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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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STAN & OLLIE & BUD & LOU & BUSTER ON BLU-RAY AND DVD

  LAUREL & HARDY: THE DEFINITIVE RESTORATIONS (Kit Parker Films) I’ve been watching Laurel and Hardy since I was very young, when they were a daily presence on local television, but I’ve never seen their films look or sound as good as they do on the new four-disc set LAUREL & HARDY: THE DEFINITIVE RESTORATIONS (Kit Parker Films). The Hal Roach library has been neglected and mishandled for years. In recent years, UCLA Film and Television Archive embarked on a dedicated program of 35mm photochemical restorations, spurred on by Jeff Joseph, who then did a digital “pass” to add the finishing touch. (UCLA also established a Laurel & Hardy Preservation Fund, to which many devotees contributed.) The results are simply glorious. Nineteen shorts and two…

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MOVIE BOOK ROUNDUP JULY 2020: MAX STEINER TO THE KEYSTONE COPS

  MUSIC BY MAX STEINER: THE EPIC LIFE OF HOLLYWOOD’S MOST INFLUENTIAL COMPOSER by Steven C. Smith (Oxford University Press) You don’t need to be musically educated to appreciate or enjoy this thorough, meticulously researched and entertaining biography. Smith, who wrote the definitive book on Bernard Herrmann (A Heart at Fire’s Center) many years ago, offers a sympathetic portrait of a man with enormous talent and all-too-human foibles. Steiner was the father of film music as we know it. History would have us believe that it was King Kong (1933) that persuaded Hollywood studios and producers of the value of a full orchestral score. Smith correctly identifies Symphony of Six Million and The Most Dangerous Game as just two of the many RKO features (produced by David O. Selznick in 1932)…

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THE GHOST OF PETER SELLERS

With each passing year we see more documentaries about films and filmmakers. Some get only a passing nod while others are embraced by critics and buffs alike. In The Ghost of Peter Sellers, Hungarian-born filmmaker Peter Medak travels back 47 years to explore what went wrong with a seemingly sure-fire project proposed by Sellers. He and his Goon Show comrade Spike Milligan wrote a pirate comedy called Ghost in the Noonday Sun but the filming was an absolute disaster. Why would a man who has worked successfully in film and television all these years (with some great ones like The Ruling Class to his credit) choose to revisit the greatest nightmare of his career? It boils down to this: Ghost created a wound in Medak that has never healed. In spite of all…

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THE TRIP TO GREECE

If you’ve seen any or all of Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon’s previous ventures (The Trip, The Trip to Italy, The Trip to Spain), you know what to expect from this latest venture from director Michael Winterbottom: an attractive travelogue punctuated by elegant meals and competitive monologues by the two funny, friendly rivals. I call them monologues because their speeches rarely involve each other: each performer takes his turn, interrupts the other, then declaims some more. Having drained the cup dry on Michael Caine impressions in their first film, they compete to see who can better imitate Mick Jagger, Dustin Hoffman in Marathon Man or a number of British television hosts who are unknown to me. Brydon breaks me up as he repeatedly launches into Bee Gees…

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MILITARY WIVES

Military Wives is unapologetically corny and predictable…yet somehow it works. I tried to resist, but I love Kristin Scott Thomas and ultimately I surrendered to the movie. Although it is written by two women (Rachel Tunnard and Rosanne Flynne) it was directed by Peter Cattaneo, the man who made the quintessential underdog movie The Full Monty more than twenty years ago. Clearly he hasn’t forgotten the recipe that turned that modest film into a worldwide sensation. The final ingredient is the knowledge that the screenplay is derived from a true story—or rather, a compendium of true stories. Scott Thomas plays the wife of a commanding officer at a British military base. An educated, no-nonsense person, she takes it upon herself to organize activities for the women whose husbands…

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‘LOST’ BARBARA STANWYCK, GARY COOPER AND MORE ON DVD/BLU-RAY

  Barbara Stanwyck is one of those actresses who makes any film worth seeing. I don’t know anyone who disagrees, yet A Lost Lady (Warner Bros, 1934) is inexplicably overlooked. It’s not an important picture but I found it entirely satisfying. Stanwyck is in top form, and Frank Morgan is warmly effective as an older man who falls in love with her after tragedy turns her into a recluse. He woos and wins her but she is still vulnerable to the advances of Lyle Talbot and especially Ricardo Cortez. A Lost Lady is very loosely based on a novel by Willa Cather, who was reportedly so upset about this adaptation that she added language to her will forbidding further screen treatments. (Her book had been filmed more faithfully in…

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