Top 15 Gene Wilder Movies

 

Many of us were shocked to hear of Gene Wilder’s death this week due to complications of Alzheimer’s disease, and so it’s given us a chance to pause and think about this great actor and comedian. It was interesting to me listen to a recent interview of his and he said that he really didn’t consider himself to be a comedian as he didn’t find himself to be very funny. That may be true, but to us, he was hilarious. Here is my list of his top 15 movies, let’s see if your list would be similar to mine:

15.  Thursday’s Game (1974)Thursday's Game

This would be a banner year for Gene Wilder as 3 of the movies on this list were released in 1974. 2 of them would be considered to be “classics” to most people. Classify this one as a forgotten little gem. Thursday’s Game was released as a TV movie and starred Gene with a great cast of comedians with Bob Newhart, Cloris Leachman, Ellen Burstyn, Nancy Walker, Valerie Harper, Norman Fell, Rob Reiner and Martha Scott. The movie is about two guys who’ve been going to a Thursday night poker game for years, when suddenly a disagreement breaks up the game. The two guys then decide to keep getting together every Thursday night doing different things, under the pretense that the game is still going on. When the wives find out they are upset and wondering what they’ve been doing all that time. The budget for this film was so tight that the wardrobe department was practically non-existent. According to Gene Wilder, he and co-star Bob Newhart had to make do with their actual clothes.

14.  The Producers (1967)Producers

We mention the Producers in another blog, CLICK HERE TO READ THAT BLOG POST.  Mel Brooks is almost synonymous with Gene Wilder as they made 3 movies together. These 3 are almost always mentioned as their top 3 movies respectively.  That wasn’t always the case, as the Producers flopped initially but found new life when Mel made it into a smash hit on Broadway. Now, of course, Zero Mostel and Gene Wilder were great in this but, Kenneth Mars is also really fantastic in this as well. I talk about him in a blog CLICK HERE.

13.  Haunted Honeymoon (1986)haunted-honeymoon

I find Dom Deluise to be hilarious, but put him in drag and he’s drop dead funny. Gene and Dom appeared in 4 movies together. Now, if you don’t know already, Gene Wilder was a wonderful writer and director in his own right and this is one of the films he wrote and directed. It also stars his then wife and comedian Gilda Radner. This is a notable entry also because it was Gilda’s last movie before she died of cancer. It did not do well at the box office, but I like it because of the 3 actors and I especially like the scenes from the radio show.

12.  Adventures of Sherlock Holmes’ Smarter Brother (1975)the-adventures-of-sherlock-holmes-smarter-brother

Gene reunites with Madeline Kahn and Marty Feldman in this gem that he also wrote and directed after they did Young Frankenstein. Favorites of mine, Dom Deluise, Leo McKern and Roy Kinnear round out the cast! Originally, Gene tried to get Mel Brooks to direct this film as well, after they did Young Frankenstein, but he declined and convinced Gene that he could direct it himself. Gen would go on to direct 4 movies and 1 segment of a 5th one. This one is my favorite of all the films he directed.

11.  Death of a Salesman (1966)deathofasalesman

Up until Gene did the made-for-tv version of Death of a Salesman in 1966, he only had acted in a handful of TV shows. It was this film that ultimately put him on the path of stardom. This movie was relatively forgotten over time but had some very strong performances and included some very fine actors with Lee J. Cobb leading the cast. In his autobiography “Timebends”, Arthur Miller says that Lee J. Cobb was his favorite Willy Loman. The original Broadway production of “Death of a Salesman” by Arthur Miller opened at the Morosco Theater on February 10, 1949, ran for 742 performances and won the 1949 Tony Award (New York City) for the Best Play and the Pulitzer Prize. Lee J. Cobb recreated his stage role 17 years later in this television production.

10.  Murder in a Small Town (1999)murder in a small town

Gene Wilder would write 8 movies over his career and a segment of a 9th one. This is the 2nd to the last one he would write and was 1 of 2 mysteries featuring his Cash Carter character for A&E. I enjoy a good mystery and for some reason I really like it when my mysteries are a little understated as these two mysteries are. This one is about a widowed theatre director who moves to a small Connecticut town where he gets involved in solving the murder of a millionaire, who was the most despised man in town. Gene is very good in this.

9.  Start the Revolution Without Me (1970)start the revolution without me

When 1 Gene Wilder is not enough, we get two! This one has Gene and Donald Sutherland playing two mismatched sets of identical twins – one aristocrat, one peasant – who mistakenly exchange identities on the eve of the French Revolution. Gene Wilder originally wanted Charles Grodin to play the part of Charles/Pierre, but Grodin declined, having committed to directing the original Broadway production of Lovers and Other Strangers, which would have been really fun to see, but Donald does a great job. Gene liked this film especially because he got to fence. Gene was already adept with a sword from his days on his college fencing team.

8.  Bonnie and Clyde (1967)bonnie-clyde-gene-laughing

In less than a year after his appearance in Death of a Salesman, Gene would be cast in 2 films Bonnie and Clyde and The Producers. He would never look back. In Bonnie and Clyde, he got to work with Warren Beatty, Faye Dunaway, Gene Hackman, Estelle Parsons, Denver Pyle and Michael J. Pollard. This was technically his theatrical feature film debut. Gene Hackman and Gene Wilder would later appear together in Young Frankenstein (1974). Hackman had a small, uncredited cameo as the blind hermit while Wilder portrayed the title character.

7.  Stir Crazy (1980)

We talk about the greatest comedy teams of all time in a previous blog post, CLICK HERE TO VIEW THAT BLOG…but definitely one of the best comedy teams of all time would have to be Gene Wilder and Richard Pryor. They hit the list with 3 of their collaborations…almost 4, more on that in a sec…Stir-Crazy

Sidney Poitier directed this movie, and enjoyed working with Gene and Richard, even though Richard was sometimes difficult to work with on this production due to his frequent drug use. When they clicked, they were quite funny.  Sidney would let them improvise during scenes for the movie. This is one of the four movies Pryor and Wilder teamed together, and was the most successful of the four at the box-office. There was no doubting their second match-up was an all-around success. “Our instincts seem to coalesce. The difference, this time, is that ‘Stir Crazy’ is an out-and-out comedy while Silver Streak (1976) was a mixture of mystery, adventure and romance”. Pryor interjected: “You might say that our Pryor picture was a ball but this one is Wilder”. Wilder responded: “You might,” needles Wilder, “But you’ll say anything”.

6.  Blazing Saddles (1974)

Full shot of Cleavon Little as Bart offering whiskey bottle for Gene Wilder as Jim, both seated in sheriff's office. PHOTOGRAPHS TO BE USED SOLELY FOR ADVERTISING, PROMOTION, PUBLICITY OR REVIEWS OF THIS SPECIFIC MOTION PICTURE AND TO REMAIN THE PROPERTY OF THE STUDIO. NOT FOR SALE OR REDISTRIBUTION. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

Here’s the almost in that last paragraph…believe it or not, Richard Pryor was set to play the role that eventually went to Clevon Little in Blazing Saddles. Richard Pryor even wrote some of the script with Mel Brooks. Although, Gene Wilder was not the original choice for his role either. They had cast and went into production with Gig Young, but he was coming off of alcohol and couldn’t function properly and Mel had to call upon his friend Gene to fly out last second to fill in, as a personal favor to him. One of the best comedy pairings of all time almost happened, two years before they finally appeared together in Silver Streak.

5.  Young Frankenstein (1974)young frankenstein

First film written by Gene Wilder and the only film directed by Mel Brooks, that Mel didn’t write. He didn’t direct anything he didn’t also write, but Gene talked him into directing as a personal favor to him. According to Mel Brooks (in the commentary for Spaceballs (1987)) when Gene Wilder came on to Blazing Saddles at the last minute as a favor to Mel, he requested that Mel Brooks do “his” movie idea next; that movie turned out to be this film. It was a perfect match. Gene Wilder has stated that this is his favorite of all the films he’s made. The cast and especially Mel Brooks had so much fun and were so upset when principal photography was almost completed, that Mel added scenes to continue shooting.

4.  See No Evil, Hear No Evil (1989)See no evil hear no evil

I forgot Kevin Spacey was in this with Gene Wilder, Richard Pryor and Joan Severance. Gene Wilder almost wasn’t in this movie. Per his autobiography, he turned the script down twice (due to its treatment of the deaf and the blind). He intended to do the same when offered it a third time, but his agent talked him into meeting with TriStar (the studio behind the film). The TriStar people asked Gene to re-write the script for himself and Richard Pryor, which he agreed to do…and the rest is history. Gene Wilder went to the NY League for the Hard of Hearing to study for his role. There he was assigned to speech pathologist Karen Webb, who would ultimately become his fourth wife. They were married 25 years, up until his death. With its dead body murder plot and villainous crime characters, the movie returned director Arthur Hiller and stars Gene Wilder and Richard Pryor to the suspense-adventure-comedy genre that had made their earlier picture Silver Streak a success around thirteen years earlier.

3.  Frisco Kid (1979)The_Frisco_Kid

Now this one is probably the biggest surprise on the list, but it’s just so under-appreciated! Not only is Gene Wilder pitch-perfect in this film as a Jewish Rabbi, Harrison Ford plays an old school cowboy like he was born to it. I just love this movie. In his autobiography, Gene Wilder says that John Wayne was offered the part that was eventually played by Harrison Ford. Wayne loved the role and was eager to work with Wilder. However, an agent tried to offer Wayne less than his usual fee and the legendary actor turned the film down. The sad thing about this movie is that it was a flop when released and has had a very small but devoted following on VHS and DVD…but it’s a wonderful film!

2.  Silver Streak (1976)Silver-Streak

One of five movies where actor Gene Wilder plays a man wrongly accused of committing a crime. The films include Silver Streak (1976), The Frisco Kid (1979), Stir Crazy (1980), Hanky Panky (1982), and See No Evil, Hear No Evil (1989). Actor Gene Wilder loved his part because he could get to do scenes which were fitting of Errol Flynn doing action or Cary Grant being romantic. When meeting Gene Wilder after having seen Silver Streak, Cary Grant asked him if the script had been in anyway inspired by North by Northwest (1959). As Wilder admitted it was correct, Grant then added, “I knew it! Have you noticed that each time you take ordinary people, say, like you and me, then take them in a situation way above their heads, it makes a great thriller?” First of two consecutive comedy thrillers written by Colin Higgins. The second released two years later was Foul Play (1978). Higgins conceived “Silver Streak” in mid 1974 when he was traveling by train from LA to Chicago. We talk about Foul Play in another blog post, CLICK HERE TO READ IT.

On a sad note…Director Arthur Hiller and co-star Gene Wilder died within 12 days of each other.

1  Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (1971)

This is number 1 for me. It’s his most iconic role and to be honest, one of my favorite films of all time. willy wonka

According to director Mel Stuart’s “Pure Imagination: The Making of Willy Wonka”, when Gene Wilder walked in to audition, Stuart knew before he’d even uttered a single word that he had found his Willy Wonka. The audition convinced him even further, so when Wilder finished and left the room, Stuart chased him down the hallway, cut him off at the elevator bank, grabbed his arm and told him “You’re doing this picture, no two ways about it! You are Willy Wonka!” Producer David L. Wolper, however, was furious because he hadn’t yet had the chance to negotiate a fee. After reading the script, Gene Wilder said he would take the role of Willy Wonka under one condition: that he would be allowed to limp, then suddenly somersault in the scene when he first meets the children. When the director asked why, Gene Wilder replied that having Wonka do this meant that “from that time on, no one will know if I’m lying or telling the truth.” The director asked, “If I say no, you won’t do the picture?”, and Gene Wilder said “I’m afraid that’s the truth.” Even Julie Dawn Cole was fooled by the scene in which Willy limps out of his factory to greet the Golden Ticket winners. She mentions in the DVD commentary that she thought that Gene Wilder had injured his leg for real (and that the filming would have to be temporarily halted because of it). This resulted in her being just as stunned by Willy’s somersault as the audience is.

Peter Ostrum, who played Charlie, got very close to Gene while filming. He later told ABC News, “As a young actor filming ‘Willy Wonka,’ I had the rare privilege of working with Gene who I greatly admired,” he continued. “He became my mentor and personal friend. For that I will always be grateful. So shines a good deed in a weary world.”

Top 15 Films Directed by Howard Hawks

 

One of my all time favorite directors is the amazing Howard Hawks! He has so many classics to his name people don’t know what category to put him in and so often he gets missed because he was so all-around great at directing anything and everything. One of the very best things about him is that he doesn’t do a lot of tricks with the camera. He nails the camera down and lets the story unfold and captivate the audience. He was simple and because of that, his style paired well with every genre as he made masterpieces in comedy, film noir, action, drama, western, science fiction, gangster…you name it, it’s there. His dialogue is rapid-fire…his scripts were 3 times longer than anyone else’s and he set the bar very high for his actors. Here are my top 15 favorite Howard Hawks films:

15.  The Dawn Patrol (1930)Dawn Patrol

He never got over the plane crash death of his brother Kenneth Hawks of whom, Howard later said, probably had the potential to be an even greater filmmaker than himself. Nonetheless, he continued to fly after his brother’s death and went on to shoot many films about pilots, like this film and the next one on the list. The Dawn Patrol was released 8 months after his brother’s death. Director Howard Hawks, also was a pilot in the US Army during World War I, and he flew in the battle scenes of this movie as a German pilot. Remade eight years later with Errol Flynn and David Niven virtually word -for-word.

14.  Only Angels Have Wings (1939)

Howard Hawks, definitely had his favorite stars to work with. One of his favorite actors was Cary Grant. He worked with him 5 times and all but Monkey Business (1952) has made my list. He said of Grant, “Cary Grant was so far the best that there isn’t anybody to be compared to him.”  Now, in return, Howard Hawks and Jean Arthur did not get along during filming. Arthur was not used to Hawks’ highly improvisational style, and when Hawks wanted Arthur to play Bonnie much in a subtly sexy way (not unlike his other “Hawksian women”, Arthur flatly said, “I can’t do that kind of stuff.” Hawks told Arthur at the end of the shoot, “You are one of the few people I’ve worked with that I don’t think I’ve helped at all. Someday you can go see what I wanted to do because I’m gonna do this character all over again.” Years later Hawks returned home to find Arthur waiting for him in his driveway. She had just seen his To Have and Have Not (1944) and confessed, “I wish I’d done what you’d asked me to do. If you ever make another picture with me, I’ll promise to do any goddamn thing you want to do. If a kid (Lauren Bacall) can come in and do that kind of stuff, I certainly could do it.” Hawks and Arthur never collaborated again.Only Angels Have Wings

A lot of the film was from Hawks own experiences as a pilot. A certain critic said, “It’s the only picture Hawks ever made that didn’t have any truth in it”. Hawks shot back, “I wrote him a letter and said, “Every blooming thing in that movie was true. I knew the men that were in it and everything about it”. But it was just where truth was stranger than fiction.” For example, Howard Hawks had known a real-life flier who once parachuted from a burning plane. His copilot died in the ensuing crash and his fellow pilots shunned him for the rest of his life. In this film, Richard Barthelmess plays a pilot who is shunned because he jumped out of a plane and left his mechanic to die. In another scene, with the exception of the rain, The Kid’s death scene was copied nearly exactly and word-per-word from a pilot’s death that Hawks had actually witnessed years before.

13.  Red River (1948)Red River lobby card

Another actor that Hawks frequently worked with was John Wayne. After seeing John Wayne’s performance in the film, directed by rival director Howard Hawks, John Ford is quoted as saying, “I never knew the big son of a bitch could act.” This led to Ford casting Wayne in more complex roles in films like She Wore a Yellow Ribbon (1949) and The Searchers (1956). When Ford was dying they used to discuss how hard it was to make a western without Wayne. “John Wayne represents more force, more power, than anybody else on the screen,” Hawks would say later. “He never squawks about anything. He’s the easiest person I ever worked with. Because he never says anything about it, he just goes ahead and does it.” He would add, “Wayne is underrated. He’s an awfully good actor. He holds a thing together; he gives it a solidity and honesty, and he can make a lot of things believable.” Hawks worked with Wayne in 5 movies as well, in Red River, Rio Bravo, Hitari! (1962), El Dorado (1967) and Rio Lobo (1970).

Filmed in 1946 but held for release for two years, in part due to legal problems with Howard Hughes who claimed it was similar to his The Outlaw (1943). Writer Borden Chase readily admitted that the storyline was Mutiny on the Bounty (1935) with saddles and stirrups.

12.  Ball of Fire (1941)Ball of Fire lobby Card

This is a splendid take on Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs as if Snow White was a wisecracking nightclub singer and the seven dwarfs were seven educated college professors. Gary Cooper and Barbara Standwick work together for the 2nd time in 1941 (the first time being the marvelous Frank Capra film, Meet John Doe), and they are magic. The roles of the seven professors (besides Gary Cooper) were inspired by Disney’s Seven Dwarfs. There is even a photograph showing the actors sitting in front of a Disney poster, each one in front of his corresponding dwarf: S.Z. Sakall – Dopey; Leonid Kinskey – Sneezy; Richard Haydn – Bashful; Henry Travers – Sleepy; Aubrey Mather – Happy; Tully Marshall – Grumpy, and Oskar Homolka – Doc.

11.  Scarface (1932)

As of the fifth edition of “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die” (edited by Steven Schneider), 11 of Hawks’ films are included, second only to Alfred Hitchcock in abundance. The films are: Scarface (1932), Bringing Up Baby (1938), Only Angels Have Wings (1939), His Girl Friday (1940), Sergeant York (1941), To Have and Have Not(1944), The Big Sleep (1946), Red River (1948), The Big Sky (1952), Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1953) and Rio Bravo (1959).Scarface-Half-Sheet

Screenwriter Ben Hecht was a former Chicago journalist familiar with the city’s Prohibition-era gangsters, including Al Capone. During the filming Hecht returned to his Los Angeles hotel room one night to find two Capone torpedoes waiting for him. The gangsters demanded to know if the movie was about Capone. Hecht assured them it wasn’t, saying that the character Tony Camonte was based on gangsters like “Big” Jim Colosimo and Charles Dion O’Bannion. “Then why is the movie called Scarface?” one of the hoods demanded. “Everyone will think it’s about Capone!” “That’s the reason,” said Hecht. “If you call the movie Scarface (1932), people will think it’s about Capone and come to see it. It’s part of the racket we call show business.” The Capone hoods, who appreciated the value of a scam, left the hotel placated.

Al Capone was rumored to have liked the film so much that he had his own copy of it, on 35mm film.

10.  Twentieth Century (1934)twentieth century lobby card

When asked by John Barrymore why he should play the role of Oscar, Howard Hawks replied, “It’s the story of the biggest ham on earth and you’re the biggest ham I know.” Barrymore accepted at once. John Barrymore once said that the role of Oscar was “a role that comes once in a lifetime” and even deemed this his favorite of all the movies he appeared in.  After filming had ended, John Barrymore gave Carole Lombard an autographed photo inscribed, “To the finest actress I have worked with, bar none.”  Howard Hawks allowed John Barrymore and Carole Lombard to improvise freely during filming. “When people are as good as those two, the idea of just sticking to lines is rather ridiculous,” he told Peter Bogdanovich in an interview. “Because if Barrymore gets going, and he had the ability to do it, I’d just say, ‘Go do it.’ And Lombard would answer him; she was such a character, just marvelous.”

9.  Sergeant York (1941)

Hawks had said in interviews that he was supposed to direct the now-beloved Casablanca (1942) and Michael Curtiz was meant to direct Sergeant York (1941). However, the two directors had lunch together and Curtiz complained that he knew nothing about the “hill people”, while Hawks was struggling to make this “musical comedy”, so they switched films. Hawks said that he always considered “Casablanca” a musical comedy because of the number of singing scenes in the café, namely the “La Marseillaise” scene. Later, Hawks said that Curtiz shot the film “beautifully and the whole picture came out different because of the two people in it [Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman]. They made you believe something. When I saw ‘Casablanca’ I liked it, but I never had any faith in my doing anything like that.” (Book Source: “Who the Devil Made it...” by Peter Bogdanovich).sergeant york

Even though he was one of the most prolific directors of his generation, having directed five actors to Oscar nominations, he himself has only been nominated for an Academy Award once. It was for Sergeant York and he lost to John Ford for How Green is My Valley.

8.  Bringing Up Baby (1938)

Directed three of the American Film Institute’s 100 Funniest Movies: Bringing Up Baby (1938) at #14, His Girl Friday (1940) at #19 and Ball of Fire (1941) at #92. I discuss this film in a little detail on my post about Cary Grant’s finest films:  CLICK HERE TO READ THIS POST. This film is the inspiration for Peter Bogdanovich’s movie What’s Up, Doc? with Barbra Steisand and Ryan O’Neal.Bringing Up baby Lobby Card

The scene in which Susan’s dress is ripped was inspired by something that happened to Cary Grant. He was at the Roxy Theater one night and his pants zipper was down when it caught on the back of a woman’s dress. Grant impulsively followed her. When he told this story to Howard Hawks, Hawks loved it and put it into the film. Christopher Reeve based his performance as Clark Kent in four “Superman” movies on Cary Grant’s “David Huxley” from this film. Now, truth is Howard Hawks modeled Cary Grant’s character, David, on silent film comedian Harold Lloyd, even having Grant wear glasses like the comedian. So we can thank Harold Lloyd for this movie, What’s Up, Doc? and 4 Superman movies!

7.  To Have and Have Not (1944)

Screen debut of Betty Bacall, who Hawks renamed Lauren Bacall. He thought it sounded better. Hawks’ wife saw her on the cover of a magazine and persuaded him to put her in the movie. Humphrey Bogart and Bacall met and fell in love in this movie and were married a year later. They were married up until his death.  Many aspects of Lauren Bacall’s screen persona in To Have and Have Not were based on Hawks’ wife, Slim (nicknamed by Hawks), including her glamorous dresses, long blonde hair, smoky voice and demure, mysterious demeanor. Humphrey Bogart’s character also refer to Bacall by the nickname “Slim” in the movie.To Have and Have Not Lobby Card

He said of Bacall, “We discovered Bacall was a little girl who, when she becomes insolent, becomes rather attractive. That was the only way you noticed her, because she could do it with a grin. So I said to Bogie (Humphrey Bogart), “We are going to try an interesting thing. You are about the most insolent man on the screen and I’m going to make this girl a little more insolent than you are.””

6.  Man’s Favorite Sport (1964)Mans Favorite Sport Lobby Card

This film was meant to be an homage/remake to Hawks’ Bringing Up Baby (1938), and Hawks even wanted Katharine Hepburn and Cary Grant to star in the movie. Katherine Hepburn and Cary grant turned the movie down however and Paula Prentiss and Rock Hudson was cast instead. It’s a great and fun movie and I think it’s my 2nd favorite movie with Rock Hudson behind the magnificent Pillow Talk with Doris Day. The screwball formula is there, however, and I especially love it when the female is the nutty and manic one of the two people in a screwball comedy as Paula is in this one.  She really puts Rock through some really rough things in this one. Fun…

5.  The Thing From Another World (1951) (uncredited)The Thing From Another World Lobby Card

Was the uncredited “ghost director” on the science-fiction classic The Thing from Another World (1951), for which his longtime editor and friend Christian Nyby received sole credit. It was only near the end of Hawks’ life that both he and Nyby conceded that he had indeed directed most of the film, as had long been rumored. On the other hand, several of the film’s cast members…James Arness was adamant in interviews that Nyby did in fact direct the film by himself, although Hawks–as the film’s producer–did have input. As opposed to that interview with James Arness, the film’s Star, Kenneth Tobey has maintained in many interviews that it was indeed Hawks who directed the film. Tobey said that he had worked with Nyby after this film on many occasions and he was a fine director, but Hawks did call the shots on most of the film. Regardless, I’ll add it here, as the film is fabulous! I write about this movie in some detail regarding the stunt  work for the film: PLEASE CLICK HERE TO READ.

4.  I Was a Male War Bride (1949)I Was A Male War Bride Lobby Card

This film was based on I Was an Alien Spouse of Female Military Personnel Enroute to the United States Under Public Law 271 of the Congress, a biography of Henri Rochard, a Belgian who married an American nurse. It is the story of French Army officer Henri Rochard (Grant) who must pass as a war bride in order to go back to the United States with Women’s Army Corps officer Catherine Gates (Ann Sheridan). The film is noted as being a low key screwball comedy with a famous final sequence featuring Cary Grant impersonating a female Army nurse. I find this film to be hilarious…I discuss this film in a little detail on my post about Cary Grant’s finest films:  CLICK HERE TO READ THIS POST. The film was Howard Hawks’ 3rd highest grosser, behind only Sergeant York (1941) and Red River (1948)

3.  Rio Bravo (1959)Rio Bravo

Hawks would say in an interview, “Rio Bravo (1959) was made because I didn’t like a picture called High Noon (1952). I saw “High Noon” at about the same time I saw another western picture, and we were talking about western pictures and they asked me if I liked it, and I said, “Not particularly”. I didn’t think a good sheriff was going to go running around town like a chicken with his head off asking for help, and finally his Quaker wife had to save him. That isn’t my idea of a good western sheriff. I said that a good sheriff would turn around and say, “How good are you? Are you good enough to take the best man they’ve got?” The fellow would probably say no, and he’d say, “Well, then I’d just have to take care of you”. And that scene was in Rio Bravo.”

Quentin Tarantino said that Hawks’ Rio Bravo, may be his favorite movie of all time. Now, I’m not sure I would praise the film this way, but I will say this…it is my favorite Western I’ve ever seen and remains so to this day.

2.  His Girl Friday (1940)His Girl Friday (Lobby Card) 1940

I discuss this film twice in our blog, once in a little detail on my post about Cary Grant’s finest films and then again in a post when I mention how the film was made from a play called the Front Page:  CLICK HERE TO READ THIS POST ABOUT CARY GRANT. CLICK HERE TO READ THIS POST ABOUT THE FRONT PAGE.

One of the first, if not the first, films to have characters talk over the lines of other characters, for a more realistic sound. Prior to this, movie characters completed their lines before the next lines were started. The film could have been another pairing of Grant with Katherine Hepburn, as she was offered the role of Hildy, but she ultimately turned it down and the part when to Rosalind Russell.

1.  The Big Sleep (1946)

This film was co-written by Hawks and frequent collaborator William Faulkner, who also wrote To Have and Have Not with him. It’s one of my all time favorite films and is just perfect from start to finish. William Faulkner never adjusted to life in Hollywood. While working on the script, he told Howard Hawks that the studio atmosphere was stifling him and asked if he could work at home. Hawks agreed. After a few days without hearing from the writer, Hawks called his hotel, only to learn that Faulkner had checked out and gone back to his native Mississippi. When Hawks called him there, Faulkner protested, “Well, you said I could go home and write, didn’t you?”the-big-sleep Lobby Card

Howard Hawks enjoyed working with Humphrey Bogart and always called him “Bogie”. He would say of Bogie, “He was an extremely hard-working actor. He’d always pretend that he wasn’t, that he didn’t give a damn, but that wasn’t true. One day I said to him, “Bogie, you’re just a great big phony.” He put his finger to his lips and grinned at me. “Sure,” he said, “but don’t tell anyone.”” There was even a funny moment in a book store for Bogart where he acts like a nerd. The fussy persona that Marlowe adopts upon arriving in Geiger’s bookstore has been a subject of argument for years; Lauren Bacall said that Humphrey Bogart came up with it while Howard Hawks claimed in interviews that it was his idea. What both of them failed to notice is that it was in the original book (“I had my horn-rimmed glasses on. I put my voice high and let a bird twitter in it.) So in the end, all Bogart did was elaborate on it. According to Lauren Bacall, production was such fun, that they got a memo from Jack L. Warner saying “Word has reached me that you are having fun on the set. This must stop.”

 

David Swift, Man of Many Hats

 

David Swift had notable credits as an animator, director, writer, producer, musician and actor…it’s as if there was nothing he couldn’t do! David started out as an animator for Disney’s early films from Snow White to Peter Pan, but then soon moved over as a writer for a bunch of TV shows like Norby and Mister Peepers and then moved again to directing.David Swift and Pollyanna

As a writer-director he started with a hit right out of the gate when he made the feature films Pollyanna for Disney in 1960 and then followed it up with The Parent Trap in 1961. Both films starred Haley Mills and both are still amazing family films!  According to director David Swift, after looking at 362 girls for the part of Pollyanna, they still did not have anyone to play the part. One day, Walt Disney’s wife Lilly went shopping with Disney studio head Bill Anderson’s wife while they were in London on business. The two ladies saw Hayley Mills in Tiger Bay (1959) and thought she was perfect for the role of Pollyanna. The two men didn’t listen to them, but they were so persistent that the men finally agreed to watch the movie and immediately decided to cast Hayley.David Swift and The Parent Trap

There’s a lot of very fine character actors in these films as well with Jane Wyman, Adolphe Menjou, Nancy Olsen, Karl Malden, Kevin Corcorin and Agnes Moorehead in Pollyanna and Brian Keith, Maureen O’Hara, Charles Ruggles, and Joanna Barnes in The Parent Trap. He has a real talent for putting together very talented casts. He continued this trend with Under the Yum Yum Tree in 1963 with Jack Lemmon, Carol Lynley, Dean Jones, Paul Lynde, Edie Adams, Imogene Coca, and Bill Bixby and with How to Succeed in Business Without Even Trying in 1967 with Robert Morse, Rudy Vallee, and Michele Lee.David Swift and Under the Yum Yum TreeThe original Broadway production of “How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying” opened at the Forty-sixth Street Theater in New York on October 14, 1961, ran for 1417 performances and won the 1962 Tony Awards for the Best Musical and Book and was nominated for Best Score. Robert Morse (Winner of the 1962 Tony Award for Best Actor in a Musical), Rudy Vallee, Ruth Kobart and Sammy Smith recreated their stage roles for the movie version.David Swift and How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying

I also want to mention that he wrote the screenplay for one of my favorite Disney movies of the 70’s…Candleshoe, in 1977 starring Jodie Foster, Helen Hayes, David Niven, and Leo McKern. Interestingly enough, I loved Jodie Foster in this, but she’s the reason he ultimately didn’t direct this film. He developed this project for Disney for several years and was intially set to direct it. However, he felt Jodie Foster (then one of the most popular teenage actresses in the country) was all wrong for the part of Casey and stepped down. I believe he was wrong, as she’s great in this movie.David Swift and Candleshoe

Final of four cinema movies that Jodie Foster made with the Walt Disney Pictures studios during the 1970s. The feature films include Candleshoe (1977),Freaky Friday (1976), One Little Indian (1973) and Napoleon and Samantha (1972). During this period, Foster also made a fifth Disney feature title, but made for television, it being the tele-movie Menace on the Mountain (1970), the first of the 70s era batch.

Gattaca, The Eighth Day

 

Now, when the script was originally written, it went out to companies without a title. Not that Andrew Niccol, the writer and the director was trying to be clever, he just couldn’t think of a proper title. While the film was being shot the title was The Eighth Day, which is a reference to the biblical story of creation…in six days God created the Earth and on the 7th day, God rested. It refers to the fact that man has extended the work begun by God and a new form of “engineered” human was being created in a laboratory. The title also refers to the history of molecular biology book of the same name written by Horace Judson in 1979.

GATTICA-CTIT-CT-539

When the film was going to be released, the name unfortunately was already taken by another film, so the producers had to change it and they came up with Gattaca.  The name “Gattaca” is composed entirely of the letters used to label the nucleotide bases of DNA. The four nitrogen bases of DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid) are adenine, thymine, cytosine, and guanine. While it has been identified that “GATTACA” uses the 4 DNA nucleotide abbreviations of G,A,T,C, more specifically, when identifying genetic markers, the tests measure “short tandem repeats” at specific DNA marker locations. These are known as “GATA or CA” repeats – hence GATTACA.gattaca-03

Now, that’s a long-winded explanation on what is a fantastic science fiction film starring Ethan Hawke, Uma Thurman, Jude Law, Ernest Borgnine, Gore Vidal, Maya Rudolph, Elias Koteas, Blair Underwood and excellent character actor Xander Berkeley. The first film directed by Andrew Niccol and released in 1997, it originally flopped. It found new life on video and DVD and soon drew in a cult following. Uma and Ethan met on the set and fell in love and got married soon after. The story is positioned in the not-too-distant future, where a less-than-perfect man wants to travel to the stars. Society has categorized Vincent Freeman (Ethan Hawke) as less than suitable given his genetic make-up and he has become one of the underclass of humans that are only useful for menial jobs. To move ahead, he assumes the identity of Jerome Morrow (Jude Law), a perfect genetic specimen who is a paraplegic as a result of a car accident. With professional advice, Vincent learns to deceive DNA and urine sample testing. Just when he is finally scheduled for a space mission, his program director is killed and the police begin an investigation, jeopardizing his secret.

Animatic, Effective Pitch and Pre-Vis Tool

 

Traditional techniques for pre-production on anything intended to be filmed, such as a potential TV show or movie is simply to have a script or treatment of it. Nowadays, that’s just not enough to get people to see your vision behind a project and get excited about your potential production. In some cases, the project has to have more documentation, maybe a show bible if it’s a TV show or drawings for a movie. It’s the paintings of Ralph McQuarrie that got 20th Century Fox excited about Star Wars in 1976, for example.original concept for star wars

An effective modern tool for pre-visualization is the animatic. This usually is done for pre-production on a film as a way to perfect the sequence in an inexpensive medium, rather than on real footage that can be very expensive to edit into a working piece of film.  Storyboarding usually comes first as a visual tool.  The storyboarding stage may be followed by simplified mock-ups called “animatics” to give a better idea of how the scene will look and feel with motion and timing. At its simplest, an animatic is a series of still images edited together and displayed in sequence with rough dialogue (i.e., scratch vocals) and/or rough soundtrack added to the sequence of still images (usually taken from a storyboard, for example this one below from the Towering Inferno — I show more in a blog post for Towering Inferno here) to test whether the sound and images are working effectively together.Towering inferno storyboard

Now, that’s where pre-production uses the tool, but recently the tool has become very handy as a “pitch” tool.  If a writer wants to show a network, studio or production company the merits of their story, they could create a trailer, or pitch video as a way to get them excited about the script’s potential. Amazon Studios is one of the few studios who uses the new techniques very effectively. We wrote a version of a story a few years ago called, Zombies Vs. Gladiators that we were very proud of. It’s an action packed Zombie origin story set in the rise of the Roman Empire (click here to see the screenplay). Here is a simple animatic test we made to visualize a part of a storyboard we were working on for the script.

We also did a teaser trailer for the script which we liked very much and seemed to get the most favorable views and reviews from the readers and studio personnel that saw it, but it eventually was passed on and they never pursued it further. Here’s that if you would like to see it:

Over the years, we’ve also developed a lot of pre-vis videos and documents for a feature film we are still actively pursuing based on our Emmy- award winning short film Reveille, called Capture the Flag. We have information about that on our “In Development” page. We have a poster mock-up for example. But since the film is still being pitched actively, I can’t show you a lot of those materials (unless you’re an executive or producer then contact us on the contact us page and I will let you see more). But I can show you two small clips of animatics that we developed as a few more examples how the animatic tool can be effective in creating a simple visual, that once added with the proper music and dialogue by professional actors can be effective in getting people to read your script or bible. Now with that said, all levels of the pitch should be strong…good writing and strong follow through on a query letter, treatment, show bible, script, storyboard, animatic, trailer, and verbal pitch, is still crucial in order to be picked up.

David Huddleston, Star of Reveille, Locker 13 RIP

We met David when we were casting for our short film tribute to American vets, Reveille. We had originally cast Gordon Jump from WKRP in Cincinnati, but he had to drop out due to Pulmonary Fibrosis, which he eventually died of. We were very sad about Gordon, but was pleased when we got a hold of David over the phone. He was willing to consider the role on short notice and asked that we fax over the 3 page script. He told us initially that he would get back to us within the week, but called us back immediately after 5 minutes and accepted the role because he loved the script. reveille david huddleston james mceachin

You see, David is an American Air Force Veteran. So the film had a special place in his heart…and I think it shows on screen. He became the heart of the film. See for yourself, if you haven’t had a chance to view the film:  David Huddleston in Reveille, Veteran Film TributeReveille

Now, when we finished the film we showed it in a special screening just for David and James McEachin, who plays the Army Veteran. They both were incredible touched by the end result and later each of them told us that the film was one of the proudest moments they ever had as actors. We are extremely proud of that, and of them. They were the perfect representation to our tribute. James McEachin was also an American Army Veteran in real life and he spent the next 7 years playing the Old Army Soldier at patriotic events across the country in front of thousands of people.
James McEachinBruce Dellis and David HuddlestonWhen we produced our 1st feature film, we had the opportunity to work with David again for Locker 13, a supernatural thriller anthology.  He played Floyd Marley, the leader of the Benevolent Byzantine Order of the Nobles of the Enigmatic Oracle, at a shady local lodge. He was great in the film and really stands out in the segment. Curtis Armstrong, from such movies as Revenge of the Nerds and Better Off Dead, jumped at the chance to work with him and played the role of Clifford. He had loved the actor since he was young and always wanted to work with him. He recently said in a tweet, “ . I once did a movie just so I could work with him. One of those actors who steals everything they’re in. Great actor.”

curtis armstrong locker 13

We couldn’t agree with you more, Curtis. David, you will be missed. We enjoyed every minute we shared with you.
David Huddleston

Eat My Dust, Grand Theft Auto

 

Ron Howard was already a household name when he went to work as a teenager for producer Roger Corman. Roger Corman is famous for knowing how to turn a good idea into a very low budget movie. He concentrated on action, sci-fi and horror aspects and many times mixed them whenever he could. He also had a bargain for actors that worked, “…act in one movie and I’ll let you direct one.” He did this with budding actor-turned-director Ron Howard and both of them got boosts in their careers and we got 2 of the craziest car chase movies ever to be made; Eat My Dust (1976) and Grand Theft Auto (1977).Grand Theft Auto

Charles B. Griffith, the screenwriter, came up with the title of the film when the crew were shooting the car chase at the sand dunes. The crew got covered with sand and dirt so much that Griffith turned to Roger Corman and said “We ought to call this picture ‘Eat My Dust'”. The original title for this film was “The Car.” The movie took 4 weeks to shoot. Ron Howard did all of his scenes in 10 days. A body double drove the car for the rest of the filming. The film was shot for only $300,000. Much of what makes this movie good can be attributed to Charles B. Griffith imaginative script and to the fantastic stunts in the film. Griffith was paid a paltry sum for his work with Roger Corman, but over time became a legend for independent filmmakers. Quentin Tarantino dedicated his film Deathproof (2007) to Griffith, whom he referred to as one of his main influences and called “the father of redneck cinema”. He also is often cited as the father of American black comedy, due to his screenplays for A Bucket of Blood (1959), The Little Shop of Horrors (1960) and Death Race 2000 (1975).Eat My Dust

Eat My Dust did well at the box office, so Roger Corman gave Ron Howard double the money to direct the next car crash spectacular, Grand Theft Auto, which was still a very low budget for movies, even back then.  Ron Howard asked Roger Corman to hire more extras for the crowd scene at the end of the film. Corman said no because he did not want to go over budget. They also had a very short schedule on this film, for example, the demolition derby sequence was done in a single day. This film also has the added historical value of being the only film that Ron Howard directs and acts in at the same time. He moved permanently behind the camera soon after and never really went back. This film started his wonderful career as a director and went on to make over $15 million at the box office, not including what it did on TV, Video or DVD. A big hit all around for Roger Corman.Grand Theft Auto2

Cannonball Run is Just Plain Fun

 

So I realized something over the weekend. I examined the topics mentioned the most in this blog and number 1 was a surprise…as I seemed to write about Burt Reynolds more than any other topic! So, here’s another blog about him…

If you haven’t seen the film Cannonball Run (1981), now’s the time to do so…it’s just great fun. The original Cannonball Run race was conceived by car magazine writer and auto racer Brock Yates and fellow Car and Driver editor Steve Smith in the early 1970’s. Cannonball Run, was an unofficial, unsanctioned automobile race run five times in the 1970s from New York City and Darien, Connecticut, on the U.S. Atlantic coast, to the Portofino Inn in Redondo Beach, California. Brock Yates participated as a driver in all 5 races and began working on a screenplay, to be titled Coast to Coast, but was scooped by two unofficial films in 1976, Cannonball and The Gumball Rally, (both are not that good). Eventually, an “official” Cannonball Run movie was made — The Cannonball Run — starring a slew of great actors including Burt Reynolds and Dom DeLuise with Yates in a cameo appearance.cannonballrun

Director and veteran stuntman / stunt coordinator Hal Needham joined Brock Yates in one of the races, in fact, the ambulance used in the movie is the actual ambulance that Hal Needham and Brock Yates souped up and raced in the real race. It had been modified with a HEMI engine that made it go up to 145 mph and was equipped with four gas filler holes so that the required 90 gallons could be pumped quickly. Needham and Yates didn’t actually win the race (the transmission blew in Palm Springs) so Needham kept it in storage for several years until the time came to make this film.reynolds cannonball run

The other actors on board for this comedy was Roger Moore, Farrah Fawcet, Jackie Chan, Adrienne Barbeau, Terry Bradshaw, Jack Elam, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jr., Bert Convey, Jamie Farr, and Mel Tillis.  Director Hal Needham and producer Albert S. Ruddy liked the chemistry of Terry Bradshaw and Mel Tillis so much that after this film they tried to sell a pilot to ABC featuring their characters. The head of the network loved the idea but the day before the meeting was to be held to discuss it, the head of the network was fired and the project was canceled. I write about that in another blog (click here to read it)…Cannonball Run

In one of the earlier scenes in the movie, Burt Reynolds’s character says “Could get a black Trans Am”, and then answers himself, “Naw, that’s been done.” This is a reference to Smokey and the Bandit (1977) which starred Reynolds, and was directed by Hal Needham, who directed this film. DeLuise co-starred with Reynolds in the 1980 sequel, Smokey and the Bandit II (1980).  Jackie Chan makes one of his first US film appearances. Inspired by Hal Needham’s notion of including bloopers during the closing credits, Chan begins a tradition of doing the same in most of his movies from this point onward.