Category Archives: 1960

13 Ghosts, Horror by Design

 

One of the finest crafted horror films of all time would have to be the remake of 13 Ghosts (2001), which boasts the most comprehensive movie set I’ve ever seen. It also has a wickedly fun script, engaging props, great characters and a slew of fantastic actors.matthew-lillard-13-ghosts

13 Ghosts is based on an original film by horror master, William Castle that is about a family who inherits what proves to be a haunted house, but a special pair of goggles allows them to see their ghostly tormentors. It was one of his special presentations where something crazy happens during the showing, in this case, every person in the audience was given a special pair of glasses to see the ghosts. The “ghost viewers” contained a red filter and a blue filter. The red filter would cause the ghostly images to intensify while the blue filter caused the images to fade.13-ghost-house

The remake takes the idea of the glasses and actually puts it into the movie in a very creative way.  The characters put on the special glasses to see the grewsome ghosts. The remake is about Cyrus Kriticos, a very rich collector of unique things, who dies, then leaves it all to his nephew and his family. All including his house, his fortune, and his malicious collection of ghosts!  As the Kriticos family explores their bizarre new home – a modern architectural masterpiece, filled with Cyrus’s collection of priceless antiques – Arthur and the children can hardly believe their good fortune. But it isn’t long before they discover that there is something hideous trapped behind the house’s elegantly etched crystal-clear walls: one by one, twelve evil spirits – each horribly disfigured by their deaths – are being released and begin stalking the family. ghost-in-13-ghosts

If they are to leave the house alive, Arthur, the children and their mortal companions must solve its deadly riddle – a lethal puzzle that contains the key to their imminent salvation or destruction.  It is Kalina who uncovers a clue to the deathly enigma in “The Arcanum,” an ancient manuscript filled with inscriptions and sketches, including containment spells for the tortured spirits trapped within the house. But the darker secret buried in The Arcanum reveals that Cyrus’ house is much more than the impressive glass and steel structure it appears to be.13-ghosts-house-set

The house is in fact a machine – a machine fed by the energy of the ghosts as they are released. As the machine “powers up,” one ghost at a time, it opens The Ocularis… or the Eye of Hell.  According to The Arcanum, he who controls The Ocularis is the most powerful man on earth. It appears that Cyrus built this deadly machine in the guise of a home to power the Ocularis and pursue his malevolent goal of penultimate power.13-ghosts-house

The most incredible thing about the film is the design of the house, designed by production designer Sean Hargreaves, based on the architecture of the the New York Science Museum.  During the three months that it took to design the set, Hargreaves and his production team worked closely with Director Steve Beck to ensure that the remarkable structure would be both visually compelling and function as a practical film set.  Another important aspect of the house’s design is its relationship to a key element in the script.  “In the story, an ancient book known as “The Arcanum” contains the blueprint which Cyrus used to build the house,” Hargreaves explains. “It’s filled with writings and drawings and sketches, almost like a Da Vinci notebook, and it’s illustrated with pages of Latin inscriptions. These inscriptions are actually containment spells for the ghosts trapped inside the house, which we transferred onto the glass walls of the set. “production-design-for-13-ghost

More than 3 miles of etched glass walls and a total of 8,500 square feet of glass were used to construct the set. The Latin “etchings” were actually rendered on a plastic overlay and adhered to the glass walls to achieve Hargreaves’ “Arcanum” design motif. Bridge welders were brought in to fuse the house together, using nearly five tons of steel in the process.  The construction of the centuries-old Arcanum book itself is another example of the attention to artistic detail evidenced throughout the production of the film. A great deal of painstaking effort went into the materials and design needed to make the book look authentically ancient. Propsmaster Dean Eilertson reveals that three people worked for a week just to age the parchment paper used in the four books that were eventually created.set-design-for-13-ghosts

Along with the house and props, each ghost was extremely detailed with their visual look and backstory. It made for a very fun and scary experience for the actors. The cast is filled out with some of the finest actors with F. Murray Abraham, Tony Shalhoub, Embeth Davidtz, Matthew Lillard, JR Bourne, and Shannon Elizabeth.thirteen-ghosts-2001

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.

Failed Movies Make the Best Broadway Musicals

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Top 15 Heist Movies of the 60’s

 

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

15.  Kaleidoscope (1966)Kaleidoscope

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

14.  Fitzwilly (1967)fitzwilly-movie-1968

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

13.  Seven Thieves (1960)seven thieves

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

12.  Grand Slam (1967)grand slam

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

11.  Topkapi (1964)topkapi

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

10.  Ocean’s Eleven (1960)Oceans11

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

9.  Thomas Crown Affair (1968)thomascrown

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

8.  Italian Job (1969)italian job lobby card

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

7.  Goldfinger (1964)Goldfinger

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

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

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

5.  Gambit (1966)gambit

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

4.  Sam Whiskey (1969)sam whiskey

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

3.  The War Wagon (1967)the-war-wagon

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

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

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

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

1.   Pink Panther (1963)pink panther lobby card

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

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

 

Judy Holliday, Gone Too Soon

 

If you remember Judy Holliday, you would know there was really no one like her. She only did a handful of movies, but was simply unforgettable on stage, on screen and in person. She was acting for a few years when she got the role of Billie Dawn in the Broadway debut of Garson Kanin’s play, Born Yesterday. Garson Kanin and his wife, writer/actor Ruth Gordon were very good friends of Katherine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy and they came and saw her in the play and thought she was wonderful. Katherine felt duty bound to get this actress noticed on the silver screen in the film adaptation of the play, and Judy badly wanted to recreate the part in the movie, but the rights were purchased by Columbia Pictures, and production chief Harry Cohn, thought Judy to be a “fat, jewish broad”. Garson Kanin was going into production on a movie of his own, written by himself and his wife Ruth Gordon. When Garson Kanin complained about Cohn’s opinion of Judy to Katharine, she suggested casting Holliday as Doris Attinger in his movie.Holliday1

Doris Attinger is the attempted murderess on trial and defended by Katherine Hepburn’s Amanda Bonner in what became one of my all time favorite films, Adam’s Rib in 1949. She literally does steal the show, thanks to the likes of Katherine and her onscreen husband, Spencer Tracy who plays the prosecutor Adam Bonner, but she turned down the role at first. Finally Hepburn got the real reason out of her. Sensitive about her weight, Holliday didn’t want to be called “fatso” on screen, as written in the script they had given her. Hepburn assured her that the Kanin’s would gladly rewrite the line: “They’re writers. They know lots of words.” Finally, Holliday agreed. Later she insisted that the word “fatso” be restored because it was the best way of playing the scene.adamsrib

This film was her big break, but it didn’t change the fact that she was going to be sharing the screen with two legends. In her early monologue scene with Katharine Hepburn, Judy Holliday can be seen trembling. This was not acting, but nervousness. The inexperienced Judy Holliday was terrified of performing with Katharine Hepburn. But she soon realized that Katherine was Judy’s biggest fan. To help build up Judy’s image, particularly in the eyes of Columbia Pictures chief Harry Cohn, Katharine reportedly urged director George Cukor to focus the camera on Judy during a number of their shared scenes, and Katharine deliberately leaked stories to the gossip columns suggesting that Judy’s performance in Adam’s Rib was so good that it had stolen the spotlight from Hepburn and Tracy. This got Cohn’s attention and Holliday won the part in Born Yesterday (1950), also directed by George Cukor.  This to me is a great example of what a great friend Katherine Hepburn could be. Hepburn would later explain her generosity to Kanin: “It was the kind of thing you do because people have done it for you.” Garson Kanin, by the way, would go on to write a fantastic book about Hepburn and Tracy called “Tracy and Hepburn: an Intimate Memoir”, published in 1971 by Viking Press.Judy Holliday Broderick Crawford William Holden in Born yesterday

Regarding Born Yesterday, there’s even more to the story that makes this that much more sneaky.  Apparently, Garson Kanin claimed that he modeled the part of the obnoxious junk dealer Harry Brock after Harry Cohn, but that the studio chief never realized it. Kanin sold Born Yesterday to Columbia Pictures for $1 million, setting a record for the highest price ever paid for a film property. In his autobiography, Kanin wrote that Cohn paid the record $1 million for the films rights because he had heard that Kanin said he “wouldn’t sell the rights to Harry Cohn for any amount – not even a million dollars.” The part of Billie Dawn was originally written for star Jean Arthur and even hired to play the role on Broadway, but left during tryouts and was replaced by Holliday. Judy would go on to win the Golden Globe and the Oscar for her performance in the film. Jean Arthur never won an Oscar.holliday

Later, she was cast in George Cukor’s It Should Happen To You (1954), again written by Garson Kanin and costarring Jack Lemmon. Up-to-that-point, Lemmon had only done mostly television, and had a tendency to overact for the camera but Cukor soon convinced him that “less is more.” Lemmon later remarked, “I’ve learned my craft from that advice. It’s the hardest thing in the world to be simple, and the easiest thing in the world to act your brains out and make an ass of yourself.” A perfect example of Cukor’s approach to acting was demonstrated to Lemmon during a restaurant scene where Pete and Gladys argue. Cukor recalled, “They rehearsed it and did it very well, but I said, “I don’t believe it, I don’t believe one damn thing. Jack, what do you do when you get angry?” He said, “I get chills and cramps, I get sick to my stomach, but can’t use that.” “Oh,” I said, “do that!” So in the height of fury he suddenly clutches his stomach, and it makes all the difference.”it-should-happen-to-you

Lemmon and Holliday would go on to act together again in 1954 on Phffft (terrible title…how do you tell people what movie you just saw?). Jack Lemmon had become a fan and admirer of Holliday’s, just as Hepburn had. He would later go on to say of her, “She was intelligent and not at all like the dumb blonds she so often depicted. She didn’t give a damn where the camera was placed, how she was made to look, or about being a star. She just played the scene — acted with, not at. She was also one of the nicest people I ever met. She was hardly the dizzy blonde. If she were alive today, she would’ve zipped right through the Mensa puzzles. ”  She was reported to have an IQ of 172, even though the characters she played onscreen were all dizzy blondes. She often said that it took a lot of smarts to convince people that her characters were stupid. According to biographer Gary Carey, in its search for subversives in the film industry, the House Un-American Activities Committee was flummoxed by Holliday. She essentially playing her Billie Dawn character on the witness stand. She ended up being the only person ever called before HUAC who was neither blacklisted nor compelled to name names.Jack Lemmon and Judy Holliday

She continued doing movies, sparingly after the trials, but preferred the stage. She would go on to win Broadway’s 1957 Tony Award as best actress in a musical for Bells Are Ringing, a role that she recreated in the film version of Bells Are Ringing (1960) along with Dean Martin. The music in the film is amazing.  She proved to have a flawless singing voice and even released a few albums, during this time to join the broadway albums she performed in. In October 1960, Holliday started out-of-town tryouts on the play Laurette based on the life of Laurette Taylor. The show was directed by José Quintero with background music by Elmer Bernstein and produced by Alan Pakula. Unfortunately, Holliday became ill and had to leave the show. It closed in Philadelphia without opening on Broadway. She had throat surgery shortly after leaving the production in October 1960.bells are ringing 1960 - judy holliday dean martin

Her last play was another musical, Hot Spot (1963) but was troubled from the very start. One of Broadway’s most well-known flops, it had 58 “preview” performances, setting a record by cancelling its official opening four times, and then running for only 43 “official” performances. According to Steven Suskin, “it was one of those big-budget, big-advance-sale bonanzas which go wrong and turn into highly public busts.” According to the review in Billboard, “Predictions of failure preceeded the show and these were confirmed when the New York Critics Circle passed a unanimous negative judgement.” She would go on to say, “You can only live through one or two Hot Spots in your life.”Bells-Are-Ringing-film

She would die of breast cancer only 2 years later, at the very young age of 43.  Gone too soon, this talented and hilarious actress and singer would have surely gone on to entertain us with her versatility and immense charisma for years to come. Jack Lemmon would add, “She was one of the greats, and her early death was one of the great tragedies.”

Simon Crane, Unbroken, Do Not Fix it

 

Another great stuntman turned stunt coordinator/2nd Unit Director from Great Britain is Simon Crane. There seems to be a great deal of talent in the stunt category coming from this part of the world. He didn’t start out to be a stuntman, he actually went to college to become a lawyer, but hated it, so he dropped out and…joined the circus? Seems like quite a departure, but the acrobatics definitely lead the way to a path in stunts.simon crane 2nd unit

Now in Great Britain, to be in the Stunt Industry, a person has to achieve instructor status in at least 6 sports to get a Stunt Performer Union Card. So Simon Crane became an instructor in Karate, Fencing, Gymnastics, High Diving, Parachuting and Scuba Diving.  Like Vic Armstrong and the Powells, Crane was very popular with the Bond Film Series. Starting out in A View to a Kill, and then he became Timothy Dalton’s stunt double for The Living Daylights and then graduating to 2nd Unit Stunt Coordinator for License to Kill.Simon Crane Vic Armstrong

Simon was entered into the Guinness Book of World Records for being paid the most for a single stunt when he was paid $1 Million dollars to slide between two jets on a cable for the movie Cliffhanger in 1993. Finally in 1995, he was hired as the Stunt Coordinator for GoldenEye. He’s been a 2nd Unit Director or Stunt Coordinator on every film he’s worked since. In 2014, he won a SAG Award for Outstanding Action Performance By A Stunt Ensemble in a Motion Picture on the film Unbroken. Unbroken was directed by Angelina Jolie.

SUNDAY CALENDAR SNEAKS FOR MAY 2, 2010. DO NOT USE PRIOR TO PUBLICATION--------- On the set of Angelina Jolie and stunt coordinator Simon Crane on the set of the movie Salt.
—- On the set of Angelina Jolie and stunt coordinator Simon Crane on the set of the movie Salt.

Simon has worked with her and her husband (Brad Pitt) several times, working on the films; Lara Croft: Tomb Raider, Lara Croft Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life, Beyond Borders, Troy, Mr. and Mrs. Smith, Salt, The Tourist, World War Z and the previously mentioned Unbroken.  Even though the Academy Awards does not have an award that recognizes Stunt Performers, Stunt Coordinators and/or 2nd Unit Directors, they have over the years invited some very important key members of the Stunt Community to become members of The Academy. There are only about 30 members total, which is a small number considering that there are thousands of Actors, Writers, Producers and Directors. Simon Crane was invited to become a member himself, in 2015. I hope this is a sign to come that someday, soon, the Academy will create a new category for the work these truly inspiring people do.

Best Movie Stunts of the Year List 1960-1969

 

Here is the list for the Best Movie Stunts for the Decade 1960-1969 as listed in the book, 100 Years of the Best Movie Stunts!

1960 – Spartacusspartacus_fight

I would argue that this is the best Gladiator movie ever made.  The stunt team on this film was the who’s who in the stunt world at that time including, Yakima, Tap and Joe Canutt, Harvey Parry, Tom Steele, Richard Farnsworth, Buddy Van Horn, Dale Van Sickel, Polly Bursen, Carey Loftkin, Loren James, Cliff Lyons and on and on.

1961 – The Guns of Navaroneguns-of-navarone-original

Alistair MacLane seemed to create a genre all his own that started with this picture and had the feel of a heist film but with a mixture of spies and betrayal mixed in.  Some great stunts appear in this film.

1962 – Lawrence of ArabiaLawrence Of Arabia-21

This film is fantastic, but was a very perilous film shoot.  War films, especially with horses are extremely hard.  But boy does it look great.

1963 – The Great Escapegreat bud eikins

Arguably the best motorcycle stunt ever made, but I would venture to say it’s not the best ever made, just the most famous.  It is a pretty nifty stunt for a VERY heavy bike.

1964 – Circus WorldCircus World Lobby Card

This movie has two stunts that blow the mind.  The first is the real sinking of a large carrier ship sinking, live, and then the second is a huge circus tent fire.  Both staged by Richard Talmadge and front and center is a man with only one lung, John Wayne!

1965 – The Sons of Katie Eldersons-of-katie-elder

John Wayne earns the nod for Best Movie Stunts two years running due to his stunts in this movie.  Remember, he’s got only one lung!

1966 – Grand PrixGrandPrix_garnerglare

James Garner found out that he’s a pretty good driver and gets to show his chops here.  He would go on to race professionally after this in several races and drove the pace car several times as well.

1967 – War and Peacewarandpeace

Russia busts out of the gate with this long masterpiece.  It’s epic in every way and beautifully done.  It took them years to make this movie and was finally released in 1967.

1968 – Bullittbullitt (1)

This film is known for an 11 minute long car chase that appears out of the end of the movie and is very tense and breathtaking.  You can never talk about movie stunts without seeing this chase mentioned.

1969 – Battle of BritainBattle_of_Britain

War movies are incredibly difficult and massive undertakings.  Put that in the air and it doubles all the troubles.  This really is the best of these films.

Check out our new Book, 100 Years of the Best Movie Stunts!Screen Shot 2015-09-19 at 8.23.28 PM

Stunt Team For Spartacus

 

To say that Spartacus has a very loyal and dedicated following is an understatement.  Looking back, Spartacus has it’s own sub-genre, the Swords and Sandals Spectacle.  It’s spawned multiple look-a-likes and many made-for-television sequels and TV shows.  I’ve always been a fan of a good gladiator story and this is the best.  It gets the nod for Best Movie Stunt over the Alamo for 1960 because of influence and it’s simply harder to perform stunts in what constitutes as a skimpy Speedo.spartacus-original-lobby-card-4-kirk-douglas-tony-curtis-68-3775-p

The stuntmen who worked on this film is a venerable who’s-who of the elite, top stuntmen of the time, including Yakima Canutt and his two sons, Tap and Joe, Richard Farnsworth, Harvey Parry, Tom Steele, Buddy Van Horn, Dale Van Sickel, Polly Burson, Carey Loftkin, Loren Janes, Cliff Lyons, and so, so many more.  The film is really a tribute to all the men and women who worked on it and should be required viewing for anyone wanting a career in the stunt industry.spartacus_fight

The interesting story behind the making of the film is that it wouldn’t have been made if it wasn’t for Ben Hur the year before.  Kirk Douglas was so upset that he lost the role of Ben Hur to Charlton Heston that he set out to prove to William Wyler that he made the wrong decision.  It’s by the sheer will of Douglas alone that this film got made.  He searched for it, bought the rights to it, financed it and hired everyone to work on it.  The first director he hired, he even fired a week into production.  He replaced that director with Stanley Kubrick, but even Kubrick admitted years later that the film is really Douglas’s and not his.  Kubrick did not have say in script and many of the elements that Douglas put in place.spartacus_550w

Kubrick denounced the film later as his worst, but in the end it won four Academy Awards and was nominated for two others.  It’s kind of hard to argue with that kind of a record.  By most people I know, it is regarded as the best gladiator movie of all time and the father of the genre.  Spartacus was directed by Stanley Kubrick for Bryna Productions.Spartacus -douglas

Things to look up (go to IMDB ):

  • Kirk Douglas
  • Spartacus
  • STanley Kubrick
  • Bryna Productions

History of film companies as defined by Wikipedia: Bryna Productions was a film production company established by Kirk Douglas, inspired by the success of Burt Lancaster in moving into production.

Check out our new Book, 100 Years of the Best Movie Stunts!Screen Shot 2015-09-19 at 8.23.28 PM