Thursday, September 30, 2021

Academy Museum Charter Member Preview, Part 2

The Academy Museum opened today, September 30, 2021.

On Monday I took a Charter Member Preview Tour. My critique of the museum, including numerous photos, was posted Tuesday in Part 1.

In this Part 2 post I'll be sharing photos of some of the interesting things we saw. Part 3, coming soon, will focus on animation exhibits.

Spoiler alert: Anyone who hasn't yet seen CITIZEN KANE (1941) and doesn't want to know the meaning of "Rosebud" should skip over this post and come back to it after seeing the movie. Rosebud was on display and is seen in a photograph towards the bottom of this post.

Along with the Mount Rushmore backdrop for NORTH BY NORTHWEST (1959), I think my favorite thing in the museum was this Travis Banton gown worn by Claudette Colbert in CLEOPATRA (1934). The design is stunning, and it was fascinating to be able to look at the details up close. Click on this or any photo to enlarge for a closer look.

This dress was worn by Shirley Temple in LITTLE MISS BROADWAY (1938). It was designed by Gwen Wakeling.

William Travilla gowns worn by Jane Russell and Marilyn Monroe in GENTLEMEN PREFER BLONDES (1953).

The pinafore worn by Judy Garland in THE WIZARD OF OZ (1939). The display card indicates that the blouse is not original to the film.

The purchase of this pair of the famous Ruby Slippers was funded in part by Steven Spielberg.

A munchkin's costume. That's a makeup test for Gale Sondergaard as the Wicked Witch on the wall in the background. The role was eventually played by Margaret Hamilton.

THE WIZARD OF OZ display presented a comprehensive look at the workings of a studio and the contributions of various departments to make a single film. I thought it was one of the best exhibits in the museum.

Costume tests of a variety of actors from different productions.

A costume worn by Danai Gurira in BLACK PANTHER (2018)

I'm sure R2-D2 and C-3PO don't need an introduction!

There were originally three "Rosebud" sleds built for CITIZEN KANE (1941). Two were burned shooting two different takes. The lone survivor, below, as purchased by Steven Spielberg.

Pages of the CITIZEN KANE script...

...along with a set of lenses used by the great cinematographer Gregg Toland:

Steven Spielberg's influence is felt throughout the museum, in terms of both his movies and film artifacts he acquired, as well as the ground floor Spielberg Family Gallery. This version of "Bruce," the shark from JAWS (1974), was created from the original mould.

There are several Oscars on display; I especially enjoyed seeing Clark Gable's from IT HAPPENED ONE NIGHT (1934).

The third and final post on my tour of the museum is coming soon!

Tuesday, September 28, 2021

Academy Museum Charter Member Preview, Part 1

Monday, September 27th, I took a long-awaited Charter Member Preview Tour of the new Academy Museum.

I never dreamed when I became a museum member two and a half years ago that it would take so long for the museum to open, but a combination of construction delays and COVID pushed back the opening significantly. The museum will formally open its doors to the public on September 30, 2021.

The museum, which will be open 365 days a year, is located on Wilshire Boulevard in Los Angeles, in the former May Company Building. The building was originally constructed in 1938-39 and first opened in 1939.

There's a nice display of vintage photographs of the building inside the museum, including this great shot of Judy Garland outside the store.

I've spent considerable time thinking about the museum since my visit yesterday, trying to organize my thoughts. I had a very enjoyable morning, saw many interesting things, and look forward to returning in the future.

At the same time, I found the museum to be filled with contradictions, as well as quite unfocused.

In this post I'll present an overview and some of my thoughts, as well as a peek at the first exhibit I saw yesterday. In two subsequent posts I'll share photos of many of the interesting things on display.

The contradictions begin with the style of the museum building itself. The front of the museum has a lovely Art Deco design, but the back of the building is much more stark, including utilitarian-looking staircases and bridges.

The interiors are also quite plain. The concrete flooring and exposed ceilings and ductwork reminded me strongly of London's Tate Modern museum, which I visited in 2009. I wish the designers had gone with an Art Deco theme in keeping with the front of the building, but no one asked me!

I'll note here that we could not visit the Dolby Family Terrace and see its view of the Hollywood sign due to preparations underway for the grand opening. I'll check that out on a return visit.

Another contradiction was the choice to name the museum restaurant Fanny's, in honor of Fanny Brice. While Brice did appear in a small handful of films, her movie connections strike me as nebulous, at best. Out of all the potential film-related options, what an odd name choice for a movie museum.

The museum website says the restaurant was created with "support from philanthropist Wendy Stark." Stark is Brice's granddaughter, so it would seem that, as is often the case, money talks when it comes to naming things.

The museum store is described in the member magazine I recently received as carrying "the most comprehensive collection of cinema books and catalogues in Los Angeles."

I thus had high anticipation to visit the store, only to find the description was...not accurate. Has the writer of that puffery ever been to Larry Edmunds Bookshop or even the shop at the Hollywood Heritage Museum? Goals. Perhaps it will be better stocked in the future.

No one will be surprised in this day and age that there is a great deal of what is often termed "politically correct" commentary throughout the museum, to the point of even noting on the museum map which Indian tribe used to be settled in the area. For me it went past "thoughtful" to "excessive."

The desire to put everything in deep context led to a "kitchen sink" attitude which reminded me for all the world of the Barbara Stanwyck biography a few years ago which was massive in large part because of all the extraneous details included.

For instance, the feelings of Native Americans regarding Mount Rushmore may be an interesting issue in other contexts, but is the topic truly germane to a discussion of Hitchcock's NORTH BY NORTHWEST (1959) in a museum exhibit?

It was definitely clear that the museum was attempting to tell the story of Hollywood in a "different" way, including heavy attention focused on women and minorities. One can sympathize with a desire to shine a light on previously underrecognized talents while at the same time acknowledging that the museum is deliberately ignoring significant actual history simply because it doesn't fit the zeitgeist of the moment.

One will find exhibits on Spike Lee, Bruce Lee, or Pedro Almodovar, but there was a very obvious absence of discussion of the original titans of the industry; names like Warner, Mayer, Cohn, Laemmle, Zanuck, Goldwyn, and so on might be hiding in the corners here and there, but there was zero focus on their history.

For that matter, the studio system was referred to only tangentially; for example, THE WIZARD OF OZ (1939) exhibit offers a comprehensive look at the contributions of different studio departments to the final film.

Given this, I was also surprised by the lost opportunities to focus on women: What of the early female pioneers -- Mary Pickford, Frances Marion, Lois Weber? Or the numerous female artists, including Mary Blair, who worked for Walt Disney?

Future exhibits may, of course, cover some of this, but the absence on opening day seemed to make quite the statement. Some will agree with it; others will not.

I liked my husband's idea for how he would have organized the museum, built around the different jobs and departments at a studio, with constantly rotating exhibits on everything from producers to sound recording to sets and so on. That would certainly be more orderly than the current hodgepodge of disconnected displays. The exhibits which worked best were on animation, because there was a strong overarching theme.

Now, after the above critique one might think I didn't enjoy the museum, and I definitely did. How could a classic film fan not feel a thrill to walk in the room housing the giant Mount Rushmore backdrop from NORTH BY NORTHWEST?

The exhibit included other memorabilia, including a page of Eva Marie Saint's script...

...and storyboards for the Mount Rushmore chase scene.

The design of the room was top-drawer including a paint job calling to mind the film's memorable opening credits sequence. It makes a great photo backdrop for visitors!

It's also possible to view the mural from a higher level:

This was simply an outstanding presentation and a great way to begin our tour.

Coming in Part 2, a look at some famous costumes (Ruby Slippers!), "Rosebud," and more. Part 3 will focus on the large animation exhibit. In addition to the exhibit which is mainly focused on Warner Bros. and Disney animation, there is also a marvelous Hayao Miyazaki temporary exhibit which does not allow photography.

Sunday, September 26, 2021

Tonight's Movie: Alias Nick Beal (1949) - A Kino Lorber Blu-ray Review

In 2014 I had the pleasure of seeing ALIAS NICK BEAL (1949) for the first time at the Noir City Film Festival in Hollywood.

The movie was shown in a 35mm print -- with costar Audrey Totter's daughter and granddaughter in the audience, for good measure.

Remarkably, this excellent Paramount Pictures film never had a U.S. DVD or VHS release. That's now changed thanks to Kino Lorber, which recently released the film on both Blu-ray and DVD as part of the Kino Lorber Studio Classics line.

Ray Milland gives what I consider an Oscar-worthy performance as the mysterious, creepy Nick Beal, which as the film's title implies, is an alias. Beal's true identity gradually becomes apparent as a tale of good versus evil unfolds.

Beal tempts Joseph Foster (Thomas Mitchell), an honest district attorney being considered to run for governor, by making it possible for Foster to do good things, albeit in unethical ways. Foster initially cooperates with Beal, somewhat against his better judgment, but it's a short hop from the corners Beal cuts to darker things; the more Beal "helps" Foster's career, the more he demands in return.

Beal also entices the down-and-out Donna (Totter) to tempt Foster off the straight and narrow. Donna is quicker than Foster to realize just who Beal might be and becomes utterly terrified. Eventually both Donna and Foster must decide whether to attempt exorcising Beal from their lives...but how?

One of the film's great pleasures is George Macready, who so often played smooth-talking Nick Beal types himself, as a minister who offers wise counsel to Foster. Whenever the minister shows up, Beal keeps his back to him as long as he can, an interesting hint as to Beal's true nature. For his part, the minister feels as though he's seen Beal somewhere before...

Milland is downright unnerving as cold-eyed, smooth-talking Beal, whose unexpected comings and goings are unseen by many. I find Milland quite remarkable in the role; for instance, look at his eyes when he's angered. As I watched this time, I found myself musing whether it was at all stressful spending weeks playing a character that evil, or if an actor like Milland would simply find it an interesting assignment.

Totter is superb as the woman Beal finds at a waterfront dive and lavishes with sapphires, silk, and sable. Once she realizes who she's dealing with, untangling herself will be more challenging than she realizes.

Mitchell can always be counted on for a sure-footed performance, though as I noted in my earlier review of the film, he is clearly several years older than his character is said to be. There's no reason the character couldn't have been older so it was an odd choice to claim Foster was in his 40s. Geraldine Wall plays Foster's longsuffering wife.

The cast is filled with many familiar faces in smaller roles including Henry O'Neill as a judge; Fred Clark as a corrupt politician; Darryl Hickman as a troubled young boy Foster attempts to reform; King Donovan as Foster's aide; Elaine Riley handling the phone on election night; Bess Flowers listening to Foster's speech; and Douglas Spencer as a man who attempts to blackmail Foster.

This 93-minute movie was perfectly directed by John Farrow, who also directed Milland's excellent film THE BIG CLOCK (1948). Lionel Lindon filmed the movie in black and white. The outstanding screenplay was by Jonathan Latimer, from a story by Mindret Lord.

The Kino Lorber Blu-ray print is outstanding, with equally excellent sound.

Disc extras include the trailer; seven additional trailers for film noir and Ray Milland titles available from Kino Lorber; and best of all, a commentary track by Eddie Muller.

Highly recommended.

Thanks to Kino Lorber for providing a review copy of this Blu-ray.

Tonight's Movie: Lucky Partners (1940) - A Warner Archive DVD Review

Ginger Rogers and Ronald Colman play the title roles in LUCKY PARTNERS (1940), available on DVD from the Warner Archive.

LUCKY PARTNERS was first released by the Warner Archive a decade ago but remains easily available since Warner Archive DVDs are manufactured on demand (MOD).

Ginger Rogers has always been one of my favorite actresses, but there are still a number of her films I haven't seen. LUCKY PARTNERS is a title I can now cross off my list thanks to watching this Warner Archive release.

Ginger plays Jean Newton, who works in a book rental library with her aunt (Spring Byington, who would play Ginger's aunt again in 1944's I'LL BE SEEING YOU).

One morning David Grant (Colman) is walking down the street and wishes Jean good luck, and almost immediately someone improbably gifts her with a gorgeous gown.

Jean later finds David again and suggests that since he brought her such good luck, they should go in together buying a sweepstakes ticket.

Jean's fiance Freddie (Jack Carson) sells Jean's half of the ticket before it's known whether it's going to pay off; that nets Jean and David $6000, while the ticket itself is not a winner.

It's a very long story, but Jean and David end up going on a platonic "honeymoon" trip, with Freddie trailing along to make sure there's no funny business.

No one will be surprised to learn that Freddie is ultimately disappointed, as Jean and David fall in love...but is David who he says he is?!

LUCKY PARTNERS was a fairly enjoyable 99 minutes thanks to the cast, which also includes Harry Davenport as an exasperated judge who's charmed by Jean.

The screenplay by John van Druten and Allan Scott, based on a story by Sacha Guitry, is no great shakes, but there's enough there to hold the interest, as played by the fine actors. Their presence alone lifts a modestly entertaining film another half star or so, landing it at about a strong 2-1/2 stars in my opinion. The courtroom sequence, ranked on its own terms, gets a 3 from me.

There's not much substance to Colman's enigmatic David, a painter, but the twinkle in Colman's eyes counts for a lot. I would have liked to see more romantic spark with Rogers; their relationship is cute and pleasant, but not swoonworthy.

Rogers is adorable as the earnest Jean, especially in the lengthy final courtroom sequence, when she wraps both David and the judge around her little finger. For a working girl, Jean also has a lovely wardrobe, designed by Irene.

Carson is amusing in a "Ralph Bellamy" type role as the other man. In addition to Byington and Davenport, the supporting cast also includes Walter Kingsford, Hugh O'Connell, Leon Belasco, Edward Conrad, Billy Gilbert, Grady Sutton, Edgar Dearing, and Dorothy Adams.

LUCKY PARTNERS was directed by Lewis Milestone and filmed in black and white by Robert De Grasse. The score was composed by Dimitri Tiomkin.

The Warner Archive DVD has some mild imperfections, including a few scratches over the opening credits, but for the most part it's a solid print, with a strong, clear soundtrack. There are no extras on the disc.

Thanks to the Warner Archive for providing a review copy of this DVD. Warner Archive DVDs may be ordered from the Warner Archive Collection Amazon Store or from any online retailers where DVDs are sold.

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