Monday, 24 April 2017

Classic Movie Fact of the Week #6

                             Did you know that...                           
In Francis Ford Coppola's acclaimed Best Picture winner The Godfather (1972), the word «Mafia» is never heard on screen because the real Mafia did not allow its use.

Written by Mario Puzo based on his own eponymous best-selling novel, The Godfather chronicles ten years in the life of a fictional New York crime family. Academy Award winner Marlon Brando played the patriarch, Vito Corleone, while Al Pacino co-starred as his younger son Michael, who goes from being a reluctant family outsider to a ruthless mafia boss. The cast also included James Caan, Robert Duvall, Talia Shire, Diane Keaton, Sterling Hayden and Richard Conte. The Godfather was a massive critical and commercial success, becoming the highest-grossing film of 1972. It won Oscars for Best Picture, Best Actor (Brando) and Best Adapted Screenplay, receiving additional nominations for Best Director and Best Supporting Actor (Pacino, Caan and Duvall).

Al Pacino and Marlon Brando in The Godfather. Brando was only 16 years older than Pacino.

Due to its subject matter, The Godfather originally faced great opposition from Italian-Americans to filming on location in New York. In addition, the Italian-American Civil Rights League, which had recently been created by real-life mobster Joe Colombo, «cast a weary eye over the script» throughout production. The league, whose goal was to combat pejorative stereotypes about Italian-Americans, demanded that all mentions of «Mafia» and «Cosa Nostra» be removed from the dialogue. Colombo also requested that all the profits earned on the film's opening night be donated to the league's fund to build a new hospital. According to Coppola, Puzo's screenplay only contained two instances of the word «Mafia» being used and there was no reference whatsoever to «Cosa Nostra.» After those two expressions were deleted and replaced with other terms, the league gave its support of the film.


Happy Birthday, Shirley MacLaine!

SHIRLEY MACLAINE (April 24, 1934)
Some people think I look like a sweet potato, I consider myself a spud with a heart of gold.

More Shirley MacLaine-related articles HERE

Sunday, 23 April 2017

Picture of the Week

Barbara Stanwyck and William Holden during the making of Executive Suite (1954)

The original caption of this photograph read:
«NICE WORK... With Barbara Stanwyck in his arms, William Holden was happy to oblige when the candid cameraman on the set of MGM's Executive Suite and said 'hold it!' They are among the ten stars in one of the most brilliant casts ever assembled for this story of "big business" and behind-the-scenes intrigues in a violent struggle for power.»

The 2nd Annual William Holden Blogathon: «The Bridge on the River Kwai» (1957)

Theatrical release poster
Directed by David Lean, The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957) begins as a group of World War II British prisoners, including Lieutenant Colonel Nicholson (Alec Guinness) and Major Clipton (James Donald), arrive at a Japanese POW camp in Burma. The commandant, Colonel Saito (Sessue Hayakawa), informs them that all prisoners, regardless of rank, are to work on the construction of a railway bridge over the River Kwai, which will be a vital link for the Japanese in the war. Citing the Geneva Conventions, Nicholson defies Saito and orders his officers to remain behind while the enlisted men go to work. As punishment, Saito leaves the officers standing all day in the intense tropical heat and locks Nicholson in an iron box.

Meanwhile, three prisoners — among them U.S. Navy Commander Shears (William Holden) — attempt to escape. Two are shot dead, but Shears manages to get away, although badly wounded. He stumbles into a village of natives, who help him leave by boat. Back at the camp, the prisoners are working as little as possible and sabotaging whatever they can. Shocked by the poor job being done by his his men, Nicholson orders his officers to build a proper bridge, reasoning that it will raise the morale of the POWs. In the meantime, Shears is enjoying his stay in Ceylon when British Major Warden (Jack Hawkins) orders him to join a commando mission to destroy the bridge before it is completed. Shears and Canadian Lieutenant Joyce (Geoffrey Horne) plant explosives on the bridge towers below the water line, but Nicholson spots the wire connecting them to the detonator and brings it to Saito's attention. Stunned that their own man is about to uncover the plot, Joyce breaks cover and stabs Saito to death. In the ensuing fight, Joyce, Shears and Nicholson are mortally wounded, the latter by a mortar fired by Warden. Nicholson stumbles towards the bomb detonator and collapses on the plunger, blowing up the bridge.

Commander Shears: I'm not going to leave you here to die, Warden, because I don't care about your bridge and I don't care about your rules. If we go on, we go on together.

Born in Avignon in 1912, Pierre Boulle enlisted with the French Army in Indochina at the outbreak of World War II in 1939. After German troops occupied France in 1940, he joined Charles de Gaulle's Free French forces in Singapore, where he received training as a spy and saboteur, learning the art of derailing trains and blowing up bridges from a British commando team named Force 136. When Singapore fell to the Japanese in February 1942, Boulle was ordered to return to Indochina, which was by then ruled by pro-Nazi Vichy France. He was assigned to establish contact with the French Resistance fighters there, but ended up being captured by Vichy partisans, after which he spent two years at a prisoner-of-war camp. He finally escaped in 1944 and, at the end of the war, was repatriated to France. In 1948, he moved to Paris and became a novelist. Years later, he reflected that his decision to pursue a writing career «still strikes me today as the worthy conclusion» of his wartime experiences. 

In 1952, Boulle published his third novel, Le Pont de la Rivière Kwaï, which was partly inspired by his own adventure as a POW, transposed to a Japanese prison camp. It also drew on the infamous Death Railway, the 300-mile long railway built between Thailand and Burma by the Empire of the Japan in 1943. Forced labor was used in the construction of the line, resulting in the loss of some 14,000 Allied prisoners. According to the author, the character of Lieutenant Colonel Nicholson was modeled in part on the Vichy French officer who, after Boulle's capture, presided over this trial and sentenced him to hard labor. Published in Britain in 1954 with the title The Bridge on the River Kwai, the novel became a massive international best-seller, winning the French Prix-Sainte-Beuve.

David Lean and William Holden during the
making of The Bridge on the River Kwai
The Bridge on the River Kwai came to the attention of American screenwriter Carl Foreman, who had received an Academy Award nomination for penning the hugely successful High Noon (1952). At the time, Foreman was living in exile in England, having been blacklisted in Hollywood as a result of an investigation into Communist influences within the film industry. He was employed as a writer by London Films, the production company founded by Alexander Korda, who saw enough potential in the material to purchase the rights to The Bridge on the River Kwai.

After reading Foreman's script, however, Korda decided that the story of a British officer who collaborates with the Japanese could not possibly succeed and sold the rights to Horizon Pictures, the company formed by powerful Austrian-born American producer Sam Spiegel to make The African Queen (1951), with Humphrey Bogart and Katharine Hepburn. Spiegel made a deal with Columbia Pictures to finance and distribute The Bridge on the River Kwai and set out to find a director. 

Failing to interest such major figures as Howard Hawks, William Wyler, Fred Zinnemann and John Ford, Spiegel turned to English director David Lean, who had received Oscar nominations for Brief Encounter (1945), Great Expectations (1946) and Summertime (1955). In trouble with British tax authorities and in the process of divorcing his second wife,  Lean liked the story and the idea of shooting the film in a foreign land, but loathed Foreman's script. When he met Spiegel in New York, Lean assured the producer that he would «rescue Col. Nicholson from being depicted either as a lunatic or a traitor [...] and give his character a sympathetic and heroic dimension.» Spiegel then asked Foreman to write a second draft of the script, but Lean was still not satisfied with it. Ultimately, he decided to revise the screenplay himself, calling in the help of backlisted writer Michael Wilson, who had won an Oscar for penning the acclaimed drama A Place in the Sun (1951). In the end, however, Spiegel credited the film to neither Lean nor Wilson, but to Boulle, who did not speak a single word of English.

Alec Guinness as Colonel Nicholson
Several actors were approached to play the role of Colonel Nicholson, who oversees the construction of the bridge. Academy Award winner Charles Laughton was first proposed, but was ultimately deemed «too fat» to be credible as a half-starved prisoner of war. Noël Coward, Ralph Richardson, Anthony Quayle, Ray Milland, James Mason, Ronald Colman and Douglas Fairbanks Jr. were all suggested, but they were either unavailable, considered unsuitable for the part or simply turned down the offer. Spiegel then gave the role to Alec Guinness, but he initially declined.

Although Lean had previously directed Guinness in Great Expectations and Oliver Twist (1948), he was unenthusiastic about the Oscar-nominated actor. «I don't think he will give us the 'size' we need,» Lean said. «He could do it, of course, but in a different way from what we have visualized.» However, Spiegel persisted and over dinner persuaded Guinness to change his mind. The actor recalled, «I started out maintaining that I wouldn't play the role and by end of the evening we were discussing what kind of wig I would wear.»

To enhance the film's potential in the United States market, a role was created for an American character, a naval prisoner-of-war named Shears, who escapes the camp only to be sent back on a mission to blow up the Kwai bridge. Spiegel originally offered the part to Cary Grant, but he did not give his answer right away. By the time Grant was ready to accept, however, William Holden, Lean's choice, had already been signed. Apparently, Grant was so heartbroken that he begged Holden to withdraw from the project. Beginning his career playing the lead role in Golden Boy (1939), Holden rose to the top ranks of Hollywood stardom with acclaimed performances in Sunset Boulevard (1950) and Stalag 17 (1953), for which he won the Academy Award for Best Actor. Because of his box-office popularity, Holden was hired for $300,000 plus ten percent of the profits, making him one of the most expensive actors at the time. Holden immediately accepted the role. «I'm like the chorus girl who was offered an apartment, a diamond necklace, and a mink coat,» he said.

David Lean, Alec Guinness and Sessue Hayawaka
on location in Ceylon (Sri Lanka)
Spiegel coaxed the Japanese actor Sessue Hayakawa out of retirement to portray Colonel Saito, the commandant of the prison camp. As part of Famous Players-Lasky, Hayakawa had been a Hollywood star in the early silent era, appearing most notably in Cecil B. DeMille's The Cheat (1915). In 1918, he became one of the first actors to form a production company, Haworth Pictures Corporation, which brought even more fame and recognition. With the rise of «talkies,» however, his career slowed considerably and he made mostly European and Japanese films.

To play British medical officer Major Clipton, Lean brought in James Donald, whom he had directed in the patriotic war film In Which We Serve (1942). In turn, Spiegel hired newcomer Geoffrey Horne to play the young Lieutenant Joyce. Rounding out the cast was Jack Hawkins, who had become one of the most popular male stars in his native England as a result of his performance in Charles Frend's war picture The Cruel Sea (1953), the most sucessful film at the British box-office that year.

The Bridge on the River Kwai was shot on location in Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) between November 1956 and May 1957. By all accounts, filming was an unpleasant experience for everyone involved. The heat, the humidity, the poisonous snakes and the logistical demands of building such a complex set in the middle of the jungle were made worse by ill-temper and bad luck. First, a car crash killed one of the assistant directors, broke the back of the make-up artist and seriously injured another assistant. Then half of a two-man crew working on the generator fell sick and the second man did the job alone, resulting in a union stike which had to be settled in London. There were also major disagreements between Lean and Guinness over how the actor should play Nicholson. In fact, throughout filming, the relationship between the two degenerated to a point where they were not on speaking terms. The day before Holden's arrival on the set, Guinness had a bitter dispute with Lean about how a certain scene should be shot. After filming it, Lean said, «Now you can all fuck off and go home, you English actors. Thank God I'm starting work tomorrow with an American actor. It'll be such a pleasure to say good-bye to you guys.»

Alec Guiness, William Holden and Jack Hawkins
Holden and Lean got on well from the start. «I supposed you could say he was a bit of a college boy,» the director recalled, «but he was highly professional. Worked like hell, never late, knew his lines. Had I said, 'We'll start the day with standing on your head under that tree,' he'd say, 'Oh, I see. Okay.' And he'd do it. If you asked some of the English actors to do much less, they'd start to argue. Trouble was, he was the biggest box-office star in the world when he did The Bridge on the River Kwai. He was so good-looking and so accomplished that people kind of smiled — 'Dear old Bill Holden, yes, very good' — and dismissed his talent. He had a huge talent and because it was apparently effortless, Bill never got the credit he deserved. After all, Sunset Boulevard was no easy part.»

The film's climatic scene — the destruction of the Kwai bridge just as a train full of Japanese troops crosses it for the first time — was filmed on March 11, 1957. Standing 425 feet (129 meters) long and 90 feet (27 meters) high, the wooden bridge was designed by Donald Ashton, with the help of engineer Keith Nelson, and built at a cost of $52,085, a small part of the film's $2.8 million budget. As Ashton explained, «It was cheap because we used local labor and elephants; and the timber was cut nearby.» The 65-year-old train, which Spiegel obtained from the Ceylonese government, had once belonged to an Indian maharaja. In order to capture thee one-time event from different angles, five CinemaScope cameras were planted in dugouts at strategic points around the bridge. When Lean gave the order to detonate the explosives, big chunks of wood, travelling at 100 miles (160 kilometers) an hour, came hurtling through the air and the train plummeted into the ravine for a spectacular finale.

The Bridge on the River Kwai premiered in London on October 2, 1957 and in New York City on December 18. It was widely praised on both sides of the Atlantic and became the biggest moneymaker of 1958 in the United States, grossing $18,000,000 at the box-office. At the 30th Academy Awards held at the RKO Pantages Theatre in Hollywood, in March 1958, the film was nominated in eight categories: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor (Guinness), Best Supporting Actor (Hayawaka), Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Original Score, Best Film Editing and Best Cinematography. It won every single award, except for Best Supporting Actor, which was given to Red Buttons for Sayonara (1957). Apparently, Guinness later admitted to feeling guilty by his win since he thought Holden was the real star of the film. Holden congratulated him, exclaiming, «You keep the Oscar, I will keep my ten percent!»

This post is my entry to The 2nd Annual Wiliam Holden Blogathon hosted by  The Wonderful World of Cinema. To view all entries, click HERE.

Alec Guinness: The Authorised Biography by Piers Paul Read (Simon & Schuster, 2003) 

Beyond the Epic: The Life and Films of David Lean by Gene D. Phillips (The University Press of Kentucky, 2006)
William Holden: A Biography by Michelangelo Capua (McFarland & Company Inc., 2010)

Happy Birthday, Sandra Dee!

SANDRA DEE (April 23, 1942 February 20, 2005)
Me, I'm good at nothing but walking on the set with a pretty dress.

More Sandra Dee-related articles HERE.

Monday, 17 April 2017

Happy Birthday, William Holden!

WILLIAM HOLDEN (April 17, 1918 November 16, 1981)
Movie acting may not have a certain kind of glory as true art, but it is damn hard work.

More William Holden-related articles HERE.

Sunday, 16 April 2017

Happy Easter from Old Hollywood!

Vera-Ellen and the Easter Bunny

Little Shirley Temple also has a bunny friend

Susan Hayward between two bunnies

Cute little Margaret O'Brien

Easter greetings from Jean Arthur

Happy Easter, everyone!

Friday, 14 April 2017

Film Friday: «The Voice of the Turtle» (1947)

This week on «Film Friday» I want to tell you a little bit about one of my favorite pictures of all time. It is a kookie little comedy, which I think is perfect to watch over the Easter weekend. This also happens to be my favorite Ronald Reagan picture.

Theatrical release poster
Directed by Irving Rapper, The Voice of the Turtle (1947) opens in December 1944, as Broadway producer Ken Bartlett (Kent Smith) is ending his affair with stuggling young actress Sally Middleton (Eleanor Parker), who then vows never to fall in love again. Months later, her friend, Olive Lashbrooke (Eve Arden), arranges to meet Bill Page (Ronald Reagan), a sergeant on a weeken pass, at Sally's apartment. While she is waiting, she calls for her messages and learns that an old flame, Naval Commander Ned Burling (Wayne Morris), is in town for one weekend only. Choosing the commander over the sergeant, Olive breaks her date with Bill, who eventually invites Sally to dinner at the same French restaurant that she frequented with Ken.

While Bill and Sally are eating, Olive arrives with Ned, but quickly leaves when she spots them together. Disappointed by her night with the commander, Olive telephones Sally to question her about Bill. By the time the call finishes, Bill has fallen asleep at Sally's apartment. Because it is late and raining and difficult to find a room in the city, Sally offers Bill her couch, which he gratefully accepts. Over the weekend, Bill and Sally grow closer and he tells her that he loves her. However, she explains that she has given up on love, after which Bill leaves for an hotel. The next morning, Olive telephones Bill at the hotel, but he does not answer since he has already left for Sally's apartment. Olive suspects that he has spent the night with Sally and hurries over to confirm her suspicions. After Bill convinces Olive that they arrived at the same time, she invites him to lunch and dinner, but he turns her down. Later, Sally returns homes from a rehearsal to find her apartment filled with flowers. When Bill asks her to marry him, she admits that she loves him and then they sit down to eat the dinner he has ordered from the same French restaurant of their first date.

The Voice of the Turtle began as a Broadway comedy written by English playwright John Van Druten, who had had great success in the London West End in the early 1930s. The title of the play comes from a verse in the Song of Solomon in the Bible, which reads, «The voice of the turtle [as in turtle dove] is heard in our land.» Produced by Alfred De Liagre Jr. and staged by Van Druten himself, The Voice of the Turtle opened at the Morosco Theatre in New York on December 8, 1943. The risqué three-character play featured Academy Award-nominee Margaret Sullavan as Sally Middleton, as aspiring young actress who has given up on love; Elliott Nugent as Bill Page, a U.S. Army Sergeant on a weekend pass; and Audrey Christie as Olive Lashbrooke, Sally's worldly friend. Despite some mild controversy over the story point of a young woman allowing a man she had just met to share her apartment overnight, The Voice of the Turtle was a massive success. It ran for a total of 1,557 performances, closing on January 3, 1948, making it the 51st longest-running play on Broadway. 

Warner Bros. purchased the screen rights to The Voice of the Turtle in 1944, although it took two years for the project to be greenlighted. The studio envisioned the young soldier lead as ideal for their contract star of the past decade, Ronald Reagan, recently returned from World War II service. A graduate of Eureka College, Reagan began his professional career as a sports announcer, broadcasting the baseball games of the Chicago Cubs for WHO radio in Des Moines, Iowa. In 1937, while travelling with the Cubs in California, he took a screen test that led to a seven-year contract with Warners. He was relegated to the «B film» unit for a few years, until a lead role opposite Pat O'Brien in Lloyd Bacon's Knute Rockne, All American (1940) made him one of the most popular young stars in Hollywood at that time. He received further critical acclaim for playing a double amputee in Sam Wood's Kings Row (1942), but military service prevented him from capitalizing on his success.

Eleanor Parker and Ronald Reagan
Jean Arthur, Margaret Sullavan, Olivia de Havilland and Vivien Leigh were all considered for the role of Sally Middleton, but burgeoing young star Eleanor Parker was cast instead. A former waitress, Parker was signed by Warner Bros. in 1941, after being spotted by a talent scout in the audience at Pasadena Playhouse. She was quickly given strong supporting roles in important productions, finally getting her big break when she appeared opposite John Garfield in te biopic Pride of the Marines (1945).

Initially, Reagan did not want Parker to be his co-star in The Voice of the Turtle, requesting that the studio borrow June Allyson from MGM instead. As soon as they started filming, however, he changed his mind about Parker. In his autobiography, Where's the Rest of Me?, Reagan wrote: «The girl the soldier inevitably meets and romances was played by Eleanor Parker. [...] A number of new performers had come along while I was flying my air force desk and she was one of them. To me she was unknown, [but] it took me only one scene with Eleanor for me to realize I'd be lucky if I could stay even. She is one of the truly fine actresses in motion pictures.»

Producer Charles Hoffman was charged with the task of «opening up» the play, working with Van Druten to add acenes taking place in a French restaurant, a diner and the Broadway theatre where Sally is being considered for a job. Veteran Broadway producer Alfred de Liagre Jr., who went to Hollywood to assist in adapting his stage hit to film, was dismayed by Jack Warner's insistence on casting Parker and Reagan, both of whom he considered miscast. As he told syndicated columnist Norman Nadel in a 1980 interview, «So we fought about it for two months, daily, and finally Jack said, 'I paid you half a million dollars to do this, and it's my privilege to louse it up if I want to.'» Unhappy with how Hollywood treated what he considered «the most enchanting romantic comedy of all time [...] a great piece of play craftsmanship,» de Liagre would largery steer clear of filmmaking until he agreed to work with Sidney Lumet on Deathtrap more than 30 years later.

The Voice of the Turtle received a rave review from the Los Angeles Times's Edwin Schallert, who «enthusiastically recommend [it] as one of the brightest comedies of the season.» Variety called it «an infectious, fluffy mirth-maker with sturdy box-office prospects.»

Eleanor Parker: Woman of a Thousand Faces by Doug McLelland ()
Eve Arden: A Chronicle of All Film, Television, Radio and Stage Performances by David C. Tucker (2012)