Monday, August 18, 2014


One of the most haunting numbers in early movie musical was a Ruth Etting number from the now forgotten Eddie Cantor movie Roman Scandals in 1933. Etting should of had more of a movie career, but because of her gangster husband Martin "Moe" Snyder, I think she alienated many people in Hollywood. Here is a great story on this film debut...

In his book book Ginger, Loretta and Irene Who? (1976), George Eells calls Ruth Etting, The Box-Office Bait. Samuel Goldwyn used her enormous popularity at the time to entice people to see the movie Roman Scandals and gave her only a very small part and one song, No More Love written by Al Dubin and Harry Warren. While her part may have been small, Roman Scandals marked Ruth Etting’s film debut, and was the highlight of her film career. She once again appeared with Eddie Cantor, her co-star in Broadway’s Whoopee, and her big number was a torch song she sang in a bathhouse full of nearly naked Goldwyn Girls.
Look carefully, and you can spot Betty Grable, Paulette Goddard, and Lucille Ball. In ‘Discovering Great Singers of Classic Pop,’ Roy Hemming and David Hajdu describe her debut, “Inevitably it was a torch song with which Etting made her movie debut, in Eddie Cantor’s Roman Scandals (1933), sobbing Warren and Dubin’s ‘No More Love’ in the movie’s famous Busby Berkeley-directed slave-market sequence {with dozens of chained chorines clothed only in long blond tresses...


Monday, August 11, 2014


In honor of the great Robin Williams, I have cancelled all scheduled stories on my blog. For this week, let us remember the legend and genius he was and is...

              RIP Robin Williams: July 21, 1951 - August 11, 2014


It is hard to believe someone who has made me laugh throughout my childhood and adult years is now gone. Robin Williams leaves behind a lasting legacy of wonderful work. I am not sure film ever fully captured his comic genius, but he made some memorable movies. Even the little supporting roles he had in crappy films like: Nine Months (1995), Night At The Museum (2006) and License To Wed (2007) were memorable. It is hard to pick out my five favorite Robin Williams movies, and again these are just my preferences. (I personally did not like 1997's Good Will Hunting). I think you will be surprised at what movies made my list of favorites:

5. RV (2006)

Okay, the family comedy RV is not the greatest movie ever made, but it really showed a more family friendly comedy from Robin Williams. I didn't see this film in the movie theaters, but whenever it is on television now, I have to stop and watch it. Even though Williams plays a devoted father in the film, his comedy still comes out. A prime example is when he is talking "street" to some bullies bothering his son. Robin Williams made better movies, but I love watching this film of his to feel good.


This movie takes a whole other dark meaning with Robin Williams' apparent suicide. In the film, Robin Williams dies to find himself in a heaven more amazing that anything he dreamed of. However, his wife is missing, because after Williams died, his wife killed herself and went to hell. Williams,  risks his life in heaven to save his wife from hell. The movie is amazing. It is unlike any movie I have ever seen. It is a very dark movie, while being a very optimistic movie as well. 

3. JACK (1996)

This comedy drama was directed by Frances Ford Coppola. William plays the role of Jack Powell, a boy who ages four times as fast as normal as a result of a disease, Werner syndrome, a form of progeria. What Williams brought to the role was ability to channel his inner child. The movie as a whole was not believable, but Williams really makes the role more realistic. He is also joined on screen by another comedy legend, Bill Cosby, who played his private tutor. It was great to see these comedic geniuses work together. 

2. THE BIRDCAGE (1996)

This film is one of Robin Williams' best comedies, and for the most part he played the straight man (no pun intended) to his over the top life partner (played by Nathan Lane). Armand Goldman owns a popular drag nightclub in South Miami Beach. His long-time lover Albert stars there as Starina. "Their" son Val (actually Armand's by his one heterosexual fling, twenty years before) comes home to announce his engagement to Barbara Keely, daughter of Kevin Keely, US Senator, and vice president of the Committee for Moral Order, who was played by Gene Hackman. The movie is a riot from beginning to end. If you only pick one Robin Williams comedy to watch as a tribute to his greatness, it should be this film.

1. ONE HOUR PHOTO (2002)

Robin Williams should have wone the Oscar for this film. This role is unlike any other Robin Williams role. There are no laughs in this film. Williams is almost unrecognizable as a demure photo lab technician that sort of goes off the deep end as he becomes to attached to his customers. Williams plays Middle aged Sy Parrish, a technician at a one hour photo lab located in a SavMart store in a suburban mall. Sy is a lonely man, never having had any friends. He knows much about his customers through the photographs they have developed. But he knows more about the Yorkin family - specifically Nina Yorkin and her adolescent son Jake Yorkin, the two in the family who drop off and pick up the family's photofinishing - than anyone else, the family about who he is obsessed. I won't spoil anymore of the film, but Williams should have one an Oscar for this movie. 

Whatever demons Robin Williams had the caused this tragic end to a brilliant career never entered into his work in film. He could make us laugh, he could make us cry, and he could make us feel good when the lights in the movie theater came back on. Robin Williams was a brilliant actor, and these five films does not even scratch the surface of what an amazing career he had...


It is hard to believe that someone as talented and as funny as Robin Williams is now gone...

The Oscar-winning actor and stand-up comedian Robin Williams, whose range extended from manic mimicry to understated character portrayals, was found dead in his California home on Monday. In a statement, local sherriff’s office said that it was treating the death of the 63-year-old star as a suspected suicide.

“This morning I lost my husband and best friend, while the world lost one of its most beloved artists and beautiful human beings. I am utterly heartbroken,” said Williams’s wife, Susan Schneider in a statement released through the actor’s publicist.
Williams, who had recently sought treatment for depression and drink problems, was last seen alive at his house at 10pm on Sunday night. He had battled addiction to cocaine and alcohol in the 1980s but was reported to have been sober for decades.
“Robin Williams passed away this morning,” his representative Mara Buxbaum said in a statement. “He has been battling severe depression of late. This is a tragic and sudden loss. The family respectfully asks for their privacy as they grieve during this very difficult time.”
Williams, who was born in Chicago, brought a hyper-kinetic energy to screen roles and stand-up comedy. He rose to fame in the television series Mork and Mindy, which ran from 1978 to 1982, building on a character that debuted on Happy Days .

In the 1980s, he had a string of film successes with Good Morning, Vietnam in 1987, Dead Poets Society in 1989, Awakenings in 1990, and the Fisher King and Hook in 1991. The nearly unbroken line of success continued with Aladdin in 1992 and Mrs Doubtfire, a 1993 comedy about a divorced dad who impersonates a Scottish nanny to be closer to his children.
A sequel to Mrs Doubtfire had been announced and it was rumoured that filming would begin this year.
In her statement, Schneider said: “As he is remembered, it is our hope the focus will not be on Robin’s death, but on the countless moments of joy and laughter he gave to millions.”
Williams was last seen alive at the house that he shared with Schneider in Tiburon, north of San Francisco, at about 10pm on Sunday night, the sherrif’s office said.
“The sheriff’s office, as well as the Tiburon fire department and southern Marin fire protection district were dispatched to the incident with emergency personnel arriving on scene at 12pm. The male subject, pronounced deceased at 12:02 pm has been identified as Robin McLaurin Williams, a 63-year- old resident of unincorporated Tiburon, California.”

It continued: “An investigation into the cause, manner, and circumstances of the death is currently under way by the investigations and coroner divisions of the sheriff’s office. Preliminary information developed during the investigation indicates Mr Williams was last seen alive at his residence, where he resides with his wife, at approximately 10pm on August 10, 2014.”
The statement said the coroner suspected the death to be a suicide due to asphyxia and that a comprehensive investigation would be completed before a final determination was made. “A forensic examination is currently scheduled for August 12, 2014 with subsequent toxicology testing to be conducted.”
The actor had openly talked about his battles with alcohol and cocaine in the early 1980s, his years of sobriety, and relapse in 2006. He appeared to have recovered but last month he returned to rehab – the Hazelden Addiction Treatment Center near Lindstrom, Minnesota.
His representative played down the news at the time, telling TMZ: “After working back-to-back projects, Robin is simply taking the opportunity to fine-tune and focus on his continued commitment, of which he remains extremely proud.”
Mara Wilson, who acted with Williams in Mrs Doubtfire, has become a prolific writer and user of social media in adulthood. She wrote: “”Very sad, very upset, very glad I did not have to hear about this though Twitter. Probably going to be taking some time off it for a while.”

Friday, August 8, 2014


The great movie guru Bruce Kogan is back for another insightful review...

As I write this review we are fortunate to have all three stars from Young Man With a Horn still with us. All three of them give magnificent performances. Too bad the story was such a cop out.

The novel that this is based on has the character of Rick Martin die in the end just like Bix Beiderbecke on whom he was based does at the tender age of 28. It would have been so much more powerful and more effective had the film had that ending. It's such a let down after a great trio of players give their all.

Doris Day gets to sing three great standards, With A Song In My Heart, The Very Thought of You and Too Marvelous for Words. I believe this is the first film in which she shows real dramatic potential as the band vocalist in love with the cornetist who can't find inner peace.

Kirk Douglas is in a role that could have been written just for him on the screen. I can't imagine anyone doing it better. It's just his kind of part, all the rage inside him because of the lousy childhood and unable to articulate it except through his horn. His heights and his downfall are believable and real, but no one could have made the audience accept the tacked on happy ending.

Lauren Bacall was a friend of Kirk Douglas's from New York when they were both struggling drama students. She encouraged him to come to Hollywood after she made it big. This is their only film together. 

It's also the first time she played a bad girl. She's a self indulgent heiress who looks at life as a series of kicks to be had. She makes Douglas fall for her big time and then treats him shabbily when they're married. This is one of the earliest examples of lesbianism portrayed on the screen. She leaves him to go off to Europe with a woman who she met in school and check out the glances Bacall gives her new flame.

I don't think Bacall is a lesbian however. To her an affair with a female is just another thing to indulge herself with. My guess is when the novelty wears off, this woman will get the Douglas treatment.

To give it a real jazz flavor Young Man With a Horn also features Hoagy Carmichael who knew Bix Beiderbecke in real life and it is he who narrates the story from his perspective. Look also for good performances by Jerome Cowan as a character based on Paul Whiteman and Juano Hernandez as the jazz cornetist who teaches young Rick Martin as played by Orley Lindgren to play. Hernandez's character is based on a lot of people, most probably King Oliver is the closest model.

Young Man in a Horn is a stand up double of a film. It would have been an exciting in the park home run if they had kept the ending as is.


Wednesday, August 6, 2014


One of the true great movie personalities was Robert Mitchum. He never seemed to have put in a bad performance. I am surprised I haven’t profiled him more on my blog. Mitchum was born on this day – 97 years ago! Mitchum was born in Bridgeport, Connecticut into a Methodist family on August 6, 1917. His mother, Ann Harriet Mitchum (née Gunderson), was a Norwegian immigrant and sea captain's daughter, and his father, James Thomas Mitchum, was of Scots-Ulster descent and was a shipyard and railroad worker. A sister, Annette, (known as Julie Mitchum during her acting career) was born in 1914. James Mitchum was crushed to death in a railyard accident in Charleston, South Carolina, in February 1919, when his son was less than two years old.

After his father's death, his mother was awarded a government pension, and soon realized she was pregnant. She returned to her family in Connecticut, and married a former Royal Naval Reserve officer, Lieutenant Hugh Cunningham Morris RNVR, who helped her care for the children. In September 1919 a second son, John, was born. Ann and the Major also had a daughter, Carol Morris, who was born July 1927 on the family farm in Delaware. When all of the children were old enough to attend school, Ann found employment as a linotype operator for the Bridgeport Post.

Throughout Mitchum's childhood, he was known as a prankster, often involved in fistfights and mischief. When he was 12, his mother sent Mitchum to live with his grandparents in Felton, Delaware, where he was promptly expelled from his middle school for scuffling with a principal. A year later, in 1930, he moved in with his older sister, in New York's Hell's Kitchen. After being expelled from Haaran High School, he left his sister and traveled throughout the country on railroad cars, taking a number of jobs including ditch-digging for the Civilian Conservation Corps and professional boxing. He experienced numerous adventures during his years as one of the Depression era's "wild boys of the road." At age 14 in Savannah, Georgia, he was arrested for vagrancy and put on a local chain gang. By Mitchum's own account, he escaped and returned to his family in Delaware. It was during this time, while recovering from injuries that nearly cost him a leg, that he met the woman he would marry, a teenaged Dorothy Spence. He soon went back on the road, eventually riding the rails to California.

Mitchum arrived in Long Beach, California, in 1936, staying again with his sister Julie. Soon the rest of the Mitchum family joined them in Long Beach. During this time he worked as a ghostwriter for astrologer Carroll Righter. It was sister Julie who convinced him to join the local theater guild with her. In his years with the Players Guild of Long Beach, he made a living as a stagehand and occasional bit-player in company productions. He also wrote several short pieces which were performed by the guild. A nervous breakdown (which resulted in temporary blindness), apparently from job-related stress, led Mitchum to look for work as an actor or extra in movies. An agent he had met got him an interview with the producer of the Hopalong Cassidy series of B-westerns; he was hired to play the villain in several films in the series during 1942 and 1943. He continued to find further work as an extra and supporting actor in numerous productions for various studios. After impressing director Mervyn LeRoy during the making of Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo, Mitchum signed a seven-year contract with RKO Radio Pictures. He found himself groomed for B Western stardom in a series of Zane Grey adaptations.

Following the moderately successful western Nevada, Mitchum was lent from RKO to United Artists for the William Wellman-helmed The Story of G.I. Joe. In the film, he portrayed war-weary officer Bill Walker (based on Captain Henry T. Waskow), who remains resolute despite the troubles he faces. The film, which followed the life of an ordinary soldier through the eyes of journalist Ernie Pyle (played by Burgess Meredith), became an instant critical and commercial success. Shortly after making the film, Mitchum himself was drafted into the U.S. Army, serving at Fort MacArthur, California. At the 1946 Academy Awards, The Story of G.I. Joe was nominated for four Oscars, including Mitchum's only nomination for Best Supporting Actor. He finished the year off with a western (West of the Pecos) and a story of returning Marine veterans (Till the End of Time), before filming in a genre that came to define Mitchum's career and screen persona: film noir…

Saturday, August 2, 2014


Entertainer Eddie Cantor never made as many movie musicals as Bing Crosby or Fred Astaire did, but in the films he made during his short movie career, Cantor introduced a lot of songs and had some great musical moments on film. Eddie made a couple silent movies and a few early talkie shorts before sound really hit it big in movies.

Cantor’s first movie musical was the film adaptation of his Flo Ziegfeld hit Whoopee in 1930. The movie was pretty much just a filming of the Broadway show with little changes. The score was written by Gus Kahn and Walter Donaldson, and it featured Cantor introducing such American song classics as “Makin’ Whoopee” and “My Baby Just Cares for Me”. Not only did this movie give birth to Eddie Cantor’s movie career, but it was also the first movie choreographed by legendary director Busby Berkeley.

Cantor followed that major movie debut with Palmy Days in 1931. Busby Berkeley again directed this musical comedy, but unlike Whoopee, there were not too many songs in the movie. Like his character in his debut movie, Eddie was playing a meek and timid little man, who gets the girl amazingly in the end. There are two songs of note in this film, but they are hardly remembered today. Cantor sang “There’s Nothing Too Good for My Baby” (in blackface) and followed it up with “Yes, Yes”. Like many of Cantor’s films it is not available on DVD, but it should be. He was now making movies exclusively for Samuel Goldwyn, and his next two movies were basically the same. The Kid From Spain (1932) featured Eddie as a timid bullfighter alongside a very young Robert Young. The only noteworthy song was “Look What You’ve Done”. Next up was Roman Scandals (1933) seeing Cantor transformed to Roman times. I really like the score for this film, even though it is pretty much forgotten today. Eddie sings an optimistic Great Depression song “Build A Little Home” when a whole neighborhood is evicted, and he sings “Keep Young and Beautiful” in blackface to a room full of Roman slave girls. Torch singer Ruth Etting also was added to the film, but only appears in one number “No More Love”. It was probably the best moment from the film.

Probably Eddie’s crowning achievement among those 1930s musicals was Kid Millions in 1934. It was a pretty lavish musical by Sam Goldwyn standards. Alongside Eddie was George Murphy, Ann Southern, Ethel Merman, and The Nicholas Brothers. Cantor gets to sing another optimistic number called “When My Ship Comes In”, as well as his normal vaudeville style number “Okay Toots”. However, Cantor introduced the great Irving Berlin song “Mandy” in a blackface number with The Nicholas Brothers. It is a shame that Eddie did not get to introduce more numbers like that in film.

Cantor would make one more musical for Samuel Goldwin, but unfortunately it was the 1936 bomb Strike Me Pink with Ethel Merman. The film I believe was one of Cantor’s worst, and he knew it. He made the movie because he owed Goldwyn one movie before his contract was over. By the late 1930s, Eddie was concentrating on his radio career more than movies. He rounded out the decade making two more forgettable movies: Ali Baba Goes to Town (1937) and Forty Little Mothers (1940) before devoted himself to his radio and charity work.

Eddie Cantor would only make three movies in the 1940s, but they are worth mentioning. He starred in the all-star Warner Brother’s war musical Thank Your Lucky Stars in 1943. Even though Eddie was the star of the film, playing two roles, he only sang one song – “Having a Patriotic Time”. The movie was more of a draw to see some non-singers sing like Bette Davis, Ann Sheridan, and John Garfield. It’s a dated movie by today’s standards, but it is a fun movie to watch. Cantor then moved on to RKO for his last two starring musicals. The film Show Business (1944) is semi-based on Cantor’s life. He performs song great songs that he never recorded like “The Curse of an Aching Heart” and “I Want a Girl”; while he performed some of his vintage numbers from his song book like “I Don’t Want To Get Well” and “Dinah”. The movie paired him with comedian Joan Davis, and reteamed him with George Murphy. Cantor’s third movie of the 1940s was If You Knew Susie in 1948. It was based on Eddie’s 1925 song of the same name. He was reteamed with Joan Davis in the film and despite the cute song “My How the Time Goes By”; the film is pretty much forgettable. Eddie looked tired in the film, and it would be his last starring movie role.

Eddie made cameos in movies like Hollywood Canteen (1945), The Story of Will Rogers (1952), and The Eddie Cantor Story (1953), but health issues and the change in the American movie musical prevented Cantor from ever venturing back into a starring role in movies. Even though today Eddie is lumped in with Al Jolson when talking about dated movies, Cantor’s movies are all worth watching. Unlike Jolson, Cantor did not come off like a ham in his movies. He seemed genuine and warm, which was exactly how Eddie Cantor was in real life. Sure, his movies may be dated, but if you watch Eddie introducing “Makin Whoopee” or singing “If You Knew Susie” to his screen wife Joan Davis, you will be transformed to another time in movie history. Eddie Cantor in his films does make your troubles disappear at least for the short 90 minutes of screen time…