Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939)

After the bombing of Pearl Harbor in 1941 and the subsequent entry into World War II by the United States of America, James Maitland Stewart joined the US Air Corps.  Before the war, Stewart was a talented pilot in the private sector, amassing hundreds of hours of flight time and even participating in a cross-country race as a co-pilot.  He had invested (and recruited more investments) in a pilot-training program hosted by Southwest Airways.  He was an immensely popular actor on the home-front, starring in such films as The Philadelphia Story with Katharine Hepburn and You Can’t Take it With You with Jean Arthur.  He was well-publicized, well-known, and was an interesting character, who loved flying, loved his country, and respected his family’s military tradition. Continue reading

Rashomon (1950)

Seven Samurai and The Samurai Trilogy catapulted the rest of the world into the newest craze in international cinema in 1954.  But, before they were winning Academy Awards in the United States and filling up art house theaters in New York and London, a movie called Rashomon had lifted the veil off the eyes of the world and onto Japanese cinema.  At no point in history had a film from Japan sent such waves worldwide, asking pertinent questions that bridged cultures and borders while simultaneously embracing elements of cinema that touched all who watched.  If there ever was movie, other than Citizen Kane, that demanded study, it was Rashomon. Continue reading

Holiday Inn (1942)

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Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers were in a lot of movies together, the best of which were Swing Time and Top Hat.  It was on the set of Top Hat that Astaire first heard the melody that would become “White Christmas.”  The tune was hummed to him by one of the great songwriting masters of the 1930s and 1940s, Irving Berlin, who was the chief songwriter for the film.  Astaire was instantly smitten by the melody.  The song, however, didn’t make the final cut for Top Hat. Continue reading

The Philadelphia Story (1940)

“You’ll never be a first class human being or a first class woman until you’ve learned to have some regard for human frailty.”

So says C.K. Dexter Haven, ex-husband of the pretentious and beautiful Tracy Lord.  She has thrown him out and banned him from her mansion estate, and has recently engaged herself to George Kittredge.  In Kittredge, she sees everything that Haven was not.  Unlike Haven, who was born into the social elite, Kittredge was a self-made member of the upper-classes, not subject to the vices of the pampered life (a life that she, herself, has lived).  A woman of her privilege demands the absolute best in everything she consumes: her wine, her clothes, her horses, and her men.  Haven couldn’t live up to the task; he was an alcoholic with no respect for the things she wanted.  Perhaps Kittredge will. Continue reading

Peter O’Toole (1932-2013)

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The “last of the hard-drinking hellraisers” is dead, as was written December 14 by The Telegraph writer Robbie Collin.  Richard Burton, Richard Harris, Oliver Reed and others defined a generation of British actors hailing from Wales, Ireland, Scotland and England with their mix of imposing acting dexterity and their hell-raising personal lives.  Besides Richard Harris—perhaps—the most significant of these British hell-raisers was Peter O’Toole.  His significance was not born merely of his controversial life off the stage and away from the screen, but because he, above all others, was the greatest on that stage, and on that screen.  No actor in history has matched his volatility as a character actor, nor have they ever been able to meet him in his potent monologues.  There was something about his diction, a perfect blend of Irishman and Shakespearean reciter, that complimented his intensity of gaze, his angular expressions, and his physical simplicity.  His roles were a true masks of self, yet, somehow, reflections of that bombastic and flamboyant personality were found in each one of those roles.  For O’Toole, his own self was an integral part of every character he portrayed.  Perhaps this is best shown in own appraisal of his performance in Lord Jim—a role many considered a failure: “I was so wrong for the picture,” he said. “When I play reflective types, I tend to reflect myself right off the screen.” Continue reading