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  1. The first of the all-star extravaganzas, Murder on the Orient Express with Albert Finney, Sean Connery, Vanessa Redgrave, Ingrid Bergman, and on and on, still stands out for me above all others. There'll never be a cast like that again, and they're not cameos -- they're all trapped together the whole time (plus the designs, and Richard Rodney Bennett's music!). Evil under the Sun comes in a strong second for me, with Diana Rigg & Maggie Smith facing off, and Cole Porter music behind it all. After that, and the 1945 And Then There Were None, I'm not enthusiastic about many of the others. The recent big-screen efforts have been more like fantasies inspired by vague memories of her books. And delightful though Margaret Rutherford was, she's not remotely Miss Marple -- she's a new creation, as are most of the stories she appeared in. So from there on, I'd say we have to turn to the TV adaptations: Miss Marple with Joan Hickson as infinitely her best embodiment, David Suchet as Poirot (preferably the earlier seasons before he took charge and decided they should be dark and religious, with lots of newly invented elements), possibly the best of the series made for CBS in the 1980s (set in the present, and somewhat Americanized, but we get three more appearances by Ustinov as Poirot) though these require great selectivity. Likewise the best of the Partners in Crime series with Francesca Annis.
  2. That's one of the legends proven false by the DVD extras I mentioned. We can see Laughton working with the children painstakingly.
  3. Yes. Actually (though I realize all this is too hypothetical to be worth sharing), if I were to partially recast this movie, Welch would be one of the ones I'd keep (despite the real-life issues you refer to). She's playing a movie star, and certainly convinces as one. (And, despite the fame of her figure, I kept noticing how magnetic her facial close-ups are.) I would also ask for a bit of rewriting. But of course, the movie is what it is, and isn't going to change.
  4. Did anybody else watch Deathtrap when it was shown a week ago as part of their whodunnit theme? I have such tangled-up mixed feelings about it. I loved Ira Levin's play for its elegant symmetrical meta construction when it was new; but the movie discards a lot of that, some inevitably because it's a movie and not a play, but some needlessly and hurtfully. The story seemed daring and surprising when new, but now a crucial aspect of it seems so dated that I doubt any theater companies want to do it any more. At least half the cast (Christopher Reeve, Dyan Cannon, Irene Worth) are badly miscast, as well as hurtfully directed by Sidney Lumet, who really has no affinity with the material. And so it goes. I have similarly mixed feelings about The Last of Sheila, shown the same night, though in this case it's an original screenplay and a very ingenious one. But again some of the attitudes seem too dated to be enjoyable or even comprehensible now. Plus it's not helpfully directed (some of the worst sound recording ever, in terms of incomprehensible dialogue), and I would wish about half the cast replaced. At least this time Dyan Cannon (a favorite performer of mine, actually) is fun despite being a dubious match to the role.
  5. It's certainly very much worth seeing, if anybody hasn't. Emphasis on its creepiness and horror factor, though accurate, should be augmented by awareness of how beautifully it's made. Charles Laughton directed, marvelously, and it's a shame this is the only time he did so. (If he'd lived a little longer, into the late 1960s, he might have blossomed in the new atmosphere and found new horizons as both actor and director.) He got remarkable performances out of everybody: the kids, Shelley Winters, Mitchum, and especially Lillian Gish (though perhaps she didn't need much coaxing -- the behind-the-scenes extras on the Criterion set show how completely "present" she was in one take after another, each reading subtly different but all good). It's a unique piece of filmmaking.
  6. It sure is. I finished watching my DVR recording last night, and... hoo boy. As the hosts immediately agreed, the ending is clearly an after-the-fact insertion (the director and one of the principals refused to return to shoot it), even if one knows nothing of the movie's history. For another, it's unsurprising and a relief to learn that it was relocated from a small English town to New England, because the characters and their attitudes (notably the spinster sister's possessiveness about not wanting her brother, who supports her, to marry) make a kind of sense in Agatha Christie territory that they don't in 1945 New Hampshire. Also, call me overly literal, but I found myself thinking (as with Rain Man and The Game) "Their poor mother, waiting so long between children" when I'm invited to accept Moyna Macgill, George Sanders, and Geraldine Fitzgerald (b. 1895, 1906, 1913) as siblings. Well, one should see it for oneself. Just in passing: This is one of the rare movies in which Sanders got to display his excellent singing skills, if only for a moment. (The big one, of course, is Call Me Madam opposite Ethel Merman.) This may indeed be one of the biggest roles Macgill got in Hollywood (Wikipedia singles out Frenchman's Creek and The Picture of Dorian Gray -- of course her daughter Angela Lansbury has a leading role in the latter -- and I noticed her also in Green Dolphin Street); she's present throughout the story. At times she looks uncannily like her daughter later in life, in the Murder, She Wrote years, and just occasionally a vocal inflection will sound like her too.
  7. I also find it fitting that Tommy Rall and Ann Reinking get adjacent spots. Two immortal screen figures with skills that went far beyond their fabulous dancing.
  8. There are two bits I like in Part II: The opening credits, where Saul Bass had fun spoofing every corny way to display credits ever invented (book, scroll, petals in water, fire, sky, pyramids), and Bobby Van's hopping number from Small Town Girl. Again, I had never known the latter existed; now, of course, I've seen the whole movie thanks to TCM. Other than those, no thanks.
  9. When That's Entertainment was new, there was really no other way for viewers to see older musical movies on a regular basis (aside from the lucky few who lived in cities with good revival houses, or attended colleges with good "classics" series). Sometimes certain commercial TV stations would show selected items from the past (growing up in Chicago, I know that I could see 3 Astaire-Rogers movies each New Years Eve). But interested as I was, I had never even heard of Eleanor Powell, and that's just one example. So it served a purpose at the time. (MGM showing only MGM stuff was just a given.) I'm not altogether sure why TCM continues to feature it, as they've made most of the complete movies represented familiar to us now, but maybe viewing figures tell a story. As for Singin' in the Rain being the best, such a notion can only be an opinion, but it's at least a widely shared one. I don't happen to share it (I would place SITR pretty high up on my own list, but not at the top), but I don't mind them saying it. When I taught a History of Musicals course (stage musicals), I refrained from naming any particular title, though once in a while students would try to corner me. 😉
  10. Even at the time (beginning onstage) Bells Are Ringing was reviewed as an old-fashioned sort of story, a vehicle for the talents of its leading lady, and appealing according to the degree one finds Judy Holliday irresistible. Many did, and do. In addition to the classic "Just In Time," there's a type of song for which I'm always a sucker, a counterpoint duet (two tunes are first sung separately, then simultaneously), "Better Than a Dream." This was actually added to the Broadway production late in its run (it isn't in the published script or score), but fortunately it was retained for the movie while several songs were cut. Quick eyes can see that the "Midas Touch" number is sung by a young Hal Linden, decades before his TV fame as Barney Miller. He had been the leading man's understudy on Broadway, and replaced him for the end of the run.
  11. As we seem to have several fans of it here, I'll never have a better chance to ask: Does anyone know why it has Christmas Present preceding Christmas Past? It must be the only version to do so.
  12. About an hour was cut. It was to have been a full-scale "road show" format with intermission. I'm well aware that the movie was something of a misfire and the cut footage wouldn't have saved it; still, I want to see the intended format, just once. It's always a bit of a jolt, every time Jack Nicholson pops in for a lien or two and then vanishes. Besides the song you mention (which includes a snatch of Barbra vocalizing), cuts included Montand's response "She Wasn't You," and the songs "Wait Till We're 65" and "On the S.S. Bernard Cohn," as well as a new one called "E.S.P." about which relatively little can be found. And all the dance numbers were cut (if memory serves, Ron Field removed his choreographer credit). Maybe they would been as hokey as Minnelli's/Lerner's idea of the counterculture, but I'd still rather see the whole thing as planned, rather than the corporate-decreed truncation.
  13. I agree with both parts of that sentence. Studios just didn't retain discarded footage, especially if they intervened like that, so what's gone is really gone. And it's a genuine loss. The first time I saw the movie (not that long ago, on TCM) I was aware of its history and reputation, but was surprised by what it was like: It takes off with a light, stylized wit unlike anything else he ever made. And I wonder why he didn't stay put in LA to ensure that it made its way to release unscathed (or, if changes were made, they were his changes)? Repeatedly, he seems to have had these self-destructive impulses, however much he would have denied it -- walking away from a project near the finish line which needed his on-site protection, "having to be" somewhere else on some other project. I have a list of Alternate Earth scenarios in which I can watch movies that were botched in the final edit or cancelled after planning but before production: Ambersons comes first, and after that the abandoned film of She Loves Me, the complete Way We Were, the unabridged On a Clear Day You Can See Forever, the full-length Garland/Mason A Star Is Born, the written but never-made Sondheim/Goldman musical Singing Out Loud...
  14. I always have closed captioning on. (I in fact hear almost everything fine, but that one moment where I miss a mumbled phrase, the CC saves me from awkwardly having to backtrack 15 seconds.) Most of the time it's good, especially for recent things where (I assume) some kind of official CC script was provided. I sometimes wish it weren't so chatty about background music (although I must admit, in a situation like the faux-Regency miniseries Bridgerton on Netflix, I'm grateful when it tells me which current pop tune is being played by the little orchestra at a ball -- I wouldn't know otherwise), but probably others need that, so fine. But in older movies they do sometimes get a detail hilariously wrong. Especially but not only with British idioms being totally misinterpreted. (I picture some ill-paid office temp tasked with transcribing some old movie they've never seen before; I'm not unsympathetic, but I do feel there should be a stage of some knowledgeable person watching and checking their work -- an editor, in effect. Clearly in some cases there has been no editor.) My own favorite aspect of Rosalind Russell is her early work in comedy, like His Girl Friday and My Sister Eileen. But chacun à son goût. One year TCM showed several contrasted Christmas Carols, which I liked. It was fun to see the differences in the movies starring Seymour Hicks (a truly weird early talkie), the Reginald Owen (not my fave by a long shot, but I recognized it as the very first version I saw on TV, when I was about 5, so I have a certain fondness for it), and the great Alistair Sim. They also threw in Scrooge, which I don't care for, but many do. I wish they could include the George C. Scott one as well, which is very good (terrific supporting actors, too), but a commercial channel seems to own that for re-broadcast. (An appreciative word for Mr. Magoo, too!) I still think there's room for a new version that brings to life aspects of Dickens that nobody has attempted so far: in particular his uncanny four-dimensional androgynous Christmas Past, which at times seems to have multiple limbs because of being perceived across time -- in a time of SF spectaculars, that would be child's play, but nobody's done it.
  15. There are so many lost or partially lost films. Sometimes scenes were cut for censorship reasons and now can't be found, sometimes a film was shortened after initial release to shorten it for neighborhood viewings (get more shows in a day), or was cut for TV airings in the 1950s and the additional footage misplaced. Sometimes nobody is curating the movie as a whole and part of it can't be found (like the final reel of Gloria Swanson's silent Sadie Thompson). Or even if the whole duration survives, it may not be the right ratio. This applies to post-1950 movies, when widescreen gradually became standard in movies but they had to be cropped for TV showing. Sometimes the version cropped-for-older-TVs is also that TCM is given to show, and my sad presumption is that this is all that survives (I've mentioned Tender Is the Night and All of Me here). I hope I'm wrong and these were just individual cases of carelessness in providing the film to TCM.
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