The Music Man (1962)

The Music Man
Directed by Morton Da Costa
Written by Marion Hargrove and Franklin Lacey based on the musical comedy by Meredith Wilson
1962/USA
Warner Bros.
Repeat viewing/Netflix rental

Harold Hill: I always think there’s a band, kid.

Revisiting this long-time favorite was a joy from the first minute to the last.

Traveling salesman “Professor” Harold Hill (Robert Preston) has left ahead of the tar-and-feather brigade so often that he become the bane of others in the profession.  His gimmick is selling the items to outfit a boys’ band – instruments and uniforms – on the basis that he will teach the kids how to play.  Hill cannot read a note of music and relies on something called the “think system” until the uniforms arrive and he can quickly skip town.

Both the mayor (Paul Ford) of his latest target – River City, Iowa – and the local piano teacher and librarian Marian Paroo (Shirley Jones) are skeptical.  Hill successfully dodges their efforts to make him present his credentials.

Hill is quite a gifted salesman and brings River City excitement that it has never known.  He gets more than he bargained for from his attempts to sweet talk the frosty Marian.  With Hermoine Guingold as the mayor’s wife, Buddy Hackett as Hill’s buddy, Pert Kelton as Marian’s mother and Ronny Howard as her little brother.

I had seen the movie several times before I was in the play in junior college.  The soundtrack was also in frequent rotation at home.  The musical was a huge hit on Broadway and the filmmakers didn’t mess with success, resulting in a certain staginess. Whatever – it makes me completely happy.  Most of the players expertly repeat their Broadway roles.  Preston is amazing.  Warmly recommended to musical lovers.

The Music Man won the Oscar for Best Music, Scoring of a Musical Picture.  It was nominated for Best Picture; Best Art Direction-Set Decoration, Color; Best Costume Design, Color; Best Film Editing; and Best Sound.

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I am going to Las Vegas for a wedding.  Will return August 4.

Clip

1962

In 1962:

36-year-old sex symbol Marilyn Monroe was discovered dead in her Brentwood bungalow of an apparent drug overdose, a death the coroner ruled as “a probable suicide.” Speculations arose over her associations with President John F. Kennedy and his brother. Director Michael Curtiz died at age 75.

Universal was purchased by talent agency MCA. Later that year, Congress prohibited studios from operating their own talent agencies.  After producing independent films for six years (mostly in Europe), former Fox studio VP Darryl Zanuck took over financially-troubled 20th Century Fox (at the time of the making of the expensive flop Cleopatra (1963)).

During the filming of Cleopatra (1963), in April of 1962, Pope John XXIII issued a denouncement of the rumored illicit affair between its two main stars, then-married Elizabeth Taylor and future husband Richard Burton.  Taylor was accused of “erotic vagrancy”(!) by the Vatican. The two married in 1964 after divorcing their spouses.

Marlon Brando was paid $1.25 million for his role in MGM’s flop Mutiny on the Bounty (1962) as Fletcher Christian.  He was the first actor to break the $1 million threshold.

Sixteen-year-old Patty Duke became the first minor to win a competitive award when she won the Best Supporting Actress Oscar for her performance as Helen Keller in The Miracle Worker.

The Bay of Pigs Fiasco ended when 1,113 prisoners taken during the attempted invasion were exchanged for $53 million in food and medicine.  The Cuban missile crisis occupied the attention of the world in October and November and was finally resolved when the USSR removed the ICBM’s located there on November 20th.  (I clearly remember my elementary school teacher telling us that we might be bombed soon!)

John Glenn became the first American to orbit the Earth.  James Meredith became the first African-American student to enroll at the University of Mississippi.  President Kennedy proposed a “Consumer Bill of Rights”.

The Edge of Sadness by Edwin O’Connor won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction.  How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying by Frank Loesser and Abe Burrows won for Drama.  The instrumental “Stranger on the Shore” headed the Billboard Hot 100, despite spending only one week atop the charts.  “I Can’t Stop Loving You” by Ray Charles and “Sherry” by the Four Season tied for most weeks at number one, with five weeks each.  Pope John XXIII was Time Magazine’s Man of the Year.

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1962 looks like it will be one of the better years in cinema.  The films I will select from can be found here.

Montage of Photos from Oscar Winners

Montage of photos from major Oscar Nominees

Werewolf in a Girls Dormitory (1961)

Werewolf in a Girls Dormitory (Lycanthropus)
Directed by Paolo Heusch
Written by Ernesto Gastaldi
1961/Italy/Austria
Royal Film
First viewing/Amazon Instant

“What would a racist call werewolves? Wargs? She kind of liked that one, but suspected that racist bastards didn’t read Tolkien.” ― Patricia Briggs, Fair Game

This Italian/Austrian production doesn’t live up to its awesome American title and poster.

The story is set in a reformatory for wayward girls.  Some of the girls are still up to their old tricks, including blackmail and prostitution.  The girls and staff start to be savagely attacked.  These are at first attributed to a wolf but it soon becomes evident that it is a wolf man.  There are several likely suspects.

AKA – though there’s not a wedding in sight

This is more a mystery than a thriller.  The werewolf does not reveal himself until near the end and his transformations are less than inspiring.  More for those interested in some pretty girls (the heroine) than in gore.

Clip – American theme song and opening

Dr. Blood’s Coffin (1961)

Dr. Blood’s Coffin
Directed by Sidney J. Furie
Written by Nathan Juran; adapted by James Kelly and Peter Miller
1961/UK
Caralan Productions
First viewing/Netflix rental

“Beware; for I am fearless, and therefore powerful.” ― Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley, Frankenstein

This gory twist on the Frankenstein story doesn’t quite deliver the thrills it should.

Dr. Peter Blood (Kieron Moore) is a frustrated man.  Small-minded professors in Vienna refuse to let him experiment on human subjects.  He returns to his native village in England and the home of his physician father in hopes that he will be left alone.  He is foiled at every turn but not before one last, successful, attempt at reanimation.  With Ian Hunter as his father and Hazel Court as the love interest.

Moore seems too much like a romantic lead to be very convincing as a mad scientist. There’s lots of filler between the blood and guts sequences and those don’t add up to much in the end, anyway.  Missable.

Trailer

Gorgo (1961)

Gorgo
Directed by Eugene Lourie
Written by Robert L. Richards and Daniel James
1961/UK
King Brothers Production
First viewing/Amazon Instant

Joe Ryan: What the hell’s the matter with you? This is the twentieth century. There must be some way of handling an overgrown animal!

If you are in the mood to smile at a ridiculous monster and some bad special effects, this British Godzilla/King Kong rip-off could be just the ticket.

A couple greedy skin divers are searching for treasure off the coast of Ireland.  The area has been declared off limits by an equally greedy harbor master.  Finally the loss of several boats to a mysterious force convinces the harbor master to allow the divers’ boat to come to the rescue.  They manage to capture the culprit, a 20-foot tall creature.

An Irish boy, the lone voice of reason in the film, urges the divers to leave the monster in the sea.  However, they see marketing potential and take it live to London for exhibition. When will humankind ever learn?  Soon enough the creature’s mama, who is 200 feet tall, arrives to save her baby, threatening the total annihilation of London in the process.

Gorgo’s monster follows in the Japanese man-in-a-rubber suit tradition.  Unfortunately, Gorgo is no Godzilla.  The combination of the monster’s face and the sub-par miniature work makes his workings all too obvious.  On the other hand, Gorgo’s very ludicrousness gives the movie its goofy charm.  Recommended to afficionados of this kind of thing.

Trailer – the picture and color were much better on Amazon Instant

Creature from the Haunted Sea (1961)

Creature from the Haunted Sea
Directed by Roger Corman
Written by Charles B. Griffith
1961/USA
Roger Corman Productions
First viewing/Amazon Instant

Sparks Moran: [narrating] It was dusk. I could tell ’cause the sun was going down.

The “unspeakable secret” is that the creature is a badly executed muppet.

The Bay of Pigs was apparently on Corman’s mind.  A gangster, his moll, and his gang transport a group of Cubans and stolen loot from the Cuban treasury to the US for use by counter-revolutionalry forces. Among the gang is an American spy. The gangster’s plan is to bump off his passengers and steal the money. The gangster invents a sea creature as the cause of the mysterious disappearances.  Little does he know that there really is a monster.

The film feels a lot like a spoof of James Bond movies a year before they even existed. The monster is ridiculous but some of the dialogue is pretty funny.

Corman had an extra couple of days while shooting The Last Woman on Earth in Puerto Rico so he commissioned a script that could use the same cast.  The rush job and ultra-low budget certainly show.

Joe Dante – Trailers from Hell

Bloodlust! (1961)

Bloodlust!
Directed by Ralph Brooke
Written by Ralph Brooke based on the story “The Most Dangerous Game” by Richard Connell
1961/USA
cinegrafik
First viewing/Amazon Prime

Dean Gerrard: I can’t go on forever pretending to be a useless drunk.

Do yourself a big favor and watch the original 1932 The Most Dangerous Game instead of this low-budget rip-off.

It is 1961 and therefore the heroes and heroines of this tale must be teenagers (played by actors in their twenties).  They are out on a yachting trip and spot a mysterious island. When the captain of the vessel passes out, they decide to take the boat in and explore. They meet crazy island owner Dr. Albert Balleau.  His hobby is hunting … humans.

The best thing about this movie is that it is only 68 minutes long.  It’s not campy enough to tickle my fancy.  Also, it does not feature Joel McCrea with his shirt off like the original version.

Trailer

The Parent Trap (1961)

The Parent Trap
Directed by David Swift
Written by David Swift from a book by Erich Kastner
1961/USA
Walt Disney Productions
Repeat viewing/Netflix rental

Sharon McKendrick:  Watch out for snakes!

I hadn’t seen this since childhood and had forgotten a lot.  Haley Mills is fantastic as usual.

Identical twins Susan Evers and Sharon McKendrick (both played by Mills) have been separated since infancy when their parents divorced.  Susan has lived in California with her father Mitch (Brian Keith) and Sharon in Boston with mother Maggie (Maureen O’Hara).

They meet at summer camp and get off to a very rocky start.  When they discover they are sisters, however, their greatest desire is to meet the parents they have been denied and to reunite the family.  They decide the easiest way to get their first wish is to switch places when they go home.

Susan and Sharon are surprisingly convincing at imitating each other.  Maggie even seems amenable to their plan.  The great sticking point is Mitch who is about to marry a gold-digging young blonde bimbo named Vicky (Joanna Barnes).   Sharon, Susan and Maggie all hate the two-faced Vicky.

The entire family eventually assembles at Mitch’s house, where wedding plans are underway.  The rest of the story deals with the the ladies’ plot to oust Vicky.  With Charles Ruggles as the girls’ grandfather, Catherine Nesbitt as their grandmother, Una Merkle as Mitch’s housekeeper and Leo G. Carroll as a sympathetic preacher.

This was a pleasant trip down memory lane.  With this cast it was almost bound to be enjoyable.  My favorite parts were the scenes with Vicky.  These Disney films are also good for catching beloved character actors from the 30’s and 40’s.

When did Hollywood decide that Bostonians speak with British accents?  It was a tradition that lasted since the first talkies.  Mills does pretty well with her American accent as Susan.

The Parent Trap was nominated for Academy Awards for Best Sound and Best Film Editing.

Mills and Mills sing “Let’s Get Together”

Too Late Blues (1961)

Too Late Blues
Directed by John Cassavettes
Written by Richard Carr and John Cassavettes
1961/USA
Paramount Pictures
First viewing/Netflix rental

 

People all over the world have problems. And as long as people have problems, the blues can never die. B. B. King

I love John Cassavettes. This early studio film shows a lot of promise but is let down by its script.

John “Ghost” Wakefield (Bobby Darin) is a jazz musician who marches to a different drummer.  He refuses to play or allow his band to play any music he does not deem worthy.  He adopts Jess Polanski (Stella Stevens), a messed-up singer with a very eccentric style and eventually falls in love with her and takes her away from her boyfriend, who happens to be his agent.

Eventually, Ghost’s refusal to do anything that might potentially earn money drives away his band.  The agent already hates him.  Then Ghost splits up with Jess who slides deeper into despair.  With Seymour Cassels as one of the band members.

On the positive side, the look of the film is wonderful and there are some improvisational-feeling group scenes in the beginning that are classic Cassavettes.  By the second act, however, the story lost me.  I still don’t know exactly why Ghost found the need to break up with Jess.  It ended up being a decidedly mixed experience.

Trailer

Greyfriars Bobby: The True Story of a Dog (1961)

Greyfriars Bobby: The True Story of a Dog
Directed by Don Chaffey
Written by Robert Westerby; story by Eleanor Atkinson
1961/USA
Walt Disney Productions
First viewing/Netflix rental

“I heard of Bobby first early in the winter, from a Bible-reader at the Medical Mission in the Cowgate, who saw the little dog’s master buried. He sees many strange, sad things in his work, but nothing ever shocked him so as the lonely death of that pious old shepherd in such a picturesque den of vice and misery.” “Ay,” ― Eleanor Atkinson, Greyfriars Bobby

This wholesome story of a dog’s devotion is for the whole family.

As the story starts, Auld Jock is ending his 60 year’s working as a shepherd.  The Farmer (Gordon Jackson) says he is forced to let him go, despite his chronic cough and advanced years.  Jock gives his sheepdog Bobby, a Skye Terrier, to the little girl of the family.  The farmer and Jock depart for Edinburgh and Bobby manages to escape and keep up with them for the 20-mile journey.

The Farmer leaves the shepherd off with nary a penny to scrape together.  Fortunately, he has been coming to the same market for many years and people reach out to help him.  He accepts a free meal but adamantly refuses to go to the infirmary about his cough.  At night, he resorts to an inn of very low repute for a bed.  By morning he has died of pneumonia.

The pub owner that fed Jock finds out about this and buries the illiterate Jock in Greyfriars churchyard, where Edinburgh’s elite have been interred for centuries.  The rest of the story follows Bobby’s persistence in spending each night atop his Master’s grave for the next fourteen years, despite many efforts to remove him.  With Donald Crisp as the caretaker of the churchyard.

If you are looking for something sweet, funny, and sentimental, this could be just the ticket. It went down well with me.

What a career Donald Crisp had!  He appeared in his first film in 1908.  My earliest memory of him was his scary performance as Battlin’ Butler in D.W. Griffith’s Broken Blossoms.  All these years later he is still rock solid.

 

Trailer