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.

Obit: Gloria DeHaven (1925-2016)

About 15 years after the launching the highly innovative and spellbinding moving picture, the scrappy moguls realized that the future of their industry depended on more than the novel technology itself. After reading several fan letters inquiring about the people in the movies (who were then uncredited), they came up with the ingenious idea of grooming movie stars for public consumption (we all know how well that worked out).

Gloria DeHaven, far left on the 2nd row from bottom. Courtesy of handkerchiefheroes.com

Gloria DeHaven, far left on the 2nd row from bottom. Courtesy of handkerchiefheroes.com

The star machine had its heyday in the 1930s and 1940s during the Golden Age of Hollywood. One of the best practitioners of this method was MGM, whose endearingly corny but apt studio mantra was a place where there were “more stars than in heaven.” MGM, specializing in gorgeously gauche fare, was a perfect fit for the crude and synthetic star system.

One of its starlets, Gloria DeHaven who died from a stroke July 31st, has been a favorite of mine since childhood. Born to vaudevillian parents Carter and Flora Parker DeHaven, Gloria began her career early, making her screen debut as an extra in Charlie Chaplin’s Modern Times (1936).

From the get go, this fresh-faced glamorous brunette (sometimes blonde) exhibited confidence and glamour and made a good impression in small supporting roles, best of which was Best Foot Forward (1943). She more than held her own against the large and vibrant cast, as a feisty co-ed who instigates antagonism towards publicity-hungry actress Lucille Ball, who opportunistically accepts a prom date from a young cadet. This film marked the first pairing between DeHaven and June Allyson who along with Nancy Walker vibrantly delivered the show stopping musical number “The Barrelhouse, The Boogie Woogie, and The Blues.”

Courtesy of in.pinterest.com

Courtesy of in.pinterest.com

DeHaven and Allyson had such great chemistry that the next year, they got their first leading roles as plucky singing sisters in the charming morale boosting WWII musical Two Girls and A Sailor. As two singing sisters who gently spar for the affections of a boyish sailor played by Van Johnson, DeHaven’s sexiness and poise as the slightly impulsive sister who attracts the men perfectly complements Allyson’s warm, maternal, though slightly homely sister. Musically, DeHaven’s smooth, clear mezzo and Allyson’s raspy alto are in sync. In the end, audiences gravitated more towards the cuter, All-American Allyson and Johnson who starred in several subsequent films together, thus ending the Allyson DeHaven duo. (Off-screen, the two women remained best of friends).

With that, DeHaven was relegated back to supporting roles, as mostly kid sisters or secondary ingénues. She always brought an effortless, personable, slightly naughty but nice quality that deftly eschewed cloying sappiness. Her charm and vivacity sparkled even if the film didn’t. She easily outshone the negligible song and dance man, George Murphy, mediocre songstress Ginny Simms, and antiquated ex-Vaudevillian fuddy duddy Charles Winninger in the clunky Broadway Rhythm (1944).

DeHaven had a couple of major career setbacks in the mid-40s. First, she was suspended for refusing a role in Good News. Her next assignment, Summer Holiday, a strange but interesting (though not entirely successful) musical adaptation of Eugene O’Neill’s play Ah Wilderness, was a highly troubled production that sat on the shelf for two years, and flopped miserably when finally released. Collectively, this kept her off screen for three years.

Courtesy of in.pinterest.com

Courtesy of in.pinterest.com

While many of her peers utterly resented Dore Schary replacing an acrimoniously ousted Louis B. Mayer as head of production at Metro, DeHaven appreciated the chance to play against type in grittier roles under the new executive’s auspices. She gives a potently poignant performance as the black sheep of a cold, elitist family who has a pregnancy out of wedlock (and naturally a tragic outcome) in the broody melodrama The Doctor and the Girl. In the nifty, cynical little film noir, Scene of the Crime, a bottled blonde DeHaven is effective as a quasi femme fatale who strips in a skeevy nightclub and cavorts with riff raff.

Although both films turned a profit and received decent reviews, DeHaven went back to lighter fare, playing Judy Garland’s slightly self-centered sister in the bizarre farm-set musical Summer Stock and Red Skelton’s love interest in The Yellow Cab Man. Shortly after, she left MGM and freelanced, where the quality of the material declined.

Courtesy of www.cbsnews.com

Courtesy of www.cbsnews.com

While no longer an A-lister, DeHaven worked steadily on television, Broadway, and nightclubs until the 1990s. She continued to display her versatility in a variety of excellent performances ranging from a shady old-flame who embroils private detective Mannix in a murder case to an assertive travel agent friend of Jessica Fletcher in a recurring role on Murder, She Wrote. In one of the best episodes of the series, DeHaven, engages in several delightful catfights with several grande dames of the studio-era Julie Adams, Kathryn Grayson, and Ruth Roman, all of whom had dalliances with a town handyman whose shrewish wife was recently murdered.

Like several of the classic stars, DeHaven was approached a few times to write an autobiography, but the deal always fell through because she refused to write a “tell-all” account of her Hollywood days. Instead, in public appearances, DeHaven emphasized the positive aspects of being part of the “Metro family” (though she found some of the sillier aspects of the censorious Hays Code disagreeable). While she didn’t have the widespread fame as some of her peers (I would say she was sorely underrated), Gloria DeHaven has made a lasting impression on movie-loving folks like me.

Review: Batman The Killing Joke (2016)

By Heather Nichols, Tawfik Zone Contributor

Courtesy of variety.com

Courtesy of variety.com

Let me start off by saying if you’re a hard core fan of Batman you’re going to want to see the newest entry, Batman: The Killing Joke. If you’re not a Batman expert, this is not the film to start off with. However, if you would like to jump into the Batman animated pantheon there is no shortage of material. I highly recommend you start with the 90s animated series, it’s very film noir, and possibly the best direction of a comic book series to date. Well, now I’m about to spoil this whole thing so if you want to go watch it and come back, please do so now.

The Killing Joke, adapted from the graphic novel of the same name which has influenced most of the newer Batman-related material, follows the basic outline of what is considered to be one of the darkest Batman stories ever told- In an attempt to drive Commissioner Gordon insane, the Joker tortures and subsequently paralyzes his daughter, Barbara aka Batgirl, in front of him. The plot point as well as the ambiguous ending has long been a source of controversy amongst the Batman fandom community. Of course, now that we’ve seen it play out on the big screen, the controversy continues.

The 1988 graphic novel only spans about 64 pages, which really doesn’t cut it for a feature length but it’s also not short enough to cram into one episode, so the creators decided to go ahead and write an almost half hour long prologue that focuses on Batgirl, setting her up as the central character. This is fine because in the events of the graphic novel she’s just there as a catalyst and really there’s nothing more to her involvement. In fact it’s something that to this day has angered Batgirl fans (of which I’m actually not), feeling that the comic disrespected her by disregarding her life and using her suffering as a motivator for the men in her life. The prologue sequence adds depth to the character, showing her as strong and capable and for that I like it.

Courtesy of movieweb.com

Courtesy of movieweb.com

I’m just going to start off by tackling the “big controversy” since the main issues are in the Batgirl prologue arc. The main reasons circulating around the internet by Social Justice Warriors who see this whole arc as a misogynistic portrayal of Batgirl include, the fact that she’s a librarian (which comes from the comics guys), she has a sassy gay friend (who doesn’t?), the fact that she isn’t as capable at fighting crime because she’s a woman (first of all that’s your reading into it, secondly even Batman states she’s still a rookie, a thrill seeker, so nope not letting you have that one) and of course there’s the whole thing where Batgirl has sex with Batman…

So let’s back it up here- the film opens with Batgirl and Batman in pursuit of a cocky little SOB- named Paris France, who is planning on robbing his mafia boss uncle and is obsessed with Batgirl. Not much to him. However the devil is in the details with this one, if you pay close attention to his dialogue he’s basically representative of a misogynistic fanboy. It is heavily implied he regularly uses date rape drugs, which he unsuccessfully tries this tactic on Batgirl. A subtle but notable moment that emphasizes how deep his fetishism of Batgirl goes is when he has a call girl wearing a bat mask. His lines are sexist, at one point saying that “it must be her time of the month,” when she delivers a word of hurt on him. However neither Batgirl nor Batman actually addresses his comments, rather they just ignore him and continue to kick ass.

Now as far as the Batgirl/Batman relationship goes this is where some fans might be turned off out of the sheer idea of Barbara being with anyone other than Dick Grayson, aka Robin who eventually becomes Nightwing. His character is noticeably absent. He was most likely omitted so we could really focus in on the central players, not to mention he’s not actually in the source material so keeping it simple is just the way to go sometimes.

Courtesy of comicbook.com

Courtesy of comicbook.com

Barbara’s story fits into the classic, rookie cop makes amateur mistakes and gets bailed out by veteran cop. It’s not a sex issue. Several Robin stories also have this sort of mentor-who-has-to-correct-his-dumb -pupil storyline (see Son of Batman for another example). To further this point Batman even says, “You’re not like I am Barbara, it’s still a game for you, still a thrill.” And he’s right. In fact it’s pretty early on and she’s already starting to lose that thrill of being Batgirl. But there’s still a couple things driving her down this path; one giving her the chance to open a world of hurt on Paris France, the other her feelings towards Batman.

But of course Barbara is a layered character. To simply say she’s Batgirl just because she’s in love with Batman doesn’t do her feelings justice. In one of her exchanges with her sassy gay friend she says she’s in a relationship with her yoga instructor and wants the acknowledgement that she is his best pupil- this of course is code so as not to give away their identities. When he asks why the instructor, she says it’s the yoga, she likes the yoga.

So breaking that down, she’s attracted to the Batman but she’s also frustrated by him. Some people on the internet are using this as fuel for their misogyny argument.  To them I say imagine this scenario- you’ve had a crush on your favorite celebrity for years and now you’re finally working with them and you’re realizing they are a giant pain in the ass to work with, but you’re still attracted to that idea of them. I can totally believe in Barabara’s sexual frustration if you look at it from that angle.

Courtesy of www.techtimes.com

Courtesy of www.techtimes.com

Furthering my point is the fact that Barbara is the one who initiates the sex; she knocks him down, she takes off her own top before the camera pans up and away- if the film makers wanted to they could have shown the whole thing, the film was rated R. They didn’t because this was supposed to be a moment for Barbara to shine as a strong sexual independent woman and they didn’t want to spoil that image because if they showed everything that’s all anyone would talk about.

So we get to see Barbara in the aftermath of that and it’s not the prettiest of pictures but keep in mind this is Batman, a character with dozens of love interests both with and without the cowl (really, check out DC wikia. His love interests have their own separate page). Are we surprised he didn’t call? People have been critical of the scene after in which Barabara walks by an arguing couple and throws the guy in a bush, citing it as an example of “women’s rage.” You know for a fandom community so concerned with misogyny ya’ll make some pretty messed up comments.

I think this scene is just thrown in for comedic effect and I think she’s mad because her hopes and expectations are not being met- oh my god she’s acting like a real life human being. The first arc starts to wind down, and yes I’m still talking about the first 30 minutes of this film. They confront Paris France and she beats him nearly to death and then every piece of advice Batman was giving her just sort of clicks in her head. She doesn’t like the idea that she nearly beat a man to death and decides this isn’t the life she wants so she retires the Batgirl and goes on to live an otherwise normal life… and then you remember you’re watching The Killing Joke

Courtesy of moviepilot.com

Courtesy of moviepilot.com

The remainder of the story follows the original graphic novel almost note for note, with a few lines of dialogue updated since it is from a story written in 1988. There are two narratives interwoven, the current timeline where Batman is perusing the Joker and a series of flashback that gives the Joker an origin story, one where the audience can finally view him in a more sympathetic light. How Barbara plays into this, as mentioned before, the Joker shoots her and as a result she becomes permanently paralyzed. In a featurette they showed after the film they mentioned that even though they had the R rating, they wanted to tell the story in a way that didn’t make you want to jump off a cliff at the end.

Barbara is raped after being paralyzed by the Joker but it’s never explicitly shown, however we know it happened from four subtle beats. The first being the Joker undoing her top button before the camera cuts to the next scene. When Batman is visiting her in the hospital a detective says something to the effect that she was found naked and bleeding on the floor. While searching for Joker, Batman questions three escorts and one playfully says he usually pays them a visit first but didn’t this time so they assume that he’s found a new play thing.

The final piece solidifies this when Commissioner Gordon is forced to endure a hellish roller coaster ride, during which Joker sings a disturbing song and at the end television screens are covered in bloody naked pictures of Barbara. We don’t seeing anything explicitly detailed, but we know what’s going on. The reason I break this down is because of how much flack the sex scene earlier in the film had. I’d much rather know that Barbara was living life to the fullest then have my only image of her in the film be the victim of a horrific act of violence.

Courtesy of lockerdome.com

Courtesy of lockerdome.com

My criticism of the film is that the whole first part was supposed to be an introduction but really it feels like an episode lead in to a miniseries. Then you have two stories being told simultaneously that have very little to do with the introduction. However I think I understand why the directors did it because prior to the start of the Graphic novel DC was in the process of retiring the Batgirl character so she’s just a tool in a male driven storyline.

To show her in her prime, being Batgirl, kicking ass and showing that she’s just decided to live a normal life gives the audience more of an emotional attachment to the character and gives her more agency to the overall narrative rather than “oh well she was just there.” The biggest criticism the graphic novel received was that it crippled Barbara for no reason. But the film was already alluding to Barbara’s computer skills and in doing so her eventual dawning of the identity of Oracle, so it all comes full circle. The last image of the film is of her, so we know that although broken she is not defeated.

Podcast: Alternative Oscars 1952

Thanks Canva, for the foolproof interface :)

Thanks Canva, for the foolproof interface 🙂

Hi Everybody,

We’re back after a slightly long hiatus. Here’s our 3rd Alternative Oscars Podcast. In each episode, we discuss the Best Picture nominees of a single Oscars year, and then we give our way better choices, other films eligible for an Oscar in the same given year. They usually comprise of a mix between films that are now heralded as classics, underrated gems, and international films. This year is no different.

You can check out our previous two episodes, Tawfik Zone’s Alternative Oscars Podcast 1950 and Tawfik Zone’s Alternative Oscars Podcast 1951 on this website or on The Tawfik Zone’s Alternative Oscars Itunes Feed.

The setting is a newer brighter relish green room. We hope that the consistency is the same, if not better. Again, I am fortunate to be joined by friends and fellow film buffs, Tawfik Zone contributor Candace Wiggins and Tia Nikolopulas. As always, musical credit goes to Kevin MacLeod of Incompitech.com.

Without further ado, here is The Tawfik Zone’s Alternative Oscars for 1952. Please let us know what you thought of the nominated films or our picks. Did we overlook any films?

Take 5: Ernestine Anderson

Courtesy of jazztimes.com

Courtesy of jazztimes.com

There is a bad tendency to fully appreciate and talk about one’s artistry only after the person dies. I have been guilty of this many times, most recently with Ernestine Anderson, an underrated jazz and blues singer who died March 10th at 87 years old of natural causes.

I suppose I took Anderson’s mortality for granted because even as an octogenarian, her vocal prowess was still in full command and she looked like she was fifty. Her second to last album, A Song for You, is a must for jazz lovers. She tackles standards like Day by Day and Make Someone Happy and pop songs like A Song for You and Candy with freshness and ease and nary a bum note.

While her career spanned for more than 60 years, it was never an easy one with a large share of major ups and downs. Even as a child, Anderson gravitated towards singing. However, her father, who wanted her to focus on school, relocated the family the family to Seattle, where supposedly there wasn’t much of a music scene. This proved to be dead wrong. There, she pursued her career harder than ever. Eventually, her parents came around and took care of her children while she went out on the road with various bands.

While she worked fairly steadily, including singing at Dwight Eisenhower’s inauguration in 1953, she wasn’t having the success of many of her peers. Wanting to stretch herself, she went to Europe, where she was warmly received. In Sweden, she recorded her debut album as headliner, what would become known as Hot Cargo. When influential jazz critic Ralph Gleason heard it and loved it, he put it on the map in the States. In the midst of being the toast of the town, she secured a contract with Mercury records.

The handful of her albums she made with Mercury in the late 50s and early 60s are very highly regarded by critics and fans then and now. I am not personally a fan of Anderson’s early work, feeling that she sounded like a generic girl singer with very little feeling in her voice.

Courtesy of www.eljefe.net

Courtesy of www.eljefe.net

I think she came into her own in the late 1970s, when she returned to the spotlight after an approx. 15-year hiatus due to a legal dispute with Mercury blocking her from recording for five years, the loss of gigs as a result, the lack of popularity of jazz in the 60s, and her own guilt from being separated from her children. Her voice beautifully matured into a soulful contralto with a sassy, crisp phrasing.

While Anderson’s voice could take on a harder edge possibly as a result of the hard knocks, there was also a smooth, warmness too that developed around the time she converted to Buddhism. Her discography reveals her versatility and consistency as she sang ballads, the blues, and bebop with equal authority.

Even though she recorded over 30 albums and received 4 Grammy nominations, money was still an issue. In 2008 Anderson made news when her house was at risk for foreclosure (thankfully friends and colleagues Quincy Jones and Diane Schuur raised the funds to save the house.)

For more interesting details on her life, I recommend listening to an NPR documentary as well as reading obits from the Seattle Times and The Guardian. Here are five songs that display the beauty of Ernestine Anderson.

Time After Time

From the first drawled out note, she creates a hypnotic trance out of this lovely ballad. BTW, it’s a different “Time After Time” from the Cyndi Lauper song of the same name.

Sunny

Anderson takes this one to great heights, seamlessly transitioning from a pensive beginning to an exuberant, improv-filled finale.

All Blues

In this cool, funky mid-tempo arrangement, Anderson combines her rhythmic jazz and soulful bluesy sensibilities to convey the good and bad blues present in everything and everyone

Please Send Me Somebody to Love

Anderson perfectly captures the desperation and longing of the love-starved narrator in this uber soulful and bluesy rendition of what she rightly notes is a timely and timeless torch song.

Honeysuckle Rose

She swings the hell out of this one, in a rollicking rocking arrangement of a song most associated with an easy listening version by Lena Horne