More visiting the set, part 2

The episode I watched being filmed on Reba was called ‘Happy Pills’ produced at the end of season 3. In the outside hallway people were lining up for a Golden Girls reunion special for Lifetime. This was at Fox studio in Century City. The set for Reba’s show was very orderly, almost solemn at times.

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They were making a comedy, but it was more like going to church. Unlike other shows where people showed up and it was rather informal, Reba was considerably formal. Everyone was given a little booklet (printed program) like when you go to see a play. They took this filming very seriously.

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The set for Reba’s living room and front porch was downstage right, and the kitchen was center stage. Downstage left was her ex-husband’s home. Literally all side by side. So when she walked from her home into their home (and vice-versa), she stepped from one right into the other with no fake background in between.

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The guy who played Reba’s son-in-law Van (Steve Howey) was a practical joker. Probably in defiance of the strict filming atmosphere. There was a scene where Reba was supposed to jump off the sofa and hop into her boots, then run out the door. But this guy had put marbles in one of the boots. She tried to maintain her composure as she put the boot on with the marbles in it. But she could barely walk and started to crack up. She took the boot off, then handed it to him and said he lost his marbles. After a good laugh, they redid the scene correctly.

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She had a good rapport with the kid (Mitch Holleman) who played her young son. And the actress who played her ex-husband’s new wife (Melissa Peterman) seemed to be in awe of Reba McEntire. We all were.

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More visiting the set, part 1

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The most fun I ever had on any set was on The Drew Carey Show. Drew had a lucrative contract with ABC, like Roseanne Barr had. By the time the series reached its final season, it had declined significatly in the ratings. But the network couldn’t cancel it, because they still owed Drew another full season on his contract. So during the last year he was making new episodes, ABC pulled it from the schedule and put it on an extended hiatus instead of canceling it. They aired the whole final season the following summer, with two episodes per week. It ended up getting better ratings at the end, because it was competing against other programs that were by then in reruns.

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When I visited the set, it was in the early fall of 2003. The atmosphere on the set was very relaxed. They knew what they were filming wouldn’t be broadcast until ten months later and it was the last season, so there was no pressure except to entertain. Marion Ross was the special guest star; she played Drew’s mom. He truly admired her and brought her over to us and encouraged her to play Happy Days trivia with everyone. It was cute.

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The show used a lot of extras in the office scenes. Plus he had a large cast of supporting and recurring characters. Those guys were his buddies, and most of them also appeared on his other show Whose Line Is It Anyway?— they were crazy in a good way. Like a vaudeville troupe, that’s the best way to describe their work environment.

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At one point they had to pause to reset the cameras. It took longer than usual. So to relieve the boredom, Ryan Stiles (who played Lewis for all nine seasons) came out of the wings and rode downstage on a unicycle. He did juggling routines while balancing himself on the unicycle, then someone else joined him onstage walking on stilts. They were outrageous. As soon as the cameras were ready the unicycle, juggling balls and stilts were put back into the wings. Then they quickly took their places in the scene and continued as if everything was business as usual.

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There were quite a few scenes for this particular episode. I had never been to Drew’s set before so I am not sure if it normally took them this long, but because we had all been there for several hours, people were getting hungry. So Drew had boxes of pizza delivered. Everyone was eating pizza while the last scene was being filmed. Drew was really down to earth, lots of fun.

 

Happy (“gay”) titles

When I was first discovering classic movies, there was a Barbara Stanwyck film with a strange title. No, it was not THE STRANGE LOVE OF MARTHA IVERS, though I do agree the relationship between young Martha and her wicked old aunt (Judith Anderson) was quite unusual.

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The title that stood out as being incredibly strange was THE GAY SISTERS. I know the word ‘gay’ can be used as a name. Actress Marcia Gay Harden comes to mind. So I thought maybe this Stanwyck flick was about a group of sisters who had the last name ‘Gay.’ But it wasn’t exactly so– their last name in the story is actually Gaylord. I have no idea why Warner Brothers didn’t call it THE GAYLORD SISTERS. Perhaps they wanted audiences to see they were gay sisters as in happy sisters. If you go with this idea, then you can probably enjoy the film quite a bit.

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Other films have used the word ‘gay’ in the title. For instance there is THE GAY FALCON (where George Sanders’ character is named Gay Laurence). And there’s the Fred Astaire-Ginger Rogers musical THE GAY DIVORCEE. If it was remade today, Hollywood would probably retitle it THE HAPPY DIVORCEE. If the word ‘gay’ remained in the title, it might be marketed towards a certain audience and screened at a pride festival.

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One film I haven’t seen is a Paramount coming-of-age drama called OUR HEARTS WERE YOUNG AND GAY. If that title was used for a new release, it would definitely be a coming of age drama about a gay teen struggling with his or her sexual identity. And it would likely not be in the past tense but the present tense. Unless it was a story about people whose orientations evolved. I don’t even want to go there.

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During the 2003-04 television season NBC aired a sitcom called Happy Family. It starred John Larroquette and Christine Baranski. It only lasted a season. Maybe that’s because it wasn’t ‘gay’ enough. Speaking of sitcoms, do you remember the theme song for The Partridge Family?  Yeah, that’s right– ‘C’mon Get Happy!’

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Coming up in September

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Happy (“gay”) titles…sometimes the title takes on a whole other meaning.

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More visiting the set…memories of other visits I made to Hollywood sets.

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Conversation piece…a new feature; every other month I will share a dialogue I have had with another classic film fan.

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When Klaatu arrived in a saucer…I was so excited I couldn’t stand still THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL.

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The news about James Dean’s death…looking at newspaper articles printed around September 30, 1955.

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Join me in September!

Summer Under the Stars: George Sanders

These films are airing the morning of August 30 on George Sanders’ day:

CAIRO (1963)

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George Sanders collaborated with Wolf Rilla again, the same director he had worked with three years earlier on VILLAGE OF THE DAMNED. This time around George plays a British major who plans a daring heist in Cairo. The goal is to rob a museum which houses King Tut’s jewels and various other artifacts. A cast of shady characters is in on the deal, and the caper goes off perfectly until an alarm inside the museum is triggered. They make a getaway but not before one of the men has been shot. The police close in on several suspects, and things really fall apart when a double cross is attempted. By the end of the picture, practically everyone is dead except George. Eventually he gets caught during a police raid, while he’s admiring a belly dancer. His best laid plans to flee the country have suddenly gone belly up.

BLUEBEARD’S TEN HONEYMOONS (1960)

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If you’re a producer and you’ve got a script where the main character seduces and kills lonely middle-aged women for their money, and it’s 1960, you know which actor to call and offer the part to. Yes, you dial 1-800-SANDERS. You hope he’s home and willing to answer the phone. You tell him there’s a decent salary. Plus he can work with gorgeous leading ladies like Corinne Calvet, Patricia Roc and Jean Kent. You tell him the director will be Billy Wilder’s brother and it will be filmed in England. You tell him he will have as much fun as he can possibly imagine. You tell him, by George, he is just perfect for this role and he must agree to do it. And if he doesn’t do it, then Vincent Price will be more happy to step in.

VILLAGE OF THE DAMNED (1960)

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At the end of 1960 George Sanders returned to motion picture screens in a big way. He was headlining a British science fiction horror film that would quickly become a cult classic, lead to a sequel and inspire countless rip-offs. The MGM production was directed by Wolf Rilla, was written by noted screenwriter Stirling Silliphant, and made back seven times its budget. To say VILLAGE was a runaway hit is a gross understatement. In the story George plays Gordon Zellaby, a man who’s concerned when local women start producing children that grow fast and have similar eerie characteristics. Within a short period of time, the entire community begins to experience several strange phenomena. Because of the kids’ deep penetrating eyes, people start doing things they wouldn’t normally do. Moviegoers were under their spell too– the children kept telling people to come back and watch the film again.

THE SAINT STRIKES BACK (1939)

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This was George Sanders’ first film at RKO, and his first one playing Simon Templar (a.k.a. The Saint). It also paired him with leading lady Wendy Barrie for the first time, and they would make five movies together– in this franchise and in the follow-up franchise known as The Falcon. Sanders had taken over the crime fighter role from Louis Hayward and would make four films as the Saint and four more as the Falcon.

THE GAY FALCON (1941)

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A contractual dispute with the writer of the source material prevented the studio from making any more Saint films for a while. But in the meantime, RKO decided it could use a story idea from another author and fashion it into a new franchise that vaguely resembled the Saint. So in late October, the first one of these titles premiered. Again, George was cast as the lead crime solver, and Wendy Barrie– who had played his leading lady several times before, was also featured. THE GAY FALCON did very well with audiences and earned a tidy profit. As a result, the studio forged ahead and many sequels were produced. Though George would only appear in four of the Falcon films.

THE PICTURE OF DORIAN GRAY (1945)

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One of his most memorable screen roles. He was cast in a handsomely mounted production based on Oscar Wilde’s well-known story. The title role was played by Hollywood newcomer Hurd Hatfield, but George practically stole the picture away from him as the corrupt Lord Henry Wotton. The story begins simply enough, but gains traction when George’s character meets Dorian and becomes an evil influence on him. Things spiral out of control from here, leading to the suicide of a singer played by Angela Lansbury. This was the first motion picture George made with Lansbury; they would go on to make two more together in the 1940s, plus another one in the mid-60s.

FOREIGN CORRESPONDENT (1940)

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An Alfred Hitchcock thriller which starred Joel McCrea and Laraine Day. While REBECCA had been produced by David Selznick (and became the year’s Best Picture Oscar recipient), FOREIGN CORRESPONDENT was a United Artists release from producer Walter Wanger. George plays a reporter named Scott ffolliott, who somewhere along the way lost the capital letter of his last name. The picture was a hit with audiences and critics, and in addition to its nomination for Best Picture, it had nominations in five other categories. Unfortunately, it did not win any.

These films are airing the evening of August 30 on George Sanders’ day:

A SHOT IN THE DARK (1964)

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George Sanders may have earned an Oscar for dramatic work but one gets the feeling he enjoyed making comedies a bit more. In the 60s he had the chance to play a variety of amusing characters, usually in farces that involved some sort of major crime. In the sequel to THE PINK PANTHER, he gets to share scenes with Peter Sellers, who as Clouseau, is inspecting a series of murders that take place on George’s lavish estate. A SHOT IN THE DARK was rushed into production on the heels of the first film’s overwhelming success and it was actually not intended to be a sequel (the main character was not Clouseau), but it was revised to fit the Pink Panther format. It was a huge success– probably George’s biggest film of the decade after VILLAGE OF THE DAMNED.

DEATH OF A SCOUNDREL (1956)

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This film was kind of a ‘family affair.’ It featured George Sanders’ older brother, actor Tom Conway, in a minor role. Previously they costarred in THE FALCON’S BROTHER. Another notable cast member in this RKO production was George’s ex-wife Zsa Zsa Gabor. She portrayed one of the women that his character went through like water. Not sure if Zsa Zsa ever considered George a scoundrel in real life; it’s doubtful since she was willing to make a movie with him after their divorce. DEATH OF A SCOUNDREL was based on the life of noted financier Serge Rubinstein who died under very mysterious circumstances.

JOURNEY TO ITALY (1954)

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George Sanders took a break from Hollywood studio filmmaking when he went off to Europe to make this independent production with Ingrid Bergman and her husband Roberto Rossellini. He had previously costarred with Ingrid in 1941’s RAGE IN HEAVEN. This time around they’re more mature, wiser. They play a couple on vacation in Italy, dealing with the fact their marriage is falling apart. In the beginning they tour the Italian countryside together in a 1950 Bentley but soon separate. She then explores Naples on her own, and he goes off to Capri to be with other women. The absence of romance between them is a sore spot, and both are haunted by demons in their relationship– including the fact they are childless. In the end, he comes back from Capri and they reunite, willing to start over as a couple and recapture the magic they once shared. This is one of George Sanders’ very best films and is included in Steven Schneider’s ‘1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die.’

A TOUCH OF LARCENY (1960)

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This film was released at the end of 1959 in Britain and found its way to North American screens in early 1960. James Mason plays a military officer who makes it seem like he’s selling secrets to the Russians so he can sue the newspapers for libel. He falls in love with a woman (Vera Miles) who happens to be engaged to a stuffy English aristocrat– you guessed it, George Sanders. When George’s character catches wind of the scheme, he sets out to expose Mason in order to keep the guy away from Miles. The clever screenplay was nominated for a BAFTA award. Critic Pauline Kael describes it as a pleasant adult comedy that should be better known.

LURED (1947)

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A United Artists release directed by Douglas Sirk. George Sanders had collaborated with Sirk before, but this was the first (and only) time he worked with Lucille Ball and Charles Coburn. The film is a remake of a French film called PIEGES which was directed by Robert Siodmak and starred Maurice Chevalier. George is a dashing man about town who falls for a dancer (Ball) that is assisting the police. It is her job to nab a killer, and though she begins to fall in love with George, she is not sure of his innocence.

CONFESSIONS OF A NAZI SPY (1939)

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A Warner Brothers tale about espionage. In this tense pre-war drama an FBI investigator (Edward G. Robinson) looks into suspicious activities sponsored by the Nazi party in America. Other costars included Francis Lederer and Paul Lukas. But it was George who stole the show as one of the villainous Nazis.

Essential: THE EYE OF THE STORM (2011)

Patrick White helped put Australian literature on the map. He was awarded the Nobel prize for literature right before the publication of his novel ‘The Eye of the Storm.’ It’s one of his most well-known works, and it’s not surprising that it would eventually be adapted for a motion picture. White’s prose, while fictional, reads like a memoir; and it was probably not easy for the director and his screenwriter to translate all the internal monologues cinematically. Though they seem to have done a fairly grand and impressive job.

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In THE EYE OF THE STORM Charlotte Rampling plays an ailing matriarch named Elizabeth who has been on her own for many years. Her grown children Basil and Dorothy (Geoffrey Rush and Judy Davis) live abroad and learn she is unwell. In a series of flashbacks we see what a troubled woman she is– and the trouble it has caused, and continues to cause, her children. As the story unfolds we see how the pain inflicted on them during their childhood never left.

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Elizabeth is suffering from dementia. Yet she still retains memories of her sordid past and the less than perfect things her children have done that she still holds against them. Basil and Dorothy have come back to Australia because they’ve been told mummy dearest is dying. But in a strange bit of irony, their return wills Elizabeth to live even longer so she can continue to wield control over their lives. During her prolonged illness her adult children are able to come to terms with themselves, so that when she does die, they have a more profound understanding of their place in the world.

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The title of White’s story, used also as the title for the film, has more than one meaning. While Elizabeth holds on out of spite, and weaves back and forth from the past to the present and back again, her eyes reveal a woman with a stormy history. As we see in one crucial flashback sequence, there was a time when she came quite close to death and was caught in a hurricane. Her entire home had been destroyed that day; and afterward, she walked along the beach coping with what had happened. This provides a unique bit of foreshadowing– because when Elizabeth finally does succumb to her illness, we see an image of her on the beach after the storm.

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The film glides effortlessly from one realm to the other. Even after Elizabeth’s metaphysical return to the beach, we cut to the present where both her children have left Australia and have gone back to their homes. Basil lives in London; and Dorothy resides in Paris. Like their mother they journeyed to the land of their birth and found comfort again in more familiar environs.

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THE EYE OF THE STORM is directed by Fred Schepisi and can be streamed on Hulu.

Essential: CAIRO TIME (2009)

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Director Ruba Nadda was born in Montreal, but her parents emigrated from the middle east. Her first feature was about a Muslim woman in Canada. When she wrote the romantic drama CAIRO TIME, she envisioned another story about a woman’s immersion in a foreign culture. This time a Caucasian woman from Canada would travel to Egypt to see a husband who worked for the United Nations.

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For the lead role Nadda chose U.S. actress Patricia Clarkson. She plays Juliette Grant, a well-to-do middle-aged woman who is experiencing empty nest syndrome. With her kids off at college, Juliette decides to go visit her husband Mark who is working outside Cairo. While she is there, she will soak up the city’s culture, and on one of his breaks, they plan to see the pyramids together. While waiting for Mark to join her, she gradually becomes acclimated to the environs of Cairo. When Mark is delayed, he sends an attractive Egyptian friend named Tareq (Alexander Siddig) to check on Juliette. I think you can guess where this is going.

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During the next portion of the film Tareq functions as Juliette’s personal tour guide, or glorified taxi driver. He takes her wherever she wants to go and in the process gives her a deeper appreciation for his culture and the history of Cairo. The film is made so much better by on-location filming. The authenticity of her experiencing the culture first-hand could not have been duplicated in a studio back in Canada. There’s an excellent sequence where he takes her to a traditional Egyptian wedding. None of the wedding is in English, of course, and we’re kind of on the same level as Juliette, just letting the sights and sounds and the vividness of Tareq’s people draw us in.

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There is another notable sequence where she splits up from him and goes off on a bus across part of the surrounding desert. Nadda doesn’t tell us if it’s terrorist activity or drug smuggling, but the bus is stopped and several people on board are interrogated then arrested. Because Juliette is the wife of a U.N. diplomat, she is automatically taken off the bus and removed from the situation. But she is now stranded and has to call Tareq to come pick her up. This part of the film perfectly conveyed how vulnerable and alone she was without her husband and how she came to rely on Tareq even more.

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Of course Mark’s been delayed again. So Juliette decides to go to the pyramids without him. Tareq accompanies her and they have a magical time experiencing ancient Egypt. The cinematography is just marvelous. At this point she has begun to fall in love with Tareq, and he is clearly smitten with her, too. Just as they are returning to the hotel, with the realization they might sleep together, Mark returns.

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There is never even a kiss between Juliette and Tareq. Some hand-holding is about the extent of it. It’s a purely platonic relationship, but of course, much more seems to have been wanted by the two adults. I love how Nadda gives us all this romantic build-up, which is never acted upon. In the last scene Juliette has gone back to the pyramids, this time with Mark. She acts as if she hadn’t been there yet, and she has a lovely time with her husband.

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CAIRO TIME can be streamed on Hulu.