Dr. Christina J. Johns
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Dr. Christina J. Johns

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Book reviews, movie reviews, classic movie picks, classic actor picks, a discussion about all things arty. 

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"The Killers" (1946) Casting

Posted on August 23, 2019 at 1:05 PM Comments comments (0)



"The Killers" was Burt Lancaster's first movie. But, he wasn't the studio's first choice. Warner Brothers wouldn't lend out actor Wayne Morris for the film. Other actors considered for the part include: Van Heflin, Jon Hall, Sonny Tufts, and Edmond O'Brien, who was instead cast in the role of the insurance investigator.

Come join us for a lively discussion of "The Killers."

September 16, and a showing of the film, September 18

2:00 PM, Free

Supported by the St. Simons Literary Guild

Montgomery Clift: Judgment at Nuremberg

Posted on August 20, 2019 at 1:50 PM Comments comments (0)

  After a disastrous automobile accident, Montgomery Clift was never the same.  He was once referred to as the longest running suicide in history.  By the time he made "Judgment at Nuremberg," he was having trouble remembering lines.  This amazing scene from the film came from Clift's confusion.  The director was so frustrated with Clift's inability to rememer his lines, he told him (Clift) to just grab for a word from the script and improvise.  When he ran out, grab for another word.  Clift did this and the scene is just one of the best things I've ever seen in a film.  If you haven't watched Judgment at Nuremberg recently, find a copy and do so.  It's just a great film.



The Misfits (1961)

Posted on August 15, 2019 at 1:20 PM Comments comments (0)

The Misfits (1961)

 

When you read about the making of this film, it’s a surprise that it ever got made. John Huston, the director, was compulsively gambling away the budget in Reno, Marilyn Monroe and the author of the screenplay, Arthur Miller, were busily destroying their marriage, Montgomery Clift was taking drugs and drinking heavily, and Clark Gable was in bad health. Because of a delay in the shooting schedule the filming was done at a time of the year when temperatures in the desert were often over 105 degrees.

 

Come join us for a discussion of the screenplay, The Misfits, Monday 19 August, 2 PM, We will be showing the movie Ausuts 21, 2PM, Free.

St. Simons Island Public Library, St. Simons Ilsnad, Georgia

The Misfits (1961)

Posted on August 14, 2019 at 11:20 AM Comments comments (0)



The Misfits (1961)

The first movie in our new series is one left over from the Clark Gable Series: The Misfits.

Gable felt honored to be offered the part. He considered it an "intellectual" script - a western but not a western. Arthur Miller, who wrote the screenplay, did not initially like the idea of casting Gable, but once he met with Gable, he said that he came to realize that Gay (the main character) was Gable, or Gable was Gay.

Gable died shortly after filming finished. He saw the cuts and said that he thought it was the best thing he had done since "Gone with the Wind."

 Join us for a lively discussion of the screenplay and the movie on Monday August 19, 2 PM, at the St. Simons Public Library. We will be showing the film August 21, 2 PM, Free.

Burt Lancaster

The Fall Series focuses on the movies of Burt Lancaster. "The Killers" is Lancaster's first film. "The Rose Tatoo" is based on a play by Tennessee Williams, and "Elmer Gantry" is based on a novel by Sinclair Lewis.

Lancaster got his first role in a play because he was noticed on an elevator wearing his uniform from WWII. He worked entertaining troops in Italy during the war. Get the best stories, most interesting details in our series starting in September.


The Misfits (1961)

Posted on August 14, 2019 at 11:20 AM Comments comments (0)



The Misfits (1961)

The first movie in our new series is one left over from the Clark Gable Series: The Misfits.

Gable felt honored to be offered the part. He considered it an "intellectual" script - a western but not a western. Arthur Miller, who wrote the screenplay, did not initially like the idea of casting Gable, but once he met with Gable, he said that he came to realize that Gay (the main character) was Gable, or Gable was Gay.

Gable died shortly after filming finished. He saw the cuts and said that he thought it was the best thing he had done since "Gone with the Wind."

 Join us for a lively discussion of the screenplay and the movie on Monday August 19, 2 PM, at the St. Simons Public Library. We will be showing the film August 21, 2 PM, Free.

Burt Lancaster

The Fall Series focuses on the movies of Burt Lancaster. "The Killers" is Lancaster's first film. "The Rose Tatoo" is based on a play by Tennessee Williams, and "Elmer Gantry" is based on a novel by Sinclair Lewis.

Lancaster got his first role in a play because he was noticed on an elevator wearing his uniform from WWII. He worked entertaining troops in Italy during the war. Get the best stories, most interesting details in our series starting in September.

 

Judgment at Nuremberg (1961)

Posted on August 8, 2019 at 8:35 PM Comments comments (0)

If you haven't watched Judgment at Nuremberg (1961) in the past few years, run to your nearest library or order it from Netflix or Amazon.  This is a really important film in the present political context.  It's also just an excellent film.  We will be starting the Fall Novel/Movie Series in September and the subject is Burt Lancaster.  This is arguably one of the very best of Lancaster's performances. 

South Sea Woman

Posted on August 4, 2019 at 6:05 PM Comments comments (0)

 

SOUTH SEA WOMAN (1953)

 

Burt Lancaster did not want to make “South Sea Woman” but did so as part of a deal with Warners to get financing and distribution for a couple of films being put out by his independent production company, Norma Productions.


According to Gary Fishgall, Burt’s biographer, he had no illusions about the film, but tried even with lines like “I don’t want any bathtub jarhead beating his gums to save me” to make it the best he could.


His co-star in the film, Chuck Conners, had only recently been discovered (while a baseball player) and had only two movie credits to his name. On the basis of being cast in this film, Connors quit baseball. It was not, in my opinion, the wisest decision.

 

People later wrote that the film as being an odd combination of adventure, service comedy, Hope and Crosby road film, prison escape, pirate, and costume drama, mixing ridiculous comedy with war action film footage.

 

There’s not a lot to see here except a strange scene where both Connors and Lancaster prance around in women’s night clothes. Very quickly in the scene, Lancaster almost rip his dressing gown off as if he couldn’t stand to be seen in it. He does the rest of the scene bare chested while Connors remains clothed in a filmy negligee.

 

Virginia Mayo (the love interest) gives a performance that it probably better than both men put together. She manages to at least be believable in most of the scenes, which isn’t easy since she starts off being in love with Connors and ends up marrying Lancaster.

 

The film is directed by Arthur Lubin (who did Francis the Talking Mule movies and Abbot and Costello) and based on a play written by William Rankin. Lancaster plays a marine being tried for being AWOL. He refuses to participate in his own court-martial and so various acquaintances tell the story of how he wound up there in flashbacks.

 

Lubin said years after the film that he had been intimidated by Lancaster in the beginning. But, Lubin and Lancaster got alone fine. The directors who had no trouble with Lancaster were the ones who had a great deal of respect for him, listened to him and who didn’t get into a dominance struggle with him. Lubin said that Burt had great ideas and he was glad to accept many of them. That always suited Lancaster down to the ground.

There is some location film included and some war footage but most of the movie is shot on the Warner Brothers backlot. And boy, can you tell it. The sets are just terrible. Some people wrote at the time that Lancaster seemed to be playing a parody of himself. The sets even seem to be a parody of tropical island film sets.

 

As if that weren’t bad enough, somebody (who knows who) devised men’s costumes used for the dancers in the wedding festival scenes with Connors and Mayo that look like nothing so much as enormous dancing thumbs wearing grass skirts.

 

I am sure, sure, that no natives in the history of the world have ever worn costumes like that. In order to escape the island, Lancaster dresses up as one of the dancers. There’s a scene where he removes the top of the costume, but not the bottom. He looks truly absurd.

 

The New York Times reviewer Bosley Crowther called the film "a rip-snorting glorification of two United States Marines", with Lancaster doing his best "with all the muscle and charm at his command", but in the end, it comes off as a “terrible lot of nonsense and, eventually, a fizzle as a show."

 

Another reviewer said that the film was “one of those random souped-up tales which gets out of hand early, races through all sorts of nonsense in search of a story, and winds up in a flurry of action, empty-handed (Fishgall).

 

If you’re a Burt Lancaster fan, this is definitely worth sitting through. If you’re not, I’m not sure it is. I’ve never seen Virginia Mayo do anything that was bad. (I especially loved her in The Best Years of Our Lives.) She is simply gorgeous and a talented actress. For Burt, the film never seems as other than a walk in the park. And, Connors is just a terrible actor. The screenplay is scattered and schizophrenic. But, in the final analysis, it’s worth it just to see those dancing thumbs.

 

Gary Fishgall (1995) Against Type. The Biography of Burt Lancaster.

 


South Sea Woman

Posted on August 4, 2019 at 6:05 PM Comments comments (0)

 

SOUTH SEA WOMAN (1953)

 

Burt Lancaster did not want to make “South Sea Woman” but did so as part of a deal with Warners to get financing and distribution for a couple of films being put out by his independent production company, Norma Productions.

 

According to Gary Fishgall, Burt’s biographer, he had no illusions about the film, but tried even with lines like “I don’t want any bathtub jarhead beating his gums to save me” to make it the best he could.

 

His co-star in the film, Chuck Conners, had only recently been discovered (while a baseball player) and had only two movie credits to his name. On the basis of being cast in this film, Connors quit baseball. It was not, in my opinion, the wisest decision.

 

People later wrote that the film as being an odd combination of adventure, service comedy, Hope and Crosby road film, prison escape, pirate, and costume drama, mixing ridiculous comedy with war action film footage.

 

There’s not a lot to see here except a strange scene where both Connors and Lancaster prance around in women’s night clothes. Very quickly in the scene, Lancaster almost rip his dressing gown off as if he couldn’t stand to be seen in it. He does the rest of the scene bare chested while Connors remains clothed in a filmy negligee.

 

Virginia Mayo (the love interest) gives a performance that it probably better than both men put together. She manages to at least be believable in most of the scenes, which isn’t easy since she starts off being in love with Connors and ends up marrying Lancaster.

 

The film is directed by Arthur Lubin (who did Francis the Talking Mule movies and Abbot and Costello) and based on a play written by William Rankin. Lancaster plays a marine being tried for being AWOL. He refuses to participate in his own court-martial and so various acquaintances tell the story of how he wound up there in flashbacks.

 

Lubin said years after the film that he had been intimidated by Lancaster in the beginning. But, Lubin and Lancaster got alone fine. The directors who had no trouble with Lancaster were the ones who had a great deal of respect for him, listened to him and who didn’t get into a dominance struggle with him. Lubin said that Burt had great ideas and he was glad to accept many of them. That always suited Lancaster down to the ground.

There is some location film included and some war footage but most of the movie is shot on the Warner Brothers backlot. And boy, can you tell it. The sets are just terrible. Some people wrote at the time that Lancaster seemed to be playing a parody of himself. The sets even seem to be a parody of tropical island film sets.

 

As if that weren’t bad enough, somebody (who knows who) devised men’s costumes used for the dancers in the wedding festival scenes with Connors and Mayo that look like nothing so much as enormous dancing thumbs wearing grass skirts.

 

I am sure, sure, that no natives in the history of the world have ever worn costumes like that. In order to escape the island, Lancaster dresses up as one of the dancers. There’s a scene where he removes the top of the costume, but not the bottom. He looks truly absurd.

 

The New York Times reviewer Bosley Crowther called the film "a rip-snorting glorification of two United States Marines", with Lancaster doing his best "with all the muscle and charm at his command", but in the end, it comes off as a “terrible lot of nonsense and, eventually, a fizzle as a show."

 

Another reviewer said that the film was “one of those random souped-up tales which gets out of hand early, races through all sorts of nonsense in search of a story, and winds up in a flurry of action, empty-handed (Fishgall).

 

If you’re a Burt Lancaster fan, this is definitely worth sitting through. If you’re not, I’m not sure it is. I’ve never seen Virginia Mayo do anything that was bad. (I especially loved her in The Best Years of Our Lives.) She is simply gorgeous and a talented actress. For Burt, the film never seems as other than a walk in the park. And, Connors is just a terrible actor. The screenplay is scattered and schizophrenic. But, in the final analysis, it’s worth it just to see those dancing thumbs.

 

Gary Fishgall (1995) Against Type. The Biography of Burt Lancaster.

 


HOME FROM THE HILL (1960)

Posted on August 1, 2019 at 6:25 PM Comments comments (0)

  This film is not part of our Novel/Movie series, but I watched the film on TCM the other day.  I'm not a fan of George Harrison, but I do like Robert Mitchem and this is a good story.  The novel, by William Humphrey is also very good.  So, if you're looking for a good novel/movie pairing, this is one.

Eight Iron Men (1952)

Posted on June 23, 2019 at 11:00 AM Comments comments (0)


While doing research on Burt Lancaster I ran across this story.


Soon after Lancaster returned from the war (where he had spent most of his time in Italy entertaining troops) he went, still dressed in his uniform, to see the girlfriend he had met when overseas. She worked for a radio company in New York.


Lancaster was so striking and impressive, a man who happened to be in the elevator asked if he was an actor. “A dumb actor,” Lancaster replied, using a term common in the circus world for a performer that doesn’t speak, like an acrobat, which Lancaster was. The man took it as a joke and followed Lancaster.


When he caught up with him, he asked Lancaster to try out for a play opening soon on Broadway. Lancaster had done some acting before the war and a lot of performing. He also needed a job. And, the play was about service men trapped in a bombed-out town in Italy. The character Burt was to play had a choice of whether to buck higher ups and risk the lives of his men to save a comrade who was trapped in enemy territory. It was a play that fit Lancaster like a glove. He had been a soldier, and one who didn’t always get along with the brass, and he had been in Italy. He accepted.


The play “The Sound of Hunting” (written by Harry Brown) opened on Broadway in 1945. Unfortunately, audiences weren’t quite ready for gritty war plays having just come through a war themselves. The play closed within a month. Lancaster’s performance, however, was favorably noted by the critics and it set him on the path of acting. It was on the basis of his performance in this play that Lancaster went to Hollywood.


Over ten years later, in 1957, Burt starred in a movie that centered around a prison and a story where most of the characters were men (Brute Force). In order to make that movie more appealing to women, they decided to write in episodes involving flashbacks of each man. The flashbacks were about the women who got the men into trouble. Originally, they were going to have the same actress play all the parts. Ava Gardner was tested to play the women. During the test, Gardner and Burt were extremely attracted to each other and had a one night stand. Later, the idea of using one actress to play all the women's parts, was abandoned and Gardner played just one instead of all the women.  Who knows if the one night stand had anything to do with the decision to demote Gardner, but it’s interesting to speculate.


Burt would later state that adding the vignettes about the women weakened the script considerably and was a mistake.


In 1952, Stanley Kramer decided to produce a film “Eight Iron Men” based on the play (by Harry Brown) Lancaster had starred in on Broadway. The film was directed by Edward Dmytryk and Lee Marvin played the part Lancaster had played years before. Kramer had gotten a commitment from Burt to play the part he had played on Broadway, but by the time a schooting date was arranged, Burt was involved in another project.  This led Kramer to using virtual unknowns in the movie.


Interestingly, the device of writing in vignettes of the women who lived in the men’s fantasies was used in "Eight Iron Men." In this film, they did and did not use the same actress to play all the women's parts. They used women who looked exactly like Rita Hayworth. The women look so much like Rita I thought it was her. I was convinced that IMDB was wrong when it listed other women in the film. 


It's impossible to know, but it's intersting to speculate whether this idea (of using the vignettes and the same woman) came from Lancaster in talks about the film. 







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