Coming up in February


Upcoming columns:

What! No nomination?…this two-part column looks at performers who should have been nominated for lead Oscars but for some inexplicable reason were not.

Robert Minkler…Bob’s widow joins me for a question-and-answer session about her late husband’s Academy Award-winning work in the field of sound design.

Best picture on radio…I will be looking at radio adaptations of stories that earned Best Picture awards.

Nominated twice in the same year…some Hollywood talents have multiple nominations.

Kate’s Oscars…one performer has earned a record four Oscars, and this column is about her.

Join me in February!

A year in Hollywood: 1943

It was a time of transitions at MGM. A year earlier, the studio’s reigning queen Norma Shearer had made her last film. In 1943, she was now unofficially retired. Her occasional rival at the studio, Joan Crawford was on her way out the door, too. Interestingly, back in 1925, Crawford (going by her given name Lucille La Sueur) started as Shearer’s double in the silent film LADY OF THE NIGHT. But after 18 years and countless image make-overs, Crawford completed her last film under contract at Metro, ABOVE SUSPICION.

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The wartime espionage thriller costarred Fred MacMurray, and in what would have been a clichéd role for any other actress, Crawford managed to infuse it with considerable personality. It was a hit, and while Crawford would return in 1953 for the musical melodrama TORCH SONG, greener pastures were ahead at Warner Brothers where she had just inked a new deal. At Warners she would take on haughty socialite roles, no longer playing the man-eater character she had started out doing at MGM.

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Meanwhile, an eccentric producer named Val Lewton was making a name for himself at RKO. His specialty was the horror-fantasy film, but he had previously worked on action films, such as MGM’s A TALE OF TWO CITIES, as an assistant to mentor David Selznick. It was because of Selznick’s recommendation that he wound up at RKO, supervising his own film unit. He soon produced a series of economically budgeted but successful pictures, mostly directed by Jacques Tourneur and Robert Wise.

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One of the biggest hits had been CAT PEOPLE a year earlier. And now, in 1943, he had another strange masterpiece on his hands, THE SEVENTH VICTIM, a story about a young woman trying to rescue her sister from a satanic cult. Kim Hunter, in her motion picture debut, starred as the young woman. Lewton, who much earlier in his career had written pornographic novels, avoided airy romantic sentiment in these films. Instead, his main characters were often trapped in a world of perversion and violence.

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While fictional films like ABOVE SUSPICION and THE SEVENTH VICTIM played to audiences, Hollywood also made nonfiction films that detailed various aspects of the war effort. One of these pictures was William Wyler’s independent propaganda piece about bombing raids over Europe called MEMPHIS BELLE. The documentary did not really examine human suffering or the toll that war took on the American people. Instead, it played up the bravery and courage of patriotic flyers.

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At the same time other directors back in Hollywood continued to craft fiction films they felt could influence people about what the war meant on a personal level. Pacifist or anti-war ideology seeped into some of these films. One example being RKO’s TENDER COMRADE, directed by Edward Dmytryk, that looked at how women on the homefront were coping. Of course, the content of this film would be used against Dmytryk after the war, when he was called to testified before the House Committee on Un-American Activities.

Some of Warner Brothers’ highest paid

How much were they paid?

By 1937, Joe E. Brown had appeared in many hit comedies for Warner Brothers. The studio was paying him $267,000 a year. Jack Lemmon is still thinking over the idea of being this wealthy man’s wife.

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In the late 30s, Kay Francis was assigned B-pictures when she engaged in a feud with her boss. He tried to make her quit by giving her inferior scripts. But she soldiered on in routine programmers like KING OF THE UNDERWORLD and WOMEN IN THE WIND, and the studio shelled out $209,000 to her annually. She would go on to make more money at Universal, Fox and Monogram. But first, it was her personal pleasure to get every last dollar out of Jack Warner. Orry-Kelly fashions don’t come cheap.

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And speaking of Mr. Warner, the producer made $182,000 in 1941. This is a paltry sum compared to his rivals, Louis B. Mayer and Darryl Zanuck, who were making much more than that.

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Ann Sheridan was earning $150,000 per picture in the late 1940s. Not bad for a girl who grew up the daughter of a mechanic. In the above photo, she is testifying that it is no crime to be a rich woman.

All Time: The Best of 1930 – 2015

Chronologically by decades in the sound era

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1. IT HAPPENED ONE NIGHT (1934) (precode romantic comedy)
2. CROSSFIRE (1947) (social message noir)
3. ABOUT MRS. LESLIE (1954) (romance drama)
4. IL SORPASSO (1962) (Italian road comedy)
5. SOLDIER BLUE (1970) (revisionist western)
6. MISSING (1982) (biographical political thriller)
7. MR. AND MRS. BRIDGE (1990) (literary adaptation)
8. CROUCHING TIGER HIDDEN DRAGON (2000) (martial arts)
9. AMERICAN SNIPER (2014) (biographical war film)
10. TBA

Recap: The Best of the 2010s

1. AMERICAN SNIPER (biographical war film)
2. LINCOLN (biographical historical drama)
3. THE KING’S SPEECH (British biographical drama)
4. GRAVITY (British-American science fiction)
5. MIDNIGHT IN PARIS (Spanish-American romantic comedy)
6. MUSTANG (French-Turkish-German coming of age drama)
7. TBA
8. TBA
9. TBA
10. TBA

Notable Directors: Peter Jackson; Steven Spielberg; Woody Allen; Darren Aronofsky; Ang Lee; and Kathryn Bigelow.

Most Creative Studios: Columbia; The Weinstein Company; Universal; and Paramount.

Best Genres/Subgenres: biographical dramas; ensemble comedy dramas; war films; animated comedies; and epic science fiction.

The best of 2015

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Will Smith presented research on brain damage; Brie Larson and her son escaped from a confined space; fellow hunters left Leonardo Di Caprio for dead; Amy Schumer & Bill Hader’s relationship derailed; and Matt Damon stayed behind on Mars.

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***

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My list:
1. MUSTANG (French-Turkish-German coming of age drama)
2. SPOTLIGHT (biographical social message drama)
3. BROOKLYN (Irish-British-Canadian literary adaptation)
4. THE REVENANT (biographical western)
5. THE MARTIAN (science fiction literary adaptation)
6. THE BIG SHORT (literary adaptation)
7. CONCUSSION (biographical sports drama)
8. MAD MAX: FURY ROAD (Australian-American action)
9. CREED (sports drama)
10. ROOM (Canadian-Irish literary adaptation)

Honorable Mentions:
CAROL (British-American literary adaptation)
THE DANISH GIRL (British biographical social message drama)
DANNY COLLINS (biographical musical comedy drama)
THE PEANUTS MOVIE (animated comedy)
SON OF SAUL (Hungarian social message drama)
SPECTRE (spy thriller)
STEVE JOBS (biographical drama)
TRAINWRECK (romantic comedy)
TRUMBO (biographical show biz drama)
YOUTH (Italian comedy drama)

Notable Performances: Sylvester Stallone; Cate Blanchett; Daniel Craig; Jennifer Jason Leigh; and of course, Charlie Brown.

The best of 2014

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Bradley Cooper took aim; Angelina Jolie was a horned witch; Russell Crowe dealt with a flood of epic proportions; Oprah Winfrey punched Stan Houston; and Michael Keaton soared to new heights.

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***

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My list:
1. AMERICAN SNIPER (biographical war film)
2. THE IMITATION GAME (literary adaptation)
3. THE HOBBIT: THE BATTLE OF THE FIVE ARMIES (New Zealand-American literary adaptation)
4. MALEFICENT (epic dark fantasy)
5. INTERSTELLAR (epic science fiction)
6. BIRDMAN (satirical comedy drama)
7. THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL (German-British-American comedy)
8. FORCE MAJEURE (Swedish-French-Norwegian drama)
9. IDA (Polish social message drama)
10. BOYHOOD (coming of age drama) and NOAH (biblical epic)

Honorable Mentions:
CESAR CHAVEZ (Mexican-American biographical drama)
GONE GIRL (literary adaptation)
INFINITELY POLAR BEAR (comedy drama)
LEVIATHAN (Russian drama)
SELMA (historical social message drama)
THE THEORY OF EVERYTHING (biographical literary adaptation)
TWO MEN IN TOWN (social message drama)
WHIPLASH (musical drama)

Notable Performances: Ralph Fiennes; Angelina Jolie; Michael Keaton; Patricia Arquette; and Bradley Cooper.