Category Archives: Sum Up

Sum Up | 3’6″

“From thy wedding with the creature who touches heaven, lady God preserve thee.”

Eighth Wonder

Most film blogathons are actor, actress, director, sub-genre themed. If you’re trying to branch out, if you just haven’t had a chance to write about something you love yet, they’re efficient opportunities for some post subject variety. Even though I rarely write about films I’ve seen before and instead am often writing about films one can skip, it’s a great way to maintain some perspective. Film viewing has always had a hard shell to its bubble.

In the fifteen years since I started blogging, I’ve wanted to keep my film blogging bubble pliable. Even before I realized why it should be pliable, I knew it had to be; after college but before grad school—when I started The Stop Button in 2004—I was in a film snob limbo. In 2003, intellectually fueled by foreign films from Netflix, Buster Keaton, and being Pianist perplexed, I gave up on new movies. I ended up taking a two or three year break and never got back into the theatergoing experience as much. Except for fine arts theaters and movie series. Even though I don’t have any of the posts anymore, the first year of Stop Button posts were all about Sam Fuller and whatever else we saw at this film series. And I’d moved on from Netflix to Nicheflix, since I’d had to go region-free very, very early to get films like Larger Than Life (the Bill Murray one) widescreen or Gance’s Napoleon at all; Nicheflix is where I discovered Korean film. Nicheflix was great.

I also had this (probably annoying) thing where if someone recommended a movie to me, I’d watch something else from the same director. Same writer-director. It wasn’t like someone said to watch The Conversation so instead I watched Jack. But new indie auteurs, I’d go in real suspect.

But I never wanted The Stop Button to be too focused on a genre or sub-genre.

Things have veered Classic Hollywood over the last couple years, but it’s mostly because blogathons and lack of film blogging time.

Mutually exclusive but concurrent is my Film—capital letter—philosophy. What I think and why, which almost always figures into how I write about individual films. And this capital Film philosophy didn’t start with The Stop Button or in undergrad film snobbery, or playing Clerks after high school, or having themed overnight movie marathons with friends during high school, or going to movies with summer camps before high school, or going to movies at birthday parties before middle school. Not to mention just watching VHS tapes because it was so cool to watch a movie at home. And if that thrill ran out, letterbox and LaserDisc.

My Film philosophy is changing all the time, usually because of a film. And I’d never thought about what I’d consider my most influential film. The one with the most permanent ramification for my capital Film philosophy. So definitely not the latest big “changer” either; it’s an intellectual fad—a justified one, I hope—but still something to be developed upon. And also understood with that eventuality. There’s no end-all-be-all movie to see. The Day the Clown Cried is not going to make all other film narrative superfluous.

So what about something I’ve consciously considered for a long time. Last summer, through a blogathon, I discovered the movie I had spent years thinking was Vertigo but wasn’t; I had avoid Vertigo because this film memory had scared me so much I refused to do a “close your eyes” exercise in kindergarten because I thought it would make you into a monster. Young and Innocent; different Hitchcock; thirty-five year-old movie mystery solved.

So would Young and Innocent be the most influential movie in those thirty-five years? No. Not any more than how I was convinced Monster Squad had a candle blowing out for foreshadowing and no one—of middle school Monster Squad fans–believed me. It does, of course; they pan-and-scanned it out for video. So Monster Squad, even for those few years it stayed active in my mind?

Nope, no, heck no, hell no. Ew Monster Squad.

Also I’d forgotten about the candle blowing out mystery by the time I did see Monster Squad widescreen again.

I was a Star Wars kid. Big time. Was it Star Wars? No. Star Wars was more than brand loyalty. Brand franchise loyalty, actually. Superman? No, not back then as much. What else did I watch a lot as a kid?

I mean, I was a monster kid. What about Frankenstein? I did a paper on Boris Karloff in grade school.

And then… Kong.

Of course. King Kong.

Blamin' it all

The 1933 version of King Kong is responsible for my childhood fascination with New York City, which lead to various family trips over the years. Kong is why I had to have Empire State Building memorabilia. Kong is partially why a lot. Kong is why New York is why Empire State building is why Art Deco is why thirties history why history is why undergrad major.

I don’t remember the first time I saw it. If I’m guessing, three at the latest? Because I know I saw Empire in the theater and I would’ve been two and a few months. And Raiders. I saw Raiders a little too young for head-melting. Kong would’ve been TV or video. I’m pretty sure we copied it from the library’s VHS. Once in-home VHS copying was a thing.

I know I watched Kong with my friends. Made my friends watch Kong is probably more accurate, since it was middle school before one of them ever stood up for black and white movies. The eighties and nineties were wanting for a lot. But I don’t remember who or when or if we did Kong marathons. Maybe? I know a family friend was a Kong buddy but only because people reminded me about it later. I have no memory of the actual movie watching, just the reminders.

I also know I watched Kong '33 less as I got into high school. Because my high school capital Film philosophy involved how special effects ought to be integrated and while Kong ’33 has singular special effects, their integration didn’t have as many modern applications as Kong ’76. I got to be a practical effects absolutist in late middle school. But less Willis O’Brien and more Phil Tippett. Then Jurassic Park killed stop motion and I dug in on practical. It’s only the last six years or so I’ve evened out that hill.

But I watched some Kong ’33 in college. And after. It’s been a while, but I know when I wrote about it for Stop Button eleven years ago I gabbed about it to my podcast cohost in a pre-show. Kong’s gotten to the point whenever I do get to ruminate on it, it’s a memorable rumination.

I do remember getting the Nostalgia Merchant VHS. It was one of the first items in my VHS collection. Kong helped get me addicted to media. I never replaced that Nostalgia Merchant copy, which was the uncut version (for the first time on home video). I have this vague memory of getting both it and the uncut Frankenstein in some big box store in the late eighties. We might have been on a family vacation because not many stores around us had sell-through VHS sections yet. Or, if they did, they were limited and always list price.

A few years later, Turner did an official release, as well as a colorized. I still haven’t seen the colorized version. Both VHS boxes were terrible and not the kind of thing you wanted to be seen picking up in a video store in 1990. The 1993 sixtieth anniversary edition box was better but I didn’t upgrade my Nostalgia Merchant. Not until—sometime in the late 1990s—I got the Criterion CLV version. There was CAV, which allowed frame-by-frame pausing, and CLV, which did not. Either the CAV was out of print or I didn’t want to spend $100 on a Kong LaserDisc. So I got the CLV.

Before getting the DVD—I waited for the official DVD release, even though it was available overseas (and possibly through Nicheflix) because RKO movies weren’t Warner overseas—I got at least one other copy of Kong on LaserDisc, because it had a different audio commentary. I’m not sure I’ve listened to any Kong audio commentary. I sort of think I have, but I’m not sure. It’s likely. Ish. But I sure had a lot of them.

I actually don’t have the Blu-ray. I didn’t even realize it had been released. By the time I did, I was able to just it digital; 1080p. Frame-by-frame pausing. Finally.

I’ve had easy access to Kong for almost thirty years.

But I’m forty. Those ten years before having a TV in my room, I had a different kind of access to Kong. One with an authoritative but a complicated, somewhat specious footing in reality. And it did take a toll on me and Kong.

Conehead

More than King Kong the movie, I grew up with King Kong the movie as related in a book. Ian Thorne’s King Kong book for Crestwood House, published in 1977. It was a whole “Monsters Series” by Thorne where he summarized the film, talked about how it was made, talked about its legacy. The Kong one talks about Son of Kong, Mighty Joe Young, King Kong vs. Godzilla, the 1976 Kong. And Queen Kong. I’d been wanting to see Queen Kong since I was four.

The book series was a reading life-changer for me. My mom frequently told the tale of how I had zero interest in reading until Crestwood Monsters, then becoming a voracious reader of all things. Including other monster books featuring Kong.

Except they rarely, if ever, really featured King Kong. Instead, they use the touched-up promotional photographs RKO did back in 1933. Kong appears more “realistic” in some of them. In others he appears to be from one hundred to five hundred feet tall and have a rather peculiar cone-shaped head. The conehead gave other monster kids an excuse not to like Kong, even though the images don’t accurately represent the Kong of the film at all. So even before I slowed down on watching Kong ’33 before I was focusing on my theories of practical special effects applications, I stopped talking about it because of social pressures.

The colorized version probably didn’t help things.

But it isn’t just the studio retouch artists changed the shape of Kong’s head, they changed his whole body. They also changed scenes. While audiences in 1933 might have understood a lobby card wasn’t necessarily an accurate representation of the film’s onscreen content, I was checking out a non-fiction book fifty-some years later. Not just non-fiction. I got adult non-fiction books too. These books were the real thing.

Only not at all.

And not just the look of Kong, but the scenes in the film. There’s no triceratops in King Kong. The T. Rex fight doesn’t go down this way. There’s no long shot of Kong on the Empire State Building with a half dozen biplanes in frame. The pterodactyl doesn’t have teeth. The retouch artists changed the expectation of the action beats. It’s great marketing. Exceptional marketing. But also rather annoying because it means I don’t quite remember what’s in Kong.

It also means there’s surprise every time I do watch it.

Legacy

Back before TCM, back before AMC, Kong didn’t lead me to a lot of other films. Son of Kong, sure. Mighty Joe Young, at least once. But Fay Wray, Bruce Cabot, and Robert Armstrong didn’t go on to much an eight year-old would see. We didn’t watch Westerns when I was growing up, so no occasional Cabot or Armstrong appearances in a John Ford movie. I don’t even remember seeing Armstrong in anything else until The Ex-Mrs. Bradford, which our video store did carry, but I would’ve watched it after The Thin Man series and I didn’t get super into Thin Man until at least 1990.

Even when I was watching classics en masse (AMC, then TCM), it was usually only Armstrong who’d show up in some supporting role. Fay Wray I never saw on AMC or TCM. I’d gotten The Most Dangerous Game in 1995 on LaserDisc—same filmmakers as Kong, same jungle set—and she’s the female lead in it, but otherwise, nothing.

Bruce Cabot… I can’t even remember the first time I saw him in anything else.

Directors Schoedsack and Cooper? I mean, I did get to see Blind Adventure (reuniting some Kong and Son of Kong cast and crew) a few years ago and that’s good, but Last Days of Pompeii? I’ve been meaning to watch it for ten years and just never get around to it. I haven’t seen Mighty Joe Young since high school when it didn’t impress me and I loathe Most Dangerous Game these days. While Kong got me very interested in film—and filmmaking—it didn’t directly lead to much.

Neither did any of my favorite classic monster movies as a kid. Little did I understand studio contracts back then.

When I wrote about Kong for The Stop Button in 2008, I had come back to it after getting an MFA in writing. I had a completely different set of examination tools. It had already gone through the history BA toolkit and the anti-CGI toolkit and the pro-CGI toolkit (I was tentatively onboard with CGI until the 1998 Godzilla or so) and whatever else going back to age three. Kong, as always, excelled no matter how I understood Film. No matter what I thought the film was supposed to do, what it needed to do, what it couldn’t do, what it shouldn’t do.

And more than excelling, it further informs, further clarifies, further focuses the all-important capital Film philosophy.

Because it’s undeniable. It’s King Kong.


THIS POST IS PART OF THE FILM THAT STARTED IT ALL BLOGATHON HOSTED BY CAZ OF LET'S GO TO THE MOVIES.


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Sum Up | Luise Rainer: An Incomplete Filmography

Between 1932 and 1997, two-time Academy Award winner Luise Rainer—who was the first actor to win more than one Academy Award and the first to win two back-to-back— made a total of fifteen films. Approximately. Austrian Rainer made three German-language films in the early thirties before Hollywood—MGM, specifically—discovered her and brought her to the States under a three-year contract. Her first MGM film, Escapade, came out in 1935. The last, Dramatic School, came out in 1938. Despite that three year contract, Dramatic School was after Rainer had signed a subsequent seven-year contract renewal with the studio. But that film would be the last straw for Rainer, who’d spent the last year and previous four films battling with studio head Louis B. Mayer about roles.

Rainer would return to Hollywood in 1943 for Hostages, which was a Paramount picture, not MGM.

Rainer and one of her Oscars.

According to IMDb (but without any other mention in online databases), Rainer appeared in the 1954 West German teen comedy Der Erste Kuß (The First Kiss). It’s a teen romance comedy with a couple twin sisters getting into innocent mischief. Sadly not the source for the Parent Trap but whatever. Rainer’s recognized return came in 1997 (fifty-four years after Hostages) in the British film, The Gambler, about Dostoyevsky writing The Gambler. After another break (only six years this time), Rainer appeared in Poem: I Set My Foot Upon the Air and It Carried Me, where she (and eighteen other performers) read a variety of German poems.

Rainer died in 2014 at the age of 104.

I’d heard of Rainer, but never seen any of her films. So when I needed a subject for “The Marathon Stars Blogathon,” Rainer was near the top of my list. I’ve been sort of curious; wasn’t Good Earth some Oscar-winning, protracted sharecropping melodrama. Especially since I’ve seen plenty of movies from the thirties, plenty of MGM movies from the thirties, plenty of William Powell MGM movies from the thirties, it seemed a little odd I’d never seen one of Rainer’s. One of the blogathon requirements is watching five films (at least five films) with the subject. Five films is a time commitment and I didn’t want to be half-assed about it.

Advertisement for Rainer’s last German film, 1933’s “Heut’ kommt’s drauf an”.

For example, watching Rainer’s three German films from the early thirties (regardless if they’re available), the 1997 cameo in The Gambler, then Poem… well, I wouldn’t have any idea what she did for the majority of her film career. So I wanted to schedule a nice mix. Rainer won her Oscars for The Great Ziegfeld and The Good Earth. Ziegfeld runs three hours, Earth almost two-and-a-half. I decided early on I’d only be able to do one of them, viewing schedule-wise. I went with Good Earth because it’s shorter.

The other four films I chose partially on availability, partially on relevance. I watched The Emperor’s Candlesticks, but would have rather watched the apparently nearly lost Escapade, which started Rainer’s Hollywood career and was her first pairing with William Powell. She appeared with Powell in Ziegfeld, then in Candlesticks. Dramatic School I picked because it seemed like a no-brainer—Rainer and fellow MGM contract actresses in an acting school. Toy Wife has Melvyn Douglas and a female screenwriter, why not. Hostages I tracked down because it’s her comeback picture. Plus, William Bendix.

Warner Archive’s Luise Rainer Collection.

Rainer made Escapade, Great Ziegfeld, Good Earth, Emperor’s Candlesticks, Big City, Toy Wife, Great Waltz, and Dramatic School for MGM. I watched Good Earth, Emperor’s Candlesticks, Toy Wife, and Dramatic School; fifty percent of them. I assumed I’d put together a good representation of her filmography. Even after reading about the other films (Ziegfeld, Big City, and Great Waltz are all readily available, just Escapade missing), it sounds like I did.

But, wow, is it a troubled filmography. Rainer never got the chance to establish herself. She was generically European, but… rarely in parts requiring her to be generically European. It might have helped her with Good Earth, when she was playing a Chinese woman, but comes off as Francophobic in Toy Wife, when she’s a naive but slutty Louisiana Southern belle. It doesn’t matter in Candlesticks. Great, she’s Austrian and playing Russian, but distinctly not Polish guy William Powell’s perfectly fine as the Polish guy. The part doesn’t need that ingrained texture (though it says something Candlesticks has Rainer’s best performance of the five films and the only one with personality). Dramatic School she’s a naive but not slutty poor French girl. Other than Candlesticks, none of the parts are good. Good Earth has a lot of technical requirements—yellow-face for one, but also aging forty or so years as well—but the part’s not good.

I’ll go over each film briefly presently, but in case you were wondering if somehow Hostages was a great return to the screen? No. Not only is it bad, it’s a lousy part for Rainer (though probably better than some of the “A-list” ones at MGM).

Rainer had three films in 1937—she had Good Earth in January, Emperor’s Candlesticks in July, and Big City in September. Now, she won the Academy Award for 1936’s Great Ziegfeld in March, so between Good Earth and Candlesticks.

Rainer and Paul Muni, non-Asians, playing Asians.

Good Earth. The Good Earth is the late 1930s Hollywood protracted sharecropping melodrama I was expecting, but I’d somehow forgotten about it being set in China. It’s a Classic Hollywood epic about a poor farmer in China getting rich at the beginning of the twentieth century. It stars a half dozen or more white actors in yellow-face, then some really supporting Asian actors later. Paul Muni is the lead. The movie starts with him marrying Rainer. They’ve never met before, he presumably buys her from the local great house, where she’s been a slave since childhood. Mark this point—slavery is bad in Good Earth and Rainer—even though she never gets to talk about it—hates even the mention of it. She never gets to talk about it because she rarely gets to talk. Muni talks all the time. Even after he stops talking all the time, Rainer barely gets any lines. It’s a bad part for so many reasons. Rainer’s best in the old age yellow-face, playing mom to grown sons, who are played by Asian men. Somehow, they make the scenes work, though maybe not succeed.

Good Earth is significant for showing how Classic Hollywood was willing to humanize non-whites, but only if whites could play them in complicated, “realistic” (i.e. not-blackface) make-up. Rainer gets a scene where she teaches her kids how to panhandle. You’re not going to see that sort of display if those kids were white. Ick but hmm sums up Good Earth.

Rainer and William Powell in “Candlesticks”.

So then, two months later, Rainer wins the Oscar for Ziegfeld, going into Candlesticks reuniting with that film’s lead, William Powell. It’s a comedic thriller, set in the late 1800s, with Powell as a debonair Polish gentleman spy and Rainer as a Russian countess who spies too. They’re enemies, even if they don’t know it, but thrown into an adventure together. It’s kind of a road picture, but not on the budget to be on the road or in the European cities it visits. Lots of interiors, lots of montages, lots of chemistry. Candlesticks is a bunch of fun.

Big City is a drama, which means maybe I should’ve watched it instead of either Dramatic School or Toy Wife because they’re both lousy dramas and Big City might be good. It’s got Spencer Tracy after all, and it’s from before Rainer went to war with Mayer.

It’s also before she won Best Actress for Good Earth; she got that Oscar in March 1938, which was before any of her films came out that year. Rainer was off-screen from Big City in September 1937 until Toy Wife in June 1938. Nine months. And she won another Oscar in between, set Oscar records in between. So it’d be interesting to see how Toy Wife played after Big City.

Robert Young seduces Rainer with promises of more slaves?

Because Toy Wife is a gross disaster. It’s all about Rainer—sixteen in the source play—seducing a dude away from her sister (Barbara O’Neil, who plays a character named Louise). They’re Southern belles. They have lots of slaves. Rainer loves having slaves. It’s one of those weird late thirties movies where all the white people love having slaves. It even becomes a plot point because Rainer is too nice to her slaves and they get lazy so her husband (Melvyn Douglas, the one she stole from O’Neil) has to bring O’Neil into the household to “run” the slaves. Meanwhile Rainer has a fling with Robert Young.

All the acting is bad. The writing is bad (screenwriter Zoë Akins added all the slavery stuff). Even 1938 audiences who were clamoring for that “slavery was awesome for white people” thing at the time didn’t like the movie.

Then November’s The Great Waltz, a Strauss biopic, did well (cost too much, but did well). So should I have watched Great Waltz to see how Rainer recovers from Toy Wife? Maybe I didn’t get a good look at her filmography, right?

Paulette Goddard, Rainer, and the other MGM contract stars in “Dramatic School.”

In December there was Dramatic School, costarring Paulette Goddard as Rainer’s slutty, rich, mean classmate. I guess Dramatic is sort of impressive for Rainer because she plays the part well, even though she’s supposed to be much younger and infinitely naive. The film—which opens quite wonderfully with Margaret Dumont—has so much potential. It could be all about Rainer acting these different famous parts and so on and so on. Rainer even plays a character named “Louise” in the picture. It has to mean something, right?

Nope. It’s this tedious rags-to-riches story with Rainer, who lies too much (because it gives her the opportunity to act all the time), and how she gets caught. Dumont’s only in two short scenes. Most of the film has Gale Sondergaard as the evil teacher who’s jealous of Rainer because Sondergaard is old and Rainer is young. Dramatic School manages to be tediously tedious.

So no surprise Rainer quit after doing it.

But why she wanted to come back for Hostages….

Technically, “Hostages” might be a once in a lifetime event; thankfully.

Hostages, released in October 1943, is a war picture. Czech underground fighters versus Nazis. Rainer had missed the start of the war, film-wise, and had returned in time for the propaganda picture. Starring William Bendix as a Czech freedom fighter. He’s godawful. Maybe if he weren’t so bad in the movie, the movie wouldn’t be so bad. But even if he were better (or, even better still, Bendix weren’t in the movie at all), the part for Rainer would still be too slight. Apparently she didn’t want to do an Oscar-bait picture or role, but Hostages isn’t just not Oscar-bait, it’s not a good project.

Top-billed Rainer gets overshadowed by romantic interest Arturo de Córdova, a Mexican actor on his brief, unsuccessful Hollywood tour.

A strong comeback picture, Hostages ain’t.

It also isn’t anything like Rainer’s MGM work. Especially not the better work.

Rainer in 1941.

Despite having seen over fifty percent (I have the math but don’t want to show my work) of Rainer’s Classic Hollywood output… I can only tentatively say I like her. She’s probably all right, maybe good, certainly not terrible and probably never inept. I don’t even know if seeing Big City, Great Waltz, or Great Ziegfeld will change that opinion. It might. But it also might not, given the erratic nature of Rainer’s output. Maybe Escapade is the one to see. Hopefully someday.

But, until then, I’m going to try to get to the three available MGM pictures sooner than later.

I’m still curious about Rainer’s career. More now I’ve started watching her films, which is another positive sign. Albeit a tentative one.


THIS POST IS PART OF THE SECOND MARATHON STARS BLOGATHON HOSTED BY VIRGINIE OF THE WONDERFUL WORLD OF CINEMA, CRYSTAL OF IN THE GOOD OLD DAYS OF CLASSIC HOLLYWOOD, AND SAMANTHA OF MUSINGS OF A CLASSIC FILM ADDICT.

Sum Up | Eleanor Parker: Oscar Nominee

Eleanor Parker did not win any Academy Awards, which is simultaneously obvious and inexplicable. The latter because she obviously deserved one (or six), the former because if she had won any, she’d have been better known in the eighties and nineties, when home video and basic cable drove classic film viewership. The first half of Parker’s filmography, up to the point when she was nominated for 1955’s Interrupted Melody, is full of great roles (once you get through some of the Warner contract stuff), while the second half has some sporadically potentially great roles. With the occasional role Parker made great (Home from the Hill, Seventh Sin). But in many ways, Interrupted Melody, which got Parker her third and final Best Actress nomination, was the pinnacle of her stardom. At least as an A-list actress who might get Best Actress nominations.

A print ad for Caged

Melody also culminated Parker’s fifties rise. She’d started at Warner Bros. In 1942 and worked her way from supporting in B movies, to supporting in A movies, to leading B movies, to leading A movies. But never Oscar bait. Though Parker should’ve been nominated for Of Human Bondage and Woman in White, even if it were a supporting nod for White. It wasn’t until 1950’s Caged, where Parker got to be the whole show, did she get a nomination for a Warner part. Parker plays a naive young woman sent to prison as an accessory to robbery. Her husband died in attempting said robbery. It’s a phenomenal performance in an excellent film, one forgotten to history until it was resurrected thanks to DVD in the mid-2000s. The film’s legacy suffered not just due to lack of home video release, but also because somehow it was pop-culturally misremembered as a camp classic. But DVD, eventually, corrected that mistake (and introduced a whole new generation of viewers to Parker).

Detective Story print ad

If there was any question Warner hadn’t been giving Parker the right roles—or supporting her in the right roles—it was resolved as Parker, fresh out of her contract, got nominated again the next year. No more Warner contract—her departure was in the cards before Caged—so she was free to star in Paramount’s Detective Story. She plays brutal and honest New York cop Kirk Douglas’s wife; the only one who can soothe the savage beast. Until one day things her past comes back to haunt her. It’s a fantastic part, performance, film. Parker’s not starting from naivety, which makes her character arc rather different than Caged (or, really, anything she’d had a chance to do before—even in Three Secrets, which has some similarities to the Story role).

Interrupted Melody print ad

Parker had two films the next year—Scaramouche and Above and Beyond, both for MGM. Both were big hits, though Scaramouche was bigger, and both were well-received. There were Oscar rumblings for Parker in Above and Beyond but when it came time for nominations, she didn’t get one. Above and Beyond was Parker’s last drama for a few years—the adventure and adventure comedies she made for the next couple years seemed unlikely to get an Oscar nomination. So when Parker returned to drama—on a large scale—with Interrupted Melody, playing a contemporary figure (opera star Marjorie Lawrence, who had a triumphant return after polio), it certainly seemed like a good time for her to get an Oscar.

Only she didn’t.

And she didn’t get a nomination for Man with the Golden Arm, which came out the same year as Melody (it would have been a supporting nod), even though the part and performance were perfect for such recognition.

Parker not getting an award for either role is pretty much the tipping point as far as Oscar is concerned. The Academy either needed to acknowledge Parker or ignore her. They went with the latter. Because reality disappoints.

Parker tried with a couple more Oscar-friendly roles in the late fifties. She did Lizzie, a multiple personality drama. Joanne Woodward won Best Actress the same year for Three Faces of Eve, which was a similar part but a much better production. Then Seventh Sin, with Parker as a Somerset Maugham “heroine.” A little bit more production value and a lot better leading man (only because the existing one, Bill Travers, sucks the life out of the film) and it should’ve gotten Parker some attention. Home from the Hill, Parker’s only potboiler—albeit a phenomenal one—seems both a natural and unlikely nomination.

After a brief stint at Fox in the early sixties, Parker wandered from studio to studio, part to part. Her most high profile sixties role—The Baroness in The Sound of Music—would also be her most indelible. Even though the part’s not great. Sound of Music was a mega-hit, leading to most people who knew Parker remembering her from that film, nothing else. Though as time went on, it was less and less likely they’d seen her in anything else.

An American Dream poster

Parker’s last Oscar possibility was probably 1966’s An American Dream, but done in thanks to the movie being godawful. But it was definitely the type of role the Academy would soon be recognizing (just the next year, actually, with Anne Bancroft in The Graduate). But, again, Dream was godawful so it didn’t work out.

Parker herself was somewhat infamously known for not caring about the Hollywood game. As she told a reporter in April 1955, “I’d like to win an Academy Award, of course—who wouldn’t? But it will never become an obsession with me.”

Still, history suffers for her never having won one, not just for how it might have changed the trajectory of her career—leading to even more great performances—but also gotten people interested in her work before the DVD boom indirectly helped Parker, her talent, and her skill get their due.

I didn’t talk about the performances who won against Parker in the three Academy Award ceremonies for a couple reasons. First, I’m not just not interested in arm-chairing those wins, I’m not even informed enough on the performances to do so. Second, given Parker wasn’t ever an Oscar-chaser, it seems inappropriate to get too worked up about her not winning. Especially since, frankly, it was bullshit when she didn’t get a nomination for Of Human Bondage back in 1947.

There are a lot of ways to talk about Eleanor Parker and the Oscars, even without getting into the contemporary newspaper and magazine articles. The trivia alone about Parker and her co-nominees could go on forever. But fixating on the subject seems a waste of time—just like Parker thought—one’s time is much better spent seeing some Eleanor Parker movies.



THIS POST IS PART OF THE 31 DAYS OF OSCAR BLOGATHON HOSTED BY AURORA OF ONCE UPON A SCREEN, KELLEE OF OUTSPOKEN & FRECKLED, and PAULA OF PAULA’S CINEMA CLUB.


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Sum Up | 2018 in Review

I didn’t have any big plans for The Stop Button in 2018 other than blogathons and whatever came up. Comics Fondle I was reading all of Love and Rockets, which took more than 2018. But Stop Button… well, marathon training. It was going to take up a lot of time.

Of the 157 feature films… the three best films I watched were Seven Samurai, 2001: A Space Odyssey, and The Best Years of Our Lives. I’d seen all those films before (though it’d been a long time on each of them); the best films I saw for the first time were Get Out, Frances Ha, Sunset Blvd., Only Angels Have Wings, and Jour de fête. No order on any of these lists.

BestWorst
Seven SamuraiGuardians of the Galaxy 2
2001: A Space OdysseyGreat Monster Varan
The Best Years of Our LivesThe Incredible Hulk Returns

However, when it comes to the worst films I watched this year? I’ll give it to Guardians of the Galaxy 2, which I truly loathed, Great Monster Varan, which broke the cardinal rule of kaiju–it was boring–and The Incredible Hulk Returns, which I remembered from childhood and felt great shame. Not for the “Incredible Hulk” TV show, but for that first TV movie. I haven’t been able bring myself to watch the other two yet.

Speaking of superheroes… most of the recent movies I watched were comic book movies. Black Panther, Dr. Strange, Thor 3, Ant-Man 2, Avengers 4, Venom, Aquaman, (ugh) Guardians 2, also Darkman, which I’d watched since starting the blog for the Alan Smithee Podcast but never written about. And the long-anticipated Superman: The Movie: The Extended Version, which is a mess but rather informative about how narrative editing works for a film. Also the second “Hulk” TV pilot movie. Oh, and two Superman serials, one Dick Tracy one, one Batman one.

Best comic book movies I watched were Black Panther and Avengers 4.

Sequels I watched a bunch. Five total Puppetmaster movies (one and the four sequels). Westworld and Futureworld. Star Wars: Episode 8. Good, the Bad, and the Ugly (the first Leone Western I’ve written about). Mission: Impossible 6 and 5. Magic Mike 2 (haven’t seen the first). Die Hard 3 (after meaning to watch it again for, you know, a decade). Creed II (it might be the only Stallone movie on the blog this year, which is something). And then some Halloween movies. I watched the Joe Chappelle travesty again, then the crappy Rob Zombie ones in their theatrical cuts for the Sum Up post I really didn’t want to do. After seeing H40, I decided to scrap that post. Not worth editing, even though I had it fully drafted. That one killed Sum Up enthusiasm even more than Godzilla Showa.

Then there were the sequel serials. The aforementioned Batman and Superman ones. Also Flash Gordon 2. I also watched Judex, which is actually good (the first actually good serial I’d seen in ages), The Clutching Hand, which was godawful and stopped me watching serials, The Phantom Creeps, which was godawful but no Clutching Hand, and Dick Tracy, which was godawful but no Phantom Creeps. When I tried to keep the interest with Flash Gordon 2 and it disappointed… well. I can’t do the serials for a while. I think I might have watched the first chapter of The Shadow and not even posted it because the serial was such a noodle.

As usual, there was more horror than one would think. The Puppetmaster series, House, DeepStar Six, Shadow of the Vampire, Stepford Wives, Babadook, Quiet Place, Let Me In, Sleepwalkers, The Descent, The Witch. Some major disappointments; I expected too much from House and Six though. Those two are on me. The biggest surprise was probably that one good Puppetmaster movie.

Foreign movies I didn’t watch anywhere near as many as I always mean to watch. Worse, the two Bergman’s disappointed (to various degrees)–Autumn Sonata and Through a Glass Darkly. Aforementioned Jour de Fete was excellent. And Delicatessen held up. I’d been meaning to watch it again.

My highly anticipated first viewings not including the aforementioned “best of”) were Giant, Blade Runner 2, The Gay Falcon, The Other Side of the Wind, Lonelyhearts, The Cheap Detective, Sometimes a Great Notion, Quiet Place, The Witch, and–to some degree–All That Heaven Allows. Most disappointing is of course Other Side of the Wind, but worst is Gay Falcon.

Highly anticipated repeat viewings (also not including the aforementioned “best of”). Goodfellas, Delicatessen, Street Smart, Naked Alibi, Vivacious Lady, You Can’t Take It With You, Die Hard 3. Goodfellas was kind of a shock but also inevitable (whereas Naked Alibi and Street Smart were just inevitable). Vivacious Lady was a pleasant surprise.

Now, of those forty-four short films, the big focus was the “Peanuts” television specials. I managed to keep going on those ones even after it became clear it was going to be rough at times. I made the only video I made this year because of one. It’s Snoopy but Wicker Man, get it?

I also watched all of Cheryl Dunye’s early short films, which was awesome. Around twenty years after first reading about Dear Diary I finally saw it and, wow, no. The Edison Frankenstein is great though. I also finally finished up the forties Superman cartoons; most of them are bad. I’d been meaning to watch those cartoons since I started writing about shorts; they really weren’t worth the wait.

Best shorts are Dreams of a Rarebit Fiend, Greetings from Africa, Meshes of the Afternoon, What Have We Learned, Charlie Brown? Almost in order of publication, which I should’ve been doing from the start for the best of lists. Next year.

I think the decade with most films written about is the fifties, which seems weird because I didn’t think at all about focusing on it. Just happened.

A month into 2019, it certainly seems like I’m going to keep going with blogathons to “schedule” Stop Button. I’ve got a bunch of short films I’m interested in but the only thing really connecting them is that interest. No scheduling themes for the foreseeable future, other than long form posts. Next month I’m doing an Eleanor Parker post about the Oscars. Then I think I’m alternating monthly between Stop Button and Comics Fondle.

The 2019 blogathon schedule has some movies I’m really looking forward to writing about finally: Primrose Path and Incredible Shrinking Man being the standouts so far. I remember loving both those films. Long ago.

And scheduling a weekly group movie night has lead to some long dreaded repeats (Unbreakable) but also excellent ones (Sugarland). Films I’ve already got scheduled I’m really looking forward to watching (or watching again)–Sorry To Bother You, Mighty Quinn, Crooklyn, To Die For, Lizzie, Duel.

Good fodder.

Given I’m not training for a marathon again, I hope this summer I do something more focused–there’s a lot more Bergman in the box set, there’s Aki Kaurismäki, there’s still Buster Keaton (if just the shorts), there’s those restored Hal Hartleys, there’s plenty. There’s too much.

So I’m keeping my 2019 Stop Button ambitions just as low as 2018’s, only without the marathon excuse. But am confident I’ll see some good things. Maybe even Sixth Sense again, because I have to know.