FAVORITE ANGRY MAN #12: Juror 2 (John Fiedler)

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The Old Hollywood Garden is proud to present a brand new series of posts: my top twelve favorite jurors from 12 Angry Men (1957, dir. Sidney Lumet)! Starting in January and ending in December, I will talk about each of the jurors from my 12th favorite to my number 1 favorite, one per month. What’s that? This is the wackiest idea I’ve ever had for the blog? You’re darn right. Let’s go!

12 Angry Men is one of the most universally beloved films ever made and one of the few that I personally consider to be perfect. Its simple premise – twelve jurors decide on the fate of an 18-year-old boy who is accused of murdering his father – as well as the fact that it takes place in one single room, allows for the characters to breathe, ironically, and is perhaps one of the greatest character studies ever put on film. My criteria for this list is based on personal feelings as well as the significance that I consider each character to have. This does not mean that I think any one character is objectively more important that the others; this is purely a subjective list about one of my all-time favorite movies.

Let’s kick things off with my number 12: Juror 2, played by John Fiedler. With his soft, high-pitched voice – the voice of Piglet, in fact – and harmless demeanour, Juror 2 is arguably the most unassuming of them all. He eventually finds his voice when he brings up the situation about the knife again and thus crucially makes a great point that sways the votes once more. It’s an important turning point for the film but also for his character and he, along with Juror 12 (Robert Webber), makes a case for why you shouldn’t always have to ‘go along with it’, in his own words. And that can’t be easy when you’re sitting next to Juror 3 (Lee J. Cobb) for most of the film!

Stay tuned for my number 11 next month!

SCREENPLAY BY: Frank S. Nugent

nugent.jpgHaving the screenplay of the greatest Western of all time as your magnum opus is pretty grand as it is, but to claim a further ten scripts written for John Ford is as sweet as can be.

Born in New York City in 1908, Frank S. Nugent studied journalism at Columbia University, after which he began his career as a news reporter with The New York Times in 1929. A few years later, he started writing film reviews and he became known for his witty, ‘tell-it-like-it-is’ style, his reviews subsequently gaining a lot of attention – do check them out, if you get the chance! In the early 1940s, his review of John Ford’s The Grapes of Wrath (1940) led Fox mogul Darryl F. Zanuck to offer him a job as a script editor. However, in 1944, he was terminted, and three years later, while working on a article about The Fugitive (1947), he met John Ford, whom he greatly admired, on the set and was hired to write Fort Apache (1948) for him. He ended up writing eleven scripts for Ford, including 3 Godfathers (1948), She Wore a Yellow Ribbon (1949), The Quiet Man (1952), which won him the Writers Guild of America award for Best Comedy as well as a Best Adapted Screenplay Oscar nomination, Mister Roberts (1955), for which he won his second WAG award for Comedy, and The Searchers (1956), which is widely regarded as one of the greatest screenplays of all time and indeed one of the greatest movies in cinema history. Nugent went on to serve as the President of the Writers Guild of America, West in the late 1950s and in 1965, he died from a heart attack at the age of 57.

Hollywood’s Greatest Year: My ten favorite movies of 1939

2019 is almost over and what better way to finish it off than with a top ten list of my favorite Hollywood films of… 1939? Seems about right! It’s been 80 years since Hollywood’s Greatest Year, so I wanted to do something about it this year. Like always, personal list, subjective choices, will leave some out, blah blah blah. Here we go!

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10. The Women (dir. George Cukor) – A groundbreaking hit featuring an all-female cast (including the animals!), The Women’s iconic status is deserved, though here on The Garden, I’ve discussed my love-hate relationship with it.

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9. Midnight (dir. Mitchell Leisen) – A typical screwball comedy, funny and witty, with the added bonus of having one of John Barrymore’s greatest performances. The cherry on top is Billy Wilder and Charles Brackett’s script saga, which is always a great piece of trivia to read about – look it up!

maxresdefault.jpg8. Gone with the Wind (dir. Victor Fleming) – One of the most iconic films in cinema history and easily the right choice for Best Picture at the 12th Academy Awards. There really isn’t a whole lot left to say about it.

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7. Destry Rides Again (dir. George Marshall) – The second best western of 1939, Destry Rides Again is the fun one. Marlene Dietrich has arguably never been more enjoyable, Jimmy Stewart gives a solid performance as the titular Destry and the two of them make a thouroughly magnetic pair.

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Only Angels Have Wings 4.jpg6. Golden Boy (dir. Rouben Mamoulian) – The big weepie of 1939 along with Love Affair, this was William Holden’s breakthrough role and it started a lifelong friendship between him and Barbara Stanwyck, who, like always, is fantastic. Lee J. Cobb, however, stands out as Holden’s loving father.

5. Only Angels Have Wings (dir. Howard Hawks) – An utterly enjoyable multi-genre soap-opera type, Only Angels Have Wings is one of Hawks’ overlooked gems and it really shouldn’t be. 1939’s most all-round complete film.

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4. The Wizard of Oz (dir. Victor Fleming) – Fleming was certainly busy in 1939 (Cukor’s uncredited direction in GWTW aside) and to have THE two most iconic and beloved films of that year under your belt is quite a feat. One suspects this would be number 1 on most people’s lists of 1939 and with good reason. There is not a single frame of it that isn’t wonderful and it is surely one of the best arguments for why cinema is the greatest thing there has ever been.

image-w856.jpg3. Stagecoach (dir. John Ford) – John Ford and John Wayne’s first big collaboration, Stagecoach still stands as one of Hollywood’s greatest westerns and has maybe the best assortment of peculiar characters in any film of 1939 – needless to say, its character study does not go unnoticed.

mr-smith-goes-to-washington-watching-recommendation-videoSixteenByNineJumbo1600-1084x610.jpg2. Mr Smith Goes to Washington (dir. Frank Capra) – A timeless classic that only gets more poignant as the years go by, perhaps depressingly so. Jimmy Stewart’s performance is magnificent and, like Ford/Wayne, the Capra/Stewart team was a force of nature.

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1. Ninotchka (dir. Ernst Lubitsch) – Ah, Ninotchka. Garbo’s greatest performance and probably the funniest movie of 1939. Billy Wilder, Walter Reisch and Charles Brackett’s screenplay as well as Ernst Lubitsch’s direction are a wonderful thing to behold and as I mentioned in a previous COMEDY GOLD, 1939 may have been Gone With the Wind’s year, but Ninotchka takes top spot here at The Old Hollywood Garden.

Happy New Year, everyone!

SCREENPLAY BY: Ben Hecht

 

HechtA rare bonafide superstar in the screenwriting world, Ben Hecht was, as film historians have asserted, the embodiment of Hollywood. His perserverance, sharp wit and cynicism was the stuff showbiz was made of and his enviable flair for plot and dialogue – just TRY to keep up with His Girl Friday (1940, dir. Howard Hawks) – made him one of the most successful writers of his time.

Born in 1893 in New York City, he and his family moved to Wisconsin when he was a child and in 1919 he moved to Chicago, where he worked as a reporter and war correspondent for the Daily Journal and later the Chicago Daily News. In 1921, he wrote his first novel, Erik Dorn, followed by his first full-length play, The Egotist, and in 1923, he started his own newspaper, the Chicago Literary Times. Around this time, he met Charles MacArthur, then also a reporter, and the two moved to New York where they wrote the hugely successful play The Front Page, later adapted several times, to both film and radio. In 1926, screenwriter Herman J. Mankiewicz invited Hecht to go to Hollywood, which he did, and in 1927 he won the very first Oscar for Screenplay at the first Academy Awards, for Underworld (dir. Josef von Sternberg) and in 1935, he won his second one with The Scoundrel, which he also co-directed with Charles MacArthur. Throughout the 1930s, 40s and 50s, he wrote a number of screenplays, including Scarface (1932, dir. Howard Hawks), Design for Living (1933, dir. Ernst Lubitsch), Twentieth Century (1934, dir. Howard Hawks), adapted from his and MacArthur’s play, Nothing Sacred (1937, dir. William A. Wellman), Wuthering Heights (1939, dir. William Wyler), Gunga Din (1939, dir. George Stevens), His Girl Friday, Notorious (1946, dir. Alfred Hitchcock), Kiss of Death (1947. dir. Henry Hathaway), Where the Sidewalk Ends (1950, dir. Otto Preminger), among many others, some of them uncredited.

One of the greatest wits and most prolific storycrafters of the 20th Century, Ben Hecht died in 1964 at the age of 71. Nineteen years later, he was inducted into the American Theater Hall of Fame.

COMEDY GOLD #20: George meets Clarence in It’s a Wonderful Life (1946)

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Well, here it is, the 20th and last ever COMEDY GOLD (booo!). Like DOUBLE BILL last year, I thought I’d end this series of posts on a positive note. And what better way to do that than with the most uplifting movie of all time? That’s right, It’s a Wonderful Life (1946, dir. Frank Capra) is the last featured movie on COMEDY GOLD, and Clarence (Henry Travers) gets the spotlight.

In this scene, Clarence has just been rescued by George Bailey (James Stewart in an Oscar-nominated performance) after deliberately jumping in the river in order to save George himself – we all know the story by now, right? As Clarence explains who he is and why he did what he did – he’s an angel trying to get his wings -, the reactions of both George and the tollhouse keeper (Tom Fadden) are priceless, especially considering how non-chalant Clarence is about the whole ordeal. Towards the end of the scene, Clarence has granted George his wish of never having been born, and the movie takes an even darker turn, but for a while there, it goes from drama to comedy to drama again in such a seemingly natural way, while also establishing Clarence and George’s relationship, creating a sort of banter between them in the process. This moment showcases It’s a Wonderful Life’s ability to balance drama, comedy and fantasy better than arguably any other in the film, while delivering its now iconic message. As per usual, you will read this on every film blog out there throughout December, but… it truly is the ultimate Christmas film (sorry, Die Harders).

My six favorite film noir scores

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I love film scores. And since it’s Noirvember, here are six of my favorite film noir scores, in no particular order:

The Big Combo (1955, dir. Joseph H. Lewis) – Cool and jazzy, David Raksin’s score thrusts you into the ride that is The Big Combo as soon as it starts.

Double Indemnity (1944. dir. Billy Wilder) – The spooky theme by Miklós Rózsa (pictured) is particularly scary when you’ve got Fred MacMurray’s silhouette slowly coming at you in the opening credits.

The Third Man (1949. dir. Carol Reed) – Anton Karas’ masterpiece is deliciously catchy, fabulously unusual and as beloved as the film itself.

Laura (1944. dir. Otto Preminger) – Possibly the most iconic of them all, David Raksin’s score is as other-worldly and hauntingly beautiful as a film score gets.

Raw Deal (1948, dir. Anthony Mann) – As atmospheric as the movie itself, Paul Sawtell’s score is pleasantly intoxicating; almost ghostly. Coincidentally, it is eerily similar to theme from Rebecca (1940. dir. Alfred Hitchcock).

The Killers (1946, dir. Robert Siodmak) – Announcing the arrival of the killers wherever they go, Miklós Rózsa’s score is menacing, frightening and grand, and, if I had to choose, probably my all-time favorite film noir score.

#Noirvember

SCREENPLAY BY: John Paxton

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One of the bravest screenwriters of the 1940s, John Paxton’s run as RKO’s top story-crafter between 1944 and 1947 culminated in one of the era’s most acclaimed ‘message pictures’ and preceded one of Hollywood’s most controversial witch-hunts.

Born in Kansas City in 1911, John Paxton attended the University of Missouri where he studied journalism before moving to New York where he got a job organizing a playwriting contest for the Theatre Guild. He was a reviewer for Stage magazine where he befrieded future RKO producer Adrian Scott and in 1943 he moved to Hollywood and was hired by Scott as a screenwriter. His first film was My Pal Wolf (dir. Alfred L Werker) in 1944 and, that same year, he received critical acclaim for his screenplay of Murder, my Sweet (dir. Edward Dmytryk), starring Dick Powell, which he adapted from the Raymond Chandler novel. He received the Edgar Award for Screenplay and the Scott-Dmytryk-Paxton-Powell team was born. Their second collaboration came in 1945 with Cornered, and two years later, there was So Well Remembered, this one Dick Powell-less. In 1947 came what is arguably John Paxton’s greatest and most praised achievement, his screenplay for Crossfire (dir. Edward Dmytryk), which he adapted from Richard Brooks’ novel The Brick Foxhole. Having changed some of the themes to fit the then-current Hollywood blacklist wave, Crossfire became a message picture about anti-Semitism, which we covered here. Ironically, Scott and Dmytryk were actually blacklisted and surprisingly, Paxton was not and ended up receiving an Oscar nomination for it. He didn’t win, but did received his second Edgar Award. He left RKO the following year, and throughout the 1950s, he worked for a number of studios and wrote such screenplays as Fourteen Hours (1951, dir. Henry Hathaway), The Wild One (1953, dir. Laszlo Benedek), The Cobweb (1955, dir. Vincente Minnelli), as well as On The Beach (1959, dir. Stanley Kramer). In 1971, he won the Golden Globe for Kotch (dir. Walter Matthau) and in 1972 he adapted the Adrian Scott play The Great Man’s Whiskers for television. John Paxton died in 1985 at the age of 73.

Film noir’s seven hottest couples!

‘From the moment they met, it was murder!’, goes the tagline of Double Indemnity (1944). And to be fair, that could be the tagline for any of them! Lust, angst, love, hate, lies, double-crossings and murder… When two people come together in film noir, you can expect any and all of those! Here are seven of my personal favorite couples in noir world, in no particular order:

outofthepast_jeffandkathieKathie Moffat (Jane Greer) and Jeff Bailey (Robert Mitchum) in Out of the Past (1947) – The baddest bad girl and the coolest cat can only be an explosive combination! Poor Jeff. All he wanted was to start over, but as we know, noir won’t let anyone escape their past. In this case, Kathie is the key to Jeff’s past as well as his ultimate destruction, and he knows this. As her double-crossing ways get more devious by the minute, Jeff tries his hardest to get out and, as a result, lust, fascination and hate collide whenever these two are in the same room together.

the-big-sleep-bogieVivian Sternwood (Lauren Bacall) and Phillip Marlowe (Humphrey Bogart) in The Big Sleep (1946) – The most convoluted plot ever actually makes for one of the most exciting noirs. And right at the center of it all is the relationship between Vivian and Marlowe. Curiously, in a world full of deceit, chases and double crosses, these two seem to be more at easy with each other than when they’re apart, and, being the only real-life couple on the list, that is perhaps not surprising.

hqdefaultStella (Linda Darnell) and Eric Stanton (Dana Andrews) in Fallen Angel (1945)– Stella’s no-nonsense, straightforward attitude is not what con man Eric expected when he got off the bus in Walton, but he definitely likes it. Their cat-and-mouse game is fun to watch, mostly because of how she can handle him despite his controlling ways, and their interactions clearly define the good side of town vs bad side of town aspect of the film. This, ironically, makes Stella one of the most sympathetic characters in noir.

double-indemnity-life-1944-2Phyllis Dietrichson (Barbara Stanwyck) and Walter Neff (Fred MacMurray) in Double Indemnity (1944)– It all started with an anklet. And ended far worse than either of them imagined. A murder plan concocted by a housewife and an insurance salesman, both driven by lust and greed, their combined rottenness is matched only by sleaziness of their relationship. It’s hot, it’s mad and it’s deceitful. What could go wrong?

lonelyplace3Laurel Gray (Gloria Grahame) and Dix Steele (Humphrey Bogart) in In a Lonely Place (1950)– When Dix becomes the main suspect in a murder, Laurel, his neighbor, testifies, and the two unexpectedly fall in love. The question of the whether or not Dix is guilty is all the more poignant when their relationship is put to the test over and over, as we navigate the film through Laurel’s eyes. Their love for each other is so consuming, so intimate, so desperate, it makes In a Lonely Place seem more like a love story disguised as a murder mystery noir than anything else.

pickuptiltedCandy (Jean Peters) and Skip McCoy (Richard Widmark) in Pickup on South Street (1953)– A pickpocket, a Communist agent’s girlfriend and the top-secret microfilm between them… a combination that results in one of the most electrifying and intense love-hate relationships in noir world, and one of the few that doesn’t end tragically. As their feelings for each other become clearer, their chemistry is so good, their kisses so intimate, you almost feel like you’re intruding… Hot, hot, hot.

sem nome.pngGilda (Rita Hayworth) and Johnny Farrell (Glenn Ford) in Gilda (1946)– The hottest couple of them all, in my opinion. The circumstances surrounding their reunion – Johnny is hired by Ballin Mundson (George Macready) to work at his casino, not knowing his ex-lover Gilda is Ballin’s wife… – are enough to let the angst flow! Their love-hate relationship is hot, exciting, tragic and romantic, as they try to deny their feelings for each other, to no avail. Their chemistry is some of the best there has ever been, and, as far as film noir goes, that is always a bonus!

#Noirvember

 

The sad reality of Cat People (1942)

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Last year’s Horror Month DOUBLE BILL focused on the similarities between The Invisible Man (1933, dir. James Whale) and The Wolfman (1941, dir. George Waggner). If one wanted to stretch that, Cat People (1942, dir. Jacques Tourneur) could have also been included. Larry Talbot, in particular, shares common traits with Irena Dubrovna that go beyond the obvious animal motifs and, in my opinion, there is no reason why Cat People shouldn’t stand proudly alongside The Wolfman as one of horror’s most interesting psychological pieces.

In Cat People, Serbian sketch artist Irena Dubrovna (Simone Simon) believes she is a ‘cat person’, who will turn into a black panther if she gives into her sexual desires. When she meets American engineer Oliver Reed (Kent Smith), the two quickly develop feelings for each other and, after the initial courtship, she tells him about ‘the curse’. Despite this, the two of them decide to get married, and, sure enough, her biggest fears come back to haunt her…

A psychological thriller that makes the most of its stunning cinematography (Nicholas Musuraca, who else?) and trick visuals, Cat People is, above all, a tale of alienation, sexual repression, frustration and loneliness. Irena Dubrovna is surely one of horror’s best realized heroines, not least because she represents everything human beings fear. Her tortured, terrified nature, ‘foreignness’ and immense sexual desire for her husband, which she knows can never come to fruition, all conspire to make her the misunderstood oddity that she is; she harbours so many repressed emotions at once, it’s easy to see why this is such a poignant psychological thriller. When one considers, in particular, that the horror aspect of it comes from the fact that we don’t actually see anything at all, and that all of it is achieved through an impeccable use of lighting and powerful suggestion, this seems to fit into the whole ‘it’s all in your head’ motif. Irena seems to be in a constant struggle to overcome her own thoughts, to let go of her perceived notions about herself, and to be understood. She consults with Dr Louis Judd (Tom Conway), but sadly, nothing works. Her husband can’t seem to be able to figure her out and ends up giving up on her and going back to the ‘safe option’ that is Alice Moore (Jane Randolph), his co-worker. It is, of course, logical that the film’s two most iconic moments feature Irena stalking and mentally torturing Alice. The first one sees Irena following her rival through a park, in a chilling, prolonged moment, beautifully framed by Musuraca’s visuals, after which Irena wipes her mouth with a handkerchief, only to succumb to her guilt later. The second one takes place in a swimming pool. A cat eerily follows Alice through the dimly-lit pool area and, when she jumps in, she starts hearing growling noises. Shadows start to take form and Alice screams, horrified. Suddenly, the lights come back on and we see Irena standing over Alice on the edge of the pool, menacingly, almost threateningly. These two moments signify the shift, the thing Irena is afraid of, but can no longer fight. After this, Irena finally falls victim to herself…

Could all of this be but a strong finger-wagging at society and its rules? Most definitely. A nod at the consequences of isolation, repression and self-loathing through a surprisingly sympathetic main character? Certainly. Irena Dubrovna’s victimhood is a testament to horror’s brilliant takes on society, people and their shortcomings, and Cat People is undoubtedly among the very best of the bunch.

SCREENPLAY BY: Curt Siodmak

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When I covered The Spiral Staircase (1946, dir. Robert Siodmak) a few days ago, it dawned on me just how versatile Robert Siodmak was. In fact, he was so prolific, he may have overshadowed the success of his younger brother Curt Siodmak, the subject of this year’s Classic Horror Month’s SCREENPLAY BY.

Born in Germany in 1902, Curt Siodmak earned a PhD in Mathematics, before becoming a reporter and writer. In 1927, he was hired as an extra on Fritz Lang’s Metropolis (1927) and thus was able to get a story on Lang and his film. In 1929, he invested his royalties from his books in the silent fim People on Sunday (1930), a docu-style chronicle about the lives of four Berliners on a Sunday. The film was – get ready – co-directed by his brother Robert, Edgar G. Ulmer and Fred Zinnemann, and written by himself and Billy Wilder – I’d have fainted at the mere sight of all that talent in one room!

In 1932, Siodmak wrote the novel F. P. 1 Doesn’t Answer, later adapted into a film, and in 1937 he moved to Hollywood. His most profilic period was arguably the 1940s, during which he wrote the classic science fiction novel Donovan’s Brain, as well as the screenpays for The Invisible Man Returns (1940, dir. Joe May), The Wolf Man (1941, dir. George Waggner), Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man (1943, dir. Roy William Neill), I Walked with a Zombie (1943, dir. Jacques Tourneur) and Son of Dracula (1943, dir. Robert Siodmak), among others.

He continued to write throughout the following decades, and in 1998 he won the Berlinale Camera at the Berlin International Film Festival, before passing away in 2000 at the age of 98.