Saturday, January 29, 2011

James Edwards African American Hollywood Icon By Pamela S. Deane - Book Review

By Monica Sullivan

James Edwards had angry eyes at a time in Hollywood history when many black actors made their livings singing, dancing and making people laugh. When a black actor (Sidney Poitier) finally made it into the top 10 Box Office, his characters were practically saints: over qualified, over achieving, and always, always, controlling their anger.

James Edwards had the talent, drive and charisma to become a major movie star. Although he worked steadily as an actor for many years and every single one of his performances was raw, real and memorable, he mainly stole scenes in other people’s star vehicles.

One of the pleasures of reading Pamela S. Deane’s new McFarland book, “James Edwards African American Hollywood Icon” is learning about the work I haven’t previously seen: much of it on television. Take “The Sound Of Darkness”, which aired on “Mannix” the month before Edwards died in early 1970. His job is to teach a temporarily sightless Mannix how to protect himself from being killed. The job is life and death and Edwards plays it that way. By then, Edwards had plenty of practice. In 1949, he electrified audiences in “Home Of The Brave” as a member of a combat unit which included Lloyd Bridges, Steve Brodie, Jeff Corey and Frank Lovejoy. In the midst of all the brutality in Stanley Kubrick’s “The Killing”, James Edwards was the target of Timothy Carey’s ugly bigotry. Lulled into a false sense of security by a few smooth words, Edwards’ sharp realization of the truth is accompanied by horror and venom. Seven years later, Edwards played a boxer in “Decision In The Ring”, a “Fugitive” episode broadcast a month before JFK died. Torn between a career in medicine and sudden death as a prizefighter Edwards’ evolving choice is painful yet bracing to watch.

In fact, Pamela S. Deane’s biography succeeds in showing the mixed-up era in which Edwards lived and died, as well as the uncompromising, edgy style he chose to cope with it. Even when enduring fame went to others, James Edwards continued slugging in his own inimitable way. It’s what keeps his work fresh and undated to contemporary audiences. For more information, his biography (at mcfarlandpub.com) is highly recommended.

© 2010 - Monica Sullivan - Air Date: 12/08/10
Movie Magazine International

Ingrid Pitt, Queen of Horror by Robert Michael Cotter - Book Review

By Monica Sullivan

I was thrilled to read that the multi-talented Ingrid Pitt was receiving the McFarland book treatment in the form of Robert Michael Cotter’s new volume, “Ingrid Pitt, Queen of Horror, with a forward and commentary by Miss Pitt. Soon I was learning all about her days at Hammer films making “The Vampire Lovers”, and “Countess Dracula”, as well as one of my favorites, “The House That Dripped Blood” opposite Jon Pertwee. After reading about “The Sound Of Horror”, I had to see that one, too, although it is a very low budget Spanish film from 1964 and Ingrid Pitt was none too pleased with either the picture or her performance.

It was a real treat finding out about “The Asylum”, a 2000 movie Ingrid made with her daughter Steffanie Pitt plus Patrick Mower, Robin Askwith and Colin Baker. Ingrid at 63 was still a vibrant and bewitching presence and Steffanie is quite affecting as a young woman haunted by her horrifying childhood.

In the midst of all this enjoyable film research, there was a sad announcement in the New York Times that Ingrid Pitt had died at 73. The obituary went into Ingrid’s own wretched childhood as a concentration camp survivor, and later her escape from East Berlin. It was not an easy life, but the quality that won Ingrid so many fans was her joie de vivre. She reveled in being a Queen of Horror and in keeping in touch with her many fans via her website, Pitt Of Horror.

Robert Michael Cotter’s book covers her stage work, her credits as a published author and her extensive television appearances. His gaze on her career is both affectionate and fair. There was much tragedy in Ingrid’s early life, it’s a pleasure to read of her strength and drive to make her later life and that of her daughter's full, rewarding and mostly happy. For more information, check out mcfarlandpub.com.

© 2010 - Monica Sullivan - Air Date: 12/01/10
Movie Magazine International

Dana Andrews, The Face Of Noir by James McKay - Book Review

By Monica Sullivan

When you fall in love with Dana Andrews, it’s forever. Never mind that he was born over a century ago, or that his swan song was over 25 years ago. Today’s audiences know him as Detective Mark McPeherson from 1945’s “Laura”, naturally, but two years later, he was the centerpiece of “The Best Years Of Our Lives”. As Fred Derry, a traumatized and disillusioned WWII veteran, he should have won an Oscar. Instead, the Academy gave Frederic March his second Oscar as Al Stevenson and Harold Russell received two Oscars (one competition, the other honorary) as Homer Parish. Andrews’ naturalistic, so-real-it-doesn’t-look-like-acting performance was overlooked as the picture was heaped with Oscars, nine in all.

Of the major performances, Dana Andrews’ is the most keenly felt and carefully sustained. Unlike Al and Homer, Fred is not returning to a loving home, or to a secure future. No one else captured the heartache of the returning veteran as he did: the excruciating nightmares, the disillusionment at his wretched employment situation, the erosion of the soul that accompanied the breakup of his marriage, and the rage that poured out when his service record was attacked by a stranger. Dana Andrews accomplished all this without a trace of self pity and effortlessly projected his constant efforts to heal. For me, “The Best Years Of Our Lives” refers to Fred’s successful struggle to come home after the horror of The Second World War. Al Stevenson represents the past, Homer Parish is a symbol with a capital “S”, but Dana Andrews as Fred Derry is the real deal, the wave of the future. Too real for an Oscar, obviously, but he deserved it.

As James McKay’s excellent new critical biography details, Dana Andrews was definitely the Face Of Noir, and he was much, much more. 85 photographs reveal how Andrews evolved from a teenager with a bow tie in the 1920’s to Red Ridingwood in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s “The Last Tycoon” opposite Robert DeNiro’s Monroe Stahr in 1976. There are a couple of pictures with his kids in 1948 that make him look like the deeply loved father I always imagined he would be. James McKay’s detailing of every single one of Dana Andrews’ movies will be an essential guide both for Andrews’ admirers and film scholars. In many ways, the McFarland series of critical biographies supercede the lavish Citadel series (long on synopses, short on evaluation.) “Dana Andrews, The Face Of Noir” is one of the best. For information go to mcfarlanedpub.com

© 2010 - Monica Sullivan - Air Date: 10/27/10
Movie Magazine International

Friday, January 28, 2011

Evelyn Brent: The Life and Films of Hollywood’s Lady Crook by Lynn Kear and James King - Book Review

By Monica Sullivan

The movie career of Evelyn Brent spanned 36 years (from 1914 to 1950), a good stretch for any actress, but particularly for a trouper who adjusted to every industry change long after many of her contemporaries had fled the business. One of her best films was 1927’s “Underworld” directed by Josef Von Sternberg. Evelyn Brent was “Feathers”, torn between George Bancroft as Bull Weed and Clive Brook as Rolls Royce. Outwardly tough as nails, but inwardly filled with passion and conflict, Evelyn Brent was made for film noir before it even had a name. With such a triumph, she could and should have gone on to roles with ever more greater depth and complexity. That she did not is the old, sad story of Hollywood.

For the rest of her career Brent made movies of steadily diminishing prestige and importance. For every gem like “The Last Command”, there were poverty row quickies like “Mr. Wong, Detective” or “The Payoff” or “The Golden Eye”. B-Movie buffs treasure unpretentious titles like these, but for the actors who make them, there’s seldom a return trip to top flight stardom. Still, Evelyn Brent persevered. She was very good in 1941’s “Wide Open Town” as Belle Langtry, owner of the Paradise Saloon. Brent is tiny but tough as a woman resigned to a prison term at film’s end. She has a soft spot for Hopalong Cassidy of course, and also for the rambunctious teenager played by Cara Williams in her first film. Another enjoyable project from 1941 was the serial “Holt of the Secret Service.” Jack Holt and Evelyn Brent spent many of the episodes yelling and bickering at each other. If you watch a lot of serials, it’s a welcome departure, because most gals in the serial world do exactly as they’re told, with a minimum of dialogue. (“Yes sir, no sir” and that’s about it.) Evelyn Brent even played a one-armed devil worshipper in Val Lewton’s “The 7th Victim”. She’s so dressed to the nines in this spooky classic that it took several viewings for me to realize she was missing a limb in the movie, since I already knew she wasn’t in real life. If I could think of one word to describe Brent’s overall effect on screen, it is “bracing.” She slapped life into movies and gave them energy and sparkle. Lynn Kear and James King have done a thorough, much needed assessment in “Evelyn Brent: The Life and Films of Hollywood’s Lady Crook.” For information go to mcfarlandpub.com.

© 2010 - Monica Sullivan - Air Date: 06/09/10
Movie Magazine International

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

KUSF 90.3 FM I will miss you

KUSF 90.3 FM I will miss you! I really will, your great collection of music that I listened to at all hours, when traveling abroad, and while in my City by the Bay. Your airwaves went dead on January 18, 2011 after broadcasting every day since 1977. I listened to Movie Magazine International so many times on your frequency and am ever so grateful that you carried this program in San Francisco.

Yes, you were "zapped" from the air without any advance warning.
So thank you KUSF for many years of wonderful radio enchantment. 

Moira Sullivan
San Francisco

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Black Swan

By Moira Sullivan
Black Swan by film director Darren Aronofsky made its international film debut at the Venice Film Festival this summer and opened to mixed reviews by critics. Most definitely actress Natalie Portman is a strong contender for an Oscar this year, in what may be one of the defining roles of her career. She is absolutely brilliant in the film. Her role requires her to be the Swan Queen in a new ballet. Amidst stiff competition Nina Sayers is chosen to do the part convincing ballet director Thomas Leroy played by Vincent Cassel that she can play the more difficult black swan by biting him on the lip as he tries to kiss her. 
The screenplay of Black Swan is the major problem of the film written by Mark Heyman and Andres Heinz with only a couple of film credits to their names.  One needs to question why Aronofsky would want to put his name to a story in which women are still living at home in their bedrooms filled with white and pink stuffed animals and calling their mothers "mommy". Mommy, the excellent Barbara Hershey, a woman who gave up her career to have Nina, plays Erica Sayers.  We know that the ballet world is difficult for one is retired as early as 30, as we witness when the primadonna ballerina Beth played by Winona Rider is eventually put out to pasture after years of being the mistress of the maestro. 


Stealing the words of the Russian founder of the Ballet Russes Sergei Diaghilev, Thomas asks Nina to “surprise us” for her role as the Swan Queen. The white swan he says he knows she can do but in order to play the black swan, he asks her to "touch herself" at home and seduces her while practicing to get her to "let loose".  At last she agrees to accompany pushy Lily, her stand-in played by Mila Kunis, who entices her into taking an hallucinogen. Nina winds up in the bathroom with a strange man and later is that Lily in her bedroom? ( The first sexual experience for Nina in her sequestered life, real or not). The rivalry between the two women is exploited by suggesting it is all in Nina’s mind but it is predicated on who will sleep with Thomas, a lesson Beth learns is a fleeting reward when she is "retired".
Mila Kunis was given the Marcello Mastroianni for best emerging actress by the Venice jury, who rewarded Kunis for her portrayal of a drug using outspoken and sexually liberated woman from San Francisco, and the nominations continue for Portman and Kunis including Oscar nods.  But it is not only sexual openness that is required of Natalie Portman’s character, she must endure nightmares of self-mutilation. Its enough to know that women in ballet severely injure their feet by dancing on their toes in pointe shoes and twirling in their tutus whereas men get to use their entire feet and leap and lift women in the air. By far the work of women is the most excruciating in the film, and it’s refreshing to have this emphasis but how Aronofsky tells this tale is at too high of a price. Can it be that the work of a prima donna ballerina is just plain torture? This film says so. This is not a film of the occult but the story of how a young girl who is raised to be perfect and chaste which is of course her mother's fault, and how she winds up being a frigid ballerina waiting for the role of the black swan to help her evolve. The story is clich├ęd and explains the mixed reviews at Venice.  Watching Portman at work despite the role she is given is worth the 1. 50 minutes.
For Movie Magazine this is Moira Sullivan, Venice.


© 2010 - Moira Sullivan - Air Date: 12/27/10
Movie Magazine International