Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Book review - "Star of India: The Life and Films of Sabu" by Philip Leibfried

Disappointing look at the career of an actor who deserved better. Sabu was one of those fairytale film stories - a young man from Myesore whose father and mother had died, was a ward of the Maharaja who worked with the elephants, and was discovered by the makers of  Elephant Boy. Sabu became a sensation - it's a great performance - and he was lucky in a sense to be under contract to Alex Korda, who then went and fashioned a series of vehicles for him: The Drum, Thief of Bagdad and Jungle Book.

The last two were made in the US, where Sabu stayed in the war. He signed with Universal and enjoyed continuing popularity with three films starring Jon Hall and Maria Montez; there would have been more (Hall and Montez made three more films, each featuring roles clearly ear marked for Sabu), but Sabu wanted to fight - he enlisted in the services and saw action in the Pacific as a gunner. He spent time in Australia and befriended Bob Dyer.

His post war career started wobbily with Montez in Tangier then he was in a classic, The Black Narcissus. However it was hard going after that - a bunch of minor adventure films.

It must've been depressing for Sabu but he worked hard, did well in real estate and also made extra money performing in circuses. He married and had two kids then died of a heart attack at 39.

This last fact is one of many described in a matter of fact way by the author without going into detail - I mean, surely that's worth some discussion, a person dying so young without notable cause? (Surely his impoverished upbringing?) Other things are mentioned and skipped over - a lawsuit against Sabu, a paternity suit, the murder of his brother. Instead there's a lot of listing of co stars and directors and some stories of the making of the films, which feel cobbled from various books.

The author has done some interviews and clearly has admiration for Sabu. It's not a terrible book you just wish it was more thorough in certain areas.

Saturday, May 19, 2018

Script review - "Ghost" by Bruce Joel Rubin

The sensation of 1990 with the pottery, Demi Moore, Demi Moore's haircut, Whoopi Goldberg, "Unchained Melody"... Rubin's script is excellent, beautifully simply and primeval. It's very moving how Sam and Molly are a nice couple, and his death is very sad... and the plot has two engines, with Carl being his friend who killed him for money and also wants money. Oda Mae livens things up greatly as the psychic.

Inevitably there are questions and logic issues - Sam's ability to move things seems to come and go - and the last act felt plotty, though there was some fun with Oda Mae getting the money and good moments with the baddies going to hell. It's very satisfying and doesn't sell out by having Sam come back to life.

I never loved this film to be honest - it felt over praised - but I have a lot of respect for it.

Saturday, May 12, 2018

Movie review - "Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2" (2017) **

The production values are as impressive as ever - the tremendous design and effects - and the cast are absolutely fine. It's fun to have Kurt Russell as Chris Pratt's dad. I love the colour.

But the film never manages to find an equivalent to the narrative/emotional drive of the first one - which was about the formation of a family of misfits. There's some squabbling and Pratt betrayed by his dad and a lot of explosions and not a lot of excitement.

No one has much to do except Pratt. I guess Zoe Saladana has a plot with her sister but it feels overshadowed. I found it hard going and not that interesting.

Sunday, May 06, 2018

Bob Cummings Top Ten

1) Kings Row - a bunch of people with minimal reps (Cummings, Ronald Reagan, Anne Sheridan) really stepped up to the plate with this one which remains a classic
2) It Started with Eve - probably the best film of Deanna Durbin and Norman Krasna, a delightful musical comedy with Cummings ideal as Durbin's love interest
3) The Devil and Miss Jones - the other claimant for Krasna's best script a terrific pro-Union comedy
4) Saboteur - Hitchcock didn't want Cummings for this role but he's very likeable and the film is fun
5) Twelve Angry Men - the original 1954 presentation - only 60 minutes but it's all there and Cummings is superb in the Henry Fonda role
6) The Bob Cummings Show - a good sitcom with Cummings perfectly cast
7) You and Me - Cummings is good in this "male weapie" directed by John Farrow and written by Ayn Rand!
8) The Carpetbaggers - many nice guy actors like Fred MacMurray make superb slimy villains and Cummins is no exception
9) The Black Book - weird to see Cummings in a French Revolution piece but I liked it
10) Bomber's Moon - Cummings for Playhouse 90... a bit of a flat story but he's really good

Saturday, May 05, 2018

Paula Prentiss

tip of the hat to Paula Prentiss, the tall, gawky, brilliantly talented actor who lept to fame in her first movie "Where the Boys Are" but who never became a star despite being the best thing about pretty much every film she made in the early 60s...

There were a few reasons for this, including the fact that the films were often not that good (The Horizontal Lieutenant, Follow the Boys), or considered disappointments (Man's Favourite Sport - though Howard Hawks loved her). 

She had brilliant bits in The World of Henry Orient and What's Up Pussycat? but during the making of the latter had a nervous breakdown that saw her retire from acting for a while. 

She went back to it but never regained her former career momentum (the late 60s and 70s weren't a great time for female stars in Hollywood) but always could be counted on to turn in great work, whether in The Parallax View or the Stepford Wives. She also had a family and is still married to Richard Benjamin after 50 years. If you like screwball comedies and aren't familiar with her work she is worth checking out.

A top five
1) Where the Boys Are (1960) - great debut
2) The Honeymoon Machine (1961) - a rare Steve McQueen comedy, quite fun, and Prentiss steals the show
3) The World of Henry Orient (1964) - Prentiss hilarious as a nutter
4) What's New Pussycat? (1965) - see above
5) The Parallax View (1974) - only a small role but very effective

Friday, May 04, 2018

TV review - "Playhouse 90 - Bomber's Moon" (1958) **1/2

Like a lot of stars, Robert Cummings got chances on TV that he never did in films. He gives a superb performance as an air force officer in World War Two who cracks under pressure. It's really good work - sensitive, tough, never over doing it.

The rest of it is less good. I mean it's fine - Rod Serling wrote the script, John Frankenheimer directed (using lots of tight two shots and impressively employing shadows over characters' faces at the end). The cast is very good, including Martin Balsam and Rip Torn without a beard (as a cowardly pilot).

Unfortunately the story isn't that interesting. An officer finding it hard to send men to die - that was done in Twelve O'Clock High, The Dawn Patrol, Command Decision. It's not fresh.

Like I said it's fine but that's it.

Thursday, May 03, 2018

TV review - "Studio One - Twelve Angry Men" (1954) ****

One of the best ideas of all time very well realised by Reginald Rose. This is the original version clocking in at 60 minutes but all the good stuff is there - the liberal hero expressing doubt, the hard arse pushing for conviction, the bigot who everyone turns their back on (this bit felt a little clunky), the immigrant, the old man sympathetic to the old witness, the crafty juror (played by EG Marshall in the film - his part felt smaller here).

There's a lot of arguing over details of the case but it's very well thought out by Rose. The acting is extremely strong - Franchot Tone (main adversary), Edward Arnold (racist), Norman Fell. Bob Cummings plays the hero and it's one of his best performances - restrained, conscientious.

Franklin Schaeffner directed. Cliff Robertson introduces it.