Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Cancer is insidious: it can attack anywhere. That said, from the last time i blogged, i've been involved in a month and a half of radiation therapy, which ended yesterday. I tried to maintain a regular routine: wake up, go in for my radiation therapy before 9 AM, and then resume my daily life. But it didn't work out that way. I was warned that, by the last week, i might feel very tired. And that happened! I tried to go to the first press screening for New Directors/New Films, and i was exhausted immediately after: i almost fell asleep on the subway home! So i decided i couldn't risk that again....

But before that, i did go to screenings, i have watched television... award season came and went, and i didn't do too badly in the IndieWire CriticWire poll. What i found interesting was that there were some surprises: usually, by the time the Academy Awards happen, the various guilds (SAG, PGA, DGA, et al) have given out their accolades, and the Academy Awards usually follow suit. This time, it didn't go according to the pre-plan (the biggest surprise: Viola Davis had won the SAG Best Actress for "The Help" but the Oscar went to Meryl Streep for "The Iron Lady") so, if this had been known, there might have been more suspense going in. Not that it matters. I've given up watching award shows: even the Independent Spirit Awards tend to be a drag (in the case of the Spirits: the enforced sense of comic relief has long since become strained, and when it's not embarrassing, it's strenuous). And now, with the instantaneous feedback, you can always find out the winners without having to go to the trouble of watching the inanities.

I haven't had that many side-effects, but i've let my hair grow. I know that it's chemo that causes hair loss, but i'm keeping my hair just in case.

I've been seeing a lot of movies i missed on TV: "The Tempest" (i had missed the screenings and never felt the urge to see it, because i'd heard so many negative comments, but it wasn't as bad as i'd been led to believe); "Hanna" (i remember how excited a number of women critics were because of the premise, it was rather like a pubescent replay of the critical excitement that a number of women claimed to feel because of Jodie Foster's performance in "The Silence of the Lambs"), "Charlie St. Cloud" (another case of it-wasn't-as-bad-as-i'd-heard; why this film should be given the credit for wrecking Zac Efron's career i don't know).

But i should be back in action in a few days, and there's a lot to look forward to; however, one thing was that during February, there were several events which i really couldn't get to. Several friends premiered movies as part of MoMA's Documentary Fortnight, Jim Hubbard with "United In Anger" and Roddy Bogawa with "Taken By Storm", but both were showing at 8 PM, and by 9 PM every evening, i was definitely starting to fade (in many cases, i'd be asleep by then). This also meant that i missed a lot of things on TV: i just couldn't stay awake for "Revenge" (what did happen? how did the season end? i heard about the kiss between Gabriel Mann's character and Ashton Holmes's character, but i didn't see it) or "White Collar" or "Psych"....

So the whole of February... it's not so much a blur as it was a slow month. But a few notes: of course, TCM did its usual 31 Days of Oscar, usually a month to miss, but there were a few highlights, one of which was the showing of "Holy Matrimony", a charming pseudo-English comedy directed by John Stahl, with an Oscar-nominated screenplay by Nunnally Johnson based on Arnold Bennett's story (which had been filmed before in 1933 as "His Double Life" with Lillian Gish and Roland Young). The 1943 cast had Gracie Field (in the best of her American movies) and Monty Woolley (at the peak of his star status; he had been nominated for an Academy Award as Best Actor for "The Pied Piper" the year before, the same year that he starred as "The Man Who Came to Dinner"). Monty Woolley's career wouldn't really decline so much as Woolley would be eclipsed the following year: in 1944, Clifton Webb would create a sensation in "Laura" and would become the specialty star that Woolley threatened to be. (After all, how many acerbic, superior, gentlemen-of-a-certain-age bachelor stars can there be at any one time?) Webb would become one of the biggest stars at 20th Century Fox from the late 1940s through the 1950s; though initially a co-star (in "Laura" and in "The Razor's Edge", both of which he would be Oscar-nominated for), by the time of "Sitting Pretty" (1948) he would be toplined as one of Fox's biggest male stars. (It's Webb who is top-billed in the 1953 "Titanic" as well as the 1954 "Three Coins In the Fountain".) Plus he starred in a series of comedies where he played professors or various types of "experts", starting with "Sitting Pretty" (for which he got his third Academy Award nomination, only this time as Best Actor and not Best Supporting Actor): "Elopement", "Dreamboat", "Cheaper By the Dozen", "Mister Scoutmaster", "Mr. Belvedere Goes to College", "Mr. Belvedere Rings the Bell", "Holiday For Lovers"... one curiosity about most of these movies is that Webb was often seen as family man, or someone who had to deal with children ("Sitting Pretty", "Mister Scoutmaster").

On Saturday, TCM devoted their evening programming to Clifton Webb, starting with "The Razor's Edge" and going onto "For Heaven's Sake" (playing a guardian angel of a child!), "Mister Scoutmaster" (which i hadn't seen in decades... it didn't improve with age), "Sitting Pretty" and "Boy On a Dolphin". His reputation within the industry was enormous: he had been a huge star on Broadway as the greatest dancing star (and yes, reviews at the time showed that he was regarded as the greatest, outclassing Fred Astaire, who was regarded as the lesser half of the Astaires, his sister Adele being considered the true star of their act) and by the 1940s Webb had made the transition away from musical comedy. He had triumphed in the Broadway production of Noel Coward's "Blithe Spirits" and was on tour when Otto Preminger (as the producer) decided to cast Webb in "Laura". After the contretemps (the original director, Rouben Mamoulian, was fired and Preminger was then called upon to direct), "Laura" would be one of the big hits of the year, and Clifton Webb would be established as a star in the movies. Vincent Price (in numerous interviews over the years) has stated that the entire cast had been getting along very well under Mamoulian, but once Preminger came in, the cast started to feel uneasy. The congeniality that the cast enjoyed under Mamoulian was gone, replaced by an often tyrannical regime. The only person who seemed to thrive was Webb, because he was grateful that Preminger (as producer) had gone to bat for him with Darryl F. Zanuck (Zanuck had wanted Laird Cregar in the role); but Price always credited the hostility on the set with enhancing the movie, as he said, the fact that everyone was on edge and uneasy added to the atmosphere of suspicion and apprehension  which distinguished "Laura". One interesting note: Robert Osborne mentioned that Webb had been offered the part of the director in "The Band Wagon" (the part eventually played by Jack Buchanan), but by that point, Webb hadn't danced in over 15 years, and he was loathe to show up when he wouldn't be at his best. He had his reputation as a great dancer to consider, and to get back into shape would have required a lot of rehearsal time, months of hard work, and Webb just didn't feel he could get back to where he could keep up with Astaire. But it's unfortunate, because there's no record of the talent which made Webb one of the big Broadway stars of the 1920s and 1930s. But Clifton Webb did become a movie star, and one of the most unusual stars of the 1950s.

4 Comments:

Blogger Michael O'Sullivan said...

Very perceptive comments on Clifton Webb, who worked so well with Jean Negulesco, in at least 4 films - and yes he was so often cast as family men. I particularly like him as the very acerbic motor tycoon (particularly when fending off Arlene Dahl's advances...) in WOMAN'S WORLD in '54 and he is perfect as the art collector in BOY ON A DOLPHIN with the young Loren.
Good news that your medical treatment has finished, and trust it does not leave you too tired.

11:53 AM

 
Blogger joe baltake said...

Daryl! Re Clifton Webb, you forgot "The Remarkable Mr. Pennypacker," a truly lost film.

BTW, welcome back!

-J

7:16 PM

 
Blogger Karen 5.0 said...

Daryl, I'm very glad to hear that your treatments have ended and I hope that you get your energy back soon. This blog post indicates that things are well on their way!

I saw "The Tempest" on DVD last week and enjoyed it more than I thought. The "making of" supplement was quite entertaining and not as cheesy as some of them can be. I saw the play at the Barbican when I lived in London ages ago and was impressed with how they were able to bring a magical world to the stage realistically.

I saw "Hanna" twice, both times on a plane to and from Prague last September. Rather liked it -

6:24 AM

 
Blogger Jacobus 323 said...

We seem to have the Big C in common, as I have been living for 11 years now with CLL. I want to congratulate you for getting the glbtq website biography of S. M. Eisenstein down in so concise a manner, though wasn't his autobiography titled "Immoral," as opposed to "Immortal Memories"? I did a master's thesis at UCLA on how "Ivan the Terrible Parts I and II" are, together, a sublime example of "the perfect union of form and content." The two films actually are three movies taking place at once: a satire on Stalin, the psychological autobiography of S.M.E., and a straightforward (and fudged) narrative history of one of the most ferociously nationalistic Tzars who ever lived. The films are a masterpiece, and in some ways the finest sound films ever. And I disagree with your thinking Cherkassov was E.'s ideal. He had a lot of pretty blondes in "Nevsky," but (as Cuban cinematographer Nestor Almendros noted) the sailors in the deck of the Battleship Potemkin are big, burly Russes. Eisenstein was bisexual and loved all men.

5:20 PM

 

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