Watch Howard Ashman Direct Jodie Benson in Disney’s The Little Mermaid

 

This clip is a treasure in that it really shows how Howard Ashman was able to pull the most amazing performance from Jodie Benson who plays Ariel in Disney’s The Little Mermaid for the song “Part of Your World”.

You’ll see what a really great director can do to enhance what an Actor brings to a particular moment in time. “Part of Your World” has always been my favorite song of any Disney musical and I especially love how the song has such an intimate way about it when Ariel seems so conversational and almost whispers in spots. Now I know how they got to such a wonderful place with that song and it seems like so much work went into something that everyone takes for granted as something that just feels so right — almost a perfect little moment in time.Howard Ashman

It’s sad to me that this wonderful musical director and writer was taken way too soon at only 40 years old due to AIDS. He partnered up with Alan Menken and created Little Shop of Horrors and then went on to write songs for The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast and Aladdin before dying way too young. You can see in this clip how talented he was and how passionate about the music he was. It’s easy to see here where his talent would have lead him. Ashman was nominated for 3 Tony’s and won 2 Grammys, 2 Golden Globes and 2 Oscars for the music of The Little Mermaid and Beauty and the Beast in his short time.

Alan Menken (music) and Howard Ashman (lyrics) accept their Oscars for Best Original Song for "Under the Sea," from the film THE LITTLE MERMAID (1989). Behind them are presenters Paula Abdul and Dudley Moore. Credit: Long Photography / ©A.M.P.A.S.
Alan Menken (music) and Howard Ashman (lyrics) accept their Oscars for Best Original Song for “Under the Sea,” from the film THE LITTLE MERMAID (1989). Behind them are presenters Paula Abdul and Dudley Moore.
Credit: Long Photography / ©A.M.P.A.S.

In 1988, while working on The Little Mermaid, Ashman pitched to Disney the idea of an animated musical adaptation of Aladdin. After he wrote a group of songs with Menken and a film treatment, a screenplay was written by Linda Woolverton, who had worked on Beauty and the Beast. Then directors John Musker and Ron Clements joined the production. The story underwent many changes and some elements of the original treatment were dropped. Out of the 16 songs written for Aladdin, three of Howard’s songs ended up in the finished film, which was released after his death.aladdin

Ashman became a driving force during the early years of the Disney Renaissance. He would hold story meetings and said the animation and musical styles were made for each other which is why Disney needed to continue making musical movies. During early production of Aladdin, Ashman and Menken were approached to help turn Beauty and the Beast into a musical, as it started out being a straight animated movie, with no musical numbers. It was at this time that his health began to decline due to his illness. Regardless, he completed lyrical work on Beauty and the Beast before succumbing to AIDS. The film was released mere months after his death and includes this dedication, “To our friend Howard, who gave a mermaid her voice and a beast his soul, we will be forever grateful.” beauty and the beast

With all of his films, he was involved in casting actors with strong musical theater and acting backgrounds. He was responsible for the casting of Jodie Benson, up until then a Broadway actress. Not to diminish what Jodie brings to the performance, she is simply wonderful. She was the perfect choice for Ariel. Ashman and Benson worked together first on Broadway when he cast and directed her in the musical “Smile”, with music written by Marvin Hamlisch. Ironically enough, in that play she sang one of the songs written by Ashman, called “Disneyland”. Smile is considered a “lost” musical because no official cast recording was ever made. However, there does exist a demo CD by Broadway Original cast for Samuel French Publishing.little mermaid and jodie bensonjodie benson

Zoe Saldana Takes Over The World

 

If you don’t know the name, you will definitely know the face, soon to become the number 1 actress in total box office revenues of all time. Earlier this year, Scarlett Johansson was announced as the 1 actress in total box office revenues…but with the films that Zoe Saldana has lined up in the next few years, she could definitely be the one to take Scarlett’s place at the top. Scarlett has had a fantastic year with the release of The Jungle Book and Captain Marvel: Civil War, but Zoe has some pretty hefty releases of her own, especially over the next 6 years.zoe saldana avatar

Lifetime gross for Scarlett’s films hit over $330 Billion Dollars at the box office this year, and it will still be rising as she is at her peak right now.  Zoe Saldana is currently at $214 Billion Dollars at the box office this year so far with Star Trek Beyond having released over the weekend and with Live By Night with Ben Affleck and Scott Eastwood and Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 being released next year and Avatar 2, 3 and 4 to be released every 2 years starting in 2018. If the Avatar films do as much as expected then Zoe will very much be in contention, even with the 2 upcoming Avengers Infinity War movies to come for Scarlett. It will be a very interesting race to watch.zoe saldana guardians of the galaxy

Zoe Saldana has racked up a very impressive list of roles in a very short period of time. Her pinnacle year was 2009 when she released Star Trek and Avatar. The thing I think I like best about her is that she plays very strong and intelligent women. She’s no-pushover in any of her movies. I also think it’s amazing that she has managed to have a family and a great career at the same time.  She gave birth to twins (yeah!) in 2014 with her husband Marco Perego. She recently said of directors that created strong female characters, “I’ve learned this about men who write good roles for women – there’s a very beautiful sentimentality to them. Their exteriors are sugarcoated with this manly presence, but deep on the inside, there’s also this [fragility]. During the shortness of my career, I’ve managed to work with Steven Spielberg, J.J. Abrams, and now Jim Cameron- all directors who are known for having strong female protagonists. They don’t feel diminished by it as men; they can tap into the complexities of how woman really are.”Zoe-Saldana-Uhura-Star-Trek-Beyond-Movie

She has shown an interest in getting behind the camera and directing in the future.  She said, (on expanding her career to become a film director), ” It is more satisfying. You are more of a participant in the conception. I like having control. I think I have the capability. I am a storyteller and an artist and I love what I do. So I want to be part of it more and not just show up and say my lines.” Maybe after all the big movies coming up are gone and she starts her second career as a director, we’ll be talking about her amazing directing, but for now we are pleased to have her in front of the camera, entertaining us!

TV Series Bible – Zombie Law

 

Adam and I have been trying for about a year to get a 30 minute comedy TV Show pilot picked up with no luck, so I thought I would post our TV Show Bible for the series here in one of our posts to show our process. I hope it can be of some use to someone, at the very least be interesting to someone who may be curious to see how we approach these things.

We have very little connections in Network and Cable TV, so have been hitting mostly brick walls, but if you’re reading this and can see it as a Series AND have connections with anyone in TV, contact us, we’d love to get this into the proper hands:

Boston SkylineEXT. OFFICES OF WYNN JUSTICE – ESTABLISHING

Superimposed, “One Week Earlier”.

Sign outside of a busy downtown city street building reads, “Wynn Justice Law”. The street is bustling with PEOPLE in suits and dresses, rushing to work.

A ZOMBIE slowly ambles into view in the midst of the madness. He slowly tries to grab and bite people, but he’s way too slow. People rush by, push him out of the way and move faster. No one is worried or taking the Zombie serious.

The Zombie population is ignored, and now commonplace.

A HOMELESS MAN sits against the wall of the building, next to him is a Zombie, also sitting against the wall. A WELLDRESSED WOMAN walks by and throws a dollar bill down on the sidewalk in front of the Zombie.

She then notices that she threw it in front of the Zombie, so she picks it up and then looks at the Homeless man and throws the bill in his lap. He nods a thanks.

EDWIN WYNN TALKING HEAD

EDWIN WINN (50’s) wears a tweed sports coat and plaid bow tie.

EDWIN WYNN

To say we were floundering would have been an understatement. In the current climate of Zombie Infestation, we just couldn’t find cases in our current practice area. It was getting desperate. We simply had to start thinking outside of the box, or risk the chance of bleeding to death.

He watches as a zombie ambles by and looks at the camera again.

EDWIN WYNN (CONT’D)

Literally.

THE PITCH

Series Logline:  The zombie apocalypse has come and now living in a world filled with zombies is the new normal. Zombie Law is the law firm of Edwin Wynn and Calvin Justice, with the help of their Investigator Laurel Hunt, they represent zombies in all kinds of lawsuits.

Pilot Logline:   In the current climate of the restless undead, struggling attorney’s Calvin and Edwin, with the help of bounty hunter Laurel, have to find new clients quick or face bankruptcy. Their first client, a zombie weatherman in a wrongful termination suit.

In a World Filled with Zombies…It’s Time to Fight…

…For Their Right to Proper Representation.

                                                      ~ Calvin Justice, Esq.

THE SHOW

The primary structure is a one-camera sitcom (Modern Family, The Office) type comedy that at times has a documentary feel where the characters talk to the camera.

In Zombie Law, the commentary is setup almost like video depositions in a case, scattered throughout each episode.

The feeling is a mix of supernatural, comedy, the law and the mundane.

The ideal would be Boston Legal during the zombie apocalypse or simply Office Space with zombies.

Sitcoms like The Addams Family or The Munsters could be accurate, but set within the modern business world not hidden behind the family’s sole residence.

Another good example would be to recreate the original Ghostbusters esthetic and tightly compact it within a sitcom format.Zombies hit the streets

STORYLINES

Each episode features a single case or lawsuit as the “A” story and then a “B” story that continues the season one arc and “C” storyline usually consisting of some kind of rift or resolution to the 3 main characters.

“A” STORYzombie_01A completely compact case or lawsuit, within each episode. IE: the pilot episode is a wrongful termination lawsuit of a zombie weatherman from KRQ News Station Channel 13.  Wynn-Justice Law is on the verge of bankruptcy and takes the case as their first in a long line of representing the new populace of zombies in the city.  They change their name to Zombie Law.zombie_outfits_03

Some examples of other lawsuits throughout the season can be:

"Love Hurts" -- Pictured: Luis Guzmán (Jesse Sallander). Christa must put aside her personal feelings for Grace and work with her to treat Brody, (Cameron Boyce), a patient who claims to have been abused at a camp for troubled teens. Also, Grace is surprised when Campbell asks her out, on CODE BLACK, Wednesday, Feb. 17 (10:00-11:00 PM, ET/PT) on the CBS Television Network. Photo: Sonja Flemming/CBS ©2016 CBS Broadcasting, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

  • Family Law – A marriage counselor files for divorce citing irreconcilable differences because her husband is a slob and an unrepentant cheater and she’s dead. No longer…til’ death do they part.
  • Personal Injury – A post-life insurance adjuster files for workman’s comp when his employer sends him to a construction site where he gets his arm severed in a wood chipper. In the end, his job costs him an arm and a leg.
  • Tax Evasion – Zombie Law represents a Living Impaired Man who gets sued by the US Government when he stops paying taxes, just because he’s dead. Two things are no longer for certain; death and taxes.
  • Breach of Contract – A dead mailman wants to sue his life insurance company for not providing him the full death benefit to himself when he died. Their argument is simply that he is not the beneficiary, not that he’s not dead, but since his wife is also a zombie, they don’t feel the need to pay her either.
  • Letter of Eviction – A tenant tries to fight a letter of eviction from the management company of the apartment building he’s “living” in. They argue that he can’t really be “living” in the apartment since he’s dead.

CALVIN JUSTICE

Where do you suggest he move?

APARTMENT MANAGER

The cemetery?

SEASON ONE “B” STORY

The “B” storyline is that a major pharmaceuticals company (MOREAUCORP) is the one responsible for the zombie outbreak and Zombie Law has several clashes with the company in and out of court throughout the season.

It gets to be an all-out war, when Moreaucorp creates a new kind of zombie, a faster-stronger Berserker Zombie that threatens the whole world.

There are two main bad guys in the leadership at Moreaucorp.

Moreaucorp.Island of Dr Moreau

The name by the way is a hint to the real identity of the CEO (the secret shadow figure) who is the heir of the famous…DR. MOREAU. The H.G. Wells fictional protagonist in The Island of Dr. Moreau where Dr. Moreau was found to have been creating human-like hybrid animal beings, is the CEO, Edward Prendic.

His main LABORATORY SCIENTIST turns out to be THE FLY.The Fly Scientist

Throughout the series, the scientist will slowly pull in SCIENTIFIC ABORATIONS into the world Ala ISLAND OF DR. MOREAU.the fly returns

This way, we can also bring in other classic monsters that are science or organic based like:

  • The 50ft WOMAN
  • The SHRINKING MAN
  • CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON
  • SWAMP THING
  • THEM
  • THE BLOB
  • LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS.Little Shop of Horrors

(These could all be variations or our versions of these things.) Think about all the campy 1950’s drive-in feature creatures.

Not only is the CEO a secret shadow figure that gets revealed during the season, he also turns out to be a well-regarded State SENATOR, that eventually runs for President of the United States against the…

ZOMBIE PRESIDENT.Zombie Obama

Here’s more on that:

POLITICAL ATMOSPHERE:

The atmosphere behind the zombie apocalypse is the political commentary. Politics keeps coming up in several episodes that go along with the rising tide of zombie supporters for zombie rights.  It’s a metaphor for rights groups throughout history.  Later on in the season, the President of the United States gets bitten and becomes a zombie and Zombie Law is brought in to argue the diminished capacity of the President in front of House of Representatives and again in a trial at the Senate and whether or not he’s capable of doing the job of the executive office. This ultimately comes full circle as Zombie Law fights from episode 1 all the way through the series for zombie RIGHTS.

“C” STORY

The 3rd story thread usually consisting of some kind of rift or resolution to the 3 MAIN CHARACTERS; Calvin is in love with Laurel, Laurel hates Edwin, Edwin creates chaos for Calvin…etc.  Here is a specific example:

  • Calvin’s ex-fiancée, that spurned him at the altar, comes looking for him. She’s recently dead and wants restitution from Moreaucorp for accidentally creating the zombie that bit her. She’s realized a lot of regrets since dying, the main one being Calvin. This causes confusion and complications with him and with Laurel, whose jealousy makes her realize that she may have deeper feelings for Calvin.ZL Anna Zach

LAUREL HUNT TALKING HEAD

LAUREL HUNT

I’ve known Cal for most of my life, I’ve never seen him this low before.

She looks behind her to see if Cal may be around listening.

LAUREL HUNT (CONT’D)

And I’ve seen him get stood up at the altar. That was embarrassing. Pathetic really. But this was a new low. Even for him.

CHARACTERS

CALVIN JUSTICE

Calvin (30’s) is a bleeding heart without a paycheck, a conservative idealistic do-gooder.Cast of Zombie Law 3

Mona looks solemnly at Edwin and then to Cal. Cal knows when to speak and when to listen.

MONA

I have been here a long time. We’ve been thru a lot together. Edwin, Cal, you’re excellent lawyers… But you suck at running a business!

Edwin looks hurt, but Cal looks like that’s just about right.

MONA (CONT’D)

Cal, you’re a bleeding heart and you take every sad story that comes along. Many of them pro bono.

CAL

I do not.

MONA

My car broke down this morning. Can I borrow some money to get it fixed?

Mona holds her hand out.

CAL

(Taking his wallet out.) Oh, I didn’t know that. I only have…

Mona spreads her arms out for validation. Cal realizes and puts his wallet away.

CAL (CONT’D)

That was just mean.zachary-levi-heroes-reborn-star

He doesn’t like that he got roped into going into practice with Edwin years before, simply because Edwin thought their names together made for “great marketing”.

CALVIN JUSTICE

You only partnered with me because of my last name.

EDWIN WYNN

I don’t deny, Wynn-Justice Law, it’s a good marketing gimmick, but we’re good together.

CALVIN JUSTICE

We’re bankrupt, Ed.

He does, however, embrace the idea of helping the zombies.  He’s an activist with a cause!

ZL zachary-levi-psa-slice

EDWIN WYNN

Edwin Wynn is a brainless get-rich-quick schemer, putting his money where his mouth is…empty. Edwin is a liberal free-spirited entrepreneur.z Anthony_Michael_Hall_1

MONA

And Ed…

EDWIN

(He taps his forehead.) I’m a marketing master. The wheels never stop.

MONA

Like recently, you hosted an adult Slip & Slide contest to try and drum up business.

EDWIN

(He smiles.) Brilliant, I know.

MONA

People got hurt. And your P.I. Referral just signed 3 new clients and filed cases against us.

Ed frowns.

MONA (CONT’D)

Oh by the way, they sent you a fruit basket.

She points to a basket of exotic fruit off to the side. Ed gets excited.Z Anthony+Michael+Hall

He’s like a child in so many ways, 200% loyal, fearless, easily excitable, always upbeat and positive, his enthusiasm knows no bounds and often gets them into trouble, especially Calvin.

CALVIN JUSTICE AND EDWIN WYNN TALKING HEADS

EDWIN WYNN

We don’t need her. What happens when you fall off a horse?

CALVIN JUSTICE

ED, don’t cliché me.

EDWIN WYNN

Winners are just losers who never gave up.

CALVIN JUSTICE

Ed…

EDWIN WYNN

I’m just saying, we’re Wynn-Justice. We just need to figure it out.

Although, if backed into a corner, he can be a scary and formidable foe.  Someone you want on your side, he has a joyful glee in making people think he’s mean, but can use it at times to make the pair stronger. It’s downright mischievous at times.ZL ANthony Michael Hall

LAUREL HUNT

Their INVESTIGATOR is a bounty hunter named LAUREL HUNT. She owns a self-defense dojo, which is appropriate when you think of the world they live in, survival is a much valued commodity. She is the muscle.

Fringe TV Series starring Anna Torv, Joshua Jackson, Jasika Nicole, John Noble, Lance Reddick, Blair Brown, Michael Cerveris, Kirk Acevedo, Seth Gabel, Ryan McDonald, Mark Valley, Michael Kopsa, Lily Pilblad, Leonard Nimoy and Ari Graynor - dvdbash.com

Laurel walks over to a small counter by the door. A rough Biker is waiting for her.

BIKER

I’ve got a coupon for your “Evading Police Package”…

He pulls the piece of paper from his leather jacket vest pocket and slams it on the counter.

LAUREL HUNT

The free lesson on how to get out of handcuffs? She looks at the flyer and reaches into a drawer.

BIKER

That’s the one.

She pulls out some handcuffs and slaps one on the wrist of the Biker.

BIKER (CONT’D)

Hey, what the…

LAUREL HUNT

You want the lesson, right?

BIKER

Yeah…

She cuffs the other side to a pipe attached to the wall nearby.

LAUREL HUNT

Here’s the lesson. Don’t break the law!

BIKER

What the? Why you little B—

Laurel headbutts the Biker in the face and knocks him out.  He hangs limply from the pipe.Z Anna Gun

Long-time friends with Calvin, they do not realize yet that, THEY ARE IN LOVE. The sexual tension is tangible, from the very start. The attraction is there, even if they don’t admit it verbally at first.ZL Anna Torv Window

Later in the season they complicate things by replaying the wall of Jericho scene in It Happened One Night. (look it up) Eventually, they connect.

She comes in handy every week and provides the show with some much needed action at times. In the 2 k’s…kicking butt and kissing.

JUDGE DEL TORO aka DODGER ELVIS

Living in an odd world where zombies are real and running around, gives the show an unusual feeling that anything and anyone is possible.  To emphasize that very thing, we’ve created a character that exemplifies that “anyone can be anything” persona; The Dodger Elvis as a JUDGE.Elvis Shadow

ROBERT RUE

Aren’t you going to swear me in?

JUDGE DEL TORO (40’s) turns to Robert to address him. Judge Del Toro looks like a Hispanic Elvis impersonator, with rings on all his fingers, sideburns, oversized gold shades and a pompadour. He picks up his bedazzled gavel and points it at Robert.

JUDGE DEL TORO

Now, see here, little man, this is just a hearing to determine if the plaintiff has a case, no need for that formality just yet. Please just answer the question, thankyouverymuch.Elvis

ZOMBIES

Let’s talk about what the series is wrapped around…ZOMBIES.

In most zombie films and TV shows, zombies are mindless, feeding monsters that are used as fodder.  To kill and forget about, to mow down in droves.

Our series ventures to change that. The series ventures to play on that impression by starting out to make fun of it and then to slowly HUMANIZE the zombies again.Zombies

To show the progression of the zombie disease as if it was Alzheimer’s or Dementia. To slowly endear the zombie to the viewer.  To get them on “their” side. We use it as a metaphor for HUMAN RIGHTS and to help us examine the human condition and the political and prejudicial atmosphere that is the United States of America.Zombie_law

www.injuredbyazombie.com   www.facebook.com/ZombieLaw

Zombie Sign

Failed Movies Make the Best Broadway Musicals

 

So what do you do with a movie that fails at the box office? Why not make it into a Broadway Musical! It’s actually fitting that one of the most popular of these is a film about making a bomb, that just happens to turn out to be a big hit…The Producers.Producers

In 1967, Mel Brooks wrote and directed The Producers, starring Zero Mostel and Gene Wilder. Kenneth Mars also has a great role in the film, I wrote about it in another blog, you can ready that here… The film initially was not very well liked, people didn’t know what to make of it. Actress Estelle Winwood said about the film – “Oh, that dreadful picture. I can’t bear to watch it, even on a small television. I must have needed the money – living in Hollywood weakens one’s motives. It reminds me of the saying that nobody ever went broke underestimating the American public’s taste.”ProducersLaneBroderick

Regardless, years later when Mel Brooks was considering adapting one of his movie into a play he decided to adapted The Producers as a Broadway stage musical and it opened at the St James Theater in April 2001, with Nathan Lane as Bialystock and Matthew Broderick as Bloom. The renowned musical went on to run for 2502 performances and won a record-breaking 12 Tony awards. A new movie which included Nathan Lane and Mathew Broderick was released in 2005, but that one didn’t fare too well either. It’s better as a stage play.victor_victoria

Another one to take the stage was Victor Victoria. Originally written and directed by Blake Edwards in 1982, starring James Garner, Julie Andrews and Robert Preston, the movie did not do well. We absolutely loved the film, however. It’s well suited for the transition to stage, as it’s about a struggling female soprano who finds work playing a male female impersonator, but it complicates her personal life. Robert Preston is just amazing in the film and really steals the show with his musical number at the end of the movie. Robert Preston did the final musical number in one take, which explains why he was so clearly out of breath, physically stressed, and sweating profusely during the second half of the number. So it’s very easy to see it transferred to Broadway.Victor-Victoria-Play

In 1995, Blake Edwards decided to transfer the movie to Broadway and convinced his wife Julie Andrews to reprise her role. The hit Broadway musical Victor Victoria opened at the Marquis Theater on October 25, 1995 and ran for 734 performances. Liza Minnelli substituted for Julie Andrews while she was on vacation and Raquel Welch took over for her when she left the show.xanadu

In 1980, Olivia Newton-John, Michael Beck and Gene Kelly starred in the box office bomb, Xanadu. Again, we loved the movie but it was a huge fail. Famously received the one sentence review: “In a word, Xana-don’t”. I think the main problem is that MTV ruined that movie. What I mean by that is, it’s totally designed to be a musical, but MTV was so popular at the time that they put all the musical numbers into the music, with none of the characters actually singing the songs. It’s just in the background and designed as like music video numbers scattered throughout the film. They dance plenty, but they never really sing.  When I ask people about the movie, it’s funny that people don’t realize that no one in the film ever really sings any of the songs until the end of the movie when Olivia is on stage at the roller rink.  The Broadway stage version opened at the Helen Hayes Theater on July 10, 2007, and ran for 512 performances. It was nominated for the 2008 Tony Awards for Best Musical and Book.spamalot

One of the most unusual film-to-Broadway adaptations would have to be Monty Python and the Holy Grail. In 1975, the Monty Python’s Flying Circus cast wrote and directed a small independent film called Monty Python and the Holy Grail. It did fairly well at the box office but really achieved cult status on video and DVD. It’s a very funny but strange film. The theatrical release contains 527 jokes, including 42 in the opening credits, for an average of one joke every 10.5 seconds. According to Eric Idle, Terry Gilliam and Terry Jones got the directing job because they were the only ones who were interested in it. The movie was adapted as a Broadway musical in 2006 called Spamalot. The Broadway play was a huge hit. The original 2005 Broadway production, directed by Mike Nichols, won three Tony Awards, including the Tony Award for Best Musical of the 2004–2005 season and received 14 Tony Award nominations. During its initial run of over 1,500 performances it was seen by more than two million people and grossed over $175 million.newsies_musical_main-logo

Newsies was another musical disaster for Disney initially, but managed to make for a very fine Broadway play.  It was directed by Kenny Ortega, who would head up the very successful High School Musical series a few years later. (High School Musical, being way too successful to consider making into a Broadway play has never made the transition…) Newsies was released in 1992 with pre-Batman Christian Bale, Bill Pullman, Ann-Margret  and Robert Duvall. At the time, this was one of the lowest grossing live action movies in Walt Disney studio history. The movie was a critical and commercial flop upon its initial theatrical release. However, it gathered a cult following after its home video release, eventually made its filming budget back on rentals, and was deemed popular enough to be adapted into a stage musical, which premiered at the Paper Mill Playhouse in New Jersey in 2011. The musical had music and lyrics by Alan Menken (who composed the movie’s music as well) and Jack Feldman (the movie’s lyricist), and a new book by playwright and actor Harvey Fierstein. This musical moved to Broadway in March 2012 and closed over two years later; a North American tour also launched in 2014. The show went on to earn eight Tony Award nominations, including Best Musical, winning Best Choreography and Best Original Score.Harispray

Now, Hairspray is another very unusual adaptation as the first movie in 1988 directed by John Waters was not a hit, but did moderately well and found cult status on Video and DVD, then was adapted into a very successful Broadway Play and then again translated into a very successful movie in 2007. The original was not a musical, which tells me that certain stories just lend themselves very well to being told as musicals. Jerry Stiller, who plays Wilbur Turnblad in this film, also appears in Hairspray (2007) as Mr. Pinky. Remade on the Broadway stage in 2002 as a musical by Marc Shaiman, Scott Wittman, Mark O’Donnell and Thomas Meehan, starring Harvey Fierstein (and later, Bruce Vilanch, Michael McKean and John Pinette) in the role of Edna Turnblad (played in the film by Divine) and Marissa Jaret Winokur in the role of Tracy Turnblad (played in the film by Ricki Lake) The musical opened at the Neil Simon Theater on August 15, 2002 and ran for 2641 performances. It won the 2003 Tony Award for Best Musical. Adam Shankman directed the 2007 film with John Travolta playing Edna and Nikki Blonsky playing Tracy. With $27.5 million, this had the best opening ever for a movie musical until Mamma Mia! (2008).little shop of horrors

Another film-to-broadway-back-to-film adaptation is Little Shop of Horrors. Low budget Independent producer Roger Corman and Charles B. Griffith. The shooting schedule for this film was two days and one night because Roger Corman had made a bet that he could make a movie in two days. Charles B. Griffith took a little more than that to write it. A young Jack Nicholson has only a small part as Farb’s masochistic patient, Wilbur Force. But later, as the actor’s career began to take off, he was prominently featured on the home-video releases to help generate interest in the film. The film was remade as a successful stage musical in 1982, by composer Alan Menken and writer Howard Ashman. (who would go on to do Disney’s The Little Mermaid and then many other successful animated musicals) The musical premiered Off-Off-Broadway in 1982 before moving to the Orpheum Theatre Off-Broadway, where it had a five-year run. It later received numerous productions in the U.S. and abroad, and a subsequent Broadway production. When it closed on November 1, 1987, after 2,209 performances, it was the third-longest running musical and the highest-grossing production in Off-Broadway history.little shop of horrors audrey seymour

Ellen Greene reprised her role from the play as Audrey in the 1986 movie of the musical. Frank Oz directed with Rick Moranis playing Seymour. Ellen Greene as Audrey (I) is the only member of the Off-Broadway cast to appear in this film. When she originated the role in 1982, it was her idea to wear a blond wig over her brunette curly hair. Howard Ashman originally saw Audrey as a brunette, based on Jackie Joseph’s look in the original The Little Shop of Horrors (1960).  The original script called for Audrey and Seymour to be eaten by Audrey II, just like in the stage play. Frank Oz reluctantly had it changed after negative reactions from test audiences. Oz claims that the difference between the success of the scene in the play and the same scene in the film is that there is no curtain call to remind the audience that the actors were okay.

 

Jim Dale Has an Amazing Voice

 

There are some fantastic underrated actors out there. One of my all time favorites would be an British actor by the name of Jim Dale. He’s been nominated for many awards including an Oscar and a Golden Globe, but the biggest ones he won are 2 Grammies and a Tony. He’s most recognizable for his voice, but Adam and I just loved him in a series of Disney films in the late 1970’s.jim-dale-Petes Dragon

The first film was Pete’s Dragon in 1977. An orphan boy and his magical dragon come to town with his abusive adoptive parents in pursuit. Seems fitting because a non-musical remake of the film is coming out this month. But the original is a musical and we just love this film. Jim Dale plays the bad guy and con-artist Dr. Terminus, and does a great job singing, so it’s no surprise that he has been nominated for five Tony Awards, winning one for Barnum (1980) for which the New York Times described him as “The Toast of Broadway”, also winning the second of four Drama Desk Awards.hot-lead-and-cold-feet

The next film was the hilarious Hot Lead and Cold Feet in 1978. This saga of the old west involves twin brothers who compete for possession of a rickety cow town founded by their father while a crooked mayor tries to put an end to the competitors so he can inherit the town himself. He plays 3 separate roles in in the film, before it was popular to do this. Eddie Murphy made that popular later on in his films. He plays the two twins, Eli and Wild Billy as well as their father, Jasper. Fourth-billed and in a supporting role playing the Denver Kid was actor-comedian Don Knotts who had starred in a number of comic-westerns. Promotional materials for the movie more prominently promoted him as if he were in a lead major role. The film’s main movie poster for example featured an image of Knotts feature prominently in the optical center of the artwork. So I think it really hurt the film overall, as no one knew who this British actor was and every one I knew was waiting for Knotts to appear. Regardless, Jim Dale is still the stand-out in the film and does a fantastic job.Unidentified Flying Oddball

His last film for Disney again has him playing a villain in the Unidentified Flying Oddball in 1979. An astronaut and his android double travel back to the time of King Arthur. Dennis Dugan played the astronaut, as went on to a very success film career as a director for a lot of Adam Sandler movies. The film’s English “Unidentified Flying Oddball” title makes the picture one of few English language filmed adaptations of Mark Twain’s A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court not to be named with this title or something similar. Others include Black Knight (2001) and A Knight in Camelot (1998). The movie is commonly known in English language speaking territories by three titles: “The Spaceman and King Arthur”, “Unidentified Flying Oddball” and “A Spaceman in King Arthur’s Court”. About sixteen years after this picture in 1995, the Walt Disney Pictures studio would adapt again Mark Twain’s “A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court”, this time titling the film A Kid in King Arthur’s Court (1995). Ron Moody would also reprise his role as Merlin in this movie.Jim Dale and Harry Potter

Now after a lot of work in music, TV and movies, he really became well known for his voice work on the Harry Potter Series. He has recorded all seven books in the series as audiobooks, and as a narrator he has won two Grammy Awards in 2008 and 2001, and has seven Grammy nominations.  He also narrates the Harry Potter video games and many of the interactive “extras” on the Harry Potter DVD releases. So if you recognize him, it’s surely by that amazing voice of his. He held a Guinness World Record for creating and recording 134 different character voices for one audiobook, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix.

Top 15 Charlie Chan Films

 

There are a few movie detective series that are a lot of fun to watch over the years. The Falcon, The Saint, Mr. Moto, Mr. Wong, Bulldog Drummond, The Thin Man, and Philo Vance all come to mind as great series. But the most popular would have to be the Charlie Chan series. Charlie Chan was a Honolulu Detective of Chinese descent, created by author Earl Derr Biggers. He originally conceived of the benevolent and heroic Chan as an alternative to Yellow Peril stereotypes and villains like Dr. Fu Manchu. Interestingly enough, when Hollywood started making movies on the Detective, he never stayed in Honolulu, as his investigations usually took him all over the world, dragging one of his many sons with him.

The films started in the late 1920’s but were not popular at first. Many people think it was because Charlie Chan was played by Asian actors and just didn’t catch with American audiences, but I think it’s a lot more simple than that, I think they weren’t given a proper chance as those Charlie Chan’s were only barely in the first 3 films. They all appeared late in the films, or only in several scenes or just coming in at the very end. So, I think that would be the main reason. Regardless, Charlie Chan didn’t take off until several years later for the first time when Swedish actor Warner Oland played him in Charlie Chan Carries On in 1931. It’s the first movie to include his name in the title and featured him as the main character. He became a huge hit and the studios never went back to casting the proper Asian actor for the role after that, attributing some or all of the success to the fact that the actor was Caucasian. It is however, one of the major contributions to turning OFF modern day audiences to what is otherwise a fantastic and fun series.

There were over 48 Charlie Chan movies in the series, not to mention several made in other languages. Warner Oland started playing Charlie Chan for 16 movies and then he died unexpectedly and Sydney Toler took over the role for 22 movies and then Roland Winters finished the role for 6 movies.

Here are my Top 15 Charlie Chan films:

15.  Charlie Chan at the Circus (1936)Charlie Chan at the Circus

While visiting the circus with his family, Charlie is recruited by the big top’s co-owner to investigate threatening letters that he’s received.

This one has a lot of great elements with Warner Oland playing Chan and Keye Luke (my favorite) playing number 1 son. One of the only times you’ll see the entire Chan family together in the series. This one also features the actor J. Carrol Naish who would appear in other popular mysteries at the time (Mr. Moto and Bulldog Drummond) with Think Fast, Mr. Moto, Bulldog Drummond Comes Back and Bulldog Drummond in Africa. He would also go on to play Charlie Chan himself in the 1957 TV Series, The New Adventures of Charlie Chan, which would go on for 39 episodes. I haven’t seen it, but I hear it’s great.

14.  Charlie Chan in Rio (1941)charlie-chan-i-rio-(1941)

On the trail of a singer who killed the man she loved in Honolulu, Charlie finds her stabbed to death when he ultimately catches up to her in Rio.

With Sydney Toler as Chan and number 2 son played by the excellent, Victor Sen Yung, this one is one of the first ones I ever saw. I became hooked immediately. Interestingly enough, one of the characters mentions Bulldog Drummond two times in this movie. It’s the actress Mary Ann Hughes, who would play a character a couple of times on the Thin Man TV Show years later. Also interesting is that a director early on in the series, Hamilton McFadden, who directed The Black Camel, Charlie Chan Carries On, Charlie Chan’s Greatest Case and co-direct Charlie Chan in Paris, acts as a character in this film.

13.  Dead Men Tell (1941)Dead Men Tell

A treasure map in four pieces, the ghost of a hanged pirate, a talking parrot, and a ship full of red herrings complicate Charlie’s search for a murderer on board a docked ship.

Directed by Harry Lachman, who would direct 5 of the movies from the series and my favorite director, as all 5 of his movies made my list!  The last 3 I just mentioned and 2 more to come. He was a former illustrator, painter, set designer and then director, so his design aesthetic was top notch. His artworks can be seen in such museums as Spain’s Prado and the Luxembourg Museum. George Reeves, who played Superman on TV was also in this film. He was shot to death a few years later, I write about it in a blog here>>>

12.  Charlie Chan in Reno (1939)Charlie Chan in Reno

Mary Whitman, an old friend of Charlie’s in Reno for a divorce, finds herself accused of murdering the woman her husband planned to marry after the decree became final.

Kane Richmond has a nice part in this one, he was an actor/stuntman known for the Spy Smasher series a few years later. I talk about him and the stunts in a blog post here>>> He would do 3 Charlie Chan films, and yes they all just happen to be on my list. When the series does some thing right, they do have a tendency to try and duplicate what makes them so good, hence the reason why several people work on multiples in the series. Ricardo Cortez is of note as well. He was the first one to star as Sam Spade in The Maltese Falcon years before Humphrey Bogart made the part his own. He also appeared in Mr. Moto’s Last Warning and 2 Charlie Chan films. Also in this are Morgan Conway (Dick Tracy in two RKO films in the mid-1940’s) and Robert Lowery (Batman in the Columbia serial The Adventures of Batman and Robin in 1948).

11.  Charlie Chan at the Opera (1936)charlie-chan-at-the-opera

A dangerous amnesiac escapes from an asylum, hides in the opera house, and is suspected of getting revenge on those who tried to murder him 13 years ago.

Warner Oland and Keye Luke are at it again, this time with Boris Karloff and William Demarest added in for good measure. Stage manager Maurice Cass vows that the opera will go on “even if Frankenstein walks in!” Audiences were well aware that this in-joke referred to star Boris Karloff, who was in the theater at the time. The unique billing listed Warner Oland vs. Boris Karloff above the title. Karloff had turned down the title role in Werewolf of London (1935), which would have pitted him against his current co-star, Warner Oland, who is also in that movie. The Werewolf part was ultimately played by Henry Hull. Boris Karloff is also unique in that he also played an Asian Detective later, that of Mr Wong in 4 mysteries in 1939-1940 (The Mystery of Mr. Wong, Mr. Wong in Chinatown, The Fatal Hour and Doomed to Die).  All of these are excellent films in their own right.

You’d recognize William Demarest best for his role of Uncle Charley in My Three Sons (1965-1972).

10.  Castle in the Desert (1942)charlie-chan-in-castle-in-the-desert-poster

Charlie Chan investigates apparent poisonings at a mystery mansion in the Mojave Desert.

Back to Toler and Victor Sen Yung for this movie. To talk about Victor Sen Yung for a second, he would come into the series after Warner Oland died and after Keye Luke left as number 1 son…Victor came on board as #2 son and would reprise his role a total of 17 more times.  Goes on to portray the cook Hop SIng on the TV Show Bonanza for 109 episodes. He really was an accomplished Cantonese cook and penned the book “Great Wok Cookbook” in 1974.

9.  Charlie Chan at the Race Track (1936)charlie-chan-at-the-race-track

When a friend of Charlie’s is found kicked to death by his own race horse on board a Honolulu-bound liner, the detective discovers foul play and uncovers an international gambling ring.

Now Keye Luke as Number 1 son was also an accomplished artist. He did several production drawings for the Charlie Chan movie series. Some of his work is still in Hollywood’s Graumann’s Chinese Theater (the garden fairytale setting murals on the interior of Grauman’s Chinese Theater and the Chinese Theater massive auditorium ceiling). He specialized in murals. Examples of his work can also be seen in the films The Shanghai Gesture (1941) and Macao (1952).

The only time that number 1 son Keye Luke and number 2 son Victor Sen Yung would be together on screen was in The Feathered Serpent (Roland Winter as Charlie Chan). Almost 40 years after he played Lee Chan to the Charlie Chans of Warner Oland and Roland Winters, he took a turn at playing Charlie Chan himself, providing his voice in the Hanna-Barbera animated CBS-TV series The Amazing Chan and the Chan Clan (1972). Among those who provided the voices of his children were Jodie Foster and Robert Ito.motogambleluke

Interesting to note that there is another film that is not a Charlie Chan film where Keye Luke plays number 1 son Lee Chan again and that is in 1938’s Mr. Moto’s Gamble (1938) opposite Peter Lorre, which was intended as a Chan picture, before Oland’s absence forced the studio to hurriedly rewrite the script as a Moto feature.

Another interesting note, he had the distinction of being the only Asian actor to play a lead Asian detective in the 1930/1940s era. He played Mr. Wong in Phantom of Chinatown (1940) for Monogram. It was the final film in the Mr. Wong Detective series and he took over the role from none other than Boris Karloff, who I mentioned in Charlie Chan at the Opera.

8.  Charlie Chan’s Murder Cruise (1940)Murder cruise

Charlie tries to discover the identity of a strangler who strikes multiple times on a cruise ship bound from Honolulu to California.

This is the last of the Chan films directed by Eugene Forde, and I think his best, even though his others are very good ones in the series as well. Number 2 son Victor Sen Yung and Number 3 son Laynie Tom Jr. (just to clairify, I’m numbering the sons based on their appearances and popularity in the series, their numbers are not official, it just makes it easy to identify them) appear together in this one as well as Charlie Chan in Honolulu (1938), Sydney Toler’s 1st Chan movie.  Lionel Atwill is a standout in this film, and he also appeared in another Chan film, Charlie Chan in Panama (look at number 5 on this list) and he also appeared in Mr Moto Takes a Vacation (1939) and as Moriarty in Sherlock Holmes and the Secret Weapon (1942) and as Dr. Mortimer in The Hound of the Baskervilles (1939).

7.  Charlie Chan Carries On / Eran Trece (1931)Eran-Trece-Opening-Credit

Charlie steps in to solve the murder of a wealthy American found dead in a London hotel. Settings include London, Nice, San Remo, Honolulu and Hong Kong.

I should be up front and mention that Charlie Chan Carries On is considered a LOST FILM, but the screenplay is still out there and Fox filmed a Spanish-language version of this film, using many of the same sets, using a Spanish-speaking cast, and was released under the title Eran Trece (There Were Thirteen). This used many of the same pieces of stock footage as the English-language version and the script was expanded somewhat based on the English-language script. This Spanish-language version is available as a bonus feature on the DVD release of Charlie Chan in Shanghai (1935), which is where I saw the film.  Eran Trece stars Manuel Arbo as Charlie Chan. Interestingly enough, they did the same thing that year with Dracula (1931) and he was in the Spanish version of that film as well.  Both of the Spanish versions of these films are mentioned to be far superior than their English counterparts…Manuel Arbo as Charlie Chan

This is the only Spanish-language film in the entire original Chan series and the only one that doesn’t feature Warner Oland as Charlie Chan. There were no other foreign-language Charlie Chan films made by Hollywood after this one because, shortly after this movie came out, a method of putting sound on the actual film was developed, and so voice dubbing became more practical.

6.  Charlie Chan at the Wax Museum (1940)Charlie Chan at the Wax Museum

An escaped convicted murderer hides out at a New York wax museum where he hopes to get plastic surgery, which will help him revenge himself on Charlie Chan.

John Francis Larkin would probably be my favorite of all the screenwriters that have written a Chan films over the years, as he has written 5 of the films on this list! He has this one, Charlie Chan at the Wax Museum, then Charlie Chan at Treasure Island, Charlie Chan in Panama, Dead Men Tell and Castle in the Desert. He comes up with some of the most unusual plots throughout the series and always has a great locale.

5.  Charlie Chan in Panama (1940)Charlie Chan in Panama

Inspector Chan investigates a group of travelers, one of whom is a saboteur.

Again, this one has a lot of the elements I love; Toler, Luke, Richmond, Atwill– all the people I mentioned before and they throw Jean Rogers into the mix.  She is most immediately known for being Dale Arden in two of the better Flash Gordon serials and had a nice role in Ace Drummond.

4.  Charlie Chan on Broadway (1937)charlie-chan-on-broadway-1937

Returning from European exile where she avoided testifying against her criminal associates, a former singer with a tell-all diary is murdered to ensure her silence.

When photographer Joan Wendell (Joan Marsh) first walks into the newspaper building, a man at a desk says “you just think you can”. That man is horror icon Lon Chaney Jr, in an un-credited cameo. Also, of interest to filmmakers, an early example of product placement, a bottle of Bayer aspirin is shown on a table.harold-huber-Mr-Motos-Gamble

A notable entry in this one is character actor Harold Huber, who pops up in several mystery movie series at the time including 4 Charlie Chan movies; Charlie Chan on Broadway, City in Darkness, Charlie Chan in Monte Carlo and Charlie Chan in Rio.  He also appears in the first The Thin Man movie as well as 2 Mr. Moto films with Mr Moto’s Gamble and The Mysterious Mr. Moto. Although, he never plays the same character twice in any of his movies. He’s great, and he also played Hercule Poirot and Dr. Fun Manchu on the radio!

3.  Charlie Chan at Treasure Island (1939)charlie-chan-at-treasure-island

Charlie’s investigation of a phony psychic during the 1939 World Exposition on San Francisco’s Treasure Island leads him to expose a suicide as murder.

Cesar Romero appears in this one!  He’s a very well known actor, but if you need me to jog your memory just think of The Joker from the Batman TV Show. The Treasure Island referred to in the title is a man-made island in San Francisco Bay that was built in 1936 & 1937 in anticipation of it hosting the Golden Gate International Exposition of 1939 & 1940. After the fair closed the U.S. Navy used the site for many years. Since the 1980’s the site has been used by many film & television production companies with aircraft hangars 2 & 3 converted to sound stages. I love the atmosphere of this entry.

2. Charlie Chan at the Olympics (1937)Charlie-Chan-at-the-Olympics-Laynie Tom Jr

When a strategically important new aerial guidance system is stolen, Charlie traces it to the Berlin Olympics, where he has to battle spies and enemy agents to retrieve it.

The only time that Number 1 son Keye Luke and Number 3 son, Laynie Tom Jr. would appear together, making it so that all 3 of the main sons worked together at least 1 time each throughout the series.

This one is very interesting as the Olympics in the movie is in Germany, during the Nazi reign. The film features actual footage from the 1936 Berlin Olympics. There is also a scene where Charlie crosses the Atlantic in the Hindenburg. Stock footage of the dirigible Hindenburg was retouched, frame by frame, to blot out the swastikas emblazoned on the airship’s tail.

1  Murder Over New York (1940)Murder-Over-New-York-Charlie-Chan

When Charlie’s old friend from Scotland Yard is murdered when they attend a police convention in New York, Chan picks up the case he was working on.

This one is written by Lester Ziffren, who wrote only 4 Charlie Chan movies and yes, as expected, all 4 made it on my list. Like I said, I seem to like certain elements in the series. He also wrote Charlie Chan in Rio, Charlie Chan’s Murder Cruise, and Charlie Chan in Panama.  Before he wrote screenplays, he was reporter for United Press. Was among the first journalists to report the start of the Spanish Civil War. He sent a coded message past Spanish censors to break the news of the Spanish Civil War to the rest of the world; after leaving Spain just ahead of the troops of Francisco Franco, Ziffren went to Hollywood where he got a job writing movie screenplays through the influence of his new bride’s uncle, Sol M. Wurtzel.

Now, you are probably wondering why I left out Mantan Moreland, a very notable character actor who appeared as Birmingham Brown in 15 Charlie Chan films. Just to set some history: Birmingham Brown is a character from the Monogram Pictures entries of the Charlie Chan series of films introduced between 1944 and 1949. He was a combination chauffeur, side-kick, and trusted assistant. Oftentimes jittery, sometimes bug-eyed, and always superstitious, Birmingham Brown was forever warning the members of the Chan clan to stay away from an obviously dangerous case or situation. The character was brilliantly portrayed by the creative, comedic actor Mantan Moreland.charlie-chan-service-secret

Now with that said, none of those 15 movies made my list, so I wasn’t able to talk directly about him, but he’s such a standout in the series, I thought he should at least be mentioned in the blog. He’s very good, but at times, I thought those films just got to be a little too silly for my taste and I prefer the earlier entries. He plays especially well with Victor Sen Yung, although, so they are still fun to watch.

Another great actor from the series that hasn’t gotten a mention yet is the awesome Benson Fong. I’ve loved him as an actor over the years and he appears technically as Number 4 son, even though he would be older than Laynie Tom Jr., but is Number 4 on appearance in the series. He appears in 7 Charlie Chan films, only 6 of them as a Chan clan member, as in Charlie Chan at the Opera, he only appears as an extra in the background. You can see a picture of Benson Fong in the picture I posted from Charlie Chan in the Secret Service.

Top 15 Heist Movies of the 60’s

 

The 1960’s seemed to break out with a whole bunch of fantastic Heist Films. Several of them from this decade have been remade into some great films in their own right. It’s always fun to watch a bunch of crooks fail or succeed at these heists and so I guess that’s why they keep making these kinds of films.  I’m very thankful that they do. Here’s my favorite top 15 heist films of the 1960’s:

15.  Kaleidoscope (1966)Kaleidoscope

Warren Beatty breaks into the Kaleidoscope company’s manufacturing plant to mark all of their cards set to be delivered to a whole bunch of casinos. This puts card-cheating on a whole new level. The film was released 1 year before Bonnie and Clyde (1967), which made him an International star. Technically, that film could be considered a “heist” film as well, but to me it doesn’t have the traditional sneak factor. If you go in and rob a place with a gun, it is a heist, but the good heist type films all have a con going on or intricate plot of people sneaking around. I also love it when my heist films have a bit of romance going on. This one is a bit of a romantic comedy and I definitely think it benefits from it. Jack Smight directed this. He directed a lot of tight thrillers in his time.

14.  Fitzwilly (1967)fitzwilly-movie-1968

Faithful butler, Dick Van Dyke, leads an elaborate criminal enterprise to keep their beloved Miss Vicki from realizing that she is flat broke! It’s the first half of the storyline that appears later in Disney’s Candleshoe (1977)(only that one has a treasure hunt to boot!). This one has a little romance as well when Barbara Feldon is hired to help Miss Vicki write a dictionary. She slowly learns what Dick Van Dyke and crew is up to and threatens to break the whole thing apart until she falls in love with him. Delbert Mann directed this and a lot of great romantic comedies besides this one.

13.  Seven Thieves (1960)seven thieves

Henry Hathaway directed this great cast of Edward G. Robinson, Rod Steiger, Joan Collins, Sebastian Cabot and Eli Wallach about a planned heist on a Monte Carlo Casino. A truly classic film director, he would direct some of the finest films over a 30 year period. The most frequent actor that appears on this list, just happens to be Edward G. Robinson. This just happens to be the first of three. He is viewed as the ultimate mastermind behind these heists, so I wonder if that ever hurt his feelings that people saw him as the best crime plotter.

12.  Grand Slam (1967)grand slam

Edward G. Robinson leads the heist on his second entry as well and recruits a group of men this time to break into a diamond company to steal 10 million dollars in diamonds!  Directed by Italian director Giuliano Montaldo and starring Janet Leigh as the only woman in a cast full of guys…oh, wait, I see a pattern here. This is the decade where heist films got their formula and it’s a formula that is used even today when you look at the heist films of the last 10 years.

11.  Topkapi (1964)topkapi

Now the grand-daddy of all heists is said to have been a very low budget french film named…Rififi (1955), directed by Jules Dassin. That movie put him on the map and gave us the decade that followed, full of heist films. He also films another heist with this entry, Topkapi, about a conman, who gets mixed up with a group of thieves who plan to rob an Istanbul museum to retrieve a jeweled dagger. Cited by Mission: Impossible (1966) TV series creator Bruce Geller as the inspiration for his own series. It’s also one of director Christopher Nolan’s favorite movies, who would go on to direct an ultimate heist movie of his own, Inception (2010). It’s also interesting to note, Jules Dassin originally planned to cast Peter Sellers as Arthur Simpson, but Sellers later dropped out, to be replaced by Peter Ustinov, whom Sellers had, in turn, replaced in The Pink Panther(1963) as Inspector Clouseau.

10.  Ocean’s Eleven (1960)Oceans11

I actually liked the remake, Ocean’s Eleven (2001) with George Clooney, Brad Pitt, Matt Damon and Julia Roberts a little bit more than this original, but it’s good too. Directed by Lewis Milestone and starring Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jr. and Angie Dickinson, it’s about Danny Ocean, who gathers a group of his World War II compatriots to pull off the ultimate Las Vegas heist. Together the eleven friends plan to rob five Las Vegas casinos in one night.

9.  Thomas Crown Affair (1968)thomascrown

Another one where I liked the Thomas Crown Affair (1999) remake better than the original. Pierce Brosnan and Rene Russo and that fantastic elaborate heist sequence at the end is just awesome. I still like the original which is about a debonair, adventuresome bank executive who believes he has pulled off the perfect multi-million dollar heist, only to match wits with a sexy insurance investigator who will do anything to get her man. Steve McQueen and Faye Dunaway act in this Norman Jewison film. An added bonus is that Faye Dunaway appears in both films. One of the coolest aspects of the film is its split screen opening sequence. While some claim that this is an example of style over content, the real reason the split screen was adopted was because editor Hal Ashby was tasked with reducing the running time of the opening.

8.  Italian Job (1969)italian job lobby card

Now this one I liked the original better than the Italian Job (2003), but I liked that one a lot too. It had a better cast with Donald Sutherland, Mark Wahlberg, Edward Norton, Charlize Theron, and Jason Statham. The original had Michael Caine, Noel Coward and Benny Hill! This is a Comic caper movie about a plan to steal a gold shipment from the streets of Turin by creating a traffic jam. Directed by Peter Collinson.  According to Michael Caine, the film did not perform well at the US box-office due to a misleading advertising campaign. The US poster featured a scantily clad woman with a map on her back kneeling in front of a Mafioso holding a machine gun. While promoting the film in the US, Caine saw the poster and became so upset that he immediately flew home to England. In a 2003 UK movie survey, Charlie Croker’s (Michael Caine) line, “You’re only supposed to blow the bloody doors off!” was voted the most memorable line in any film.

7.  Goldfinger (1964)Goldfinger

Yes, I would consider this a heist movie as spies all sneak around and break into places all the time and also the main bad guy, Goldfinger himself is scheming to break into Fort Knox…the ultimate heist. Directed by James Bond favorite, Guy Hamilton and starring Sean Connery, it’s a great entry for the series. Steven Spielberg cites this as his personal favorite of all the Bond movies and even owns an Aston Martin DB5 due to the impact Goldfinger had on him.  Due to the popularity and success of this movie and its spy car the Aston Martin DB5, the vehicle gained the nickname, “The Most Famous Car in the World”. Sales of the Aston Martin DB5 increased by fifty per cent after the release of the movie. The Bond movie The Spy Who Loved Me (1977) featured the Lotus Esprit and sales would also increase for that car after the movie premiered.

6.  Never a Dull Moment (1968)never a dull moment

Edward G. Robinson leads another heist! This time in this fantastic comedy starring one of my favorite actors…Dick Van Dyke. It’s directed by Dick’s next door neighbor on The Dick Van Dyke Show, Jerry Paris! My brother and I LOVE this movie. When practicing for a role, actor Jack is mistaken for the killer Ace. He doesn’t realize this until it’s too late and is carried off to gangster boss Leo Smooth, who wants Ace to do a job for him. Fearing for his life, Jack plays his role, but always searching for a way out of the well-guarded house. This one has a lot of great character actors along for the ride like Henry Silva, Jack Elam and Slim Pickens.

5.  Gambit (1966)gambit

This one also had a recent remake done, but let’s just keep to the good stuff, why don’t we. Michael Caine and Shirley MacLaine and Herbert Lom…shine in this one. Directed by Ronald Neame, this one is about an English cat burglar, who needs a Eurasian dancer’s help to pull off the perfect heist, but even the most foolproof schemes have a way of backfiring. The first draft of the screenplay was written by Bryan Forbes in 1960, when the story was designed as a vehicle for Cary Grant. He eventually dropped out of the project, which subsequently underwent many changes. It was eventually decided to make the girl the central character and Shirley Maclaine was signed for the lead. After seeing The Ipcress File, she suggested Michael Caine as her leading man, which led to still more rewriting to accommodate his working-class cockney persona.

4.  Sam Whiskey (1969)sam whiskey

Burt Reynolds, Ossie Davis, Clint Walker and Angie Dickinson are a lot of fun in this film. It’s a comedy directed by Arnold Lavin and is about Sam Whiskey, a civil war gambler, who is offered a job from the attractive widow Laura. She wants him to salvage gold bars, which Laura’s dead husband stole recently, from a sunken ship and secretly bring them back to the mint before they are missed. But how shall he manage to get several hundred pounds of gold into the mint without anyone noticing? Now, I should mention that Angie Dickinson flashes some naughty bits in the beginning of this movie, but if you can bypass that, it’s a very clean and entertaining film.

3.  The War Wagon (1967)the-war-wagon

John Wayne and Kirk Douglas in a movie together…I’m soooo there. The story of a man who was shot, robbed and imprisoned who returns to steal a large gold shipment from the man who wronged him. The gold is transported in an armored stage coach, the War Wagon. Who wouldn’t want to see this? Directed by Burt Kennedy, who would go on to direct James Garner in Support Your Local Sheriff and Support Your Local Gunfighter, which I also love!

John Wayne, who had lost his entire left lung and several ribs in major surgery for cancer in 1964, had great difficulty breathing on an airplane while flying to the location for the start of filming and had to use an oxygen mask throughout the journey. Kirk Douglas recalled that he hadn’t realized just how fragile Wayne was until this moment. Kirk Douglas and John Wayne had previously starred together in In Harm’s Way (1965) and Cast a Giant Shadow (1966). This film was their third and final teaming. John Wayne was not very fond of the finished film, although he said he felt that Kirk Douglas was very funny as Lomax.

2.  How to Steal a Million (1966)how-to-steal-a-million-movie-poster-1966

Peter O’Toole and Audrey Hepburn with a little Eli Wallach on the side please. Waa-laa…How to Steal a Million, directed by William Wyler is a romantic comedy about a woman who must steal a statue from a Paris museum to help conceal her father’s art forgeries, and the man who helps her. They are both delightful together but the real genius here is Wyler. Wyler has directed some of the biggest films with Ben Hur, The Best Years of Our Lives, Funny Girl, Roman Holiday, The Children’s Hour and The Desperate Hours.  He’s top notch.

1.   Pink Panther (1963)pink panther lobby card

Blake Edwards does it right with this first Pink Panther movie and set the tone for a slew of great films to come. Peter Sellers as Inspector Clouseau is just perfect in every way. Originally intended as a vehicle for David Niven as the cat burglar The Phantom, Peter Sellers quickly started to improv his way through all his scenes and stole the movie right out from under him. The biggest heist of them all, as Peter Sellers would go on to reprise his role 5 more times after this.  The character of Sir Charles Lytton does return to the Pink Panther movies in the third film The Return of the Pink Panther (1975). Peter Sellers again portrays the bumbling Clouseau but Christopher Plummer plays the role of Sir Charles in that film. The precious Pink Panther jewel is once again the focus as in the beginning of the film it is stolen. This time from a museum.

I write about the Pink Panther series in another blog post, click here to find out more about it…

 

Top 15 Fantasy Films of the 80’s

 

The 1980’s was a GREAT time for movie lovers. The studios and production companies were full of NEW ideas and willing to take risks to find and create great stories. We received a slew of fun fantasy films, some were really fantastic, then some not so fantastic. Here’s my list for my favorite 15 fantasy films of the 80’s:

15.  The Barbarians (1987)BB

Now, right up front…this is not a great movie. With that said, I totally enjoyed the movie when I first saw it in a movie theater. My father saved up for a decade to take his family on an 3 week European vacation and in that time we saw 1 movie in a french movie theater and YES, you guessed it…it was this film! Don’t ask me why we picked this one, we were 16 years old, looking for something in the action genre, because none of us wanted to read a lot of captions…and it features 2 twins, so to us at the time…win/win. As it turns out, I really enjoyed it. I will let you know that I do enjoy “cheesy” and “campy” as two adjectives for movies I enjoy. If you have a tendency to roll your eyes and switch the channel when you experience these things then, some of the films I present in this blog post are simply not going to be your cup of tea.

The best thing by far in this movie is the villain character actor, Richard Lynch. He pops up in another film on this list, a really good actor and mostly typecast as the bad guy in his films due to his gravelly voice and to the fact that his face was severely burn-scarred. In 1967, after taking LSD, he set himself on fire in Central Park. He managed to turn into a career, something that would have stunted so many other people. The Barbarians was directed by Italian director Ruggero Deodato, who had a reputation as a nasty director. Richard said of him, “Ahh, Ruggero Deodato. Yeah, he’s all bullsh#t. He’s a little man, he’s short, and he’s got a big mouth. But I love Ruggero — I had more fun working with him than anybody else. I know all about his crassness and his brutality, but you can’t let it reach you. He’s very talented, and he can be very funny — you have to have a thick skin with him. He’ll test your mettle, but when he knows that you know he’s bullshitting you … I had a lot of good times with him.”

14.  Excalibur (1981)john-boorman-excalibur

Directed by John Boorman, and starring a slew of great actors that only got better with age, this is a very ambitious re-telling of the Arthurian legend. John Boorman wanted the story to be the focus of the movie rather than the actors. Therefore, he cast actors who were relatively unknown at the time to American audiences. Among them were Gabriel Byrne (Uther), Patrick Stewart (Leondegrance),Liam Neeson (Gawain), Helen Mirren (Morgana) and Nicholas Clay (Launcelot). Only Nicol Williamson (Merlin) was relatively familiar to American moviegoers. John Boorman was originally aiming at making a movie based on “The Lord of the Rings”. However, he did not acquire the rights, and decided to make this movie instead. He has gone on to say that he loved Peter Jackson’s vision for the Lord of the Rings Trilogy, that were filmed much later and was thrilled when someone finally made the movies.

13.  Dragonslayer (1981)dragonslayer

This one is a Disney film directed by Matthew Robbins, who my brother and I liked from directing Corvette Summer and then later from The Legend of Billie Jean and Batteries Not Included. The movie as about a young wizard apprentice who goes on a quest to kill the dragon Virmithrax Pejorative, who has been eating the sacrificial maidens from a nearby town. Slow moving movie, but it has some good parts. George R.R. Martin, author of the “A Song Of Ice And Fire” novels upon which the HBO series Game of Thrones (2011) is based, has stated that Vermithrax Pejorative is “the best dragon ever shown on film.”

12.  Krull (1983)Krull

My brother and I loved the hero’s weapon in this…it looked like a giant throwing star. We would spend hours throwing frisbees at each other in the yard mimicking this movie. Directed by Peter Yates and also stars Liam Neeson in another of his seldom seen roles before he made it truly big. In this film, a maiden is kidnapped by an alien race and a band of medieval misfits  ventures out to rescue her. It can be thought of as a film where a bunch of sword wielding knights break into a fortress to fight a laser-shooting alien race, only with fire Clydesdales and a cyclops added for good measure. Show-business trade-paper ‘Variety’ described the movie as Excalibur (1981) meets Star Wars (1977)”. The movie was actually massive, taking up over 10 sound stages at Pinewood Studios. It has some great creative ideas and inventive scenes…at least in theory. Execution is a bit clunky, but you can definitely watch this and appreciate the scope of what they were trying to do.

Legendary stuntman and stunt coordinator Vic Armstrong (I write about him again later for the Indiana Jones series here) scoured allover the United Kingdom for 16 Clydesdale horses to purchase and then train. Moreover, horses from the Queen’s Household Cavalry near Buckingham Palace were borrowed and brought to the studio’s back-lot.

11.  Legend (1985)Legend

This has Ridley Scott directing Tom Cruise in their first fantasy film, but the stand-out here is definitely Tim Curry as the Lord of Darkness. It also features some of the best make-up prosthetics you will ever see on film, by make-up artist Rob Bottin and his crew. He would later be nominated for an Oscar for his work on this film, but this makeup was really hard on Tim Curry. Tim Curry had to wear a large, bull-like structure atop his head with three-foot fiberglass horns supported by a harness underneath the makeup. The horns placed a strain on the back of the actor’s neck because they extended forward and not straight up. Bottin and his crew finally came up with horns that were lightweight enough. At the end of the day, he spent an hour in a bath in order to liquefy the soluble spirit gum. At one point, Curry got too impatient and claustrophobic and pulled the makeup off too quickly, tearing off his own skin in the process. Ridley Scott felt both horrified and sorry for Curry. Scott decided he didn’t want Curry to put more make up on his torn skin, so he shot around the actor for a week.

With the exception of Tom Cruise and Mia Sara, all the principal actors spent hours every morning having extensive makeup applied. Between 8 and 12 prosthetic pieces were applied individually to each face, then made up, molded and grafted into the actor’s face so that the prosthetics moved with their muscles. Each person needed three makeup artists working on them for an average time of three and a half hours spent applying prosthetics. Out of all the characters, the most challenging one in terms of makeup was Darkness.

10.  Labyrinth (1986)Labyrinth

The first of 2 Jim Henson movies to make the list, this one features David Bowie and Jennifer Connelly. This one also features some incredible songs by Bowie. Bowie was keen to make a children’s movie, he liked the concept and found the script amusing and of more interest to him than many other contemporary special effects movies. The movie is about a selfish 16-year old girl who is given 13 hours to solve a labyrinth and rescue her baby brother when her wish for him to be taken away is granted by the Goblin King.

9.  Dark Crystal (1982)The Dark Crystal

This one was co-directed by Jim Henson and Frank Oz. Frank Oz would go on to direct so many good films over the next 20 years. Hard to believe he started out as a puppeteer, but he’s so creative and talented, it taught him a lot of the things he needed to become a top director. This movie is about a Gelfling who embarks on a quest to find the missing shard of a magical crystal in order to restore order to his world. All the characters in the film are all puppets. Conceptual designer Brian Froud was behind the look and feel of virtually every aspect of the film’s production, from creatures and landscapes right down to the font of the opening title. In total, it took up five years of his life. He was also the conceptual designer for Labyrinth. Froud and puppet designer Wendy Midener met on the set of the Dark Crystal and were later married.

8.  NeverEnding Story (1984)neverending story

This film is about a troubled boy who dives into a wondrous fantasy world through the pages of a mysterious book. This is directed by Wolfgang Petersen, and is a very inventive movie. It’s a favorite of a lot of the kids who grew up in the 80’s. It’s actually a film shot and produced in Germany, based on a book by the very popular author Michael Ende.

7.  Beastmaster (1982)beastmaster

Beastmaster is a sword-and-sorcery fantasy about a young man’s search for revenge. Armed with supernatural powers, the handsome hero and his animal allies wage war against marauding forces. Directed by Don Coscarelli and starring Marc Singer and Tanya Roberts. Producer Dino De Laurentiis liked the movie and offered Don Coscarelli to direct Conan the Destroyer (1984). Coscarelli declined because he thought the script was quite bad. Hence the reason that movie, doesn’t make this list. Coscarelli decided to set the story in a sort of Bronze Age milieu because he was a long time fan of Steve Reeves, Ray Harryhausen and sword and sandal flicks. Ironically, Ray Harryhausen made this list next at number…

6.  Clash of the Titans (1981)THE KRAKEN CLASH OF THE TITANS (1981)

This is a film adaption of the myth of Perseus and his quest to battle both Medusa and the Kraken monster to save the Princess Andromeda, directed by Desmond Davis and special effects by Ray Harryhausen. Funny thing about the title of the film, no actual Titans actually appear in the film as the “Titans” were the gods who preceded the Olympians in power. Kronos (also spelled Cronus) and Atlas were the most famous Titans. In the movie, the Titans are the Norse Kraken (who never appeared in Greek mythology at all) and Medusa (who was never considered a Titan by the Greeks).

5. Conan the Barbarian (1982)conan-the-barbarian

1982 was an amazing year as a lot of the films on this list were released in 1982 as well as ET, Blade Runner, The Thing, Poltergeist, Star Trek II: Wrath of Khan, Tron, First Blood, and Tootsie! Conan was directed by John Milius and stars Arnold Schwarzenegger as Conan. There’s a lot of stunts in this film, Arnold Schwarzenegger had weapons training, martial arts training, and horse riding lessons from specialists. He trained with an 11-pound broadsword two hours a day for three months, and learned how to handle one; each broadsword cost $10,000 and had to look weathered. He also learned climbing techniques, and how to fall and roll and jump from 15-feet in the air. John Milius made sure all of these were videotaped, and according to Schwarzenegger, they were just as intense as training for bodybuilding competitions. Franco Columbu was his trainer and was rewarded with a small part in the film. Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sandahl Bergman did their own stunts, as suitable body doubles couldn’t be found. Arnold Schwarzenegger modelled his performance as Conan after Steve Reeves and his performances as Hercules. Conan was created by Author Robert E. Howard.

4.  Sword and the Sorcerer (1982)sword and the sorcerer

This is the other film on the list that features the actor Richard Lynch. It’s actually my favorite Sword and Sandal film of all time. I think it’s even better than Conan, and it’s crazy to me that nobody knows about it. I even watched it recently and it totally holds up over time. This is simply a great little unknown film! It’s about a mercenary with a three-bladed sword who rediscovers his royal heritage’s dangerous future when he is recruited to help a princess foil the designs of a brutal tyrant and a powerful sorcerer in conquering a land. It stars Lee Horsely, who my brother and I loved as Matt Houston!

3.  Ladyhawke (1985)Layout 1

The real reason to watch this is Matthew Broderick. He’s just fantastic as the mouse, the thief that technically narrates the film. He is so good that I thought he should have been nominated for an Oscar that year.  The film is directed by the incredible Richard Donner and is also memorable for the score of the film by Andrew Powell and Alan Parsons from the Alan Parsons Project. They are my favorite “band” (in quotes because they’re not really a band, more like studio produced music, but still awesome). The movie is about Captain Etienne Navarre, who is a man on whose shoulders lie a cruel curse. Punished for loving each other, Navarre must become a wolf by night whilst his lover, Lady Isabeau, takes the form of a hawk by day. Together, with the thief Philippe Gaston, they must try to overthrow the corrupt Bishop and in doing so break the spell.

2.  Willow (1988)Willow

Ron Howard directed this fantasy film based on the story by George Lucas. You can really tell by this time that Ron Howard was going to be one of the very best directors ever. The film is about, Willow Ufgood, a reluctant dwarf who must play a critical role in protecting a special baby from an evil queen. George Lucas specifically wrote this film for Warwick Davis after meeting him on the set of Return of the Jedi (1983). The box office receipts were less than expected (but still very good when considering International and Video/DVD sales), so writer George Lucas continued Willow’s story in books rather than in movie sequels. The three books are collectively known as “The Chronicles of the Shadow War” and share a writers credit for Chris Claremont and Lucas. They are: “Shadow Moon” (1995), “Shadow Dawn” (1996) and “Shadow Star” (2000). I enjoyed Val Kilmer in this movie a great deal. I heard later that much of his dialogue for this film was ad-libbed by him. Various major film studios turned down the chance to distribute and co-finance it with Lucasfilm because they believed the fantasy genre was unsuccessful. This was largely due to films such Dragonslayer (1981), Krull (1983), Legend (1985) and Labyrinth (1986). (Argh! That’s almost half of my list!)

1.  The Princess Bride (1987)princessbride

The ultimate fantasy film and a lot of people’s favorite, including mine. Directed by Rob Reiner.  A lot of people think this is his finest film. The film is about the lovely Buttercup, who  is kidnapped by a ghastly gang intent on fermenting an international incident. They find they are pursued by the Dread Pirate Roberts who just might be Westley, her one true love. Also after everyone is nasty Prince Humperdinck to whom Buttercup is now betrothed but who seems to care little for her continued survival. The stage is set for swordfights, monsters, revenge and torture…and of course, true love. It has a fantastic cast which includes Mandy Patinkin, Cary Elwes, Christopher Guest, Andre The Giant, Robin Wright, Billy Crystal, Mel Smith, Wallace Shawn, Chris Sarandon, Peter Falk, Fred Savage, Peter Cook and Carol Kane. Cary Elwes was cast because of what Rob Reiner called his Douglas Fairbanks or Errol Flynn quality. Fairbanks and Flynn both played Robin Hood (Fairbanks in Robin Hood (1922) (which I discuss in a blog post here) and Flynn in The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938) (which I discuss in a blog post here). Elwes would later spoof their performances in Robin Hood: Men in Tights (1993). Ironically, the costume for Wesley as the Dread Pirate Roberts was designed after Douglas Fairbanks in The Mark of Zorro (1920). You can see pictures of him in a blog I wrote here.

In order to create the Greatest Swordfight in Modern Times, Cary Elwes and Mandy Patinkin trained for months with Peter Diamond and Bob Anderson, who between them had been in the Olympics; worked on Bond, Lord of the Rings, Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981), and Star Wars films; and coached Errol Flynn and Burt Lancaster. Every spare moment on set was spent practicing. Eventually, when they showed Rob Reiner the swordfight for the movie, he was underwhelmed and requested that it be at least three minutes long rather than the current one minute. They added steps to the set, watched more swashbuckling movies for inspiration, re-choreographed the scene, and ended up with a three minute and 10 second fight which took the better part of a week to film from all angles. This is my favorite scene in the movie.