The Futility Of Lists

Regarding yesterdays Favorite Actors list – I just thought of Elliot Gould, and my wife pointed out I forgot Chris Walken. So, like I said, it’ll never be right.

The 20 Favorite Film Actors Meme

I see a meme for twenty favorite actresses went around the film blogs pretty extensively over the holidays, and has since been casually followed up by many with a corresponding one for actors. Being new/not seen/unknown, naturally I wasn’t tagged for it, but that’s no reason not to take a swing. I don’t think I’d want to do most memes, but this one, actors/actresses, appeals.

Such a list can only be wrong. Being totally subjective doesn’t protect it from that. It’s wrong because I will forget a person or twelve, wrong because I’ll convince myself I value this one more than that one when really I don’t, wrong because I’ll change my mind next week, next month, lunchtime. Leaving out the last factor, time, it’s still wrong because through forgetfulness or self-deception, what follows can’t really be my 20 favorites.

I’m trying to ignore TV work, although in at least one case found that functionally impossible. Otherwise the guiding principal is people who make things worth watching, even stuff that seems like it would be dreck otherwise.

Qualification enough? Fine. Let’s start with the boys, in no particular order. Pretend they had a huge lag-for-break tournament.

Peter O’Toole

The best voice, I think, in the business. Uncountable stick-in-the-brain performances. Saw Venus recently, he’s still got it.

Cary Grant

To paraphrase someone talking about the Beatles, not liking Cary Grant is as perverse as not liking the sun.

Anton Walbrook

That dignified Viennese gentleman, he presents the fantasy ideal of the cultured European, wise to the ways of the world. He is unforgettable as Lermontov, Michael Powell’s doppleganger in The Red Shoes. There’s also the honorable, kind German officer in Life and Death of Colonel Blimp, the harrowing husband of Gaslight, the top-hatted ringmaster for the carnival of love in La Ronde. He seems too old to be the Russian soldier in Queen of Spades, but he still brings gravity and nuance to it.

Gene Wilder

“Put…the candle…back.” The Brooks stuff is what I can’t stop thinking about, but he’s a good deal more than that. He handily defeated Johnny Depp in the battle of the Willy Wonkas, made a surprisingly appealing Cary Grant substitute in Silver Streak, and made his part in Bonnie and Clyde rather bigger than I suspect it seemed on paper.

Philip Seymour Hoffman

As Ric Flair might say, whether you like it or you don’t like it, learn to love it, ’cause it’s the best thing going today.

Alastair Sim

For his untoppable parade of eccentric creeps and occasional cross-dressers. Eyes like no one else. I suspect Alec Guinness is doing some sort of homage to him in The Ladykillers. Or is that common knowledge?

George Clooney

Very likeable, makes it look easy, but more importantly offers hope to every awkward adolescent in America.

John Turturro

aka “The Jesus”.

Burt Lancaster

This is how I imagine him walking around his house, doing errands, walking the dog – barechested with a shit-eatin’ grin. Going from that to “You’re dead son. Get yourself buried.” in Sweet Smell of Success gets my applause. My wife’s grandma dug him.

George Sanders

King of the Cads.

Orson Welles

The reverence for him as a director seems to have obscured his accomplishments as an actor. Yes Kane, and a lot of other showy parts like The Third Man, but consider Hank Quinlan in Touch of Evil. Consider that he pulls off the Irish knockabout in Lady From Shanghai.

Bill Murray

Saddled with being considered “one of those SNL comedians”, the truth has emerged: he’s an outstanding actor. Sure the comedy persona that moved fairly intact from Meatballs to Stripes to Ghostbusters was a huge success, but where people like Steve Martin and Robin Williams, with whom Bill is often lumped, have tried to break their image by playing villains, Bill has learned to play humans. The stillness, confusion, and loneliness that mark Lost in Translation, Rushmore, and Broken Flowers are pretty impressive for an “SNL comedian”.

Alec Guinness

Man of a thousand faces, before Peter Sellers started doing it. And he’s Obi-Wan.

Boris Karloff

Look at that. The makeup was a trap for Boris. It brought him fame (Karloff the Uncanny!), but was all anyone really wanted from him after awhile. But look – the picture shows why. As vast and indelible as that makeup is, he owns it. That’s a performance coming out of those eyes, even in a still. One of his great tools was his voice, and he didn’t even get to use it in this great great performance. Nice guy, good actor, and I thank him for the dignity he brought to the horror genre.

Will Ferrell

In thinking about this list, I also thought of several career supporting-character types. They were mostly comic actors. And yet virtually none of the leading men I considered was primarily comic. It’s not just me, there’s the long-standing Oscar bias against comedy, and for all the worship people like Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton get, hardly anyone would think to list them as their favorite actor. Screw it. Will makes me laugh consistently, from the gut, and he can act more than a little too.

Humphrey Bogart

I need him on this just for the last ten minutes of Maltese Falcon if nothing else.

Jeff Goldblum

“Uh uh uh…hem haw…point lazily at nothing…” Do it again Jeff, again! King of the unnatural line readings, I expect he originally cultivated that to squeeze out more screen time. Now it’s schtick.

William Shatner

This would be the case where I could not avoid television. He’s Captain Kirk, dammit. Even restricting to just the cinema, Kirk is an iconic characterization at least once, Wrath of Khan, and maybe a couple of the other sequels as well. He’s also startlingly good for Roger Corman in The Intruder, something else I’d like to post on one day. But it is TV – Kirk, Denny Crane, the Priceline ads, endless self-mocking like Free Enterprise. It’s singing Mr. Tambourine Man…this is Bill Shatner we’re talking about. Of course he’s one of my favorite film actors, we half-seriously tossed around naming our son Shatner. Next!

Michael Caine

Again, makes everything better. He’s enjoying being the father figure and eminence-grise to any number of productions these days – the Batman flicks, The Prestige, Austin Powers – but he was once not just a highly reliable and personable actor, but a seriously cool dude. Alfie is cool. Harry Palmer is cool. Carter is cool. Michael Caine is cool. Madness did a song about him, that’s good enough for me.

Johnny Depp

Always watchable, deserves the uber-stardom he’s stumbled upon, takes any number of risks. Thanks for Ed Wood.

Runners-up included Toshiro Mifune, Jack Nicholson, Peter Lorre, Fred Astaire, James Spader, Robert Downey Jr, Harvey Korman, Jimmy Stewart, and Brando.

Diane Keaton Auditions For Star Wars

“Will someone get this walking jewish carpet comedian out of my way?”



The Bit I Like More Than Maybe I Should #2

The song “It’s Legal”, from Beat Girl (Greville, 1959)

This is a British film – if it were American, I’d call it a J.D. film, I don’t know if the same term holds over there. I know these days they certainly don’t call such kids Juvvies over there, they call them ASBOs.
The whole film deserves a post of its own, and I hope to come back to it some day, but for now I’ll mention one part: the song “It’s Legal”.

The music is by John Barry. This would be the multiple academy award winning John Barry. Goldfinger, Born Free, etc. That John Barry. This was his first movie work. There are a few performed songs in it, most by heartthrob Adam Faith, who plays one of the young toughs. The song, It’s Legal, however, is performed by Shirley Anne Field, a supporting actress in the film. She had a nice little career, especially in the 60s, with important roles in things like Alfie and Saturday Night and Sunday Morning. But it’s not like she went on to cut more records – she’s not a pro singer. She acts like someone who’s singing more than just simply singing, if you know what I mean. She delivers it with more than a touch of Marilyn Monroe-esque breathlessness. And like a Marilyn song, it’s at least half-silly before she even opens her mouth.

The kids are all hangin’ around someone’s house, having a makeout and slowdance party. Adam Faith, on the floor, has an idea. He calls out to Shirley and orders her to give ’em a song.
Shirley’s rolling around on top of some dude on the couch, but pulls away upon receipt of orders. She wanders to the center of the room, looking a bit stoned.
Sample lyric:
Darlin’ hold me close to you
There ain’t a thing that they can do
It’s legal…
It’s legal…

Such bad kids!

Adam picks up his guitar and adds accompaniment.
Good job shaving your pits this morning, Shirley!

Look, I can’t exactly tell you why I like this as much as I do. I’m fond of the absurd, and that’s right about where we are. These kids are about the right age, and some actual dangerous behavior does break out, but these troubled teens are still about as genuine as Frankie and Annette. I’m vexed to find this scene isn’t available on Youtube, but the opening music/credits are, and they do a pretty fair job of conveying the attitude. Enjoy!

When Basil Met Nigel #5


That’s quite a leer he’s got going there. I’m wondering if I can look at Basil quite the same way after this. To paraphrase Holmes, it is quite a three-butt problem.

Maria Montez International Airport

A couple weeks ago, I posted caps from Cobra Woman, starring Maria Montez. It has since come to my attention that she has an airport named after her, Maria Montez International Airport, located in Baharona, Dominican Republic. It looks quite nice:


So, y’know, suck on that, John Wayne! All hail King Cobra!


Krimi Korral #2

Der Hexer (Vohrer, 1964) aka The Mad Magician


Der Hexer is one of the best-remembered of the Rialto Studios krimis, thought by some to be the best of the whole run. It nudges a little closer to early Bondian territory than most entries, what with a more playboyish Inspector and renting studio tank time for underwater filming. The score goes pretty far in its quest for jazzbo freakout status. It’s casually amoral without being prurient. It’s enjoyable, but not quite top-rank for me. I was disappointed Eddi Arent didn’t get to do much, and the total absence of Klaus Kinski is never a good thing. I think generically I prefer the family curse/inheritance krimis I’ve seen over the revenge/master criminal ones. Still, Alfred Vohrer directs with some spunk and it’s certainly a diverting 82 minutes. Recommended.

This girl is eavesdropping on her up-to-no-good boss’ call when this fellow creeps up. We get the mandatory shot of the killer slowly reaching for the neck from behind. The only weird thing here is the absence of the trademark black gloves.

This is not neccessarily vacant acting – this is an attempt to depict being dead. The girl’s body is placed in this odd two-man submersible.

Color! As per usual in the B&W entries in the series, the title card and sometimes the credits are in color. Accompanying the credits is composer Pete Thomas’ crazy theme song “Der Hexer”, which suggests to me epileptic orangutans. I mean that as a compliment.

The sub sails out to deeper darker waters where the girls’ body is ejected. Turns out she was the sister of The Hexer, a well-known vigilante/criminal who has been in hiding out of England for some time after causing several baddies to commit suicide. I think we’re meant to think that this is like unwittingly killing Batman’s sister – he’s unlikely to let it lie. Cops and robbers alike are convinced The Hexer will now return to England to exact vengeance.

Series regular Joachim Fuchsberger, as yet another of his interchangeable Scotland Yard Inspectors. This one is named Higgins, and he’s in something of a tug of war between his fiance and his secretary. They both call him “Higgy”.

Some classic rear-projection driving cheese. Note those authentic London backdrops! It’s the number 14 to Putney!

Naturally, the villain’s wall-mounted bearskin rug has a door buzzer mounted in its ear, to open the passage to the secret tunnels (aka the Criminal Tradesman’s entrance).

Aha, the old surveill-the-hotel-lobby-through-the-hole-in-the-newspaper trick!

Fuchsberger together with Heinz Drache, for once in a Krimi together. They more typically took turns playing the Scotland Yard hero. This time out Drache is the prime Hexer suspect.

Now there’s the black glove!

“What shall we do darling, drink or smoke? Why not both?” They drink, they smoke, they lie around, until interrupted by a phone call from Higgy’s secretary…

…who’s also smoking! This must be 1964! Puff away, you teutonic chimneys!

Aha, the old secret-lever-to-collapse-the-staircase trick! The lever-puller badguy is wearing a priest getup, another common trope of the series.

Series stalwart/comic relief Eddi Arent gets a much smaller role than usual this time out, as new butler to the criminals and possible undercover Hexer.

Aha, the old up-through-the insides-of-a-rotary-phone camera setup!

The cast gathers, the lights flicker as they expect The Hexer to appear. The lights go out and this title card comes up:

My german’s nothing special, but this should be “Do you want to know who The Hexer is now?”

The lights are restored, revenge has been exacted. The Hexer gives them the slip, leaving behind a mask. His/her identity is revealed, but I’ll not post it here. A year later, the sequel Neues vom Hexer was produced, continuing the chase.




Posters We Don’t Own #6

New rule: All films beginning with the word “Beyond” will be required to design a conforming poster. Conformance shall be defined as a closeup of a woman whose face is partially concealed, preferably by branches or leaves. Windswept hair or other means that effectively mimic foliage obscurance are acceptable. The face shall comprise approximately 75% of the vertical space of the poster, with the bottom 25% devoted to landscape, which said face will appear to loom above. A small figure is required in the lower corner of the image (left/right option). Said figure may be a person, building, or representational flag/symbol.

Older films, such as Beyond the Valley of the Dolls, Beyond the Poseidon Adventure, and Mad Max III: Beyond Thunderdome are grandfathered and need not comply, however any remakes produced of these films will be expected to conform.

That is all.


The Bit I Like More Than Maybe I Should #1

Public Enemy (Wellman, 1931)

The bit in Public Enemy I disproportionately like is right at the beginning, with the cast list. It’s an acted out list. I’m a sucker for these, like at the end of The Magnificent Ambersons. This should in no way be my favorite part of the movie, but it just might be.
He’s great, by the way.
She’s lousy, by the way.
Just look at this guy. He has cannon fodder written all over him. He lasts longer than your average nameless Star Trek Ensign Expendable who joins the beam-down party, but he gets it all the same.
Unlike Jean, Joan can act plenty.
Another stiff. No one bothers to shoot him in the movie, as it would be redundant.
What I like is a flamboyantly-dressed gangster with a walking stick named Leslie. Shaking, I am.
“No no, we’re not glorifying them. We would never do that. Bad, bad gangsters! For shame! Alert your neighbors to see this film to help cast shame on this criminal element! And be sure to return to this theater next week to fingerwag at the scandalous feature “Little Caesar”. It’s an abomination! Don’t miss it!!”

Great Punches in Cinema History #3

Great Expectations, 1946








Herbert Pocket versus Pip Pirrip, the rematch. Pip by first round knockout.

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