Tag Archives: United Artists

Stuntman Spotlight: Douglas Fairbanks Sr.

 

Lesser known trivia regarding Douglas Fairbanks Sr.:

  • He was only 5’7″.
  • Was the basis for the look of Superman (although, I don’t think he looks anything like him)
  • Hosted the very first Academy Awards.
  • Was part of Hollywood’s first celebrity couple along with Mary Pickford.
  • When he played Zorro, he was the inspiration for the look of Batman (again, I think it doesn’t look anything like him)
  • His last words were, “I never felt better in my life.”

Douglas Fairbanks Top Ten Films per FlickChart.com:

Douglas Fairbanks Top Ten Flickchart

douglas Fairbanks Stamp

Buster Keaton and Steamboat Bill Jr.

 

It’s an iconic image, a cyclone ravages a small town and blows the front of the building down.  As it falls, a man (Buster Keaton) walking away from the building miraculously survives as he stands on a spot where an open window just happens to be, as the building falls around him.  It’s a stunt where just the slightest miscalculation would have killed him.  The stunt was performed with an actual full-weight wall. Half the crew walked off the set rather than participate in a stunt that would have killed Keaton if he had been slightly off position.Steamboat bill JrSteamboat bill jr 2

Legendary Hong Kong film star Jackie Chan has often cited Keaton’s acrobatics—and this stunt in particular—as one of his primary influences. He tips his hat to Keaton in Project A2 by having a falling building front. This movie was also used as a model for Steamboat Willie, Mickey Mouse’s first cartoon with sound. It’s interesting to note, Buster Keaton’s sister Louise doubled for Marion Byron during the cyclone scene.Steamboat Bill Jr stunts

Steamboat Bill Jr. was directed by Charles Reisner for Buster Keaton Productions.

Things to look up (go to IMDB):

  • Buster Keaton
  • Charles Reisner
  • Steamboat Bill Jr.
  • United Artists
  • Louise Keaton

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Kirk Douglas and The Vikings

 

In Kirk Douglas’s autobiography, The Ragman’s Son, I read where Douglas did a lot of his own riding and gun twirling in several of his westerns and so I rented those films and was amazed at his skill and agility.  Then I got to the chapter on the making of The Vikings (1958), and I found a stunt in that movie that deserves the award for 1958.vikings

The director Richard Fleischer and Kirk Douglas wanted the movie to be as authentic as possible and so they did quite a bit of research to do this. Through his research about the Vikings, Fleischer had found a Viking game that probably had not be done in thousand years, ‘Run the Oars’. He hired a couple of stunt men to perform this hazardous act. The rowers were to hold their oars straight out from the boat. Kirk Douglas’ character Einar is to climb out on an oar and then walk or jump from one oar to another, without falling into the ice cold water.

When Douglas saw the stunt men exercising this, he immediately insisted to do it himself to the horror of Fleischer. Without practicing, Kirk told them to roll the cameras and then proceeded to run back and forth several times on the oars. Douglas performed it impeccably. “You needed to get a rhythm going, keep the momentum from oar to oar. If you slowed down, you had time to lose your balance,” Douglas wrote in his autobiography.Vikings oars

At one point when he did fall in the icy water he calmly swam over to the camera boat and asked if they had gotten enough good shots. He then swam back to the Viking longboat. Only in an interview given shortly after the release of the film did Kirk Douglas admit that the water in the fjord was just above freezing and the air temperature was only slightly warmer.   He never complained.

The movie is excellent and if you haven’t seen it, there are plenty of other great stunts and action scenes.  The Vikings was directed by Richard Fleischer for United Artists.vikings cast

Things to look up (click on item to go to IMDB page):

Glossary of film terms as defined by the Wikipedia:  Historical Drama or Epic – They are expensive and lavish to produce, because they require elaborate and panoramic settings, on-location filming, authentic period costumes, inflated action on a massive scale and large casts of characters. Biographical films are often less lavish versions than this genre. They are often called costume dramas, since they emphasize the world of a period setting: historical pageantry, costuming and wardrobes, locale, spectacle, decor and a sweeping visual style. They often transport viewers to other worlds or eras: ancient times, biblical times, the Middle Ages, the Victorian era, or turn-of-the-century America.

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

Charles Lewis and Robin Hood

 

There seems to be a running theme during these years in that the studios were interested in giving off the impression that their actors did all of their own stunts. It’s only with time that we’ve gotten a full picture of who doubled for whom on what picture. Many of these stunt performers took this knowledge to their graves and never told anyone, but sometimes over the years, the secret has been revealed in many cases.

The Best Movie Stunts for 1921 and 1922 are very interesting in that they are nods given to the other person in the tandem of actor and stunt double. Charles Lewis was the stand-in and stunt performer for Douglas Fairbanks on many of his films but most notably on this one. Douglas Fairbanks was so thankful for Charles Lewis over the years that he left him $10,000 in his will when he died.robin-hood

This was one of the first screen versions for Robin Hood (1922) and was directed by Allan Dwan for Douglas Fairbanks Pictures Corporation, released by United Artists. This movie has the distinction of being the first to have a gala premiere. Theater owner Sid Grauman conceived the idea. The premiere was held at Grauman’s brand-new Egyptian Theater in Hollywood. The most expensive movie at its time. It cost $1.4 million. The castle is reputed to be the largest Hollywood set built for any silent movie. Lloyd Wright, Frank Lloyd Wright’s son, designed at least one set which he later remodeled as a temporary band shell for the Hollywood Bowl.robinhoodcastle

Things to look up (click on item to go to IMDB page):

Glossary of stunt terms as defined by Wikipedia:

Stunt Double – A stunt double is a type of body double, specifically a skilled replacement used for dangerous film or video sequences, in movies and television (such as jumping out of a building, jumping from vehicle to vehicle, or other similar actions), and for other sophisticated stunts (especially fight scenes). Stunt doubles may be used in cases where an actor’s physical condition precludes a great amount of physical activity (such as when the actor is too old to perform extended dubs choreography), or when an actor is contractually prohibited from performing stunts. Stunt doubles are sometimes referred to as “stunties”.

The terms stunt double and body double may be used interchangeably for cases where special skills (sometimes far from dangerous) are needed, such as dancing (dance double), playing the piano, or competitive skiing. Stunt doubles should be distinguished from daredevils, who perform stunts for the sake of the stunt alone, often as a career. It should also be noted that sequences often do not place stunt doubles in the same mortal peril as the characters: for example, harnesses and wires can be digitally edited out of the final film.robinhood1922list

Many stunt doubles have long production careers as part of a star actor’s contractual “support crew” along with the star’s cooks, trainers, dressers, and assistants. Often stunt doubles have to look like their respective actors, in order to keep the character’s appearance. Stunt doubles for Eddie Murphy, John Wayne, Harrison Ford, Steve Martin, Salman Khan and Michael Landon have been associated with their lead actors for decades.

Some actors, for example Kane Hodder, Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton, Bruce Lee, Jet Li, Jayan, Donnie Yen, James Garner, Barrett Snow, Burt Reynolds, Johnny Yong Bosch, Tom Cruise, Steve McQueen, Angelina Jolie, Michelle Yeoh,Maggie Q, Christopher Lee, Jean-Paul Belmondo, Patrick Swayze, Thora Birch, Milla Jovovich, Bridgette Wilson, Jason Statham, Dolph Lundgren, “Stone Cold” Steve Austin, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Viggo Mortensen, are known to have performed their own stunts. Jackie Chan is particularly famous for doing most of his own stunts, as well as fellow martial arts star and movie partners Yuen Biao and Sammo Hung. Indian actor, Jayan was well known for performing extremely dangerous stunts by himself and was killed while performing a helicopter stunt. Akshay Kumar is also famous for doing all of his own stunts and has done a lot of dangerous stunts. Thai martial artist and actor Tony Jaa performs his own stunts, likewise.

Rick Sylvester and The Spy Who Loved Me

 

Rick Sylvester’s opening ski stunt was shot from the top of Asgard Peak on Baffin Island in Canada. The summit was only accessible by helicopter. A small crew, including Sylvester and second unit director John Glen, traveled there in July 1976, a month before principal photography began. They stayed in the neighboring village of Pangnirtung for 10 days, awaiting the right weather conditions.SPY-WHO-LOVED-SKI-1 Numerous cameras were positioned around the site to capture the moment. All the camera operators felt that they lost sight of the skier as he went sailing off the cliff, all except one camera which stayed with him throughout the stunt. The scene was all uncut. Sylvester’s pay was $30,000. Sylvester was supposedly given an additional bonus when he successfully completed the shot.

This was one of the first pre-credit sequences to really give the audience a gasp. You could hear a pin drop, it was fantastic. The Spy Who Loved Me was directed by Lewis Gilbert for Danjaq.spy loved

Things to look up (go to IMDB):

  • Rick Sylvester
  • The Spy Who Loved Me
  • Danjaq
  • Lewis Gilbert
  • John Glen
  • Albert R. Broccoli
  • Eon Productions
  • Harry Saltzman
  • Dana Broccoli
  • Jacqueline Saltzman
  • John Cork
  • United Artists

History of film companies as defined by Wikipedia: Danjaq – (formerly Danjaq S.A.) is the holding company responsible for the copyright and trademarks to the characters, elements, and other material related to James Bond on screen. It is currently owned and managed by the family of Albert R. Broccoli, the co-initiator of the popular film franchise. Eon Productions, the production company responsible for producing the James Bond films, is a subsidiary of Danjaq.

Danjaq was founded by Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman after the release of the first James Bond film Dr. No, in 1962, to ensure all future films in the series. The new company was to be called Danjaq S.A., a combination of Broccoli and Saltzman’s respective wives’ names (Dana Broccoli and Jacqueline Saltzman). Also in 1962 Danjaq began its association with United Artists.

Due to financial difficulties, Saltzman later sold his share of Danjaq to United Artists in 1975. Beginning with 1977’s The Spy Who Loved Me, Danjaq began to share half the copyright and interests with United Artists Corporation, which is publicly the case still today, although the copyrights to the 2006 version of Casino Royale, Quantum of Solace (2008), and Skyfall (2012) are shared with the series’ new theatrical distributor, Columbia Pictures.

Some sources, notably John Cork (the author of a number of books about Bond’s film history, and a producer of many documentaries created for the films’ Special Edition DVD releases), claim that Broccoli purchased this 50% stake of Danjaq back from UA in the mid-1980s. It has been further suggested that MGM/UA have an exclusive distribution deal with Danjaq that is far more lucrative than when the shares were originally owned by Broccoli and Saltzman.

Although the trademarks for material related to the Bond films are held by Danjaq, the copyright to the film properties (beginning with Dr. No and aside from the 2006 Casino Royale,Quantum of Solace and Skyfall produced and co-copyrighted with Columbia Pictures) are shared by Danjaq and United Artists Corporation. The trademarks associated with the James Bond books and other non-film publications are held by Ian Fleming Publications.

Two theatrically released James Bond films have been made outside the control of Danjaq, a spoof called Casino Royale (1967) because the rights to that book had been sold prior to the Eon/Danjaq deal, and a serious James Bond film called Never Say Never Again (1983), a remake of the Danjaq film Thunderball; the latter was made possible due to a legal dispute involving Kevin McClory, one of the credited co-writers of Thunderball, who was awarded the film rights to the novel in a 1963 settlement with Ian Fleming.

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

Mary Pickford – The Poor Little Rich Girl

 

The Poor Little Rich Girl is a 1917 American comedy-drama film directed by Maurice Tourneur and stars Mary Pickford, Madlaine Traverse, Charles Wellesley, Gladys Fairbanks and Frank McGlynn, Sr. It was shot in Fort Lee, New Jersey. In 1991, The Poor Little Rich Girl was deemed “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant” by the United States Library of Congress and selected for preservation in the National Film Registry.

Plot – It’s about an 11-year-old girl, Gwendolyn, who is left by her rich and busy parents to the care of unsympathetic domestic workers at the family’s mansion. Her mother is only interested in her social life and her father has serious financial problems and is even contemplating suicide. When she manages to have some good time with an organ-grinder or a plumber, or have a mud-fight with street boys, she is rapidly brought back on the right track. One day she becomes sick because the maid has given her an extra dose of sleeping medicine to be able to go out. She then becomes delirious and starts seeing an imaginary world inspired by people and things around her; the Garden of Lonely Children in the Tell-Tale forest. Her condition worsens and Death tries to lure her to eternal rest. But Life also appears to her and finally wins.

The Poor Little Rich Girl

Poor Little Rich GirlDirected by Maurice Tourneur
Written by Frances Marion
Starring Mary Pickford, Madlaine Traverse, Charles Wellesley, Gladys Fairbanks.
Distributed by by Artcraft Pictures
Running Time 65 minutes
Release date March 5, 1917

Mary Pickford (April 8, 1892 – May 29, 1979) was a Canadian-American motion picture actress, co-founder of the film studio United Artists, one of the original 36 founders of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, and started the Mary Pickford Foundation, a charitable organization.

She often played the role of a poor girl who married into a wealthy family but always stayed true to her roots. This friendly, modest, honest persona compounded with her beauty made her an international favorite of women and men alike. She was known as “America’s Sweetheart” and during her time, she was recognized as the most famous woman in the world.

Pickford was awarded the second Academy Award for Best Actress for her first sound film role and also received an honorary Academy Award in 1976. In consideration of her contributions to American cinema, the American Film Institute ranked Pickford as 24th in its 1999 list of greatest actors of all time.

Top 10 Mary Pickford Films (As rated by IMDB)

Mary Pickford 1Mary Pickford 2Mary Pickford 3Mary Pickford 4Mary Pickford 5Mary Pickford 6Mary Pickford 7Mary Pickford 8Mary Pickford 9Mary Pickford 10

Sylvester Stallone: The Ultimate Underdog

 

Sylvester Stallone, American icon, one of the most well-known actors in Hollywood’s history, was once unknown and broke.  He was so broke, that he sold his beloved bull mastiff, Butkus, for $50.  That same dog appeared in Rocky, the movie that launched his career.  How?

Stallone did what all wannabe actors/writers wanted to do and still want to do today; he was able to negotiate the deal of a lifetime and got to star in the first movie he wrote.  He was able to beat out stars the likes of Burt Reynolds (coming off a box-office hit in The Longest Yard) and Ryan O’Neal (coming off an Academy Award nomination for What’s Up, Doc?).  He received $35,000 for writing Rocky, then went back to the guy he sold Butkus to, and bought him back for $3,000!

Oh, about that little-known film, Rocky, there are many accounts of the underdog actor making it big.  Here’s another.  Stallone was working odd-jobs, attempting to keep his dream alive, even with a pregnant wife at home.  He was determined.  He was able to land a highly-coveted meeting with a producing duo that were at the top of their respective games, Irwin Winkler (not Fonzie) and Robert Chartoff.    If you’re scoring at home, their movies have combined to win 12 Oscars and 40 nominations.

He pitched them the story about a Philadelphia club fighter vying for the heavyweight championship of the world.  They loved the ending.  Even when United Artists (one of the hit-making studios of the time) offered him over $250,000 just for the script, he stood his ground.  Nope, “Bob Chartoff and Irwin Winkler promised me I could star in it, and I believe in them.”

Good choice.  Score one for the underdog.

Charlie Chaplin in The Tramp

 

It should be no surprise to anyone that I open this blog with the Master himself, Charlie Chaplin. He gets my first vote for his film,” The Tramp”. It is actually Chaplin’s sixth film with Essanay Studios. The Tramp marked the beginning of The Tramp character most known today, even though Chaplin played the character in earlier films. This film marked the first departure from his more slapstick character in the earlier films, with a sad ending and showing he cared for others, rather than just himself.

Plot – The Tramp (Charlie Chaplin) meets his dream girl (Edna Purviance) and takes a job on her Father’s (Ernest Van Pelt) farm. The Tramp helps around the farm, including getting rid of criminals. Everything is perfect, until the Tramp meets his dream girls’ boyfriend. He doesn’t want to get in the way of her happiness, so the film ends with the Tramp heading on back down the road.

The Tramp PosterDirected, Written, and Starring Charlie Chaplin
Produced by Jess Robbins
Also Starring Edna Purviance and Ernest Van Pelt
Cinematography by Harry Ensign
Edited by Charlie Chaplin
Distributed by Essanay Studios
Release Dates April 11, 1915
Run Time 32 minutes

Goof – Near the end of the movie, the “Tramp” writes a note and there are two separate shots of it edited in. Both notes are in completely different handwriting and the word “good bye” is spelled differently. But Charlie couldn’t blame the editor because… Yep, you guessed it! It was himself.

Sir Charles Spencer “Charlie” Chaplin, (16 April 1889 – 25 December 1977) was an English comic actor and film-maker who rose to fame in the silent film era. Chaplin became a worldwide icon through his screen persona “the Tramp” and is considered one of the most important figures in the history of the film industry.

Chaplin’s childhood in London was defined by poverty and hardship. His Father was mostly absent and his Mother was committed to a mental institution, so Charlie began working at a very young age. He always preferred performing to the workhouses, so he toured music halls and later worked as a stage actor and comedian. At 19 he travelled to America and began working for the Fred Karno Company, appearing in the popular Keystone comedies. He soon developed the Tramp persona and formed a large fan base. Chaplin directed his own films from an early stage, and continued to hone his craft as he moved to the Essanay, Mutual, and First National corporations. By 1918, he was one of the best known figures in the world.

In 1919, Chaplin co-founded the distribution company United Artists, which gave him complete control over his films. This is where he wrote, directed, and produced many films that rank on various industry lists of the greatest films of all time.

Chaplin’s later years are marked with controversy as he found his popularity decline. He was accused of having communist sympathies and was criticized for having marriages to much younger women. There was even a scandal involving a paternity suit. Eventually, an FBI investigation was opened, and Chaplin was forced to leave the United States and settle in Switzerland.

In 1972, as part of a renewed appreciation for his work, Chaplin received an Honorary Academy Award for “the incalculable effect he has had in making motion pictures the art form of this century”. Today, he continues to be held in high regard and is often celebrated as one of the most pivotal stars of the early days of Hollywood.

Just as a side note, I think that Robert Downey Jr’s portrayal of Charlie Chaplin in the film “Chaplin” was brilliant. It’s a travesty that he didn’t win an Academy Award for it, but you’ll have to wait to read all about it in my next series, “100 Years of the Best Oscar Snubs”.

Top 10 Charlie Chaplin Films (As rated by IMDB)

Charlie Chaplin's Top 10 Films as rated by IMDB
Charlie Chaplin’s Top 10 Films (As Rated by IMDB)