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ON THE ROCKS: ESCAPISM AT ITS BEST

Bill Murray is in the enviable position of having talented filmmakers writing scripts with him in mind. Sofia Coppola struck gold with him some years ago with Lost in Translation and has come through with another appealing vehicle, On the Rocks. Murray occupies a unique place among movie stars. His quirky appeal has stood the test of time—it’s been forty years since Caddyshack!  He’s not a one-trick pony, yet his screen persona is so potent that he seems to be doing what actors like Cary Grant and John Wayne used to be accused of: playing himself. That ignorant assessment was an insult to their talent, and it’s no less true of Murray. He is acting in roles that have been hand-crafted to play to his strengths. Coppola has cast him…

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RARE SILENT FILMS ON BLU-RAY AND DVD

First, I want to spread the word that the good folks at Film Preservation Society (www.filmpreservationsociety.org) are offering a Blu-ray copy of the 1925 Richard Dix comedy Too Many Kisses, which features the screen debut of Harpo Marx. The entertaining feature stars Dix, Frances Howard (later Mrs. Samuel Goldwyn), William Powell, and Harpo in a brief but memorable appearance. An original piano score has been provided by Harpo’s son Bill Marx, a Juilliard graduate who’s been a professional musician his entire life. Proceeds benefit the FPS, which has undertaken a massive project to restore all of D.W. Griffith’s Biograph shorts from the best available materials. You’ll see a sample (A Child’s Impulse, starring Mary Pickford) on the Blu-ray, along with The House That Shadows Built, a 1931 Paramount…

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CARY GRANT: A BRILLIANT DISGUISE by Scott Eyman

CARY GRANT: A BRILLIANT DISGUISE by Scott Eyman (Simon and Schuster) Over the years, it’s been said, people told Cary Grant they wished they could be like him and the star responded, “So do I.” This is more than an anecdote; it’s the bittersweet truth about a superb actor whose greatest performance was the one he gave for half a century: convincing people that he was just like the debonair fellow he played so effortlessly onscreen. As Scott Eyman puts it, “Cary Grant was an incrementally devised artificial construct, whereas Archie Leach was the authentic man. Archie had no particular problem being Archie, but playing Cary Grant would easily provoke the emotional equivalent of flop sweat at the risk of being exposed as an impostor.”…

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NEW AND NOTABLE FILM BOOKS  September 2020

  HITCHCOCK’S CALIFORNIA: VISTA VISIONS FROM THE CAMERA EYE by Robert Jones, Dan Auiler, and Aimee Sinclair; introduction by Bruce Dern; afterword by Dorothy Herrmann (Middlebrow Books) At first glance I thought this striking, oversized book was a series of re-creations of scenes from Hitchcock films. That’s not quite right. It is a book of images by two talented photographers who were inspired by The Master of Suspense. Some of them are replicas of shots from such famous films as Vertigo and Psycho, but many simply try to capture the mood those scenes evoke. Knowing that they were shot on film in a “widescreen” format makes them all the more effective. Jones explains his near-obsession with Hitchcock in an interesting conversation with Hitchcock scholar Auiler and compares photographic…

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THE PERSONAL HISTORY OF DAVID COPPERFIELD

I’m a sucker for Charles Dickens, and I must confess I came to him through movies. It was a showing of the 1935 David Copperfield that inspired me to read the source novel when I was a boy; then I became a Dickens buff. I am also predisposed to like anything devised by Armando Iannucci, creator of The Thick of It, In the Loop, Veep and The Death of Stalin. Blending the sharp edge of Iannucci’s satire with Dickens’ broad-ranging social commentary might seem an odd mélange, but there is much to enjoy in this unconventional adaptation. By casting Dev Patel in the leading role and ignoring skin color and ethnicity, Iannucci is packing a 19th century message in a 21st century bottle. Does it make sense that Asian, Indian, and English…

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JOHN WAYNE, MARLENE DIETRICH, OUR GANG AS YOU’VE NEVER SEEN THEM

Imagine John Wayne hosting a television show like Entertainment Tonight. In a way he did, when he was rebounding from the failure of his first starring film, Fox’s epic production The Big Trail in 1930. The make-believe television series was called The Voice of Hollywood and it was a series of theatrical short subjects produced by Louis Lewyn, who had co-created Screen Snapshots in the early 1920s. That series continued for decades, offering audiences a peek behind the scenes of movieland. The Voice of Hollywood was essentially the same idea with a twist: each ten-minute episode purported to be a television show being broadcast on station S-T-A-R from Hollywood. Some episodes even show engineers working in a futuristic TV control room.     Lewyn spent his career repeatedly reshaping the same basic concept. Over…

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REMEMBERING OLIVIA DE HAVILLAND

It had to happen sometime, but with the passing of Olivia de Havilland today at the age of 104 the curtain rings down on the golden age of Hollywood. There are other survivors of that era but none can match the stature of this two-time Oscar winner—or her game-changing refusal to abide by an unfair contract with Warner Bros. Her victory benefited working actors of every rank and is still celebrated today. I had one opportunity to interview her, on a rare trip from her home in Paris to promote the 1998 reissue of her most famous film, Gone With The Wind. I had about twenty minutes to pack in as many questions as possible while trying to avoid the obvious ones.     We discussed the…

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