PRIDE MONTH: Fante and Mingo from The Big Combo (1955)

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It’s Pride Month and, once again, I give you one of my favorites ‘are-they-I-don’t-know-it-was-the-fifties-nah-they-gotta-be-look-at-them-it’s-way-too-obvious’ LGBT couples from Hollywood’s Golden Age. The impossibly cool gangsters Fante (Lee Van Cleef) and Mingo (Earl Holliman), from The Big Combo (1955, dir. Joseph H. Lewis).

I’ve talked about The Big Combo here, here and here, so I won’t bore you again, but here’s the thing. It remains, in my opinion, one of the most exciting, most exhilarating films noir of all time, as well as one of the most complete and well-rounded. I could watch it over and over and over and you will not be surprised to know that I have. Part of what makes it so unique is, of course, what they managed to get past the censors: Mr Brown (Richard Conte) going down on Susan (Jean Wallace) while the camera remains on her face comes to mind, and then there’s Fante and Mingo. Brown’s henchmen are quite clearly a gay couple, and everyone seems to be aware of and OK with that – in the film’s opening scene, Susan hits Mingo, then looks directly at Fante to see his reaction. There are plenty of innuendos, logically (‘The cops will be looking for us in every closet.’), they sleep naked next to each other though in separate beds (even Lucy and Ricky couldn’t get away with that one!) and they seem to always be in synch, no matter what they do. The fact that they are gangsters also goes against old-fashioned expectations and I find that refreshing. I’ve always loved these two and I love that them being a couple wasn’t a joke, in the same way so many characters were in the early days of Hollywood. Everyone in their circle respects Fante and Mingo. And we respect Joseph H. Lewis for it.

ONE MOVIE, THREE QUOTES: A Star is Born (1954)

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June 2022, the 10th to be precise, marks the centenary of Judy Garland’s birth. The BFI in my city is having a Judy season and I am, logically, there like a shot. And here at the Garden, we are celebrating the world’s most talented individual with another edition of ONE MOVIE, THREE QUOTES. I’ve talked about Meet Me in St Louis (1944, dir. Vincente Minnelli) here, here and here, so I’ll refrain from going on about it, ‘cause even I am getting on my nerves. But yeah, it’s my all-time favorite musical, without a close second and I love my musicals, so that’s how much I love Meet Me in St Louis! But alas, this time, we’re going back to 1954 with the second version of A Star is Born (dir. George Cukor). You know the story, aging movie star Norman Maine (James Mason, in an Oscar-nominated performance) meets aspiring performer Esther Blodgett (Garland, also nominated), and the two of them get together, as their careers take very different paths. Here are three of my favorite quotes from A Star is Born:

1. ‘I need a job.’ Norman – The repeating of this line as he drunkenly addresses the audience during Esther’s Oscar acceptance speech is just brilliant. His life has fallen apart, he’s finished and he knows it. His old colleagues are there, everyone he’s ever known in the industry is there, and all he can do, out of desperation, is tell them that he needs a job…

2. Esther’s monologue about Norman’s alcoholism – Yes, I know, this is a bit of a cop-out, but I couldn’t leave this one out. Judy Garland’s performance in this scene is something to behold. Heart-breaking, sad and ultimately bittersweet, this was no doubt one of those moments that earned her that Academy Award nomination.

3. ‘Hello everybody. This is Mrs Norman Maine.’ Esther – Curtain.

Happy Judy Garland season!