Monday, December 23, 2013

Christmas Art

Merry Christmas to all! Here are some sketches done by my hubby, David Hardy. I hope you all enjoy them!

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Tribute Sketches by David Hardy

December, 2013 has been a sad time for classic film fans. We have lost Eleanor Parker, Audrey Totter, Peter O'Toole, and Joan Fontaine. I have spotlighted Eleanor Parker and Joan Fontaine and included sketches done by my talented husband, David Hardy. I decided to share the other tribute sketches he has done. I hope you enjoy them!

Audrey Totter

Joan Fontaine

Monday, December 16, 2013

Another Star Joins the Heavens: Joan Fontaine

It was just last week that Eleanor Parker's death was mourned. Now, another leading lady from Hollywood's Golden Age has passed away, Joan Fontaine. I became a fan of Ms. Fontaine after watching Alfred Hitchcock's Rebecca. Her portrayal of the ingenuous, second Mrs. DeWinter was beautiful. Watching the evolution of Fontaine's character from a naive, love-struck girl to a loyal, stalwart wife was amazing. I then discovered Suspicion, another Hitchcock vehicle. In Suspicion, Fontaine played Lina McLaidlaw. Lina could have been a one note, spinsterish woman who marries a ne'er do well. However, Joan Fontaine showed Lina to be a lonely, young woman who desperately wants to believe the best about her handsome husband, Johnnie. However, although inexperienced in love, Lina is an intelligent woman who senses that Johnnie is not all he pretends to be. For her work in Suspicion, Joan Fontaine earned an Oscar for Best Actress of 1941.

Tribute sketch of Joan as The Constant Nymph by my husband David Hardy.

Over the years, I've seen numerous films starring Joan Fontaine and read her autobiography, No Bed of Roses. One film that Ms. Fontaine mentioned in her autobiography fondly was The Constant Nymph. Unfortunately, public showings were limited due the author's deal with Warner Brothers and some other legal issues. When I met David, he mentioned that he was lucky enough to see the film during a showing at his library. It was the one film starring Joan Fontaine which I just had to see. Finally, TCM resolved the various legal issues and obtained the rights to the film. I was thrilled and a bit scared when TCM announced the TV premiere of The Constant Nymph in September of 2011. Sometimes, a film does not live up to one's expectations. I was so happy that The Constant Nymph was even better than I hoped it would be. Without a doubt, Joan Fontaine was brilliant as Tessa Sanger. She had a tender, ethereal quality that a muse like Tessa should possess. I am so glad Ms. Fontaine lived to see audiences rediscover this wonderful film.

Joan Fontaine like her sister, Olivia DeHavilland, was a STAR. Fontaine was not a star, like we classify today's crop of movie actors. She had class and a timeless beauty. That is why she will be fondly remembered for years to come.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Another Star Joins the Heavens: Eleanor Parker

My earliest memories of Eleanor Parker were of her TV work. She was Sally Field's oldest sister in a TV movie I enjoyed as a kid, a nifty Christmas murder mystery entitled Home for the Holidays. Yes, Eleanor was a bit too old at that point to Sally's sister, but somehow, she made it work. I also am a child of the Aaron Spelling era. God Bless Aaron Spelling! Thanks to him, I saw stars like Ms. Parker on Love Boat and Fantasy Island. Even as a kid, I knew there was something special about the Golden Age Hollywood stars Spelling showcased. Eleanor Parker was a natural fit for these shows and seeing this classy lady made me look for her movies on TV. In addition, my Dad liked Eleanor Parker so he also piqued my interest in her.

The first movie I saw with Eleanor Parker was The Sound of Music. I must admit that understood why Captain Von Trapp (Christopher Plummer) would be engaged to this woman. Parker's Baroness was oozing with sophistication. Yes, I was ok with Von Trapp ending up with Maria, but I felt sorry for the Baroness. The movie that made a true fan had to be Lizzie. Parker plays a woman with multiple personality disorder. I was amazed by performance. Unfortunately, this film was released the same year as Joanne Woodward's The Three Faces of Eve, so it tends to be forgotten. If TCM shows this movie, do yourself a favor and watch it.

As time passed, I had the opportunity to see more of Ms. Parker's films. I think my personal favorite is Between Two Worlds. Eleanor Parker showed at a young age she could hold her own in highly talented cast which included Paul Henreid, John Garfield, Sydney Greenstreet, and Edmund Gwenn. But I also enjoy Scaramouche, Valley of the Kings, and The King and Four Queens. These films are wonderful examples of Parker's star power and screen presence . By the 1950's, it was clear that Eleanor Parker had become of one Hollywood's top leading ladies.

TCM will honor Eleanor Parker on December 17th with a mini-marathon of her films from 6 am to 8pm. There is no modern version of Eleanor Parker. She was a unique actress. Parker had the ability to play in gritty films like Detective Story and The Man with the Golden Arm. However, she was equally solid in westerns like Escape From Fort Bravo or adventure films like The Naked Jungle. Eleanor Parker was one of the last great stars of old Hollywood and she will be missed.

Saturday, December 7, 2013

CMBA Film Passion 101 Blogathon: A Daughter's Education

I have always believed the most valuable gift my father gave me was the introduction to the world of classic film. In my opinion, my Dad's passion for film was cultivated by his godmother, Gertrude. Gertrude was my grandmother's cousin and a former Ziegfeld girl. Although Gertrude was never a star, she loved theater and took my Dad into NYC to see shows. I remember that he told me going into the city with her was fun. Gertrude still knew some people in the business, so my Dad got to hear their stories. I think it was a natural progression for my Dad to start watching old movies on TV that hearkened back to a time of truly great stars.

Dad (Don Gilbert) and me

My Dad's favorite actress was Bette Davis. Not surprisingly, she is mine too. I can't remember a time when I didn't know who Bette Davis was. I saw her face death with dignity in Dark Victory. I watched as she loved and fought with Errol Flynn in The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex. I rooted for her when she transformed herself in Now, Voyager. Most of all, I remember being completely engrossed by Bette's passion and screen presence. I still marvel at how she could convincingly be a supportive, loving wife as she was in Watch on the Rhine. Then, she could brilliantly portray a character like Regina Giddens in The Little Foxes, who was the complete opposite.

Although Bette was Dad's favorite leading lady, he did not limit his viewing to just the films of Ms. Davis. He encouraged me to watch a variety of wonderful films with other actors and actresses. He loved Lifeboat with Tallulah Bankhead so he made sure I got to see it. Apparently, he loved this movie so much that he would stay up every time it was on the late show. It got to the point where my grandfather would hear the opening and ask if that "damn ship" was sinking again? Another movie my Dad loved was Casablanca. He watched it every time it was on TV. His favorite part is where Paul Henreid has the band play La Marseillaise and the patrons of Rick's Cafe sing along. Well, in my house, Dad always sang along too. San Francisco was another film dad introduced me too. And, yes he sang the title song along with Jeanette MacDonald.

My Dad encouraged me to learn more about films of Hollywood's Golden Age by giving me books about the era. Some of my favorites that still have today are: The Warner Brothers Story by Clive Hirschhorn; Garson Kanin's Together Again; and The Golden Age of B Movies by Doug McClelland. I also could look up my favorite stars in The Great Movie Stars: The Golden Years by David Shipman. In fact, I enjoyed browsing this text for hours to discover even more actors and actresses of the era. It was this book that piqued my interest in Ruth Chatterton and Kay Francis. As a result, I looked for their films on TV and found several films that are still favorites of mine like Dodsworth and One Way Passage.

Watching pre-1960 movies became my norm by the time I was old enough to choose what I wanted to watch. I vividly remember how great weekend programming was in my childhood. I loved "The Bowery Boys" and Abbott and Costello movies. The weekend usually meant Creature Feature and Chiller Theatre to satisfy my monster and sci-fi needs. I have to say that the Universal monster movies were my preference. But I distinctly remember Christopher Lee scaring the hell out me as Dracula in the Hammer films. As lover of mysteries, Sunday afternoons could be spent with Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce as Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson or Sidney Toler as Charlie Chan.

I know my first crushes were Golden Age movie stars. George Brent without a doubt was the very first. He wore clothes so well and had a quiet strength which I admired. Obviously, Errol Flynn was another crush. Honestly, I can't name another actor who had the personality and good looks that Flynn did in his prime. William Powell's sophisticated looks and wonderful sense of humor made me love him. And who wouldn't want a Southern gentleman like Joseph Cotten as a boyfriend?

It's hard to explain to anyone born after 1980 what it was like to anticipate the showing of a movie on TV. I remember how excited I was in 1976 that Gone With the Wind was going to make its TV premiere on NBC. It was shown in two parts and there was NO way I was going to miss it. Watching The Wizard of Oz was an annual event not to be missed in the Gilbert household during the 1970's and 1980's. Every Thanksgiving meant WWOR's annual showing of King Kong, Son of Kong, and Mighty Joe Young. Other movies that were shown yearly and were "must sees" for me were The Poseidon Adventure, March of the Wooden Soldiers, and Miracle on 34th Street. And is it me or is the Christmas season not as much fun without It's a Wonderful Life showing daily (even hourly) on PBS? For the children of the VCR and DVR age, the idea of watching a show when it is on or not getting to see it at all seems ludicrous.

Today, I have a huge and diverse movie collection. I have a sizable library of books about the films and stars of Hollywood's Golden Age. Thanks to TCM's community, I met my husband David. If it weren't for my Dad introducing me to the magical world of classic movies, I might never have found David. Dad provided me with a wonderful education in cinema. An education that created a passion. A passion that led to another soul who shares the same passion. I think Dad is smiling up in heaven that the education he provided for his daughter has led to genuine happiness in her life.

David and me
All I can say in closing is THANK YOU DAD!!!

This blog is dedicated to the memory of my father Donald Gilbert (1944 - 1996)

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Thanksgiving with the Gorillas

 I am reposting this blog from three years ago. I hope you enjoy it! Happy Thanksgiving to all!

As I get ready to spend Thanksgiving with my husband David, mother Marge, and some close family friends, I am reminded of the Thanksgiving Days of my youth. Oddly enough, I spent them with my family and gorillas. Yes, you read correctly. Dinner consisted of the traditional roast turkey with all the trimmings. However, my brothers and I loved watching the trio of gorilla movies on WOR Channel 9 from NYC.

Starting in the early afternoon, the station began its gorilla mini-marathon. Whose idea it was to program these movies? I don't know, but it did become a Thanksgiving tradition with those of my generation. Yes, the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade was and is a great NY tradition. However, in the 1970's & 1980's, young adults, teenagers, kids, and classic movie fans looked forward to the King Kong, Son of Kong,  & Mighty Joe Young triple bill on Channel 9.

To this day, it surprises people that this trio of classic movie films was chosen even over football in many homes. Is really surprising though? There was great storytelling in each of these stories. Plus, forget CGI -- the special effects in these movies gave Kong, Son of Kong, and Mighty Joe a human quality. We cried when Kong and Son of Kong died. We cheered when Mighty Joe saved the children at the orphanage fire while risking his own life. I think we connected with these "characters" because they had expressive  facial gestures that the modern special effect techniques do not emphasize. Now, it's all about making it "pop." Then, it was about the art of the film too. To me, the enduring success of these three movies lies in the magic of Old Hollywood. During the Golden Era, there was desire to draw the audience into the story and completely invest in the characters. It did not matter whether those characters were human or not, every effort was made to endow a sympathic quality in the protagonist. That is why these three movies work -- we understand what makes each lead character (Kong, Son of Kong, and Mighty Joe) take the actions he does.

It is very simple for me to understand why I connected with King Kong, Son of Kong, and Mighty Joe Young as great Thanksgiving movies. Thanksgiving is a time to reflect on everything we appreciate in our own lives. It is also a time to consider those who have sacrificed for us. In those films, there is sacrifice by the "non-human" stars. What better way to celebrate Thanksgiving but with movies that show there is sadness but also unselfishness in this world.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Hammer Halloween Blogathon: Martine Beswick in Dr. Jekyll and Sister Hyde

When Rick of Classic Film and TV Cafe asked for participants for a Hammer Halloween Blogathon, I joined enthusiastically. I love many of the Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee movies made at Hammer like Horror of Dracula, The Curse of Frankenstein, and The Mummy. However, I decided I wanted to highlight a Hammer star whom I have met twice instead: Martine Beswick. Beswick co-starred in One Million Years B.C. In addition, she played the lead role in Prehistoric Women. Many men will fondly remember Martine for her roles in these films. She was strong, confident, and sexy. I know numerous men (like my hubby) who still find the cat fight between Martine and Raquel to be a high point in One Million Years B.C. However, the Hammer film in which Martine Beswick gets to truly show her acting skills is Dr. Jekyll and Sister Hyde.

David's ink of Martine Beswick as Sister Hyde

Dr. Jekyll and Sister Hyde is a very interesting film because it takes the tale of a doctor whose experimentation releases his dark side in a different direction. In this version, Dr. Jekyll (Ralph Bates) is trying to create an elixir of life. He discovers that female hormones may be the secret ingredient needed for elixir. Jekyll hires grave robbers Burke and Hare (Ivor Dean and Tony Calvin) to provide him with newly deceased young women so he has enough hormones for his experiments. He succeeds in extending the life of a male housefly and shares his discovery with his friend Professor Robertson (Gerald Sim). Robertson is not impressed because he says the fly is female and the life span is not exceptional for a female. Jekyll insists he started with a male fly. However, there are eggs in the fly's jar indicating that the fly is now female.

Jekyll records his findings

Jekyll decides that he needs a human subject. Therefore, he decides to inject himself with his magic mixture. After injecting himself, Jekyll is transformed into a sexy woman (Martine Beswick). Now, Jekyll realizes he needs to do more work and research. Meanwhile, he is attracting the attention of his upstairs neighbors, the Spencers. Mrs. Spencer (Dorothy Alison) and her son Howard (Lewis Fiander) are somewhat suspicious of Jekyll's odd behavior. However, Mrs. Spencer's daughter Susan (Susan Brodrick) is attracted to Jekyll and convinced he is a good man.

Sister Hyde emerges

The good doctor is determined to continue his research but has to deal with some major issues. First, he needs to explain why a woman is in his apartment. Jekyll decides to call his alter ego, Mrs. Hyde. She is his widowed sister who is temporarily living with him. In addition, Mrs. Hyde and Howard have developed a mutual attraction. This leads to Mrs. Hyde's desire to emerge more often.

Howard and Hyde share a private moment together.

A second issue arises when the people of London have figured out what Burke and Hare have been doing. They haven't just been robbing graves, they have been murdering women too. A lynch mob blinds Burke and hangs Hare. This means Jekyll will need a new source for recently deceased young women. Therefore, Jekyll decides that he will provide his own "fresh" supply of young females. He does not view his killing as "murder" since it is in the name of science.

Susan Spencer, the woman who loves Jekyll

The third issue involves Jekyll's own feelings for Susan. He has never let anyone get very close to him. However, Jekyll is attracted to Susan's kindness as well as her beauty. This potential relationship angers Mrs. Hyde. She wants to be the dominate personality and create a life with her lover, Howard.  Just as in other versions of the story, the Hyde character is willing to do anything to survive. In fact, Mrs. Hyde begins to do the killing for Jekyll in order to procure more hormones for the elixir that helps her live.

Sister Hyde on the prowl

I found this film to be interesting for reasons other than the gender twist. The fact that plot works the real life killers Burke and Hare into the story is quite clever. After all, Jekyll would go to the best source for "recently deceased." In addition, when Jekyll and Hyde begin their murder spree, it is in the Whitechapel section of London. Hence, the film proposes that Jack the Ripper was in fact Jekyll/Hyde.

I think the striking resemblance between Ralph Bates and Martine Beswick helps make the plot plausible. It does seem reasonable that Bates could evolve into Beswick as a woman. I also like how Jekyll is portrayed here. Jekyll is not as noble as he is in previous versions. Jekyll consciously chooses to commit murder while he is Jekyll in order to  continue his work. His disregard for human life while the "good" personality is pretty shocking. I think Ralph Bates is very effective in depicting Jekyll as amoral. In this version, it is hard to truly condone his actions. This version and Bates' portrayal make it clear that Jekyll is self absorbed and ultimately should be held responsible for all the tragedy that occurs.

However, it is Martine Beswick who truly impressed me in this film. She has less screen time than Bates, but she makes the most of it. Much of her acting is nonverbal. Beswick is not given a great deal of dialogue so her demeanor is key to her performance. She radiates confidence with her sly grin. Martine said in a Q & A session at Monster Bash in June, 2012 that she was proud of her work in this film. I wholeheartedly agree. If you have not seen Dr. Jekyll and Sister Hyde, why not take a look this Halloween?