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Today in Movie History - March 25


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WAY too many damn Oscar ceremonies were held on March 25 over the years! I will be glad when we move past Oscar season (seems like they're important enough to be included, however).


March 25, 1923 - Paramount releases THE COVERED WAGON, Hollywood's first truly epic Western, produced and directed by James Cruze. Most of the footage was shot on location in remote locales such as Milford, Utah; Snake Valley, Nevada; and Antelope Island in the Great Salt Lake for the spectacular buffalo hunting scene. Adapted from the novel by Emerson Hough, the movie tells the tale of the 1,500-mile wagon train journey from Kansas City to Oregon circa 1849. J. Warren Kerrigan plays an ex-army officer with a troubled past who leads the wagon train. Lois Wilson plays the girl who loves him, and Alan Hale portrays the scheming villain, but perhaps the most memorable characters of all are the pair of Indian scouts guiding the wagon train - they're both authentic and offbeat.


March 25, 1932 - Cinema's sixth and newest Tarzan is former Olympic swimming champion Johnny Weissmuller, the man who scooped up a total of five gold medals in the 1924 and 1928 games. Weissmuller turned professional in 1929, appearing in live aquatic extravaganzas and a number of short films about swimming. MGM sat up and took notice and offered Weissmuller a screen test when the actor they originally hired to play Tarzan fell ill. Metro paid Weismuller $250/week to star as Edgar Rice Burroughs' jungle hero in TARZAN THE APE MAN, which is being released today. Co-starring as Jane is spunky Maureen O'Sullivan, and the directing is handled by W.S. Van Dyke, known throughout the film industry as "One-Shot Woody". Ignoring the fact that Burroughs' character is actually the cultivated Lord Greystoke, the script limits Weissmuller's dialogue to little more than grunts and monosyllabic utterances. The film will be a hit, and MGM will sign Weissmuller to do seven more Tarzan films.


March 25, 1941 - Paramount releases THE LADY EVE, starring Barbara Stanwyck and written and directed by Preston Sturges, who pulled double-duty for the first time in the previous year's THE GREAT MCGINTY. Stanwyck is the title character, a ruthless card shark who preys on the smart set with her father, played by Charles Coburn. Working the transatlantic luxury liner beat, she sets her sight on tangle-footed brewery heir Henry Fonda, who only has eyes for rare snakes, until he loses his heart to Stanwyck while she works him over with a marked deck.


March 25, 1954 - One movie dominates this year's Oscar ceremony, Columbia's FROM HERE TO ETERNITY, directed by Fred Zinneman. In nabbing eight awards, it matches the most wins ever previously held by GONE WITH THE WIND alone. Among those eight wins: Frank Sinatra for Best Supporting Actor. It will prove to be a career-relaunching moment for Sinatra, who was facing falling popularity and had declared bankruptcy after being faced with expensive divorce settlements. His first straight dramatic role with no singing has given him a new lease on life. Donna Reed, also in a meatier role than is usual for her as a nightclub prostitute, wins Best Supporting Actress. ETERNITY also wins for Best Picture of 1953, Best Director, Best Screenplay, Best Black-and-White Cinematography, Best Sound Editing and Best Film Editing. Old hand William Holden wins Best Actor for Paramount's STALAG 17, while fresh young thing Audrey Hepburn wins Best Actress for ROMAN HOLIDAY, also from Paramount. Although HOLIDAY is actually Hepburn's seventh film, her portrayal of an incognito princess having a lark for the first time in her pampered life is the first time she really carries a movie, and she has virtually overnight become Hollywood's most bewitching starlet.


March 25, 1958 - Movie theaters in New York City, Los Angeles and Chicago where United Artists' AROUND THE WORLD IN 80 DAYS, produced by Mike Todd, has been showing, all close their doors today as a sign of mourning for the producer. The flamboyant impresario, born Avron Goldblogen, was killed three days ago at the age of 51 when his private plane, the Lucky Liz, flying cross country from LA to NYC, crashed in a storm near Albuquerque. Elizabeth Taylor had originally intended to join her husband on the flight, but he persuaded her to stay home while suffering from the flu. The couple had only been married seven months. Daughter Lisa was born to them the previous August 6 in a traumatic delivery in which both mother and child nearly died. Taylor has been advised by her doctors to never have another baby. According to neighbors who could hear Taylor screaming from several houses away when she learned the news, an emergency medical crew had to sedate her to prevent her from committing suicide.


March 25, 1966 - SHADOWS OF OUR FORGOTTEN ANCESTORS premieres in Moscow. This variation on the Romeo and Juliet story is set in the Carpathian mountains circa 1900. A young man falls in love with the daughter of the man responsible for the death of his father but instead marries a woman who indulges in witchcraft. Using "Sovcolor", director Sergo Paradjanov brings a swirling, kaleidoscopic camera style to this rural folk tale. The 42-year-old Paradjanov was born Sarkis Paradjanian to Armenian parents in Georgia. He was brought up in luxury, though his family went through hard times during the Stalin years. He studied music at the conservatory at Tibilisi before enrolling in the state film school in Moscow at the age of 22. After graduating, he co-directed his first film, the surrealistic ANDRIESH, in 1955. His subsequent films up to now had all been undistinguished comedies or melodramas in the socialist-realist style. The intense theme of Ukrainian nationalist pride in the film has earned Paradjanov the patronage of Pyotr Shelest, head of the Ukrainian Communist Party.


March 25, 1986 - Ted Turner, creator of CNN, purchases MGM/United Artists from financier Kirk Kerkorian. Five years earlier, Kerkorian authorized MGM to purchase UA, it's clear now, for the primary purpose making the merged companies more appealing to a prospective buyer and not for genuinely upgrading either studio to viable production and distribution status once again. Turner, the Atlanta-based cable TV mogul, appears to be not so much interested in the studios themselves than he is in their valuable backlog of old movies he can air on his TV networks, and he appears unlikely to retain either the film studios or their production facilities, which include the Culver City lot and film lab, any longer than he has to. Many in the industry are comparing Kerkorian to Howard Hughes, who virtually destroyed RKO Studios before unloading it in 1956.


March 25, 1991 - Orion's DANCES WITH WOLVES, produced and directed by the charismatic 35-year-old actor Kevin Costner, cleans up at the Oscars. Costner plays Army Lieutenant John J. Dunbar who, after the horrors of the Civil War, asks to be reassigned to the farthest outpost there is on the Western frontier. He gradually earns the trust of the neighboring Sioux Indians and finds the greatest happiness of his life living among them until reality intrudes with the arrival of a cavalry detail who abscond him and treat him brutally. Costner shows tremendous confidence as a debut director, combining both big, showy scenes in the fine tradition of Hollywood Westerns alongside smaller, more intimate ones. Costner does break with standard Hollywood tradition by portraying an painstakingly accurate recreation of the actual Native American way of life. WOLVES wins Best Picture of 1990 as well as Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Cinematography, Best Film Editing, Best Sound Editing and Best Score for John Barry. Costner loses in the Best Actor race to Jeremy Irons for Warner Brothers' REVERSAL OF FORTUNE. The other acting Oscars: Kathy Bates, Best Actress for MISERY (Columbia); Joe Pesci, Best Supporting Actor, GOODFELLAS (WB); and Whoopi Goldberg, Best Supporting Actress, GHOST (Paramount).


March 25, 1993 - A court rules in favor of Carl Mazzocone and his company, Main Line Pictures, in their lawsuit against actress Kim Basinger. Basinger backed out of BOXING HELENA, the directorial debut of David Lynch's daughter Jennifer, after deciding maybe she really didn't want to play a beautiful woman who has all four of her limbs surgically removed by a man who wants to keep her to himself forever after all. Basinger was replaced by Sherilyn Fenn. Basinger argues in court she never signed a contract, but the judge orders her to pay Main Line $8.9 million for damages incurred by the studio as the result of the "loss of her advantageous presence".


March 25, 1997 - In a year with Oscar nominations heavily leaned toward indie and foreign films, host Billy Crystal quips "Welcome to Sundance on the Sea" and "Next to wheat and auto parts, the Oscar is now America's biggest export". Indie production THE ENGLISH PATIENT, distributed by Miramax, walks off with nine awards out of 12 nominations, including Best Picture of 1996 and Best Director for Anthony Minghella. Juliette Binoche secures the film's only acting award, taking the Best Supporting Actress trophy. THE ENGLISH PATIENT also wins Best Cinematography, Best Art Direction, Best Costumes, Best Sound Effects Editing and Best Score. You could argue it's the most successful British film in Oscar history, although it was American-financed and was produced by an American. At least it had an English-Italian director and a source novel written by Canadian-Sri Lankan Michael Ondattje. Producer Saul Zentz wins the Irving Thalberg Memorial Award for his body of work, which indludes ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO'S NEST and AMADAEUS. Gramercy's Fargo wins two awards, Best Actress for Frances McDormand and Best Original Screenplay for the Coen Brothers. It was a strong year in the Best Actress category - also nominated were Brenda Blethyn for SECRETS AND LIES (October Films), Emily Watson for BREAKING THE WAVES (also October Films), Diane Keaton for MARVIN'S ROOM (Miramax) and Kristin Scott Thomas for THE ENGLISH PATIENT. Geoffrey Rush wins Best Actor for Fine Line's SHINE, and the man he portrayed, David Helfgott, performs at the piano during the ceremony. Czech film KOLYA wins Best Foreign Language Film, giving their film industry a much-needed boost. The nominees at this year's ceremony more closely resembled a nominee line-up at Cannes than virtually any other year. This appears to have been at least partly in response to media carping about pro-Hollywood studio bias among the Academy's voters. Ironically, television viewership is down, probably due to a lack of star power among the nominees. Although she didn't get a Best Actress nomination, Madonna performs "You Must Love Me" from Touchstone's EVITA, which wins Best Song. The biggest cheer for the evening goes to Muhammad Ali, who joins George Foreman and the crew of WHEN WE WERE KINGS onstage when it wins Best Documentary.


March 25, 2001 - Ridley Scott sees his Roman epic GLADIATOR from Dreamworks win Best Picture of 2000 at the 73d Annual Academy Awards, but he himself loses Best Director to Steven Soderbergh for USA Films' drug trade drama TRAFFIC. Soderbergh's win is the only real surprise of the night - the oddsmakers thought Best Director was either going to be Scott or Ang Lee for CROUCHING TIGER, HIDDEN DRAGON from Sony Pictures Classics. Soderbergh was in the highly unusual position of being nominated for Best Director twice in the same year - also for Universal's ERIN BROKOVICH - which is allowed under Academy rules. Julia Roberts wins Best Actress for BROKOVICH, while Russell Crowe wins Best Actor for GLADIATOR. DRAGON wins four awards - Best Foreign Language Film, Best Score, Best Cinematography and Best Art Direction. Benicio Del Toro takes home the Best Supporting Actor trophy for his role as Mexican narcotics officer Xavier Rodriguez in TRAFFIC, while Best Supporting Actress goes to Marcia Gay Harden for playing artist Lee Krasner in **** from Sony Pictures Classics. A lifetime achievement award is given to British cinematographer Jack Cardiff (THE RED SHOES, THE AFRICAN QUEEN), and producer Dino De Laurentiis receives the Irving G. Thalberg Memorial Award in honor of his 60-year career.

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