Category Archives: 1933

Top 15 Katharine Hepburn Movies

 

Finding just 15 movies to highlight from someone with a career like Katharine Hepburns is just literally insane…as she has well over 15 movies worth highlighting. She’s amazing, and quite possibly my favorite actress.  So I’ve narrowed the list down the only which way I could…I simply list my favorites. All of her films are worth watching, but if you’ve never seen any of them yet, here’s a good start:

15 – Summertime (1955)summertime

David Lean is famous for his grand epics, but it’s fun to highlight an intimate film like this for both Katharine Hepburn and David Lean. Katharine Hepburn was more than impressed with her experience working with David Lean. She even asked to sit in on the editing sessions with him to watch him at work. In her autobiography, she wrote, “[Summertime] was told with great simplicity in the streets, in the Piazza San Marco. We would shoot in tiny streets only a few feet wide. The sun would come and go in a matter of minutes. It was a very emotional part, and I tell you I had to be on my toes to give David enough of what he wanted practically on call. But it was thrilling… He seemed to me to simply absorb Venice. It was his. He had a real photographic gift. He thought in a descriptive way. His shots tell the story. He was capable of a sort of super concentration. It made a very deep and definite impression on me, and he was one of the most interesting directors I ever worked with. Wasn’t I lucky to work with him?”

This material is well within Hepburn’s wheelhouse but is very different for Lean. What I find to be of great interest with the material is that Hepburn had a great eye for stage plays and especially ones that would make fine transitions over to the big screen. Many of her success came from turning great plays into marvelous movies. The writer is Arthur Laurents who wrote the plays Home of the Brave, Gypsy and West Side Story.

14 – Stage Door (1937)stage-door

Another play (you’ll find that most of this list started out as plays), but this one is even more interesting, as it’s about the behind-the-scenes drama of actresses trying to make it big on Broadway. Originally, the writer of the stage play, George S. Kaufman, upset and bemused by the way the screenwriters had substantially changed the play, suggested that the title also be changed, to “Screen Door”. The screenplay was considerably altered from the hit stage play. Director Gregory La Cava was particularly gifted working with actresses. For two weeks prior to filming, he had his cast improvise in the boarding house set as if they were actually rooming together, and had a script girl take down all their interchanges. Most of the dialog you hear in the boarding house is extemporaneous ad-libs by the actresses during rehearsals. Just as an example of how much the play had been rewritten, Adolphe Menjou’s character was not in the original stage play at all.

Katharine Hepburn was in discussions to star in the original Broadway stage production of “Stage Door”, but Broadway producer Leland Hayward, reportedly jealous of her deepening friendship with noted film director John Ford, cast his then-girlfriend Margaret Sullavan in the leading role. Hayward and Sullavan married one month after the stage play opened. Margaret Sullavan was considered for the film version but became pregnant with their first child, and the part went to Katharine Hepburn.

13 – Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner (1967)hepburn_tracy_guess_whos_coming_to_dinner

Worth mentioning in this film is one of three of the finest speeches I’ve ever seen written for Spencer Tracy at the end of a film. The others being in State of the Union and Judgment at Nuremberg. Now particularly, in this film during this scene, Katharine Hepburn doesn’t have a single line and yet she speaks VOLUMES. The brilliant decision to have Tracy stand up and then move back to where Hepburn is sitting so that the camera has her in view as he gives the speech about their love, is simply a work of genius. I get choked up every time I see it, as the emotion erupting from both of them is palpable. It’s also important to note that this is their last film together and Tracy’s final film before he died. He would die a few weeks later, and I can’t help but think he was expressing how he really felt about her for all of us to see.

Hepburn would win one of her four Academy Awards from her performance in this movie and it’s not hard to see why, from a single scene where she doesn’t even speak. She’s that good. Ironically, Tracy and Hepburn would do a total of nine movies together but this film was the only one where they were both nominated for Academy Awards, but Tracy would lose out to Rod Steiger, for Heat of the Night, a film also starring Sydney Poitier. Both Tracy and Poitier had won Oscars previously, for other films.

12 – The African Queen (1951)katharine-hepburn-african-queen

There are two movies on this list where Hepburn is stuck on a raft or a boat going downstream with a gruff character, this one with Humphrey Bogart and Rooster Cogburn with John Wayne. The movie was directed by Bogart favorite, Walter Huston. In both movies, she plays a christian, a missionary in one and the minister’s daughter in the other. She took her part quite seriously in African Queen, according to Katharine Hepburn’s autobiography, John Huston initially found her performance to be too serious-minded. One day, he visited her hut and suggested that she model her performance on Eleanor Roosevelt; putting on her “society smile” in the face of all adversity. After Huston left, Hepburn sat for a moment before deciding, “That is the best piece of direction I have ever heard.” Lauren Bacall famously ventured along for the filming in Africa to be with husband Humphrey Bogart. She played den mother during the trip, making camp and cooking. This also marked the beginning of her life-long friendship with Katharine Hepburn.

11 – State of the Union (1948)katherine-state-of-the-union

What I love about Katharine Hepburn’s performances most is that she plays some incredibly strong women characters but in vulnerable ways. She lets little cracks come through, we see her characters doubt at times, even as she tries to keep her chin up and fight through. This one is directed by my favorite director, Frank Capra. This was a political film, and pride runs strong with Capra and most of it’s cast, but the country was going through some turmoil over what would be known as the Hollywood Blacklist. There was tension on the set between the strongly conservative Adolphe Menjou and liberal thinking Katharine Hepburn, who had recently made a public speech against America’s anticommunist hysteria and was facing a backlash as a result. Adolphe Menjou was a hard-line political conservative who had willingly co-operated with the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) and named names. Katharine Hepburn was decidedly more liberal and had been an outspoken critic of the blacklist. When Hepburn learned Menjou had worked with HUAC, she refused to speak to or have anything to do with him unless they were filming a scene. Once the cameras were off, she kept her distance. They had previously worked together in two other films (Stage Door and Morning Glory) and had no problems those times. Perhaps the familiarity between the two had caused some deep disappointment in each other’s hard stand.

10 – Holiday (1938)hepburn-holiday

This is the first of three films on this list with her other frequent collaborator, Cary Grant. They are magic together. I love all the movies she does with Tracy, they seem like the perfect pair, but quite possibly what I love about Hepburn matched up with Grant is that they seemed like the perfect foes. They’re completely at odds with each other but Grant is not quite her equal, she’s a queen he keeps trying to knock off of her pedestal, whereas with Tracy they seem to be equals. This one was written by one of Katharine Hepburn’s favorite writers, Donald Ogden Stewart, who also wrote her other films, The Philadelphia Story, Keeper of the Flame, and uncredited work on Summertime. He was uncredited in many of his later screenplays as he was one of the writers that were eventually blacklisted by the (HUAC) House Un-American Activities Committee.

9 – Rooster Cogburn (1975)katherine-hepburn-and-rooster-cogburn

This is the latest movie on the list, and even though I liked her work in On Golden Pond in 1981, it didn’t quite make the list. This one was a follow-up to John Wayne’s Academy Award winning turn as Rooster Cogburn in True Grit. She enjoyed working with the Duke very much because they were both spitfires! Katharine Hepburn was bemused by co-star John Wayne’s tendency to argue with everybody, especially the director, during filming. At the party to celebrate the last day of filming she told him, “I’m glad I didn’t know you when you had two lungs, you must have been a real bastard. Losing a hip has mellowed me, but you!” The film received terrible reviews on release. Many critics felt that it was too obviously derived from The African Queen, and that both John Wayne and Katharine Hepburn were too old for their parts, but I really love seeing these two veteran actors going head-to-head. John Wayne and Katharine Hepburn were born a mere two weeks apart (Wayne being the eldest), and their careers paralleled each other, yet this film marked the only time the Hollywood veterans appeared together onscreen.

8 – Bringing Up Baby (1938)Bringing Up baby Lobby Card

Holiday, Bringing Up Baby and The Philadelphia Story all make my list as well for the Top 15 Cary Grant Movies, you can see the blog post here to see where they wind up on that list. I also talk about this movie in a blog post about What’s Up, Doc?, you can read that one here if you’re interested. Katharine Hepburn and Cary Grant frequently socialized off the set, double-dating with their respective steadies at the time, Howard Hughes and Phyllis Brooks. They loved working on the film so much that they frequently arrived early. Since Howard Hawks was usually late, they spent their time working out new bits of comic business. Hawks and Hepburn started out a little rough at the beginning of shooting.  After the bad start, Hawks grew to respect Hepburn tremendously for her comic timing, ad-libbing skills and physical control. He would tell the press, “She has an amazing body – like a boxer. It’s hard for her to make a wrong turn. She’s always in perfect balance. She has that beautiful coordination that allows you to stop and make a turn and never fall off balance. This gives her an amazing sense of timing. I’ve never seen a girl that had that odd rhythm and control.” I talk a little more about this film in a blog post about the Top 15 Films Directed By Howard Hawks.

7 – Desk Set (1957)katharine-hepburn-desk-set

This one was written by Phoebe Ephron and Henry Ephron, the mother and father of Nora Ephron! Great writing runs in the family! I love this movie as an older couple meet and fall in love.  It’s also got some very interesting research details and a fun computer bit. The computer dates the film however because it’s so big and blinky.

6 – Alice Adams (1935)

ALICE ADAMS, Fred MacMurray, Katharine Hepburn, 1935

George Stevens directed Hepburn in Alice Adams and Woman of the Year. Both films make my list but her character is so starkly different! The first one is about a young woman trying to break through certain social circles, very unsure of herself and naive and the second is a very strong reporter trying to make it in a man’s world, very secure and confident.  She enjoyed working with him but he really pushed her to be a better version of herself. She was having problems with her public persona, which was of a cold woman. She credits Stevens for her change in the public’s perception, by helping her, in “Alice Adams”, portray more warmth and vulnerability than she had ever shown previously. For example, there was a disagreement among Hepburn and Stevens about the post-party scene. The script called for Hepburn to fall onto the bed and break into sobs, but Stevens wanted her to walk to the window and cry, with the rain falling outside. Hepburn could not produce the tears required, so she asked Stevens if she could do the scene as scripted. Stevens yelled furiously at Hepburn, which did the trick and the scene was filmed Stevens’ way, and Hepburn’s tears are real. I think this scene is dead right the way Stevens has created and set the mood.

5 – Lion in Winter (1968)katharine-and-lion-in-winter

Katharine thought very highly of Peter O’Toole. She thought he could do anything, strong but kind, funny but dramatic…she really admired him. Although Hepburn was a great admirer of his work, she had no intention of putting up with the rather bad habits he often exhibited on his productions. “You’re known to be late,” she told him on the first day of work. “I intend for you to be on time. I hear you stay out at night. You’d better be rested in the morning if you’re going to work with me!” O’Toole meekly obliged when she told him “Peter, stop towering over me. Come and sit down and try to look respectable.” O’Toole readily admitted in her presence that she reduced him “to a shadow of my former gay-dog self.” “She is terrifying. It is sheer masochism working with her. She has been sent by some dark fate to nag and torment me.” Her reply: “Don’t be so silly. We are going to get on very well. You are Irish and you make me laugh. In any case, I am on to you and you to me.” In spite of her stern warnings, she enjoyed O’Toole tremendously. She said his vigour and energy helped restore her own vitality at a time when she really needed it.

This film is also the first film for Timothy Dalton and Anthony Hopkins. Timothy Dalton was hugely impressed by Katharine Hepburn, particularly when she came in to shoot reverse shots with him on her day off from filming.

4 – Little Women (1933)little-women-katharine-hepburn

She got the coveted iconic role in this one and runs away with the film. It helped to cement a long relationship with director George Cukor, who would go on to direct her in Sylvia Scarlett, Holiday, The Philadelphia Story, Keeper of the Flame, Pat and Mike, and Adam’s Rib. Katharine Hepburn wrote in her autobiography, “This picture was heaven to do – George Cukor perfect. He really caught the atmosphere. It was to me my youth!”  The third screen adaptation of the novel, following silent versions in 1917 and 1918. Little Women would be filmed a total of 8 times for film and several more times as TV shows and a couple mini-series!

3 – Woman of the Year (1942)woman-of-the-year-katharine-hepburn

This is the first of nine films Hepburn and Tracy would do together. She was unaware of how they would do together onscreen for the first time and wondered if they had the right chemistry.  The first scene shot was the characters’ first date, in a bar. Hepburn was so nervous she spilled her drink, but Tracy just handed her a handkerchief and kept going. Hepburn proceeded to clean up the spill as they played the scene. When the drink dripped through to the floor, she tried to throw Tracy off by going under the table, but he stayed in character, with the cameras rolling the entire time. After this she knew the two of them would be golden as they became so comfortable together, she knew it was magic. As Hepburn’s close friend and frequent director, George Cukor was a natural choice to direct, but for her first film with Tracy, Hepburn wanted Tracy to be as comfortable as possible, so as a quasi-producer, she hired George Stevens, who had directed her in Alice Adams. As Hepburn said, “I just thought he (Tracy) should have a big, manly man on his team – someone who could talk about baseball.” Cukor (who was openly gay and known for his friendships with actresses) would later become a good friend of Tracy and would direct both actors in 3 more movies.

2 – The Philadelphia Story (1940)philadelphia-story

Grant trying to knock Queen Hepburn off her pedestal is never more evident than in this movie. He even calls her a Queen and mocks he high and mightiness, in a marvelous duel of words between exes that were never more in love than when they were fighting. To get back at him she falls off the pedestal for short time and lands in Jimmy Stewart’s arms. James Stewart never felt he deserved the Best Actor Oscar for his performance in this film, especially since he had initially felt miscast. He always maintained that Henry Fonda should have won instead for The Grapes of Wrath (1940), and that the award was probably “deferred payment for my work on Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939)”, but I thought he was great in this one as well.

1 – Adam’s Rib (1949)adams-rib

I wrote about how gracious Hepburn was with co-star Judy Holliday in this film, in a blog post you can read here. What I didn’t talk about in that post was how great she is in the movie, on her own right. Written by husband and wife Ruth Gordon and Garson Kanin, they would become lifelong friends of Hepburn and Tracy and Kanin would also go on to write an intimate biography on Hepburn and Tracy.

Interesting bit of trivia, in the memorable Tracy-Hepburn massage scene, a radio plays Frank Sinatra singing Cole Porter’s “Farewell, Amanda,” a gift to Amanda Bonner (played by Hepburn) from her songwriter-neighbor, Kip Lurie (played by David Wayne) who, earlier in the picture, had crooned the ditty, accompanying himself on the Bonners’ piano. While Adam Bonner (played by Tracy) is massaging his wife, he abruptly shuts off the radio. Sinatra is again heard when a record is accidentally started in a later scene. This prerecording of “Farewell, Amanda” is lost.

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.”

 

Best Stunts of the Year List 1930-1939

 

The best movie stunts for the decade listed for 1930-1939 as talked about in the book 100 Years of the Best Movie Stunts:

1930:  Canyon Hawks

Yakima Canutt shows off his guts in this one with a buckboard ride with horses straight down the side of a hill.  Crazy, but I bet it was a whole lot scarier in person.Canyon Hawks stunt

1931:  The Phantom

The prison break at the beginning of this movie is just fantastic and ends with a really great train to plane transfer.  The frustrating aspect is that back then they didn’t record who the stunt man was or who the stunt pilot was.  Many stunts in the movies were uncredited during this time of studio filmmaking.The Phantom Stunt

1932:  Air Mail

John Ford directed two films on this list during this decade, this film and Stagecoach.  He was a supporter of good stunts and usually filmed them himself.  Paul Mantz does some nifty flying in this picture, specifically he flies a Stearman plane through an airplane hanger.air-mail

1933:  The Fighter and the Lady

Before they fought for the actual title fight for the Heavyweight belt, they fought in this feature film.  Max Baer and Primo Carnera mix it up on screen here, and Max later said he beat Primo in the real fight by studying his moves for the movie.The Prizefighter and the Lady Stunt

1934:  Murder in the Clouds

This decade is ripe with plane stunts and this film has them in droves.  This one has some fancy aerial tricks and the stunt photographers should get just as much credit for these fantastic shots as the stunt pilots themselves.Murder in the Clouds Stunts

1935:  The Crusades

Cecil B. DeMille is famous for his grand epics, and this film started that process for him.  It has stuntmen and actors fighting in full armor for a huge war on several fronts.demille crusade

1936:  Modern Times

Charlie Chaplin was a very talented skater, and shows off his chops in this movie in a nifty little bit of tension added to the fact that he was doing it right next to a missing railing.  The danger was not real, but the skating sure is.  He’s also got a few nifty bits with a great big machine and a little one attached to the front of his chest.  Fun Stuff.modern

1937:  Wells Fargo

Ray Bunten and Richard Farnsworth, along with a slew of other uncredited stuntmen did a lot of work on this film.  It has a lot of cowboys falling off horses, wagons, rocks and just about anything that moves.  The scene at the end where the Wells Fargo wagon fights Indians have at least two dozens stunts in a ten minute period.Wells Fargo stunts

1938:  The Adventures of Robin Hood

Howard Hill was a world class Archer.  It’s him doing all the fancy bow and arrow stuff in this movie.  A nod also goes out to all the stuntmen that lined up to be shot in the chest by Howard!robinhowardhill2

1939:  Stagecoach

This one is a classic in the stunt world.  Yakima Canutt has a great stunt that he was perfecting in several movies at this time.  This one actually shows the first half of the stunt and was perfected in Zorro’s Fighting Legion the same year.  The nod goes to Stagecoach because it was first but really should be co-presented with the later picture.Yakima Stagecoach

 

To learn more about these films, please read about them and the great trivia behind the scenes in our book, 100 Years of the Best Movie Stunts!Screen Shot 2015-09-19 at 8.23.28 PM

Max Baer, Primo Carnera and The Prizefighter and the Lady

 

In the early days of film, fight scenes were “staged” but real. They didn’t learn to fake their punches for the camera until the early 30’s and even then used that type of filming trick sparingly. In this case, where real Boxers were used for the Prizefighter and the Lady, there was no doubt that these matches were going to be real but choreographed. The film climaxes with a heavily hyped fight between Max Baer and Primo Carnera. Primo was the real-life World Heavyweight Champion and Max (the star of the film) was in real-life, his main contender for the title. The shooting of this scene was a major event on the set. People came from far and wide to watch the thrilling fight being filmed. Former Heavyweight champion Jack Dempsey was an added treat playing the referee.The Prizefighter and the Lady Stunt

The fight scenes were so real, that Max knocked out 2 teeth during one of the “staged” fights in this film. Interestingly, Max Baer beat Primo Carnera in real-life the very next year for the World Heavyweight title, knocking him down a record 11 times in what was written about later as a major beating.  Myrna Loy also admitted in an interview later that Max studied Primo’s boxing techniques intently during the film and claimed that he used this “scouting” knowledge to beat him for the title. It’s also interesting to note that Max did not wear a robe with his name on it for the real title fight, he wore the robe he used in this film with his character Steve Morgan’s name on the back.  People said he did this to try and get in Primo’s head.  The Prizefighter and the Lady was Max Baer’s first acting role and he’s fantastic.  He goes on to act in over 20 more movies and TV shows over the years.prizefighter-lady The Prizefighter and the Lady was directed by W.S. Van Dyke for MGM.

Things to look up (go to IMDB ):

Glossary of stunt terms as defined by the book, “FIGHT CHOREOGRAPHY” by John Kreng:

Exchange – A series of techniques thrown between combatants without an extended break or pause. A fight scene is usually made up of several exchanges between opponents.

Fight Scene – A fight scene is much like dialogue in the script—it needs to progress at a steady pace. Much like in real life, dialogue can get very tedious and cover the same issue over and over, not really leading anywhere specific. A fight can easily be the same way if you are not aware of the different types of repetition. Also, each successive fight in an action film should be more difficult and exciting than most of the ones that came before, otherwise the overall progression of the film’s intensity will likewise be flat and repetitive.

Check out our new Book, 100 Years of the Best Movie Stunts!

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