Wednesday, February 28, 2007

OK. I'm just putting this out there. I don't have any comment to make on this picture. In fact, I don't think I even NEED to make any comment on this picture. Other than it's from an old Fantastic Four coloring book from back in the day. Suffice to say that . . . well . . . I just HAD to post this one!
I mean, MAYBE if the guy updated his OWN blog once in a while I wouldn't have to RESORT to this. . .

Monday, February 26, 2007

A CHARACTER ACTOR QUERY: Most of these character actors are from back in the day. It seems like they just don't make good character actors anymore; supporting roles seem to be filled with cookie-cutter bland models.

HOWEVER, I know there has to be SOMEBODY out there who fulfills the role of GREAT character actor. Any suggestions for a present-day one?!?
Here's some reasons why I love him:
Wife vs. Secretary (1936)
Nothing Sacred (1937)
His Girl Friday (1940)
The Grapes of Wrath (1940)
Casablanca (1942)
Hans Christian Andersen (1952)
I, the Jury (1953)
The Searchers (1956)
Thriller: "Mr. George" (1961)
The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962)
The 7 Faces of Dr. Lao (1964)
You know who John Qualen is (unless you're cinematically illiterate like Finky). You just don't know his name. He's the guy who tried to sell a watch to Paul Henreid and Ingrid Bergman in "Casablanca". He's the escaped murderer who hides in the roll top desk in "His Girl Friday". But most importantly, his best performance on the silver screen was as Muley in "The Grapes of Wrath" when he describes to Henry Fonda and John Carradine what happened to his farm.
Qualen's magnificent as the haunted, slightly "tetched" farmer who was forced off his land when the bank foreclosed during the Dust Bowl of the Great Depression. His flashback speech is absolutely gripping: "There ain't nobody gonna push me off my land! My grandpa took up this land 70 years ago, my pa was born here, we were all born on it. And some of of us was killed on it! ...and some of us died on it. That's what make it our'n, bein' born on it,...and workin' on it,...and and dying' on it! And not no piece of paper with writin' on it!" Qualen tells his heartbreaking story in the ruins of the old Joad shack. The darkness is all around the actor as his face is only illuminated by a single light from below as he tells them how the bank bulldozed his home into the dirt and now he haunts the deserted and blasted fields at night like a ghost. The eerie dust bowl wind howls outside in one of the most atmospheric scenes ever committed to nitrate stock. This first part of the film (before Tom Joad meets up with his family) is my favourite part of "The Grapes of Wrath" and John Qualen's performance has a lot to do with that!
Qualen usually played little mousy guys who life seemed always to roll over as if he was in the way. As falsely-convicted killer Earl Williams, Qualen has been sentenced to death when he escapes; Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell hide him in a roll top desk and, by the time all the screwball antics have reached a peak, Qualen is so frazzled and exhausted that he just wants to give himself up. John Qualen is one of those character actors who epitomizes the best in character actors; he had excellent acting chops and made you smile every time he walked on screen. And that's why I love the little fella.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Call it my New Year's Resolution. . .only two months late. And if I've wasted two months already, I'd better get a move on! I've been watching that WONDERFUL TV series that USED TO air on TLC before they decided they would only show home decorating shows: GREAT BOOKS. It was a documentary series from the 90's which was narrated by Donald Sutherland and executive produced (or something) by Walter Cronkite. It's also CRIMINALLY not available on DVD so I've been watching the videotapes I recorded back in the day when they used to have "Great Books" marathons on TLC. (You got it, I ALSO remember when the "L" in TLC stood for learning. I know, I know, I must be a communist or something). Well, I digress (what else be new?!?!) Anyway, here's my statement of intent or resolution or whatever.
It is my honest intention to finally read these two books: "Moby Dick" and "Great Expectations". I've always wanted to read them and just never managed to do so. Believe it or don't but I've never actually read ANYTHING by Charles Dickens. Oh, I can see you now standing there aghast in your shorts! Nope, not even "A Christmas Carol" which is wafer-thin. And "Great Expectations" is the one I've always wanted to start with. As for "Moby Dick", well I've always wanted to read that too; even though I actually HAVE read some Melville in the past. Bartleby the Scrivener (which I didn't particularly like) and Billy Budd (which I loved). But THIS book. Well, it's THE book, isn't it. The one that's intimidating and stands there mocking you just like the great whale itself. So anyway, I have the best intentions to read them both. This year. Whether I make it or not is for you to call me on. Also, let's hear from Midnighter (and any other of my friends who have read either book). Midnighter, I know you finally read "Moby Dick" a couple years ago so what's your advice, mate? I mean, besides that I should wear a rain slicker while reading it.
So anyway, it's those two guys up there's fault. Who's gonna win? Them or me?!?
Here are some of the reasons why I love the little bug-eater:
Dracula (1931) w/ Bela Lugosi
The Maltese Falcon (1931) w/ Ricardo Cortez
The Black Camel (1931) w/ Bela Lugosi
Frankenstein (1931) w/ Boris Karloff
The Vampire Bat (1933) w/ Lionel Atwill and Fay Wray
The Invisible Man (1933) w/ Claude Rains
Bride of Frankenstein (1935) w/ Boris Karloff
The Crime of Dr. Crespi (1935) w/ Erich Von Stroheim
Son of Frankenstein (1939) w/ Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi
Drums of Fu Manchu (1940) w/ Henry Brandon
The Ghost of Frankenstein (1942) w/ Bela Lugosi & Lon Chaney Jr.
Dead Men Walk (1943) w/ George Zucco and George Zucco
Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man (1943) w/ Lon Chaney Jr. & Bela Lugosi
Dwight Frye was a theater actor who was known for playing all kinds of roles: from romantic juveniles to comedy. However, film fans will forever remember him as the wild-eyed, madly-giggling slave to Count Dracula. In the 1931 classic, Dwight Frye's Renfield is blissfully unaware that his little real estate trip to the castle will spell his doom. Renfield is positively blithe and bland while Bela Lugosi's Count inexorably draws him into his web. After the hapless fellow is hopelessly under Dracula's control, the vampire Count packs up his earth boxes and heads to England on the next available ship. Unfortunately for the ship's crew, Dracula regards them as him own personal juice boxes and the ship arrives at Whitby with no one on board but a corpse strapped to the wheel and the totally insane Renfield. The scene where the hatch is opened to reveal Dwight Frye, fully given to madness, ravenously grinning up at the camera from the bottom of the hold, is genuinely frightening. (Here we see Frye with his fellow "Dracula" castmates Bela Lugosi, David Manners, Helen Chandler and Edward Van Sloan). Soon after that, Universal (and James Whale) cast Frye in "Frankenstein" as the original deranged (and homicidal) hunchback assistant to Colin Clive's mad doctor. After that, every Universal Frankenstein movie featured Dwight Frye in the cast (until his untimely death after "Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man"); albeit in smaller and smaller roles which eventually amounted to nothing more than a cameo. The actor suffered from heart trouble and his health was slowly deteriorating during the 40's. During this time, Frye also had a small role in one of the best Saturday morning serials ever made: "The Drums of Fu Manchu" where he played (what else?!?), a criminal henchman. Frye would fare much better with more substantial roles in such horror films as "The Vampire Bat" and "Dead Men Walk" in which he played much the same character as he had in "Dracula" and "Frankenstein". The versatile actor was firmly typecast in "Renfield" roles and had to do war work in a Lockheed factory to make ends meet. He was to have a fairly chunky role in a non-horror film (in one of my all-time favourite biopics "Wilson") about President Woodrow Wilson (which also featured fellow horror vet Vincent Price) due to Frye's uncanny resemblance to World War I Secretary of War Newton Baker. Sadly, Dwight Frye suffered a fatal heart attack while riding on a bus a few days before shooting began. While the actor never really got his chance to show his versatility on film, Dwight Frye carved an indelible spot in the hearts of horror fans everywhere and that's why I love him.

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Here are some reasons why I love her:
The Quiet Man (1952) w/ John Wayne & Maureen O'Hara
Against All Flags (1952) w/ Errol Flynn & Maureen O'Hara
The Trouble with Harry (1955) directed by Alfred Hitchcock
Barefoot in the Park (1967) w/ Robert Redford & Jane Fonda
The House Without A Christmas Tree (1972) w/ Jason Robards
The Snoop Sisters (1972) w/ Helen Hayes
The Booth (1983) w/ Barnard Hughes
Dangerous Liaisons (1988) w/ Glenn Close & John Malkovich
In her obituary, The New York Times called her "a versatile actress who created an engaging gallery of eccentric, whimsical and spunky characters in plays, films and television for more than 60 years". They sure weren't kidding. Whenever Mildred Natwick appeared on the screen, she was sure to bring a smile to your face. I'm not sure which is my favourite role of hers; either the lovelorn spinster who helps dispose of a corpse in Alfred Hitchcock's "The Trouble With Harry" or as "old character" Grandma Mills who only appears dotty to those who don't know her in my childhood favourite "The House Without A Christmas Tree"? Mildred's son (played by gruff Jason Robards) has been so scarred by the early death of his wife that he refuses to allow a Christmas tree in the house. Mildred's granddaughter enlists her grandmother to try to change his mind. This TV movie from 1972 remained lodged in my memory for years and haunted me until I finally found a VHS copy in the 1990's and the film was every bit as terrific as I recalled. Remember when PBS used to air filmed stage plays in the 80s?!? Well, I also loved Mildred in one of those: "The Booth" was a three-part stage play in which the action centered around a banquet booth. Each of the three sections of the play featured different characters, actors and stories. The section concerning Mildred found her playing an old lady who goes to her class reunion only to find that she and Barnard Hughes are the only classmates still living. Both characters have failing memories and don't remember each other. The comic banter back and forth between these two veteran performers is both poignant and hilarious. I can never again hear the song "Don't Fence Me In" without thinking of Mildred Natwick in this play! Her final film was "Dangerous Liaisons" in which she played a wise and savvy dowager who is quite aware of the naughtiness John Malkovich gets up to. I remember the first time I saw the film; I almost shouted out loud "Hey, that's Mildred Natwick!" That's the kind of joy she brought to the screen and that's why I love her.

Friday, February 23, 2007

DEAR MS. HENRI, I thin you got some splainin' to do!!! Click on the picture (so you can see it what it's called) and tell me what Bruce Lee's got against you.
JUST FOR THE RECORD: BEAKER IS WEAKER!!! As you may recall, there was a ridiculous claim made by Cheekies that Beaker (the lameoid to the left) is a much better Muppet than Pepe the King Prawn. (Miss Jenny Penny actually did agree with him in the comment but I'm going to chalk that up to excessive zeal and hope that she will come to her senses -- especially since both Buffy AND Vicki Mars have already made their preference for Pepe known to me). Now, while there could be a legitimate case for a another Muppet being better than Pepe, choosing Beaker as the one is not wise; Beaker is not the go-to Muppet, folks. He's essentially a "one joke" Muppet who resembles a table leg with a box of french fries on his head. Once you've seen him . . .you've SEEN him. And once you've HEARD him more than a few times, he gets REALLY ANNOYING folks! So, as a public service to those naysayers who actually think that Beaker is better than Pepe; we have conducted a scientific study with the help of NASA and McDonald's wherein the popularity and general "much betterness" of each Muppet has been calculated in relation to the aforementioned Beaker. We will thus have mathematical evidence as to which Muppet is better or worse than Beaker. And here are the results (those Muppets that are better than Beaker appear in blue while those that are worse appear in red): Pepe the KING Prawn: 90% better than Beaker Animal: 85% better than Beaker Bobo the Bear: 70% better than Beaker Dr. Bunsen Honeydew: 2% worse than Beaker Dr. Teeth: 14% better than Beaker Sgt. Floyd Pepper : 4% better than Beaker Fozzie Bear: 94% better than Beaker Gonzo: 77% better than Beaker Janice: 17% worse than Beaker Kermit the Frog: 100% better than Beaker Miss Piggy: 54% better than Beaker Rizzo the Rat: 92% better than Beaker Robin (Kermit's little nephew): 66% better than Beaker Rowlf the Dog: 20% better than Beaker Sam the Eagle: 22% worse than Beaker Scooter: 71% worse than Beaker Statler & Waldorf: 87% better than Beaker Swedish Chef: 35% better than Beaker Sweetums: 19% better than Beaker Zoot: 7% better than Beaker Big Bird: 9% better than Beaker Oscar the Grouch: 91% better than Beaker Grover: 98% better than Beaker Elmo: 100% worse than Beaker The Count: 94% better than Beaker Ernie: 96% better than Beaker Bert: 83% better than Beaker Mr. Snuffleupagus: 74% better than Beaker Cookie Monster: 91% better than Beaker Judge Ito * : 25% better than Beaker And, as if all this wasn't proof ENOUGH, I'll enter this additional evidence: I don't recall ever seeing a Beaker balloon in a Thanksgiving Parade. HOWEVER, you will notice there's a photo of a Pepe the King Prawn float right down there making it's way in the Thanksgiving Parade. So nertz to you, naysayers. * Didn't realize Judge Ito was a Muppet, did you????

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

HAVE YOU BEEN TOUCHED BY HIS NOODLY APPENDAGE YET?!?!? For your own good (to say NOTHING of your immortal soul), you really should click here.

Monday, February 19, 2007

CHARACTER ACTORS PART 11: GLORIA GRAHAME. Here's why I love her: Without Love (1945) w/ Katharine Hepburn & Spencer Tracy It's A Wonderful Life (1946) w/ James Stewart Crossfire (1947) w/ Robert Mitchum
In A Lonely Place (1950) w/ Humphrey Bogart
Sudden Fear (1952) w/ Joan Crawford
The Big Heat (1953) w/ Glenn Ford & Lee Marvin
Blood and Lace (1971)
Chilly Scenes of Winter (1979) w/ John Heard
Gloria never seemed to catch a break. She was either the woman some man done dirt to or else the floozy who never got any respect. In "The Big Heat", Lee Marvin horribly scars her by hurling a boiling pot of coffee in her face. "In A Lonely Place" finds Humphrey Bogart similarly terrorizing her. Even in the perennial family feel good Christmas staple "It's A Wonderful Life", it's Gloria Grahame who plays a "loose woman". Gloria seems to be one of the quintessential film noir dames. When she falls for hack writer Humphrey Bogart in "In a Lonely Place" after providing an alibi for him when a girlfriend is murdered, things seem to be going along fine. However, Bogie soon reveals a terrifying, violent temper leading Gloria to doubt whether or not the man she loves is actually a murderer. Bogie's performance is actually terrifying while Grahame makes you feel genuine fear and concern for her welfare. "In A Lonely Place" is actually a kinda nastier version of Alfred Hitchcock's "Suspicion". There is a particular aspect to Gloria Grahame which is so beaten-down by life that it lends itself to so many of the roles in which she was cast. Something in her eyes (those half-open, heavy-lidded eyes) seems to speak to a life of hard knocks and a happy ending never seems to loom in her future.
It was a particular stroke of casting genius which found Gloria Grahame, near the end of her career, cast in the role of John Heard's marginally insane and frequently suicidal mother in one of my favourite films: "Chilly Scenes of Winter". We first meet her character near the beginning of the film when she calls her son threatening to kill herself. When Heard goes to her house, we find Gloria Grahame wearing a long evening dress and high heels sobbing inside a bathtub filled with water. The scene is played tragi-comically since the suicide attempts are never really for real (only once during the movie does she eat a card of laxatives because her suicide attempts are apparently caused by constipation pain). Gloria's character apparently longs for the past: she frequently wears 40's-style evening gowns and her hair is still done in the 40's fashion. Knowing Gloria Grahame's long movie career (and the types of characters she played), one could easily believe she would turn into this type of character; who seemingly chooses to go a little dotty so she can do or say whatever the hell she feels. And that's a pretty good reason to love her.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Here are some reasons why I love her:
The Shadow (Radio Show 1937-1938) w/ Orson Welles
The Mercury Theater of the Air (1938) w. Orson Welles
Citizen Kane (1941) w/ Orson Welles)
Suspense: "Sorry, Wrong Number" (Radio Show 1942)
Jane Eyre (1944) w/ Orson Welles
Dragon Seed (1944) w/ Katharine Hepburn
The Bat (1959) w/ Vincent Price
The Twilight Zone: "The Invaders" (TV Show 1961)
Hush, Hush Sweet Charlotte (1964) w/ Bette Davis
Bewitched (TV Show 1964-1972) w/ Elizabeth Montgomery
What's the Matter With Helen? (1971) w/ Shelley Winters
Night Gallery: "Certain Shadows on the Wall" (TV Show 1970)
Night Gallery: "Satisfaction Guaranteed" (TV Show 1971)
Charlotte's Web (1973) Frankenstein: The True Story (1973) w/ Michael Sarrazin
In the trailer for "Citizen Kane", Orson called her one of the best actresses going. She was held in the highest regard in four industries: theater, film, television and radio. She was a key member of Orson Welles' groundbreaking theater group "The Mercury Theater" and she followed Orson to radio where she played the lovely Margot Lane on "The Shadow" as well as appearing on Orson's "Mercury Theater of the Air"; you know, the radio show that was responsible for the panic "War of the Worlds" broadcast. Her first film happened to be what many call the best film ever made: Citizen Kane. In it, Agnes plays Charles Foster Kane's icy mother; staring out the window as she gives up her son the snow mirrors her own chilly coldness. . .but Agnes still manages to inject a kernel of sadness and humanity which a lesser actress never would've put there on the screen. On radio, Agnes Moorehead starred in one of the most rerun episodes of all time as the hysterical bedridden woman in Suspense's "Sorry, Wrong Number". Take my word for it; skip the overlong and vastly inferior movie starring Barbara Stanwyck -- Agnes' radio performance is the one to experience. Then Agnes went to television and did a reverse of her radio performance when she performed on one of the most famous Twilight Zone's ever ("The Invaders") without speaking a word!!! Tragically, the casting of Agnes Moorehead in that mega-bomb "The Conqueror" (featuring John Wayne as Genghis Khan for goshsakes) signed her death warrent. The film was shot in the desert where recent nuclear bomb tests had been made. Worse still, skads of radioactive dirt were shipped to the studio sets so scenes shot on the movie lot would match! This naturally resulted in a large percentage of the cast and crew (including Wayne, Moorehead, Susan Hayward, Thomas Gomez, Pedro Armendariz and director Dick Powell) contracting cancer and dying from it. But most of us will always think of Agnes as the delightfully devious Endora on "Bewitched" as she unendingly torments Darren (whichever one). Agnes Moorehead had the acting chops to handle every role but she still maintained a down-to-earth sense of fun. And that's why I love her.
Here are some reasons why I love him:
The Graduate (1967) w/ Dustin Hoffman & Anne Bancroft 1776 (1972) w/ Howard DaSilva & Ken Howard Kolchak: The Night Stalker: "The Vampire" (TV Show 1974) w/ Darren McGavin Oh, God! (1977) w/ George Burns Soap (TV show 1978) Wry and dry. That's William Daniels. He's always a joy whenever he pops up on screen. However, it's really for one role and one role alone that I truly love the guy. No, it's not as the voice of K.I.T.T. in Knight Rider. Its for the role of John Adams in 1776. He tried and tried to get the Continental Congress to declare independence and he failed and failed. Why? Because he was obnoxious and disliked. It was only when he finagled someone else to propose that independence was finally voted upon. John Adams was the prime mover for independence in the Continental Congress but was fated to be overlooked in favour of such demi-gods as Washington, Franklin and Jefferson. Ironically, real life had a similar surprise for William Daniels. He was nominated for a Tony Award for best supporting actor during the Broadway run. Now, John Adams is clearly the lead role in the play but, since Daniels wasn't top billed, he wasn't eligible to be nominated for best actor. Daniels declined the nomination. Courteously. No matter. He subsequently starred in the film version of the musical (here he is with Howard DaSilva as Ben Franklin) and no one will ever be a better John Adams than William Daniels. And that's why I love the lug.
CHARACTER ACTORS PART 8: MARGARET DUMONT. Here are some reasons why I love her: The Cocoanuts (1929) Animal Crackers (1930) Duck Soup (1933) A Night at the Opera (1935) A Day at the Races (1937) The Women (1939) w/ Joan Crawford At the Circus (1939) The Big Store (1941) Never Give A Sucker an Even Break (1941) w/ W. C. Fields Bathing Beauty (1944) w/ Esther Williams & Red Skelton The Horn Blows at Midnight (1945) w/ Jack Benny Little Giant (1946) w/ Abbott & Costello What a Way To Go! (1964) w/ Shirley MacLaine
The ultimate straight man was a woman! Margaret Dumont was the oh-so-proper hoity-toity upper-class grande dame the Marx Brothers revelled in levelling. Seemingly a constant fixture with the Marx Brothers, it is probably an essential part of her perfection that she never got a single joke the Marx Brothers ever made. And since they were usually at HER expense, that's probably just as well. I can see her now, bending over a hot stove. But I can't see the STOVE! Apparently she enjoyed working with the boys but she probably couldn't have told you why. Margaret Dumont was the great oak tree standing proudly in the forest while four ridiculous, manic woodpeckers flapped around her. Because one thinks of her solely in proximity to the Marx Brothers, it is somewhat shocking to realize that she actually appeared with a great many comedians of Hollywood's golden age including W.C. Fields, Abbott & Costello, Red Skelton and Jack Benny. Although she may not have understood the Marx Brothers' humour, you only have to look at her face to realize she's still having the time of her life. Surely she couldn't have been as stuffy as the characters she played. Dumont had a long career on the stage but film fans will always remember her for the Marx Brothers movies. An interesting sidebar: the 1992 film "Brain Donors" was an out and out homage to the classic Marx Brothers films starring John "Barton Fink" Turturro in the "Groucho"-like role and Nancy "The Sopranos" Marchand in the Margaret Dumont-like role. While many thought "Brain Donors" fell flat, I personally think it's funny as hell. Of course, I doubt if Margaret Dumont would've gotten that film either. And that's why we love her!

Friday, February 16, 2007

Here are some of the reasons why I love him:
The Old Dark House (1932) w/ Boris Karloff
The Ghoul (1933) w/ Boris Karloff
The Bride of Frankenstein (1935) w/ Boris Karloff
The Man Who Could Work Miracles (1936) w/ Roland Young
They Drive By Night (1938) w/ Emlyn Williams
The Man in the White Suit (1951) w/ Alec Guinness
Scrooge (1951) w/ Alastair Sim
The Robe (1953) w/ Richard Burton
Who Done It? (1956) w/ Benny Hill
There was probably never a character actor who was a bigger character than ole Ern! He's literally stolen every scene he's ever been in. I mean, can you imagine having to act alongside Thesiger and hope that the audience would notice you AT ALL?!?!? Director James Whale (seen here with his daffy diva on the set of "Bride") was so fond of Thesiger that he used him in both his classics "The Bride of Frankenstein" and "The Old Dark House" (Ernest is seen here with future "Titanic" actress Gloria Stuart). James Whale insisted on Thesiger's casting as the dotty Dr. Pretorius in "Bride of Frankenstein": undoubtedly one of the most memorable performances in the history of horror films. Pretorius' toast of "Here's to a world of gods and monsters" even provided the title for the recent James Whale biopic starring Sir Ian McKellen. As the archly fey Horace Femm in "The Old Dark House", almost every line spoken by Thesiger is a bona fide classic of cutting wit. Only Thesiger could deliver a line like "Have a potato" in such a way as to reduce a viewer to howls of laughter.
The actor also appeared in the little seen (on this side of the Atlantic) movie "They Drive By Night" (not to be confused with the Humphrey Bogart picture of the same name) which stars Emlyn Williams as a recently released convict who becomes a suspect in a strangulation murder he didn't commit. The first half of this wonderful movie is pure "innocent man on the run"; however, about halfway into the film it veers sharply into all-out horror with an absolutely stunning "face at the window" zoom shot you have to see to believe. Ernest Thesiger was as arch as his nostrils and that's why cinema fans like me love him. So have a potato, Ern. It's my ONLY weakness!
CHARACTER ACTORS PART 6: ***SIGH*** . . . DENISE NICHOLAS. Here (below) is one of the reasons I love her:
OK, and here are some MORE reasons why I love her:
Room 222 ( TV show 1969) Night Gallery "Logoda's Heads" (TV show 1971) Blacula (1972) Let's Do It Again (1975)A Piece of the Action (1977) Baby, I'm Back (TV show 1978) Capricorn One (1978) Sure, I freely admit I've been deeply in love with Denise Nicholas since I was about 5 years old and first saw her on a Room 222 rerun (the show for which she won two Golden Globe nominations). Since then, she's been in the forgotten (though fun) 70's sitcom "Baby, I'm Back" in which her ex-husband (played by Sanford and Son's Demond Wilson) tries to re-enter her life. I never watched the TV show "In the Heat of the Night" in which she co-starred with Carroll O'Connor; had I only known she was in it I would have tuned in every week!!! I hesitate to include her as a "character actor" since she always seemed like a leading lady to me. However, Denise Nicholas never seemed to have the one breakout role which would catapult her to stardom. So here she is. And I'm glad to see her at ANY opportunity. In 1995, Harvard University's Harvard Foundation named her Cultural Artist of the Year for her contributions to American performing arts and intercultural relations. Denise Nicholas has also won 5 N.A.A.C.P. Awards and 2 L.A. Emmys. So, OK now everybody whistle the theme song to Room 222. Go on, you know it. And if you don't -- what in the hell's wrong with you?!?!?!?!?!!!

Thursday, February 15, 2007

CHARACTER ACTORS PART 5: MANTAN MORELAND Here's a few of the reasons why I love him: Harlem on the Prairie (1937) Spirit of Youth (1938) Two-Gun Man From Harlem (1938) Riders of the Frontier (1939) w/ Tex Ritter Irish Luck (1939) w/ Frankie Darro Chasing Trouble (1940) w/ Frankie Darro On the Spot (1940) w/ Frankie Darro Laughing at Danger (1940) w/ Frankie Darro Up in the Air (1940) w/ Frankie Darro Drums of the Desert (1940) w/ Ralph Byrd Up Jumped the Devil (1941) w/ Maceo B. Sheffield Lucky Ghost (1941) w/ F.E. Miller & Maceo B. Sheffield You're Out of Luck (1941) w/ Frankie Darro King of the Zombies (1941) The Gang's All Here (1941) w/ Frankie Darro Mr. Washington Goes to Town (1941) w/ F. E. Miller Dressed To Kill (1941) Professor Creeps (1942) w/ F. E. Miller Freckles Comes Home (1942) w/ Gale Storm Law of the Jungle (1942) The Strange Case of Dr. Rx (1942) w/ Lionel Atwill A-Haunting We Will Go (1942) w/ Laurel & Hardy Phantom Killer (1942) Eyes In the Night (1942) w/ Edward Arnold & Donna Reed The Palm Beach Story (1942) w/ Claudette Colbert Cabin in the Sky (1943) w/ Ethel Waters & Lena Horne Hit the Ice (1943) w/ Abbott & Costello Revenge of the Zombies (1943) w/ John Carradine Mantan Runs For Mayor (1946) Mantan Messes Up (1946) Come On, Cowboy (1948) w/ F. E. Miller Spider Baby (1968) w/ Lon Chaney Jr. Watermelon Man (1970) w/ Godfrey Cambridge Over to the right there in the archives you'll find me blathering on about Mantan Moreland and his groundbreaking interracial "buddy films" with Frankie Darro. Look over there. It's in February 2006 archive and the article is called "IRISH LUCK". Go ahead. I'll wait. Oh, you're back. OK, well Mantan was really the star of almost every picture he was in (take King of the Zombies for just one example -- he's the only reason to watch it and he lifts the film from abysmal to magical). Like all other actors of colour at the time, Mantan Moreland was mostly relegated to the role of valet, porter, janitor, chauffer or any number of other working class jobs. For this inescapable fact of life in old Hollywood, Moreland would later be lambasted and ridiculed for his "demeaning and offensive roles". This was quite unfair and, in fact, quite untrue. Unlike stereotyped portrayals by, for instance, Stepin Fetchit, Mantan Moreland shaped his film portrayals in much the same manner as Eddie "Rochester" Anderson; that is, he was usually smarter than his boss and didn't hide that fact -- slipping in sarcastic barbs which usually went over their heads. In his new book “Mantan the Funnyman”, Michael H. Price describes an interesting conversation he once had with the N.A.A.C.P.’s Dr. Richard Jones; who referred to Moreland as an “Uncle Tom” and admitted that his organization actively strove to “put the wraps on his career”. “Well, sir,” replied Price, “all due respect, but I’ve always found Mantan to be pretty darned heroic and quick-witted. Closer to Paul Robeson than to Stepin Fetchit, if you’re talking about dignity and resourcefulness.” Price later goes on to relate Dr. Jones’ response: “Well, it’s not as though we had tried to kick him out of the race, or any such thing. The organization’s lobbyists merely discouraged his employment among the moving-picture companies and urged him to apply his talents to a higher calling.” Price goes on to make the cogent point that Dr. Jones added “That was a long time ago” as if to suggest that character assassination and career sabotage came equipped with a statute of limitations”. Mantan was a life-long consummate comedian and, as such, went for the laugh. In his good number of horror films (and mysteries featuring Charlie Chan), Mantan played the scared assistant in much the same manner as Lou Costello would have. The mere fact that some people falsely point to this as "a demeaning portrayal" simply because of the colour of Moreland's skin points out their own racism; if comedians like Lou Costello, Harold Lloyd, Bert Lahr or the Three Stooges could portray the same type of cowardly characters why should Mantan Moreland be denied the same right?!? Speaking of the Three Stooges, it was the express wish of both Moe & Shemp Howard that Mantan Moreland take Shemp's place in the Three Stooges. Moe, as late as 1973, was still lamenting the fact that the studio would not allow it and stuck them with prissy Joe Besser. While Mantan was only a supporting player in mainstream Hollywood films, he was allowed to headline in films made for and by African Americans such as Lucky Ghost (one of his funniest). The political correctness which almost destroyed his career in the 1950's hurt Moreland very badly; especially since he knew in his heart he never demeaned himself on the silver screen. It wasn't until the 60's when Mantan's career began to be reevaluated and his unfair treatment began to subside. Director Jack Hill brought him aboard for his film "Spider Baby" and others like Bill Cosby and Carl Reiner welcomed Mantan on to their productions as well. Sadly, his chronic ill health finally ended Moreland's life just as he was beginning to find work again. The fact remains, however, that Mantan Moreland lived to provide joy and entertainment for the entire world. *** All sentences in red are either direct quotes or paraphrases from Michael H. Price’s book “Mantan the Funnyman” available from Midnight Marquee Press. CLICK HERE and buy a copy right away!

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

X the Unknown (1956) w/ Dean Jagger Quatermass 2: Enemy From Space (1957) w/ Brian Donlevy The Revenge of Frankenstein (1958) w/ Peter Cushing The Man Who Could Cheat Death (1959) w/ Anton Diffring The Mummy (1959) w/ Peter Cushing & Christopher Lee The Brides of Dracula (1960) w/ Peter Cushing Macbeth (1960) w/ Maurice Evans & Judith Anderson Curse of the Werewolf (1961) w/ Oliver Reed Captain Clegg aka Night Creatures (1962) w/ Peter Cushing The Phantom of the Opera (1962) w/ Herbert Lom Curse of the Mummy's Tomb (1964) Plague of the Zombies (1966) w/ Andre Morell Rasputin the Mad Monk (1966) w/ Christopher Lee The Reptile (1966) Torture Garden (1967) w/ Peter Cushing & Jack Palance The Mummy's Shroud (1967) The Lost Continent (1968) Dracula Has Risen From the Grave (1968) w/ Christopher Lee Taste the Blood of Dracula (1970) w/ Christopher Lee Scars of Dracula (1970) w/ Christopher Lee The Creeping Flesh (1973) w/ Peter Cushing & Christopher Lee "Butterflies" (Britcom 1978-1983) The Witch's Dungeon (Documentary 2006)
If there was ever a patron saint of character actors, it just might be Michael Ripper. He was the heart of Hammer Films appearing in horror/science fiction productions from the House of Horror from beginning to end of the studio. Peter Cushing once quipped to Christopher Lee: "Do you ever get the feeling you're appearing in a Michael Ripper picture?!?" It almost didn't seem like a Hammer film without the friendly face of Michael Ripper; usually tending bar or pounding a beat as a copper. The vast love fans had for this actor overwhelmed him at the end of his life and, when he died in 2000, the guy had to know just how much he meant to horror fans and film fans in general. He was one of the nicest gents who ever lived and I that's why I loved the guy!
CHARACTER ACTORS PART 3: THELMA RITTER. Here are some of the reasons why I love her:
Miracle on 34th Street (1947) All About Eve (1950) As Young As You Feel (1951) Pickup On South Street (1953) Rear Window (1954) Pillow Talk (1959) The Misfits (1961)
Her first movie role was a bit part in the Christmas classic "Miracle on 34th Street". Ritter plays the mother of a little tyke who wanted something that Macy's didn't carry; so Edmund Gwenn (as Santa Claus) referred them to a different department store that DID carry the toy. Ritter's mother was so impressed Macy's put the customer first that, even though she wasn't a regular customer, she vowed from now on to do all her shopping here. Apparently Darryl F. Zanuck noticed her bit part and insisted that the role be enlarged and soon Thelma Ritter was gracing movie after movie. In fact she was nominated for an Academy Award 6 times; this makes her one of the actor's most nominated without ever winning an Oscar. This is a crime since, if anyone deserved an Oscar it was ole Thelma. But hey, Hitchcock never won an Oscar for best director so. . . And who can forget Thelma in Hitchcock's Rear Window (I know Whatshisname can't) when she mused about chopped up body parts fitting in a trunk? Or her phenomenal role in the film noir classic Pickup On South Street. Or her hysterically funny turn in Doris Day & Rock Hudson's Pillow Talk. And don't forget: Thelma never trusted that wicked Anne Baxter and you know what - - Bette Davis shoulda listened to her because Thelma ALWAYS knows best! If I could entrust my daily life to Thelma -- well, hell I'd sure be a lot better off! Thelma was a hell of a broad and I love her!