My top ten list

December 23, 2009

Tis the season for top ten lists and so yours truly is jumping on the bandwagon. Mine is ridiculously silly, but I just felt like doing it :) I think it will be an annual tradition on Silents and Talkies, presuming the blog exists long enough for annual traditions to take place.

10. Reels from classic films were used to feed the fire in the burning of Atlanta scene in Gone with the Wind. (Thank you, Terry.)

9. Helen Broderick was Broderick Crawford's mother. (Thank you, imdb.)

8. Jeanne Moreau was a fantastic actress (Thank you, Vivienne.)

7. Despite the fact that I had this name picked out for over four years, finally Christened my blog with it in January and have kept it this way for nearly a year -- this blog has practically nothing to do with silents. (Thank you, brain.)

6. Gail Patrick is pretty awesome. (Thank you, C.K. Dexter Haven.)

5. My ten year search for British movies on dvd in America was finally solved when I discovered The Yammering Magpie, E-Crater and Vintage Classic Movies. (Thank you, Google, Google and Nicola)

4. Polish movie posters are really, really strange. (Thank you, Lolita.)

3. Rod Taylor was Australian! (Thank you, The V.I.P.s, a curious mind and imdb.)

2. Blogging can introduce you to your best friends. (Thank you blogger, Casey, Millie, Nicola and Sarah.)

1. DIRK BOGARDE. (Thank you, God.)

My top twenty favorite actresses

December 20, 2009

While I was out last Thursday I had some spare time, a notebook and a pen so I made my top twenty favorite actresses list (and my top twenty favorite character actors list -- coming soon!) but totally forgot to post it until this morning! I'm becoming more and more absentminded by the day, it seems.

The first five are more or less in order, then after that it's just kind of random. I chose my favorite ROLE for each actress, not necessarily my favorite film. I know I left out a lot of classic-movie-blogging-world-favorites, so please don't hate me :-)

1. Barbara Stanwyck
Favorite role: My Reputation, Meet John Doe & Ever in My Heart
(& The Lady Eve. & Ball of Fire. & Christmas in Connecticut.....)

2. Bette Davis
Favorite role: Now, Voyager (cliche, I know, but I love it!)

3. Susan Hayward
Favorite role: I Want to Live!

4. Julie Christie
Favorite role: Darling

5. Miriam Hopkins
Favorite role: Trouble in Paradise & Old Acquaintance

6. Hayley Mills
Favorite role: The Trouble with Angels

7. Jane Fonda
Favorite role: Sunday in New York

8. Jean Arthur
Favorite role: Talk of the Town & The More the Merrier

9. Joan Blondell
Favorite role: Union Depot

10. Margaret Leighton
Favorite role: The Astonished Heart & The Winslow Boy

11. Audrey Hepburn
Favorite role: How to Steal a Million

12. Celia Johnson
Favorite role: Brief Encounter & The Captain's Paradise

13. Kay Francis
Favorite role: The Goose and the Gander

14. Marsha Hunt
Favorite role: The Affairs of Martha

15. Estelle Winwood
Favorite role: The Glass Slipper

16. Juliet Mills
Favorite role: No, My Darling Daughter & Avanti

17. Ida Lupino
Favorite role: In Our Time

18. Deborah Kerr
Favorite role: Night of the Iguana

19. Glenda Farrell
Favorite role: Mystery of the Wax Museum &
all of her Torchy Blane films

20. Jeanne Moreau
Favorite role: Mademoiselle and Elevator to the Gallows

My top twenty favorite actors

December 15, 2009

Eons ago (I think it was before I even had a blog) there was a tag going around, asking people to name their top 20 favorite actors. I wasn't tagged or anything, but I really really wanted to participate. At first, when I was more or less keeping with the "artwork to go with every single post" idea, I was going to paint or draw ALL of my favorite actors. After failing miserably to capture some of their likenesses on paper (eh-hem, Dirk and Robert) I decided to just go ahead and finally do the post sans-art.

When Millie did her top 20 actors post back in March she left the tag open to anyone who wanted to jump on the bandwagon, so I'm considering myself tagged now :) And I tag anyone who wants to join in on the fun! I also think it would be super neat for people who made the list a year ago to re-do it and see if anything has changed!

Anyway.. on to the list!! The first ten are more or less in order, and the last ten aren't. Like Millie I decided to list my favorite ROLE that each actor played. It's not necessarily my favorite film of theirs, just my favorite role. For some of them I just couldn't narrow it down and had to pick two... sue me ;-D

1. Dirk Bogarde
Favorite roles: The Mind Benders and Hot Enough for June

2. Charles Boyer
Favorite role: History is Made at Night

3. Ronald Colman
Favorite role: Random Harvest

4. James Cagney
Favorite role: The Roaring Twenties

5. John Mills
Favorite Role: The October Man

6. Fred Astaire
Favorite role: On The Beach, Shall We Dance

7. Trevor Howard
Favorite role: Brief Encounter

8. Joel McCrea
Favorite role: Sullivan's Travels

9. Gary Cooper
Favorite role: Mr. Deeds Goes to Town

10. Cary Grant
Favorite role: Indiscreet

11. Dana Andrews
Favorite role: The Best Years of Our Lives & My Foolish Heart

12. Herbert Marshall
Favorite role: The Good Fairy

13. Fredric March
Favorite role: Design for Living

14. Robert Montgomery
Favorite role: Here Comes Mr. Jordan & Piccadilly Jim

15. Jack Lemmon
Favorite role: The Apartment & The Notorious Landlady

16. Alastair Sim
Favorite role: Stage Fright & A Christmas Carol

17. Roger Livesey
Favorite role: I Know Where I'm Going

18. Walter Huston
Favorite role: Dodsworth

19. Richard Burton
Favorite role: Night of the Iguana

20. Marcello Mastroianni
Favorite role: 8 1/2

For the record,
if this list was my top 22 actors instead of my top 20, Henry Fonda and Charlie Chaplin would have made the list. Just saying...

A new favorite, movie-wise

December 14, 2009

It's been a whole ten years since I first discovered classic films over Christmas vacation in 1999. What started as an initial obsession with Audrey Hepburn eventually transformed into a love of cinema in all it's pre-1970 forms: the pre-code, the artsy foreign film, the musicals, the soapy melodramas, the super popular movies like Casablanca and the ones practically nobody has heard of like Mary Jane's Pa.

If I was ever forced to name the one topic that I have any expertise in, I'd have to say classic film, despite the fact that my knowledge on the subject is pitifully small compared to many of the classic film bloggers and historians I admire. One of the things that makes me less qualified as an expert than many of my fellow film lovers is that I've watched far less well-known classics than most people who profess expertise. It's not for a lack of interest or a lack of access to the films -- put simply, I've tried to save some of the best films so that I didn't run out right at the start.

Mutiny on the Bounty? Never seen it. The Asphalt Jungle? Nope. Gigi? Nada. Gunga Din? No-sir-ee. I want to see these films desperately, and yet I avoid them like the plague when they show on TCM. Even though there are oodles of fantastic films out there that I know I'll be discovering and enjoying for years to come, there are only a handful of movies that are really considered out-of-this-world awesome by a consensus of movie-lovers. These films I want to reserve, and sprinkle throughout my life instead of experiencing them all for the first time in my first ten years of classic film.

And so this explains why, when I watched The Apartment last night, it was
my very first time. Despite a very strong "why didn't I watch this sooner so it could have been a favorite years ago?" sensation, I'm glad that I waited this long to finally watch it. If I had seen the film when I first discovered classic movies, at age 13, it definitely wouldn't have had the same resonance that it does now, at 23.

In order to make sure I never spoiled the plot for myself, I've also avoided all blog posts, articles, synopses and reviews of The Apartment over the last ten years. After finally seeing it for myself, I can understand why it has such a great reputation but I'm also aware that everything I thought about it has probably already been said: the sweet sadness of the plot; the utter adorableness of Jack Lemmon; the dialogue (the dialogue!!); the way your heart literally breaks for Shirley & Jack; the smarminess of Fred MacMurray; how Edie Adams still shines in such a teeny tiny bit part; did I mention the sweet sadness?? I'm sure many people have done play-by-plays, pointing out their favorite parts: the tennis racket strainer (and wait til I serve the meatballs!); that awful moment of realization with the broken mirror; the $100 bill in the envelope; the entire episode where Jack Lemmon has a cold (have I mentioned the adorableness?); shut up and deal. (Now I finally understand this quote that I've been hearing for years!)

This was one of the sweetest, saddest, happiest, cutest, most depressing, most uplifting, fantastic films I've ever seen. And I think it's safe to say that it's definitely a new favorite, movie-wise.

Happy Birthday, Frank Sinatra!

December 12, 2009

My favorites come and go, but one person has remained constant for almost a decade now: Frank Sinatra.

I discovered classic films in December 1999, and then first heard Frank Sinatra sing two months later - on Valentines Day 2000. I was making a mix tape for my parents and found a Sinatra CD hiding amongst all the alternative rock music my dad usually listens to. One play of "All the Way" and I was hooked. Up until that day, I was strictly a top 40 girl. It embarrasses me now, but my entire music collection at the time pretty much consisted of Britney Spears and Backstreet Boys.

For me, Frank Sinatra is the one figure from the golden age whose music and movies have always remained at the top of the heap. His songs have comforted me through petty-in-retrospect-but-devastatingly-serious-at-the-time crushes in high school. When my cat was seriously ill in 2007, the only thing I could listen to was "Melancholy Baby." His songs were there when I had art successes -- "You're Gonna Hear From Me" was a popular tune in my home when I started getting sales in 2005. Every trip tape, every mix tape, every play list over the last ten years hasn't been without a Frank Sinatra song.

I have listened to his songs so often over the decade that I don't even need to play them to hear them; the songs are imprinted in my brain forever. When I do hear them, I can easily pinpoint what year they were recorded by the sound of his voice. From the smooth, silky sound of his early years with Harry James to the deep, world-weary gravely sound in the 80's. I love every one of his songs with all of my heart.

Frank Sinatra's voice, even at the beginning, had such a depth to it that while listening you really feel like you could fall into the sound. With headphones on in a quiet room, the music just engulfs me - no other singer I've ever heard could accomplish this but Frank Sinatra.

While my interest in Frank Sinatra has transformed over the years from a bobby-soxer, fangirl kind of fascination into a deep, heartfelt respect for the music and the man, I still go weak in the knees when I hear his love songs. Despite the fact that the album was made in haste at the end of his Capitol contract, my favorite album is "Point of No Return." It's usually outshone by his similar, but more popular, concept albums "Wee Small Hours" and "Only the Lonely" but if you haven't heard it yet, I highly recommend it. The track "It's a Blue World" has turned around my record player more times than I could ever count.

While I usually celebrate celebrity birthdays with a film or listening to one of their songs, Frank Sinatra's birthday is always different - he's like a member of my family! Because he's so special, he gets his own celebration in my home every single year.

The annual itinerary:

A double feature & a concert
(This year it's Von Ryan's Express, Pal Joey and A Man and His Music)

Sinatra music ALL DAY LONG, non stop.

And a pasta dinner using Frank Sinatra's recipe. The recipe was spoken to Sid Mark (host of the Philadelphia radio show Sundays with Sinatra)

"First you start with some olive oil and some garlic, four whole cloves. You heat the oil and add the garlic. Puncture the garlic with an ordinary fork so it exudes the flavor. When the garlic turns tan, turn off the oil and throw it out. Save the oil.
Next you take two whole cans of the Italian plum tomatoes. Place the can in the blender and count to a slow four. Put the tomatoes into a large sauce pan. Add some basil, salt, pepper, oregano, and the oil. Bring the sauce to a boil. Skim the oil that rises to the top. Dip a piece of bread in the sauce testing to see when the sauce is finished. At the end you might want to add from fresh parsley. And there you have it-a good pasta sauce."
Now, I edit this just a tad (sorry Frank!) I add a few tablespoons of honey (otherwise it can be pretty acidic!) and I crush the tomatoes with a potato masher instead of putting them in a blender, so that it has more texture. I always use Luigi Vitelli plum tomatoes (imported from Italy) and fresh Basil. It tastes delicious with any kind of pasta, but I usually use penne, capellini or shells. And very al dente!!
Happy Sinatra day!!!

Antisemitism and Hollywood

December 11, 2009

My paternal grandparents were of Russian Jewish ancestry. They had both passed away by the time I was 3, my mom is Christian and my dad doesn't practice any religion, so the fact that I was partly Jewish didn't even register with me until recently, when I saw Gentleman's Agreement for the first time.

Of course I knew about the Holocaust, but I never realized that that kind of bigotry existed in America until watching this film. Gregory Peck plays a writer who decides to "be Jewish" to learn firsthand what it's like for a story he's writing on antisemitism. In one scene, his son comes home terribly upset after being taunted by other kids at school. When I saw this scene, my heart completely dropped to my feet. This film was made only a few years before my dad was born. Did this kind of stuff happen to him??

I wasn't sure how to bring it up, but a few days after watching the film, I was in the car with my dad and I found the words slowly pouring out of my mouth. It was so hard for me to ask, and even harder to listen when he told me that, yes, kids had picked on him for being Jewish. I imagine it must have been even worse for my grandparents in the early part of the century when their families had just immigrated.

Since seeing Gentleman's Agreement, I've become more attuned to antisemitism. I was totally shocked when I heard our UPS driver telling my dad a story about "Jewish lightning" - a slur about Jewish people deliberately burning their houses to get the insurance money. Even my own grandmother (maternal) has made bigoted remarks in front of my dad. While it may not be as prevalent anymore, it seems like anti-Jewish remarks are still somewhat acceptable in mainstream America.

Like most of my interests, this took its natural course and ended up with classic film. While doing research on antisemitism and Hollywood, I noticed that quite a few Jewish actors anglicized their names to be more acceptable. While name-changes were commonplace in Hollywood (Lucille LeSueur became Joan Crawford, Marion Morrison became John Wayne, etc.) it was even more important for Jews to change their names because of the possible stigma attached to an obviously ethnic name.

Lauren Bacall
(Betty Joan Perske)

Theda Bara
(Theodosia Burr Goodman)

Jack Benny
(Benjamin Kubelsky)

Joey Bishop
(Joseph Abraham Gottleib)

Ricardo Cortez
(Jacob Krantz)

Tony Curtis
(Bernard Schwartz)

Kirk Douglas
(Issur Danielovitch)

John Garfield
(Jacob Julius Garfinkle)

More on John Garfield in my upcoming post on Gentleman's Agreement.

Judy Holliday
(Judith Tuvim)

Leslie Howard
(Leslie Howard Steiner)

Al Jolson
(Asa Yoelson)

Jerry Lewis
(Joseph Levitch)

Peter Lorre
(Laszlo Lowenstein)

Paul Muni
(Mashilem Meier Weisenfreund)

Tony Randall
(Arthur Leonard Rosenberg)

Edward G. Robinson
(Emanuel Goldenberg)

Lillian Roth
(Lillian Rutstein)

Jill St. John
(Jill Arlyn Oppenheim)

Sylvia Sidney
(Sophia Kosow)

Shelley Winters
(Shirley Schrift)