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Cybill Shepherd: Taxi Driver Confessions

26 Jul

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There is no denying Cybill Shepherd’s attractiveness. She is an absolutely beautiful blonde with a smoldering intelligence that makes her gaze unavoidable, especially to men.

October 1972:  Studio portrait of American model and actor Cybill Shepherd leaning forward while lying on her stomach with her hand to her face in a low-cut top, New York City.  (Photo by Gerald Israel/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

When she came onto the Hollywood scene in the early 1970’s that was basically all it took to at least get a shot in Hollywood. And Cybill took it.

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Different generations will remember Cybill for different indelible roles she embodied.

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Her first big blush with fame was as Jacy Farrow in Peter Bogdanovich’s LAST PICTURE SHOW (1971).

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Jacy is a femme fatale of the highest order and Cybill portrayed her like an irresistible wrecking ball, both onscreen and on the set.

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The comely actress not only had affairs with the director as well as her young co-star, Jeff Bridges – but almost everyone else associated with this classic movie.

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She was accused of wrecking the director’s marriage. Her and Peter would go on to make two more movies together – both critical box office failures.

 

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And it isn’t hard to believe why every man that came in her path would end up seduced by her.

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Next up for Cybill was THE HEARTBREAK KID (1972) with Charles Grodin and directed by Elaine May.

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The film was another critical hit and Cybill was on her way to becoming Hollywood’s next big “it” girl.

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Of course, I’m part of the generation that remembers Cybill most for her role as Betsy opposite Robert DeNiro in Martin Scorsese’s TAXI DRIVER (1976).

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I was too young to see the movie in theaters but over a decade later after it’s release I caught it on cable (as did an entire generation) and Cybill certainly made an impression as Travis Bickle’s obsession.

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Cybill is amazing in this role and a critical part of the storyline. Travis’s obsession with her is what drives him to do more and more desperate acts to gain her favor.

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Instead, it turns him into more of a psychopath – and this is what sets up one of the most amazing endings in modern film history.

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Legend has it that Scorsese asked his casting agent for a “Cybill Shepherd” type. The young director had no idea that he would be able to get the real thing.

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I’m a believer that if this role wasn’t as compelling as Cybill was able to make it, then the cognitive leap for DeNiro’s character to go full-on psycho at the end would not have been as believable.

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But it was believable and TAXI DRIVER became a highly influential film for many screenwriters and filmmakers. Now, you would think that Cybill would have Hollywood by the tail after this movie and her previous hits but you would be wrong.

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While a critical hit, Taxi Driver made relatively little money on its initial theatrical release. And two short years later in 1978, Cybill would leave Hollywood, returning to her hometown of Memphis, TN to do regional theater.

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Cybill would return to Hollywood in 1983 just in time to land MOONLIGHTING after a couple successful turns in smaller films. This was back in the days when a film star who turned to TV was still a risky endeavor.

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But the producers wanted Cybill so much that they allowed her final say on her male co-star. She ultimately decided on Bruce Willis because of their on-screen chemistry.

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The chemistry was so good, in fact, that Cybill and Bruce almost ended up in bed together off the set. But instead, they refrained from their baser instincts in favor of keeping it smoldering on the small screen and the show was a huge, Emmy-winning hit for several years.

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Cybill went on to have her own TV show as well as write a best-selling autobiography in which she spilled the beans on all the famous men she slept with on the way up, down, and back up the Hollywood ladder.

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It’s refreshing to know such a successful actress can tell it like it is when such candid confessions could end a career. But then, Cybill was never one to go along with the pack.

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I’ll always love Cybill Shepherd for her beauty and intelligence and the way she was able to live her life on her own terms in an industry that usually only affords such privilege on men.

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Cybill beat the boys at their own game, however, and took her lumps to boot. It’s a great career and one that any actress working today should aspire to. With or without the Taxi Driver credentials, Cybill will always be one of my absolute biggest Hollywood crushes.

 

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The Maltese Falcon: The Flitcraft Parable

14 Jun

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If the stars suddenly aligned on an especially dark night and I was given the chance to remake the film of my choice, I wouldn’t hesitate to tell the movie gods I will do The Maltese Falcon. And if such a cinematic fate befell me, my adaptation would include one special passage in Dashiell Hammet’s novel that has never been translated to film even though at least three film Falcons have soared into movie theaters since the novel debuted in 1930.

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Noir fans call it the “Flitcraft Parable” found in Chapter 7: G in the Air — a short digression completely unrelated to the novel’s plot in which Sam Spade, tells Brigitte O’Shaunessy a little story about a man named Flitcraft.

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In the story, Spade explains how Flitcraft, a real estate agent and family man living in Tacoma goes to lunch one day never to return.  Five years go by and his wife comes to the detective agency where Spade is working with news: someone in Spokane has seen a man resembling her husband. She retains Spade to track him down only to discover that it is indeed Flitcraft.

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Flitcraft tells Spade the day he went to lunch, he had walked by an office building under construction and a huge beam fell from eight to ten stories up, impaling itself into the sidewalk right beside him. The experience of nearly being killed had a profound effect on Flitcraft, jarring him out of his very existence for a moment. As Spade explains:

“He felt like somebody had taken the lid off life and let him look at the works,” says Spade. “The life he knew was a clean orderly sane responsible affair. Now a falling beam had shown him that life was fundamentally none of these things.”

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Flitcraft had left for Seattle that day without any provisions or extra cash. To his family, it was as if he had simply disappeared off the face of the earth. Flitcraft moved around a little bit before eventually coming back to Washington State where he married again – to a woman very much in appearance and temperament as his first wife – and started a new family. Spade concludes the story with a final thought:

“I don’t think he even knew he had settled back naturally in the same groove he had jumped out of in Tacoma,” says Spade. “But that’s the part of it I always liked. He adjusted himself to beams falling, and then no more of them fell, and he adjusted himself to them not falling.”

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I know why no filmmaker before me has ever seen the need to keep this digression in their movie version of The Maltese Falcon. It’s because on the surface of it, the Flitcraft Parable has nothing specifically to do with the larger plot of The Maltese Falcon. But if you think about it in terms of Spade’s character and, by extrapolation, author Hammett – you see that it has everything to do with how Spade is able to prevail in almost any situation put before him.

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Sam Spade is a master of observation.  A student of human behavior with the uncanny ability to boil life down to its barest and most basic essentials at any given moment. He’s able to see a situation by any given angle and point of view from whichever character he finds in the room. He knows that once you strip away love, desire, greed, lust, rage and romanticism from any equation – you are left with the truth: what we do with our lives is largely insignificant in the larger scheme of things.

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Who we love or hate, who we back and who we resist, will be most certainly be forgotten soon after we shed this mortal coil. That thought, whether delivered by steel beam from the heavens or a loved one’s untimely departure, whether by ugly divorce, chronic illness or natural catastrophe – is coming for each and every human who has ever lived. And when faced with our own mortality, we humans tend to react with varying forms of panic, fear, terror and desperation.

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What is less common, however, and what is so magical and I believe cinematic about Hammett’s Flitcraft Parable is not so much what the character of Flitcraft does – but how and why Sam Spade is telling the story in the first place. Spade is telling Brigitte that he (Spade) perceives life to be a game at best, a cosmic joke at worst. We’re lucky to even be alive, walking the earth so why take things so seriously? And at the same time, Spade plays the game well, better than anyone else and that includes her. And because of this high-powered perception, he knows that she is bad, playing him for a sap, a chump. He’ll play along as long as it amuses him, to see how it all ends up. Because what’s love when there’s a steel beam 30 stories up just waiting to fall with your number on it. Might as well enjoy life before it falls and that includes playing chess with the likes of a beautiful femme fatale.

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THE MALTESE FALCON, Elisha Cook, Jr., Sydney Greenstreet, Humphrey Bogart, Mary Astor, 1941

In the end of The Maltese Falcon, Sam Spade’s greatest fear is not death but being made a fool. And he’ll resist being her fool because as he tells her, “all of me wants to.” Spade could give Gandhi a run for his money when it comes to resisting an urge. He’s a professional, after all, with a job to do. And when death does come for him as it will all of us , you better believe he’ll stare into the Grim Reaper’s eye-sockets and grin back at him. Now that’s dark, people. It’s why I love Noir because it doesn’t hold back on the reality of the human condition – but pushes it kicking and screaming into the center of the spotlight.

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We’re all going to die, so we might as well enjoy ourselves and have a little fun. That’s why Noir as a genre is more than alive as well. Why Hammett’s Flitcraft Parable would be right at home in recent existential fare such as TRUE DETECTIVE (can’t you see Matthew McConaughey’s character regaling The Flitcraft Parable to an annoyed Woody Harrelson?) or even THE DARK KNIGHT’s JOKER character played by the late, great Heath ledger.  That’s the power of classic Noir, to strike a chord in every human’s fibrous, meaty core and question why each one of us are here and why the hell we take everything so damn seriously.

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Take Hammett and Spade’s word for it. Life is a game so enjoy it for what it’s worth and remember to play the game well while you have the time. Because you better believe the competition are playing for keeps – and no one likes to be made a fool of.

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FDR: President was Wannabe Screenwriter

20 Mar

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That’s right, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, our 32nd President (1933-1945), wanted to be a screenwriter before he got into politics. Here’s the article from 1947 illustrating how Paramount Pictures went about letting down gently the future Leader of the free world.

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Sophia Loren: Dangerous Curves

21 Sep

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Sophia Loren is one of the most beautiful women ever to grace the silver screen.

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Her exotic looks are all natural and she was happy to share them with the world.

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An exotic import, Sophia has a larger than life persona that she flaunted to maximum effect.

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But what I love her for is her class mixed with sex appeal, able to play one off the other.

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Even when lampooning her own public image, Sophia did it with grace.

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I especially like this shot of her. So stunning!

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And this one. How she could turn a corny glamor shoot into art I’ll never know.

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But even dressed down and wind-swept she was beautiful!

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Happy Birthday, Sophia! And many more…

Carole Lombard: Way Before Her Time

10 Aug

This is my favorite photograph of the amazingly luminous Carole Lombard. Carole died in a plane crash in January 1942 after appearing in a USO show to sell War bond during World War II. She was a brilliant and beautiful actress with a bawdy sense of humor and loved men almost as much as they loved her.

Only 33 when she died, Carole lived the high-life in Hollywood, was known for hosting some of Hollywood’s legendary parties and attracted some of the most handsome leading men both on and off the screen. Clark Gable would ultimately take the role of Rhett Butler in Gone With The Wind because he needed enough money to divorce his previous wife and marry Carole. They were married in 1939 and by all accounts the love of one another’s lives. That’s saying something even for golden age Hollywood where marriages lasted almost as long as the Santa Ana winds.

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I encourage any film lover to check out Carole Lombard’s screwball comedies of the 30’s. She was the highest paid actress (next to Garbo) and made five-times what the U.S. President made in a year. Carole was accompanied by her mother and publicist on the flight that would ultimately take all their lives, including 19 other people (mostly servicemen). She wanted so much to get back to Gable, her husband that she chose to fly rather than take the train. Her colleagues, both afraid of flying, begged her not to go. So Carole flipped a coin – heads by train, tails by plane – and the rest was sad Hollywood history.

I’ll always love Carole for her bawdy sense of humor, the way the light caught her eyes and that lovely blonde hair. She was as smart as they get, and I like to think that, if she lived, she would have been one of the greatest actresses ever to grace the screen. Even though her life was cut short at the top of her game, Carole lives on with a gay spirit and infectious laugh in the movies that capture her essence for all-time. And death can’t even tarnish such a pure, luminous light as Carole Lombard.

Elle Fanning: Beauty Awakens

11 May

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I think Elle is delightful and going to be a huge actress in a few more years…or maybe sooner. Her star turn in Super 8 was transformational, going from relative obscurity as younger sister to Dakota to a force in her own right. The camera lovers her even more than her sister. Her look is fresh and young, expressive and full of hope and beauty.

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Elle is now a legitimate star playing opposite Angelina Jolie in Disney’s new tentpole MALIFICENT (2014). And, to be honest, Elle who plays Sleeping Beauty will be the only reason I watch this movie. I can’t wait to see what she gets to do with the role opposite the scenery-eating Jolie, who at this point can scare me without having to put horns on. Don’t get me wrong, I’m sure it will be a monster hit. That said, the real acting will be coming from the younger thespian and not Angelina – who’s reputation for being not very nice to begin with has been firmly established. But I digress. Elle is the real star of the movie. A star who is rapidly ascending in the eyes of audiences and Hollywood alike.

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Elle is practically Hollywood royalty already. Her sister Dakota was a break-out child star and seemed to be in everything a few years back. Elle on the other hand, is on a much more mindful track to stardom – enjoying the process of filmmaking while keeping a balanced family life as well as pursuing dancing and other great, normal growing up pursuits out of the public eye. It’s so refreshing than so many other children of Hollywood who grow up too fast and burn out before they’ve even hit their mid-twenties.

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There’s  a freshness, an innocence to Elle that is integral to her onscreen appeal. I can only hope she retains that star quality while she grows into her own – amidst the pressures of stardom and all the entangling trappings that come with that rarest of territories. That’s where I think her family is going to really make the difference. As they must have learned with Dakota – fame can be fleeting but family is forever.

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I think the casting of Elle as Sleeping Beauty was a no-brainer for Disney. And I’m looking forward to her interpretation of what could potentially be a phoned-in role for any number of young starlets. But that’s what I’m really hedging my bets with for Elle: the role that every princess would love to play has gone to a young actress with some real acting chops and a beauty that can transform any ordinary role. I’m banking that she gives Angelina a run for her money, no matter how many special effects they throw into Malificent. Because at the end of the day, the classic story deserves a contemporary twist and could be a lot of spooky fun. A promise that was not fulfilled in the subpar TWIXT in which Elle was a delightful ghost – in a ghost story that was otherwise dreadful thanks to Francis Ford Coppolla’s uninspired direction.

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It will be an eye-opening experience finally seeing this sleeping beauty awaken into her own. And I’m pretty sure that will be worth the price of admission in a couple weeks!

 

Ella Raines: Phantom Leading Lady

17 Nov

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I’ve seen a lot of movies by now but I’m still young enough to have cinematic epiphanies like discovering the beautiful and enigmatic Ella Raines for the first time. This was surprising not least of which because I’m a film noir nut but that once I laid eyes on her amazing face I wondered aloud where she’d been my whole film life. The revelation came in a small, underappreciated though thoroughly engaging noir called “IMPACT” (1949).

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Ella is cast as a gorgeous garage owner in a fairly preposterous scenario involving a love triangle with a man left for dead by his conniving wife. He strays into a small town garage where Ella is doing her best to destroy an auto she is trying to fix. She needs a car mechanic and looking for love at the same time. The first time I saw her stunning face on screen I did a double take. I was discovering her in that garage right along with wronged leading man, Brian Donlevy. Only I forgot completely about his two-timing, back-stabbing, murderous wife and immediately fell head over heals for the insanely gorgeous Ella.

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Ella Raines was born in 1920 and came to Hollywood prominence fairly early in her career. She starred opposite John Wayne in “Tall In The Saddle” (1944) and hit with several other movies like “Brute Force” (1947) where she starred opposite Burt Lancaster. But her signature-noir-roles were in the curious, all-female noir “Cry Havoc” (1943) and, of course, “Phantom Lady” (1944).

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Phantom Lady had a similarly preposterous plot of a conniving woman who has sent a man to death row over a heated row with another woman who had the audacity to wear the same hat at her nightclub show. There’s a murder naturally and it is up to Ella to find out the identity of the Phantom Lady in order to exonerate  her boss – whom she has fallen head over heals for. However, the plot doesn’t matter when you have a woman this gorgeous in a noir so stylistic and well-shot that the atmospherics alone create the mood and forward momentum.

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Ella is simply, darkly gorgeous in Phantom Lady. She inhabits the shadows and imbues the cigarette smoke-filled environment with a white-hot drive to save the man she loves. She’s formidable in her gallant effort to stop a would-be femme fatale and that’s enough for this moody, brooding and over the top noir. At a tight 88 minutes of running time, Phantom Lady does what it sets out to do: introduce the world to one of the greatest beauties unleashed on the silver screen in glorious black & white.

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Ella continued to act both in film and television after her amazing start to her career. But the roles were mostly in B-movies, turkeys that no matter how she shined and was shot – were still turkeys. She even had her own television show where she starred as a registered nurse (back when that career alone could be the basis of an entire show). And like so many actresses before her – she worked well into her late 50’s and 60’s with her last screen credit in 1984 – four years before her death by throat cancer in 1988.

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Ella was a classic beauty who had brains and talent more than luck with movie roles. I’m glad that Impact was my first introduction to her because it was a good noir with an interesting role for Ella. Plus, she was an absolute knockout with her hair pulled back and engine grease on her face in tailored white coveralls. If there were only women like her in garages in small towns throughout the country today. America would be a much better, much sexier place.

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My favorite glamor shot of Ella because she’s almost smiling.

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There. She finally did it. She smiled!

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And now a bit of cheesecake for the boys…

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Before going back to smoldering sensuality.

Lizabeth Scott: Ultimate Femme Fatale

11 Nov

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Lizabeth Scott is simply one of the most unusual and glamorous stars of Hollywood. Her timing was impeccable because her smoky sensuality and husky voice came at the exact moment film noir was establishing itself as the dominant genre in post World War II America. She started out on Broadway as a sub for Tallulah Bankhead in a play called “The Skin of Our Teeth” though Lizabeth never got to shine because Tallulah never got sick.

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Instead, Lizabeth (she dropped the “e” to be different) was noticed by film scouts who brought her to the attention of producer Hal Wallis.  Wallis was the genius who brought us “Casablanca” and he saw talent in the young (Lizabeth was 20) would-be screen siren. Lizabeth tested at Warner Bros. and it was a disaster but Wallis still liked her look enough to bring her with him to Paramount Pictures when he left Warner Bros. – he and Jack Warner having had a bitter falling out over Warner “stealing” the Best Picture Oscar from Wallis for Casablanca. Wallis would remember this the rest of his career and wasn’t going to let anyone take his new starlet out from under him.

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Wallis dubbed Lizabeth “The Threat” and made her over into a femme fatale and perfect foil for some of the screen’s greatest leading men. Arguably the greatest was Humphrey Bogart, whose wife Lauren Bacall and Lizabeth had similar character traits in common. Lizabeth and Bogie got to work together in the noir classic “Dead Reckoning” and Lizabeth held her own against the formidable screen presence of Bogart. She was able to be charming at the same time rip smart-aleck lines right after another. Her portrayal of world-weary, potentially dangerous women on the outside of polite society looking-in was an instant favorite of movie goers. She suspected everyone of having an angle – as did a new generation of world-war-weary Americans. She was in good company from the start.

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But Lizabeth was quickly typecast as the femme fatale of noir. She made 20 films in her time in Tinseltown and more than 80-percent of them were classic noir scenarios. Except for her very last performance in 1957, when she starred opposite a young Elvis Presley in the curious “Loving You”. Curious because the King actually had screen chemistry with the Queen of Noir in a technicolor musical and one of his first of 27 Presley movies. Off-screen, the two became great friends and stayed in touch even after Lizabeth retired from films. In fact, Lizabeth was a singer herself and would release the eponymous “Lizabeth” which, true to its name, was full of torch-songs as well as light-hearted love ballads.

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The thing I love most about Lizabeth was truly how different she was to any other actress that came before, or after, her time in the spotlight. She projected a character that had seen the dark side of life, one that had survived in spite of the lousy hand she’d been dealt. The kind of alley cat that had been kicked around and never wanted to trust anyone or get hurt, again. Yet in spite of it all, she would fall in love again and again. Sometimes the guy was on the level, sometimes not and Lizabeth’s characters would take their lumps and move on. This classic noir archetype existed before Lizabeth but she brought it into vogue – the vamp with a heart – and made it her own signature style. It’s as distinctive as her voice and her angular, often smiling in spite of the pain visage. Many actresses would imitate this style later but few would come close to Lisabeth’s signature persona.

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It astounds me that Lizabeth hasn’t received more acclaim for her work in noir. The great actress is still with us (she was born in 1922 so you do the math) and I think that the new generation of neo-noir directors (i.e. Rian Johnson, Brian Helgeland, etc.) would want to cast this living legend even if just for a cameo – in their films. Or, maybe they’ve tried and Lizabeth has rebuffed their advances like her character did in so many of those inspiring, femme fatale roles she created. She’s truly like Garbo in this way – she does want to be left alone. Still, I would give my eye teeth to sit down and talk with such a classy, under-appreciated original like Lizabeth. It would be a privilege and an honor to sit across the table from the actress who starred opposite so many golden age movie stars. And probably more than a little intimidating, too.

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A classic publicity shot of the up-n-coming star during her heyday in the California sun.

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One of the few shots of Lizabeth smiling…right before she devours you!

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That’s more like it. The Queen of the Femme Fatales in classic evening gear. The cigarette is smoldering and so is her glare.

Garbo: Viking Goddess and Independent Woman by Jacob M. Appel

20 Oct

Swedish actress Greta Garbo accomplished in less than two decades what advocates for women’s rights had sought for centuries: she showed the American public that feminine sexuality was compatible with intelligence. During the 1920s, when liberated flappers still attracted scorn from mainstream society, Garbo’s depiction of independent yet feminine beauties helped convince millions of American women that sexual initiative was not a man’s prerogative. Garbo “was allowed the right to have amorous needs and desires,” according to biographer Karen Swenson, and her popularity with both sexes enabled her to challenge “traditional roles with few negative consequences.” At the same time, Hollywood’s highest paid female star eschewed media attention and created a mystical image around her indifference to public opinion. At the age of thirty-six, Garbo retired to a life of almost hermetic seclusion. Film critic David Thomson saliently observed that “in making the journey away from fame into privacy she established herself forever as a magical figure, a true goddess, remote and austere, but intimate and touching.”

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Hollywood’s Viking beauty began life as Greta Lovisa Gustafsson on September 18, 1905. She grew up in an impoverished Stockholm household and went to work as a lather girl in a barber shop at age fourteen. By sixteen, the aspiring actress had garnered admission to Sweden’s exclusive Royal Dramatic Theater Academy. She soon impressed Scandinavia’s foremost director, Mauritz Stiller, with her perfect instincts and dignified beauty. He gave her the stage name Garbo and cast her as Countess Elizabeth Dohna in the silent screen masterpiece The Story of Gosta Berling.

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A leading role in G. W. Pabst’s Joyless Street (1925) soon followed. The part, that of a struggling Viennese women on the verge of prostitution, permitted Garbo to explore sexuality on screen for the first time. The film itself shattered box office records and became an enduring masterpiece of realistic cinema. Garbo’s great break occurred when Louis Mayer of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer recruited Stiller for his Hollywood studios. The established director insisted that his relatively obscure nineteen-year-old starlet accompany him to the United States. Stiller was soon exported back to Stockholm while Garbo became a box office sensation.

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The eleven silent movies that Garbo filmed between 1925 and 1929 earned her critical claim as Hollywood’s most talented female actress. Starring across from leading man John Gilbert in Flesh and the Devil (1927) and Love (1927) she awed audiences and shocked censors with her forthright sexuality. Garbo displayed her wide range playing a Spanish opera singer in The Torrent (1926), a Russian spy in The Mysterious Lady (1928), an English aristocrat in A Women of Affairs (1928) and a southern belle in Wild Orchids (1929). The star’s appearance influenced an entire generation as millions of female fans copied her tastes in clothing and hair styles. Crazes for artificial eye lashes and cloche hats swept the nation. Meanwhile Garbo, whom Claire Booth Luce described as “a deer in the body of a woman living resentfully in the Hollywood zoo,” distanced herself from both the public and the Los Angeles social scene.

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Garbo may have been one of the leading box office draws of the silent era but few critics expected her to make the transition to talkies. The advent of sound ended the careers of most silent stars and the Swede’s deep voice and heavy accent were expected to turn off audiences. Instead, the twenty-five-year-old actress gave her most compelling performance in an adaptation of Eugene O’Neill’s play Anna Christie (1930). She played a waterfront streetwalker searching for her barge-captain father. Her opening words, at that time the longest sound sequence ever heard in a film, are cinematic legend: “Gimme a whiskey, ginger ale on the side … and don’t be stingy, baby!” Other hits followed. Mata Hari (1932), Queen Christina (1935), Anna Karenina (1935) and Camille (1936) confirmed her reputation as the leading lady of the early sound era. Garbo’s greatest role, that of the suicidal Russian dancer Grusinskaya in Grand Hotel (1932), ranks among the best female leads ever seen on the large screen. It is here that she declares her haunting wish: “But I want to be alone.” After surprising success as the comic lead in Ninotchka (1939), Garbo filmed the lackluster Two-Face Woman (1941) and then retired from the public eye. She was thirty-six years old.

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During the last five decades of Garbo’s life, “The Scandinavian Sphinx” established herself as cinema’s leading enigma. She travelled extensively but turned down all requests for public appearances. Instead, she entertained such close friends as Winston Churchill and Martha Graham in her posh New York City apartment. As one of the grande dames of American cinema, her intimates included William Paley, Anthony Eden, Jean Cocteau, Irwin Shaw, Dag Hammarsjokld, Cole Porter, and Jacqueline Kennedy. She also devoted herself to amassing an internationally renowned art collection which boasted masterpieces by Renoir and Bonnard. Garbo received an Honorary Academy Award in 1954 for “unforgettable screen performances.” She died in New York City on April 15, 1990.

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Greta Garbo entered the American consciousness during the mid-1920s at an historical moment when gender roles were in flux. The young actress came to represent a palatable form of female liberation and brought the icon of the independent woman home to Middle America. As biographer Karen Swenson described the star, “Her intimate posture and kisses suggested a woman—not a vamp—who was secure in her sexuality.” Garbo’s influence endured long after she became film’s most celebrated recluse. Throughout her life, she remained private, elusive, and conspicuously unmarried. “There is no one who would have me. I can’t cook,” she once joked—displaying the combination of independence and feminine intelligence which made her famous.

Source: St. James Encyclopedia of Popular Culture, St. James Press (2002) Gale Group

Emily Blunt: Delayed Crush

19 Aug

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Every ardent lover of something – art, sports, literature, film – has his or her favorites. They form an immediate affinity that lasts from first sight to years, decades…forever. But then there are some artists, sports figures, novelists and actors or actresses who remain aloof, remote. They may be beautiful and talented but for some reason they never click with a particular audience member. This was my relationship with the beautiful and talented Emily Blunt…until the film LOOPER (2012).

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I’d seen Emily several times before in movies like The Adjustment Bureau (2011) with Matt Damon, Sunshine Cleaning (2008) with Amy Adams and The Devil Wears Prada (2006). And each time I just didn’t get it. Her, I mean. What was the appeal? What was I missing that everyone else could see as plain as day? What was her appeal?

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Then I saw Looper. By any reasonable estimation, Looper is a great Sci-Fi movie, flawed but with an amazing structure and narrative that demands repeated viewings to fully-appreciate. The first time I saw it, I was just trying to keep up. Until the character of Sara appeared on screen. I was blown away by the willful, strong and lonely single mother who lives in a farmhouse with her young son. I looked into Sara’s blue eyes (which the filmmaker wisely holds in close-up several times in slow-motion) and fell into a deep trance. Who was this amazing woman portraying such a strong yet vulnerable character? At first, I didn’t recognize the actress after going into the darkened movie theater and her glowing presence caught me completely off-guard.

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Then I realized it was Emily Blunt, the actress I had heretofore never been able to form any kind of meaningful attachment to. The one actress that had gotten away suddenly became my biggest silver screen crush. She was so magnetic, so heartfelt and raw in her emotions that I could not believe it was the same young woman I had seen before, albeit in roles that left me wanting. Emily was the heart and soul of Looper, the same way every great actress, given the room and screen time to grow and embody a fully-rendered character does. I just fell for her the same way I had fallen for other actresses at first sight…a delayed crush that left me speechless and wanting to see her again as soon as humanly possible.

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I’ve seen Emily since in Looper and am still swept up in how wonderful she is in that role of Sara. I see in her eyes the soul of a woman who fears she will lose everything if she doesn’t protect herself and her son from a stranger she is attracted to. And I remember what it felt like being the stranger attracted to such a powerful performance – one in which the actress had completely lost herself in only to realize her beauty and talent for the first time. That is lightning in a bottle when it happens and something that true film-lovers appreciate about their favorite actresses in the role that was made for them. That was me with Emily as Sara.

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And now I know what everyone else was seeing in the beautiful Emily Blunt then I couldn’t. And now, like them – I’m a true believer.