Category Archives: Classic Film & TV

Obit: Doris Day (1922-2019)

Every year is regarded by pop culture fans as a “celebrity deathyard” year. 2019 is no different with the passings of directors Stanley Donen, Larry Cohen, and John Singleton, Ingmar Bergman muse Bibi Andersson, Creature of the Black Lagoon actress Julie Adams, legendary British thespian Albert Finney, veteran character actors Morgan Woodward and Richard Erdman, and Richard Bucket AKA Clive Swift, to name a few. Doris Day, who died May 13th at the ripe old age of 97, is the newest saint to march on.

In one section of her fascinating book on the Hollywood Studio System, The Star Machine, Janine Basinger writes about two blonde singer-actresses on whom the studio took big gambles: Rosemary Clooney and Doris Day. On paper, both should have risen to meteoric movie stardom. But Clooney’s frigid, stiff screen presence didn’t endear her to a mass audience.

Day, on the other hand, possessed the It factor right away in her debut film, Romance on the High Seas, where she portrayed a plebeian band singer hired to masquerade as a socialite on a cruise. Despite her total inexperience and deep insecurity as an actor, veteran filmmaker Michael Curtiz intentionally provided minimal direction, wisely sensing that her natural vivacity and charisma was perfect for the role. He was right, and even today it remains one of her most endearing performances and established her as one of the top box office stars for the rest of her career. Her earnest and charming rendition of the sweet ballad “It’s Magic” (vastly superior to the hokey “Que Sera Sera”) kickstarted her solo recording career.

Although the majority of her films throughout 1957 were musical-comedies, she was occasionally cast against type. The most striking example in her early career was Storm Warning, a gritty crime expose reminiscent of the gangster movies Warner Bros. made in the 30s about a small town ruled by the KKK (interestingly, the movie never delves in white supremacy, instead focusing on corruption). Day is poignantly naturalistic as a battered wife of a Klansman, who…SPOILER, is murdered at the end!

Perhaps the best performance in her early career is in the underrated musical biopic I’ll See You in My Dreams. Day finds the right balance between presenting Grace Kahn, wife of songwriter Gus Kahn, as a well-meaning woman who believes in her husband’s talent with all her soul which leads her to become an overbearing manager.

In spite of her varied career, Day is cemented in the minds of many as a sunny, plucky wholesome girl next door. This perception also led cultural critics to single her out as the face of sterile midcentury repression amongst a turbulent, transformative sociopolitical era. The backlash at the time is understandable considering that the nonconfrontational air of her films is starkly different from theatrically adapted melodramas starring method actors. In the 1960s, the disparity between movies made by the old-guard studio moguls and rebellious, transgressive films from a newer crop of artists in the US and worldwide reached its zenith, in the process rendering Day and her work as “square.” Day rejected the role of Mrs. Robinson in The Graduate, which became 1967s top grosser and helped make “New Hollywood Cinema” popular and lucrative.

Looking at her films fifty years later, most are undoubtedly old-fashioned, but with the exception of a few cringeworthy cornball duds such as Lucky Me or the tepid musical drama Young at Heart, they remain infectiously entertaining in large part due to Day’s unpretentious optimistic can-do charm.

The first film to give Day critical acclaim was Love Me or Leave Me, a dramatic musical biopic based on the life of 20s singer Ruth Etting and her stormy marriage to gangster Marty Snyder who bankrolled her career. She is effective at frankly conveying Etting as a highly ambitious woman willing to do anything to get to the top (Etting reportedly found Day’s performance too hard bitten). Day falters somewhat in the third act when required to be histrionic and gets outacted by James Cagney, an experienced hand at scenery chewing rage.

She’s even better in Hitchcock’s The Man Who Knew Too Much, where the master of suspense drew a beautifully realized performance as a mother whose family is unwittingly foiled in an assassination plot while on holiday in Morocco. (Other distressed women films, Julie and Midnight Lace, veer towards camp).

She survived the decline of movie musicals in the late 50s with a series of romantic comedies, the first being Teacher’s Pet a gentle comedy, where Day is charming as the idealistic journalist who mellows cynical reporter Clark Gable. The following films have a more manic bent, including a trio of battle-of-the-sexes comedies in which she is cheekily deceived by Rock Hudson. She received her sole Oscar nomination for Pillow Talk, probably in large part due to her hilarious sobbing montage.

While lacking the sophistication of the aforementioned films, other vehicles such as Move Over Darling and The Glass Bottom Boat are fun in a very 60s madcap way. In the former Day attacks the role of a wife who returns from a shipwreck the same day her husband remarries with zany gusto and is aided by equally vivacious co-stars. In the latter, Day is a good sport as she is continually harassed by several oddballs who think she is a Russian spy in Frank Tashlin’s cartoony camp fest.

Part of Day’s enduring legacy was her constant resolution in the face of adversity. A major blow came early in her life when a car accident prevented her from pursuing her dance career. She instead learned singing and became a popular vocalist with several Big Bands throughout the 1940s. Her third husband, Marty Melcher gambled all her money and committed her to a sitcom without her consent. Nevertheless, she dutifully did the soul-crushingly awful show for five years and recouped enough money to retire and live on her own terms for the rest of her life, converting her estate to an animal shelter.

Obits: Dorothy Malone & Bradford Dillman

This New Year the celebrity graveyard has commenced, taking away two classic movie/TV stars, Dorothy Malone, 92 and Bradford Dillman, 87. Although neither one has become an immortal screen icon, both had long and varied careers.

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When Dorothy Malone changed her hair color, her screen roles transformed considerably. As a brunette in Warner Brothers and Universal pictures, Malone played the good girl. In those roles Malone always underplayed to good effect with a sensible, empathetic warmth. In her early career she’s probably best remembered for her brief, but excellent scene in The Big Sleep where she brought sauciness and smarts as a keen book store salesclerk who helped Bogie’s Marlowe uncover a major clue.

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Perhaps her best role in this era was in Raoul Walsh’s stellar Western remake of High Sierra, Colorado Territory, about two sympathetic antiheroes against a bunch of fickle “respectable” people. Malone is well cast as the seemingly nice girl who callously betrays outlaw Joel McCrea in a swift second at the first whiff of adversity.

Regarding Malone’s screen roles, blondes didn’t have more fun. But blonde Malone found more acclaim with meatier roles as crazy, mixed-up, slightly mysterious women. Her most famous role is her Oscar-winning turn as an out-of-control alcoholic nymphomaniac socialite who wreaks havoc on Rock Hudson and Lauren Bacall in Douglas Sirk’s opulent melodrama Written on the Wind. The most memorable sequence is when Malone’s character dances maniacally as her father dies of a heart attack.

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Her film career was somewhat derailed by her first and only starring vehicle, Too Much, Too Soon, a melodrama based off of troubled actress Diana Barrymore, which was savaged by critics and box office returns, and featured a way past his prime Errol Flynn as her leading man.

In the early 60s she delivered poignant performances as enigmatic women whose pasts with dangerous men caught up with her in well-written bittersweet episodes of Route 66 and Checkmate. In 1964, she scored a major coup when she starred in the revolutionary and super popular soap opera Peyton Place. Initially it was an ideal setup as she was the Grande Dame and had clout to set normal working hours to spend time with her children. By the second year, younger actors Mia Farrow, Ryan O’Neal, and Barbara Parkins got more fanfare.

After the show ended in 1968, Malone acted here and there until 1992. Her final role in Basic instinct as a woman who got away with murdering her family was exciting on paper but translated as a random and skimpy cameo on screen.

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Like so many of the male and female starlets groomed by the major studios in the late 50s, Bradford Dillman didn’t achieve major movie stardom like the actors under contract during the Hollywood Golden Era of 1930 to 1950 or the Hollywood New Wave of 1967 to 1975. Other than Compulsion, where he received good notices for playing a rich sociopathic murderer, Dillman’s early filmography at 20th Century Fox was forgettable.

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Starting in the early 60s, Dillman maintained a prolific career guest starring on TV shows. His first set of guest appearances are his best because the 1960s was a prime time for well-written character-driven TV. He excelled at playing deviants and neurotics. He was uncompromisingly raw as a psycho in an uncharacteristically dark episode of Dr. Kildare who rapes Kildare’s (played by youth idol Richard Chamberlain) girlfriend in front of him and continues to taunt both of them before he is apprehended. He is equally unsettling in a shocking episode of Ben Casey where he is an intelligent, but devious patient who gaslights his dumb, but sweet roommate and tries to steal his sexy fiancée (MASH’s Sally Kellerman).

He also did his share of schlock because they helped put his five daughters through school. By this time his wife Suzy Parker had put her iconic modelling and brief critically panned acting career behind her. In between, he also did character work in movies he was proud of such as The Way We Were and The Iceman Cometh.

Regarding his career Dillman remarked “I’ve had a wonderful life. I married the most beautiful woman in the world. Together we raised six children, each remarkable in his or her own way and every one a responsible citizen. I was fortunate to work in a profession where I looked forward to going to work every day. I was rewarded with modest success. The work sent me to places all over the world I’d never been able to afford visiting otherwise.”

Podcast: 1950s Horror

Hi everybody,

I’ve started a new position at my local library and I’ve met a colleague and friend Eddie Whitlock who listened to previous episodes of the Alternative Oscars and immediately proposed that we do a podcast on classic horror. Everybody at the Tawfik Zone, me, Candace and Tia, was all for it from the get go. The four of us discuss the state of horror in the 50s and mention many titles including House of Wax, Night of the Demon, The Wasp Woman, Curse of the Warewolf, and The Bad Seed. We give our definitions of horror. We ask you, what makes a movie horror?…..

If you want to catch up on our other podcast episodes, click here.

Podcast: Alternative Oscars Episode 5 – 1953

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Hi everybody.

It’s been a long gap between episodes. My fault entirely. I’m thrilled to unleash our 5th episode of The Alternative Oscars Podcast. This episode, we discuss movies of 1953. We dish our thoughts on the five films nominated that year and then offer our nominees of films eligible in 1953 that we think are better.

What did you think about the Best Picture nominees? Or our nominees and winners? What would be your picks for 1953?

Alternative Oscars In-Depth: Neville Brand, Jack Elam, Lee Van Cleef

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Hi everybody,

Right before the Tawfik Zone was out of commission for quite a while, due to a series of minor technical difficulties and my own hectic schedule, my dymanic duo Tia Nikolopulas and Tawfik Zone contributor Candace Wiggins recorded a couple of Alternative Oscars podcasts. (You can check out 1950, 1951, and 1952).

The opening jingle was composed by Incompitech genius Kevin McLeod.

This one is the first of what we hope will be a regular part of the podcast, an in-depth look at people or things related to the Alternative Oscars. In this episode we discuss character actors, all of whom got their start in the 1950s; the iconic Lee Van Cleef, the beloved Jack Elam, and the now-underrated Neville Brand.

If you find our other podcasts too long, you’ll be happy to know that this and future in-depth episodes is about 45 minutes. If you like our longer, stream-of-conscious Alternative Oscars episodes, don’t worry, we’re still going to do them. Alternating between these two types of episodes, we hope to provide content on a regular, monthly basis.

We hope you enjoy our In-Depth episode. If you have any questions or constructive feedback gives us a shout out. We’d like to hear from you.