TCM's efforts, they have done far more to promote Colman's name and career this year than has any other channel or DVD company.

I say thank you TCM for remembering and paying a month long tribute to one of the great Hollywood stars of the '30s and '40s.

It would be lovely if one day TCM could get the rights to show a 1927 Colman silent, Night of Love, a splendidly over the top melodrama with a dashing Colman playing, of all things, a curly haired gypsy (!) making love to Vilma Banky. A print of this lushly romantic film still exists (unlike a number of other Colman silents).

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32 minutes ago, TomJH said:

Sandrahn, thank you for your writeup on Ronald Colman. Clearly you are a fan who has done some research.

I didn't watch many of the Colman films during Colman month because I already had them all on DVD. Therefore I missed most of the commentaries surrounding the films, as well as last night's broadcast of Kismet. If those comments were short on information about the actor himself that's a shame.

But let's be realistic. Between Colman month (last July?) and the channel's broadcast of Condemned the following month TCM showed 21 of Colman's 26 talkies, with at least three of them premieres (Clive of India, Man Who Broke the Bank at Monte Carlo, Light That Failed). That's a pretty impressive number, to put it mildly.

For viewers who knew little about Colman TCM gave them a magnificent opportunity to become far more familiar with the vast majority of his talkie film career. I think that TCM should be commended for that fact rather than castigated if they failed to provide more information about his private life. If they had done more of the latter, so much the better, of course but, in an overall appraisal of TCM's efforts, they have done far more to promote Colman's name and career this year than has any other channel or DVD company.

I say thank you TCM for remembering and paying a month long tribute to one of the great Hollywood stars of the '30s and '40s.

It would be lovely if one day TCM could get the rights to show a 1927 Colman silent, Night of Love, a splendidly over the top melodrama with a dashing Colman playing, of all things, a curly haired gypsy (!) making love to Vilma Banky. A print of this lushly romantic film still exists (unlike a number of other Colman silents).

I don't think Sandrahn was actually finding much fault with TCM, just venting because he/she is frustrated that the wraparounds could have been a bit more detailed and slanted in Colman's favour, and why not-- after all, he was Star of the Month not Dietrich or Cooper this time around. So I think Sandrahn's concerns are fair.

As for the BIB part of Tom's post, we need to clarify that nobody earlier in the thread said Colman's personal life should have been included in the wraparounds. My comment was I don't like it when the personal life/gossip is brought in (related to primetime themes not Star of the Month). In the case of Colman, they didn't seem to devolve into a discussion about Colman's private life away from the camera. But, as Sandrahn said, they wound up discussing extraneous items not related to Colman.

It's not enough to just show the films and be "lauded" for that. This is an opportunity to create more awareness. And as Lawrence and I discussed in the westerns sub-forum yesterday, TCM's viewers do need to see that there are seminal works and whole careers that co-exist alongside the bigger household names. If TCM continues to keep the focus narrower than it should, then it is deliberately eschewing some of Hollywood's history. And TCM usually prides itself on being more enlightened.

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11 minutes ago, Sandrahn said:

I did mention that SOTM in July - yet much of the commentary done on RC for his films was paltry and focused on his co-stars or other matters, not very much on Colman himself

I've slept since then, so I can't remember details on all the relevant commentaries I'd seen - but I do recollect the SOTM intros discussing things like Colman's reluctance to play multiple/twin characters after a bad experience in an earlier film. Whilst the commentaries probably do drift in focus away from the theme (especially as SOTM days pass), I never sensed Colman being treated that differently from his compatriots.

Having said that, it was a little a jarring that the male lead was hardly mentioned in last night's intro - but I've seen similar for other actors in the intros, especially when the spotlight/theme isn't on that particular player for that particular airing.

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17 minutes ago, TopBilled said:

I don't think Sandrahn was actually finding much fault with TCM, just venting because he/she is frustrated that the wraparounds could have been a bit more detailed and slanted in Colman's favour, and why not-- after all, he was Star of the Month not Dietrich or Cooper this time around. So I think Sandrahn's concerns are fair.

As for the BIB part of Tom's post, we need to clarify that nobody earlier in the thread said Colman's personal life should have been included in the wraparounds. My comment was I don't like it when the personal life/gossip is brought in (related to primetime themes not Star of the Month). In the case of Colman, they didn't seem to devolve into a discussion about Colman's private life away from the camera. But, as Sandrahn said, they wound up discussing extraneous items not related to Colman.

It's not enough to just show the films and be "lauded" for that. This is an opportunity to create more awareness. And as Lawrence and I discussed in the westerns sub-forum yesterday, TCM's viewers do need to see that there are seminal works and whole careers that co-exist alongside the bigger household names. If TCM continues to keep the focus narrower than it should, then it is deliberately eschewing some of Hollywood's history. And TCM usually prides itself on being more enlightened.

Thank you, TB, outstanding post. I accept that TCM has recently shown several Colman films for which I am very grateful. I am merely comparing how he is treated in the commentaries as opposed to other actors. For example, in July TCM aired for the first time The Winning of Barbara Worth. I understand that Gary Cooper of course had to be mentioned as it is his first major film but instead of merely saying he stole the film, Ben could've said how Cooper himself related how Colman mentored him when Cooper felt very unsure of himself and had no confidence in himself in his first major outing in film. Several of Ben's commentaries for Colman's films excluded Colman himself.  At no point have I expressed a desire to have Colman's personal life commented on. 

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I think Ronnie Colman was one of the grandest citizens of Hollywood. Like so many immigrants of the period, he was fiercely patriotic toward his adopted country. A brilliant actor who had great technical skill and fine internal instincts. Though he was married twice, he and Benita seemed a loving and devoted couple. And best of all, Colman loved being in on the joke and loved being parodied. His and Benita's many guest appearances on THE JACK BENNY PROGRAM and their starring roles on THE HALLS OF IVY demonstrated his outstanding talent for comedy and his good-natured attitude about being sent-up.

I think the best moment of Colman on film is his puzzled torment when he must decide whether or not to leave Shangri-La. Lord, what a great moment.

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13 minutes ago, Ray Faiola said:

I think the best moment of Colman on film is his puzzled torment when he must decide whether or not to leave Shangri-La. Lord, what a great moment.

My all time favourite Colman screen moment, as well, one that has caused me to tear up on more than a few occasions. I couldn't find a shot of that Colman closeup to post but here is an image of him just seconds before it occurs. Dmitri Tiomkin's soaring musical score plays a huge part in the effectiveness of this scene, as well.

5b37bd26bdd1b26491eb03a5d63ed128--lost-h

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Showing 21 out of Colman's 26 talkies (80% of his talkie career) is, indeed,something for which TCM should be lauded. To make only cursory reference to that fact and concentrate instead upon a concern that the wraparounds around those films didn't have as much information about Colman as one would have desired seems rather nit picky to me.

Having a first time opportunity, in many cases, for so many viewers to see Colman in Lost Horizon or A Double Life or The Light That Failed or Bulldog Drummond, among so many other films, is far more significant and important. And his screen presence and performances in those films will stay far longer with those viewers than would a few extra extraneous facts about his career that might have been mentioned.

For that TCM deserves our thanks.

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Ah, but when will Fox untangle the domestic tie-up that binds BULLDOG DRUMMOND STRIKES BACK!? A far superior Fox follow-up to the Goldwyn original. A marvelously entertaining adventure.

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1 hour ago, Ray Faiola said:

Ah, but when will Fox untangle the domestic tie-up that binds BULLDOG DRUMMOND STRIKES BACK!? A far superior Fox follow-up to the Goldwyn original. A marvelously entertaining adventure.

I agree, Ray. Colman's second Drummond feature is a tongue-in-cheek delight. Colman is in larky, sophisticated form, never taking any situation of danger seriously, Loretta Young is a wide eyed beautiful lady in distress and Warner Oland a dark, ominous villain.

At one point in the film the villainous Oland has Drummond and his assistant Algy (Charles Butterworth) locked in a basement and he warns them that unless they provide him with certain information it's curtains for them. Is Colman rufffled by this threat? Not on your life! He simply gets on the phone, calls Oland upstairs and informs him that in ten minutes he'll be up there to crash things down on him.

When Algy then asks Drummond how he's going to do it the ever optimistic Colman replies, "I don't know but think of it, Algy. From a locked room, practically a dudgeon, to complete mastery of the situation in ten minutes! Algy, if we can do that we'll be superb!"

Unfortunately I've yet to see a good looking print of this film which can be found on various websites on the internet.

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When TCM aired Back to the Future recently, Ileana Douglas and her guest co-host praised the performance of Michael J. Fox and Lea Thompson and mentioned Crispin Glover being a difficult but gifted actor. Not one word was said about the actor who, in my opinion, walks away with the picture, Christopher Lloyd. In maybe 60 seconds before and 60 seconds after a movie, they just can't get to everything. I urge you to not be too upset about what you feel is a slighting of Colman. I appreciate your passion, but I find your post a little odd after they just made him Star of the Month.

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15 hours ago, jamesjazzguitar said:

As we have discussed TCM does tend to focus on the hit-parade performers.   This creates a self fulfilling loop;  the well known actors \ directors get more exposure while the so called lesser known get less exposure and thus continue to be lesser known (generally).

 

I can't say that I understand how this comment applies to TCM's treatment of Ronald Colman, James. Having a month long tribute and showing 80% of his talkies shows a concerted attempt on the channel's part of trying to promote one of the great stars of the past whose name might not mean so much to many modern viewers.

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And besides, it's clear in the OP that the poster seemed to know all there WAS to know about Coleman, so "lack of info" argument is null and void here. ;)

What's kind of freaky here, for ME at least, is last night on MeTV's "Carol Burnett And Friends" broadcast they showed her "Rancid Harvest" parody.  :lol:

Sepiatone

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19 hours ago, Sandrahn said:

 We all hear about Olivia DeHaviland's fight for independence and lawsuit from her studio yet it was Colman who was the first star to go on his own as a freelancer in 1934 after threatening to sue Sam Goldwyn - Goldwyn refused to let him out of his contract (he had 2 yrs left) so rather than continue to work for Goldwyn, Colman took off on a trip to Europe & Asia and left his career for 2 yrs, risking his chance of being able to make a comeback.

Sandrahn, I wonder where you got this information, particularly the part about Colman leaving his career for 2 years during the 1930s, taking a chance on endangering a comeback. A quick perusal of the actor's filmography shows that he made at least one film every year during that decade. It was, in fact, his busiest decade in the movies.

I know his relationship with Goldwyn ended rather bitterly and his last film for that studio (The Masquerader) was released in 1933 but he was making a film (Bulldog Drummond Strikes Back) the following year at Fox. 1935 and 1936 also had Fox films for him. It would appear that any European/Asian vacation to which you referred was of a shorter duration.

I hope I don't appear nit picky, especially since you're new here. I'm just hoping to clear up some confusion with your statement.

It's great to have another Colman fan here because, quite frankly, he's not discussed all that much on these boards. Thanks.

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I had never heard about the two year hiatus either, so also wondering where that information came from. I guess the point is, if this was ten years ago, Robert Osborne might have mentioned something about it. I too miss the days when we were educated as well as entertained in the wrap arounds. I realize Ben has his own style, but I do wish he would pick up more on the film history angle.

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Ben Mankiewicz does not write the little blurb/intros. He may have input but I know a few people who actually write these. He's basically a talking head. The blurb/intros usually latch onto "talking points" today's audience might be familiar with. Colman is practically forgotten; Dietrich is still an icon.

I complain about the same treatment of Marion Davies. Whenever they intro one of her films, it always turns to William Randolph Hearst and/or Orson Welles.

They don't talk about Colman/Davies (and lots of others) because no one has heard of them. No one has heard of them because they don't talk about them. It's a vicious circle.

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Why don't they expand the intros/wrap-ups a little bit and then include talk about the lesser-known actors?  There's usually enough time between movies to do this; they just might have to cut a few "Word of Mouth" segments that run about a minute or two (and which I've already seen about a dozen times).

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