People You Should Know About: James Dean

james dean

James Dean was born February 8, 1931 in Fairmount, Indiana.

In 1955, he starred in the movies East of Eden and Rebel Without A Cause.

He would only live to see the release of one of these films.

On September 30, 1955, he was killed in a car accident.  He was only 24 years old.

The year after, 1956, his last film Giant was released and he became the first actor to be nominated for an Academy Award posthumously.

Even though his career and his life were tragically short, the impact that Dean has had on popular culture is absolutely amazing.

Today, he would have been 82 years old.  But it’s hard to imagine what James Dean would have looked like had he lived to an old age.  He will forever be immortalized as the rebel without a cause, the lost boy.

He was a damn good actor, and today, I honor his memory by reviewing East of Eden, Rebel Without A Cause, and Giant.

Happy Birthday, James Dean!

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Movies You Should Know About: Psycho (1960)

Can you imagine my surprise upon finding out that my American Themes class was going to be dedicated to the study of American horror movies this semester?  This is just perfect, especially since Halloween is coming round the bend pretty soon.  And what was the first movie we had to watch for class?  If you guessed Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho, you would be correct!

Marion Crane (Janet Leigh), an office secretary, sees an opportunity and takes it.  What is this opportunity?  Stealing $40,000 from her employer.  As she is driving with the money to meet her boyfriend in California, she stops at the Bates Motel to rest and meets the awkward, lanky, momma’s boy Norman Bates (Anthony Perkins).

 

Hitchcock had this thing where he loved to control and manipulate his audience.  Some of the ways he did this were:

  1. By not allowing people who showed up late in to see the movie.
  2. The whole beginning of the movie, basically.

If you’ve never seen Psycho and don’t know anything at all about it, chances are you’ll think this movie is about a woman who steals $40,000 and is on the run.  But then OH MY GOD Janet Leigh is murdered a half-hour into the movie and the $40,000 is completely unimportant to any aspect of the plot now!  This is actually pretty amazing, when you think about it and how it completely shocked audiences in 1960.

For the small part that she has in the movie, Janet Leigh is great.  I mean, come on, that shower scene is completely iconic now!

Anthony Perkins was creepy as Norman Bates.  The ironic thing about this is that apparently before he made this movie, he was considered a teen heartthrob.  After the movie, he was type casted as Norman Bates, which was unfortunate.  However he made the character a film icon.

I have to give a nod out to Bernard Herrmann because this movie wouldn’t have had the effect that it did on people without his score.  It adds to the atmosphere of the movie and literally screams at you.  It was also one of my favorite aspects of this movie.

The shower scene speaks for itself.  The silence that endures afterwards is eerie and unnerving.

The parlor scene before that with Marion and Norman is one of my favorites to!  Anthony Perkins is great in this scene.  It’s very creepy with all the shots of the taxidermy birds (it’s worth mentioning that all those birds just so happen to prey on other animals).  There’s also a portrait of “The Rape of Lucretia” and behind that is a peephole that Norman looks through into Marion’s room, which lends to the whole voyeuristic aspect of the movie.  Perkins is very creepy in this scene when his character starts talking about his mother.  There’s so much involved here and it creates a lot of suspense.  It’s definitely one of my favorites.

One thing that I could do without is the scene at the end of the movie where the doctor’s are explaining Norman’s condition.  To me it was too long and took away from the atmosphere of the movie.  A very brief explanation and then a cut to Norman at the very end of the movie would’ve sufficed.

Speaking of the end of the movie, the scene with Norman wrapped in the blanket and “Mother’s” voice over, it is also one of my favorites in the movie.  Every time I watch it, I can’t take my eyes off of the screen.  And that smile that he gives us at the end- so unnerving!

Bottom line is that Psycho is a classic and it’s been an influence to horror (specifically slasher movies) to this day.  If you haven’t had a chance to see it, what are you waiting for?

 

Update on Hollywood Fix

Hey everybody!

I’m extremely sorry for not really keeping up with this blog lately.  I haven’t really had time to watch movies, as I just moved back to college this weekend and started my first classes of the semester today!

I will try to update as much as possible, however, I can already tell that this semester is going to kick my butt.  But I do have some film classes this semester so I will be able to watch some films and hopefully get some reviews up for you guys (if anyone is still out there at this point).

ALSO, if you ever have any movie suggestions or reccomendations, please don’t hestitate to let me know whether it’s through comments or through email: hollywoodfixblog@yahoo.com!

Thanks guys!

Clara

People You Should Know About: Gene Kelly

I don’t know what it is about Gene Kelly- maybe the fact that we share the same last name (no, it’s definitely more than that)- but one thing is for sure, this man has always been able to put a smile on my face.

Gene Kelly was born today, August 23, 1912, in Pittsburgh, PA.  He arrived in Hollywood in 1941 and from there on, he starred in, directed, and choreographed movies such as The Pirate (1948), Take Me Out to the Ball Game (1949), An American In Paris (1951), and, probably his most well known film, Singin’ In The Rain (1952).

I’ve heard that Gene was a bit of a pain in the ass to work with- people were miserable, afraid to make mistakes in his presence.  He was quite the perfectionist I guess you could say.  But there’s no doubt (at least in my mind) that he was passionate about what he did, and anybody that he did work with always said that they owed a lot to Gene for bringing out the best possible performances in them.

For me, Gene Kelly has been able to fill me with joy when I feel down.  I always said that I wished I could dance like he could, or be as passionate about my work as he was about his.

So, in honor of his birthday, Hollywood Fix will be reviewing a few of Gene Kelly’s movies today.

Happy 100th Birthday, Mr. Kelly!

Movies You Should Know About: “On the Waterfront” (1954)

In 1952, the House of Un-American Activities Committee (which led investigations into possible pro-Communist propaganda in Hollywood) called director Elia Kazan to provide the names of people that were in the Communist party.  After initially refusing to give up any names, he relented and named eight former members of the Group Theater.  Afterwards, Kazan lost a lot of friends in the film industry.

So where does On the Waterfront come into all of this?  Some people believe that this film was Elia Kazan’s apology, or his excuse, to Hollywood for his actions in the HUAC scandal.  Whatever your opinion of Kazan is, there’s no denying that he gave us some great films (East of Eden, A Streetcar Named Desire).  And On the Waterfront is absolutely one the best movies I have ever seen in my life.

Terry Malloy (Marlon Brando) is an ex-prize fighter who finds himself working as a longshoreman for corrupt union mob boss Johnny Friendly (Lee J. Cobb), a man who uses his power to instill fear into his workers with threats of death for anyone who breaks the D & D (deaf and dumb) code.  When Terry realizes that he unknowingly set up the death of a worker who was ready to testify against Friendly and his cronies, he is consumed by guilt, but is conflicted as to what to do: inform the police about the murder and put his life on the line to do the right thing or play D & D and continue to allow Friendly to bestow his corrupt leadership on the docks.

This movie has some really great motifs, the most important being pigeons.  Pigeons in this movie symbolize a number of things, however two of these themes are sensitivity and snitching.

Terry Malloy, although he acts tough and masculine (he is a former boxer, after all) is actually a very caring and sensitive man.  This is portrayed in the way he takes care of the pigeons he has in a coop.  You could also say that Terry, in a symbolic sense, is a pigeon: in those scenes, he is seen in the cage among them.  The whole talk he has about hawks and pigeons are symbolic of the situations in this movie: the hawks (Johnny Friendly and his cronies) and the pigeons (the longshoremen).

However, pigeons also symbolize being a snitch, which is the essential conflict in this movie that Terry has.  When the police come to the docks to question Terry, afterwards you hear him saying “How do you like them mugs taking me for a pigeon?!”

Also, the pigeon imagery is great in this movie as well.  A couple of scenes that come to mind are when the union boss throws the tag numbers into crowd of longshoremen that are desperate to work and they attack the tags like a flock of pigeons going after bread crumbs; and when Terry stands up to Johnny Friendly at the end of the movie all the longshoremen are lined up everywhere, like birds on a wire, just watching everything unfold.

Another motif that I quite liked when I first saw this was Joey Doyle’s jacket.  Johnny Friendly kills Joey Doyle for becoming an informer for the police.  After his death, his jacket is passed onto a man named Kayo Dugan, who also becomes an informer for the police and is also killed by Johnny Friendly.  Terry is the last person the jacket is passed onto.  The jacket is like a symbol for doing the right thing in the face of corruption, even if it will brand you a snitch.

Another thing I loved about this movie is Marlon Brando.  His acting in this is amazing.  I remember hearing someone say when you watch this movie to watch what Brando does with his hands when he delivers dialogue.  A great scene to watch out for this is the scene with Edie Doyle’s glove, which was improvised by Brando.  His body language depicts that of a masculine, but sensitive man.  Brando was completely immersed in the character of Terry Malloy, a testament to his training as a method actor.

This movie won 8 academy awards in 1954:

  • Best Actor in a Leading Role: Marlon Brando (his first academy award)
  • Best Actress in a Supporting Role: Eva Marie Saint (On the Waterfront was her big screen debut)
  • Best Art Direction and Set Direction, Black and White: Richard Day
  • Best Cinematography, Black and White: Boris Kaufman
  • Best Film Editing: Gene Milford
  • Best Writing, Story, and Screenplay: Budd Schulberg
  • Best Director: Elia Kazan
  • Best Picture

Elia Kazan may have meant this film as an excuse or an apology on behalf of his actions during the HUAC controversy, and the themes of “snitching” may be an indication towards his actions.  However, my interpretation of this film is this: sitting in silence while the powers that be walk all over you is not worth it when your life is at stake, and it only takes one person choosing to do the right thing to spark a movement.

Many people may not agree with what Elia Kazan did back in 1952, however, you can never deny his power as a director, and On the Waterfront delivered in 1954, and it still delivers today.

The Postman Always Rings Twice: Sympathetic Towards the Femme Fatale?

I had to watch this movie for my seminar recently and give a presentation on the representations of masculinity, femininity, and gender within the film.  Not gonna lie, the pressure was on: this movie is filled with characters that possess masculine and feminine traits as well as subtle commentaries on gender roles of men and women.

Films noirs were made in America after World War II and were a response to the frustrations of returning soldiers.  During the war, in order to keep the economy going, women picked up the work of men, getting jobs in factories and the such and leaving their domestic lifesyle.  Men returning from war were frustrated by this notion of women working anywhere but in the home and felt that they were, in a way, loosing some control over their masculinity.

Rosie the Riveter

The creation of the femme fatale was, in some sense, a way to get back at women for taking over a man’s world.  As mysoginistic as this is, the character of the femme fatale also created a totally different role for actresses in Hollywood to play at the time.  And, honestly, the femme fatale is one of the most memorable roles in a movie EVER.  Actresses were dying to play femme fatales!

In “The Postman Always Rings Twice”, Cora Smith (Turner) is our femme fatale.  She is, obviously, very beautiful and sexy.  We find out that she is married to a much older man who is incompetent and doesn’t pay much attention to her.  When a young rugged drifter comes into town, an attraction between the two fires up and, in order to be together, she manipulates him into the idea of killing her husband.  Their attempt fails and her husband doesn’t remember anything except it “was dark”.  Everything that I have just written here points all fingers to Cora being a manipulative bitch that wants her husband out of the picture because she’s unhappy in her marriage.  However, given the reason for their second attempt to murder her husband, as a woman, I couldn’t help but feel sympathetic towards her.

Don’t get me wrong, Cora is selfish, manipulative, evil; all the ingredients for a femme fatale.  But she is also a woman who has ambitions and goals, and the only thing keeping her from reaching them is her husband.  After his recovery, he announces that he is selling his restaurant, “Twin Oaks”, and he’s moving them to Canada so that Cora can take care of his sick sister.  Let’s break this down, shall we?

  • “Twin Oaks” is Cora’s ambition.  She has ideas on how to make business better, but she can’t do anything about it because she is a woman and it isn’t her place.
  • Her husband makes this decision without consulting with her beforehand.
  • She didn’t even know her husband had a sister and now she’s expected to take care of her because she needs, according to her husband, care that only a woman can give.

Way to trap your wife in the conventions of society, Mr. Smith!  Needless to say, Cora is, for lack of a better word, pissed (and rightfully so)!  So she speaks out against his decision, only to be put down with a simple and cold “That’s too bad” by her husband because how dare a woman speak her mind!  The outrage!

So could “The Postman Always Rings Twice” be sympathizing with women at the time?  Maybe.

But then again, even when Cora successfully gets rid of her husband, reaches her ambitions, and gains her independence, she isn’t happy, with guilt hanging over her head.  When she finally feels content with herself and her life, however, (SPOILER ALERT) she dies.  Could this have been sending the message out to the women who wanted to break the barriers of conventional society to back off?

That, my dear reader, is your decision to make ;]

Entering the World of Film Noir

To be honest, I had never heard of the term film noir until my freshman year of college when I had to read Raymond Chandler’s novel “The Big Sleep”.  Incidentally, the movie of the same title, staring Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall, was the first film of this genre (or is it a style?) that I ever saw.  And I was immediately drawn in.

“Film noir” translated means “black film” and it was coined by a French film critic named Nino Frank who used it to describe certain types of movies that were made in America after World War II.  Honestly, the term is entirely to broad to define in simple terms.  So here are three film noirs I’ve seen in class that I recommend:

1.  “The Maltese Falcon” (1941)

Humphrey Bogart as “Sam Spade” and Mary Astor as “Miss Wanderly(or is it Miss O’Shaughnessy???)” in “The Maltese Falcon”

Directed by John Huston, “The Maltese Falcon” changed Hollywood’s idea of the detective character, making the “private dick” image central for most film noirs.  The movie follows private detective Sam Spade (Humphrey Bogart) who encounters a woman who pulls him into a world of lies and crime, all surrounding a hunt for a Maltese falcon.  The dialogue is sharp and the acting is spot on.  This movie was also a big milestone for Bogart’s career.

2.  “Stranger On The Third Floor” (1940)

John McGuire and Peter Lorre in “Stranger On The Third Floor”

Directed by Boris Ingster, “Stranger On The Third Floor” tells the story of Michael Ward (John McGuire), a newspaper reporter as well as a witness in a murder trial.  When the suspect in the trial is sentenced to death row, Ward begins to have doubts about his testimony.  What follows is an exploration of the psyche, with crazy dream sequences influenced immensely by German Expressionism, questions of identity, and Peter Lorre as a psychologically creepy killer.  The ending isn’t very noir-ish, however it’s definitely worth a watch.

3.  “The Big Sleep” (1946)

Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall in “The Big Sleep”

Directed by Howard Hawks and staring Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall, “The Big Sleep” is based on the novel of the same title by Raymond Chandler and follows the private detective Phillip Marlowe (Bogart).  Now, this movie is crazy, and some people may find it extremely hard to follow, because of the fact that there are so many story lines in this film.  That being said, “The Big Sleep” is one of my favorite movies, with it’s sharp dialogue, Humphrey Bogart, femme fatales, Humphrey Bogart, and SEX (nothing crazy, although this movie was pretty bold for 1946) there is a reason that “The Big Sleep” is one of the best film noirs around.  (Did I mention, Humphrey Bogart?)