My Movie Alphabet
So how many times have I said that I hate lists in posts? OK. Many. I will never do so again. I ran into Mettel Ray Movie Blog and saw a great blogathon idea that entails creating and commenting on the mother of all lists. And here I am, by choice, facing quite the challenge – a fun one, I might add. The idea is to match every letter of the alphabet with a film, director, actress, actor, etc. that one is particularly fond of.
Before I get going two things, the first of which I hope I don’t regret later – in order to do the list quickly and avoid second-guessing myself I approached this challenge like a “letter association” game so what you see listed are the first that occurred to me in most instances. I always figure if they’re easily accessible in my mind then they must mean something extra special. Thinking long and hard about these would render me unable to come up with a list at all. Although there were a few letters I had a terrible time with. Secondly, I limited myself to classic movie fare, staying consistent with other entries on this blog. Um…there is a third thing…you may notice I cheat quite often. There simply are a few essentials I have to include and did whatever possible to bend the letters as far as possible in order to do my bidding.
So, this is the My Movie Alphabet Blogathon and this is my entry.
A – All Singing! All Dancing!
Gimme an “A” for the real deals! Fred and Ginger, Gene Kelly, Donald O’Connor, Cyd Charisse, Judy Garland, The Nicholas Brothers, Ann Miller, Bing Crosby, Frank Sinatra, Eleanor Powell, Gordon MacRae and on and on.
Yes, this is a slight cheat right off the bat in that I can mention as many of the fabulous, classic talents of the movie musicals I grew up adoring as I want and they’d all be appropriate. An entire alphabet of listing in my first letter. I think that’s pretty damn clever. But I do this to emphasize that these were ALL real. It required no editing of images – shots of dancing feet spliced together to show how great they were – we saw their entire bodies dancing at all times. An entire number in one take. Imagine that today? Their real voices sang those standards. We see what they had to offer. TALENT!
B – Build My Gallows High. My absolute favorite film noir, Jacques Tourneur’s 1947, Out of the Past was released in the U.K. with this title, Build My Gallows High. But I include this entry also because it’s one of my favorite film quotes, deliciously delivered by Robert Mitchum to the film’s femme fatal, played by Jane Greer.
Kathie Moffat: Don’t you see you’ve only me to make deals with now?
Jeff Bailey: Build my gallows high, baby.
C – Classic Close-ups
They just don’t shoot ’em like they used to.
D – The Day the Earth Stood Still
Honoring all science fiction films by way of my absolute favorite. Robert Wise’s, The Day the Earth Stood Still is a timeless classic whose message still resonates today, six decades after it was made. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, this should be required viewing for all world leaders and elected officials. The one film that leaves no doubt that in the realm of higher, evolved life forms earthlings are well behind the curve.
Klaatu: “…we do not pretend to have achieved perfection, but we do have a system, and it works. I came here to give you these facts. It is no concern of ours how you run your own planet, but if you threaten to extend your violence, this Earth of yours will be reduced to a burned-out cinder. Your choice is simple: join us and live in peace, or pursue your present course and face obliteration. We shall be waiting for your answer. The decision rests with you.”
E – Elizabeth Taylor. Not an easy choice but… She grew up in Hollywood. Lived a life of trials, tribulations, glamour and scandal. She was beauty, guts and talent. In a real sense a template for the modern celebrity but with oodles of class and sophistication. What becomes a legend most? This is as much a mention to this great actress as it is for Hollywood and all the lore, backstories and legend that I love. In my lifetime her life was Hollywood personified. She was also a bridge from old Hollywood to modern cause.
F – The Fedora – such a look!
Oh, and I’ll take one of those 40-cent Tom Collins while I swoon!
G – Gone with the Wind
This is not the best film ever made but it is a classic among classics and is an incredible accomplishment for 1939. Hell, even for today, to be honest. Its backstories are fascinating. Its images gorgeous. Its quotes…well, frankly my dear…among the most quoted. Its stars legendary. And having seen it recently on Turner Classic Movies (TCM), it looks outstanding in what I’m assuming is a fairly recent touch-up or restoration for the bluray release. I’ve watched it countless times and will undoubtedly do so countless more.
Directed by Victor Fleming. Starring Clark Gable, Vivien Leigh, Hattie McDaniel, Olivia de Havilland, Leslie Howard, Hattie McDaniel, Thomas Mitchell, Butterfly McQueen and many, many others. It’s David O. Selznick’s production of Margaret Mitchell’s “Story of the Old South” that takes my letter G.
H – Alfred Hitchcock. The master.
“A lot of movies are about life, mine are like a slice of cake.” – Alfred Hitchcock
Make that a many-layered cake with a rich tapestry frosting of unforgettable images and the worst in human nature filling with a cherry on top.
I – It’s a Wonderful Life because it’s a wonderful movie.
Clarence: “Strange, isn’t it? Each man’s life touches so many other lives. When he isn’t around he leaves an awful hole, doesn’t he?”
This one would have left an awful hole if we didn’t have it – Directed by Frank Capra, 1946 and stars James Stewart, Donna Reed, Lionel Barrymore, Thomas Mitchell, Henry Travers, Beulah Bondi, Frank Faylen, Ward Bond, Gloria Grahame, H. B. Warner and other unforgettable characters.
J – JUDY!
K – The Kiss – the classic kiss, the apex of love-making in classic film. When romance ruled the day for gentlemen and thugs , dames and ladies alike. The Kiss.
L – Jack Lemmon
He’s one of the wonders.
Take a look at The magic of Lemmon for details.
M – Fritz Lang’s masterful, disturbing, M (1931) starring Peter Lorre.
Need I mention how difficult a letter this was? There are so many people and films worth mentioning for this letter it’s unbelievable. But I went with a literal dark horse, a film that ripped me to shreds. After years of seeing M listed on great motion picture lists created by almost everyone of repute I’ve ever read, I saw this for the first time in 2011 and it turned out to be the best “new” film I saw that entire year and one of the best films I’ve ever seen. I am soon dedicating an entire post to this one as my entry to a blogathon so I won’t go into details here. Just watch it. It lingers.
Hans Beckert: I can’t help what I do! I can’t help it, I can’t…
N – Noir
A movement, a style, a look, an art form and an attitude.
O – “Ol’ Man River” – the most famous song from the 1927, Jerome Kern-Oscar Hammerstein musical, Show Boat, it is – not so simply – one of the greatest songs ever written, by my estimation. I am most familiar with the version sung by Paul Robeson in James Whale’s 1936 film version of Show Boat but the song got to number one in the charts in a version sung by Bing Crosby in 1928. Through the years many other popular singers recorded versions of Ol’ Man River, a song that makes poignant social statements about class, toiling and race. It never fails to move. In the 1951, George Sidney-directed remake of Show Boat, William Warfield delivers a wonderful version of the song – many think the best. Although traditionally sang by male singers, one of the most powerful renditions of the song I’ve ever heard was sung by the great, Judy Garland on her television show in 1963. I assure you chills await if you listen. But this is about this song and it’s only fitting some of the most talented artists to ever grace the screen gave it its due.
Dere’s an ol’ man called de Mississippi
Dat’s de ol’ man dat I’d like to be!
What does he care if de world’s got troubles?
What does he care if de land ain’t free?
Ol’ man river,
Dat ol’ man river
He mus’know sumpin’
But don’t say nuthin’,
He jes’keeps rollin’
He keeps on rollin’ along.
P – The Principle of Evil Marksmanship
Some time ago I happened upon Roger Ebert’s Glossary of Movie Terms , which is part of his video companion and I’ve never forgotten this gem, which he describes as: “The bad guys are always lousy shots in the movies. Three villains with Uzzis will go after the hero, spraying thousands of rounds which miss him, after which he picks them off with a handgun.”
Well, it’s true and it’s a hell of a lot of fun. I’ve often wondered how that could be but then we’re talking (mostly) about the heroes of the Old West. Or at least those are the ones that come to mind. C’mon. They could do anything. If they were dressed in white fighting guys in black then it stands to reason their handguns had dozens upon dozens of bullets just as it makes sense that bad guys can’t shoot to save their mothers. It’s the magic of the movies.
Q – The Quintessential Courtroom Drama
We’ve been lucky to have many outstanding films feature high drama in courtrooms around the world through the years. This is one area where I could probably easily list a top ten list. However, I’m listing only three. My three favorites. These are films that have elements and messages that reach far beyond the courtroom but they never fail to come to mind immediately when the topic is mentioned. Listed by year of release:
R – Rear Window – from the master, the masterpiece.
Lisa: “I’m not much on rear window ethics.”
Therein lies the rub. There are no ethics to be had in this one as dictated by its director who sharply shines the mirror back at us and we can’t look away.
S – The Screwball Comedy
I could easily take this opportunity to mention directors like Leo McCarey, Howard Hawks, Ernst Lubitsch, and Gregory La Cava who excellent at helming films in this popular film genre. Or talents like Carole Lombard, William Powell, Irene Dunne, and the brothers Marx. But I won’t. This is dedicated to the genre itself, an oft fastidious feast of foolish feistiness. The ones we never stop laughing at. What a gift.
Irene in My Man Godfrey: You have a wonderful sense of humor. I wish I had a sense of humor, but I can never think of the right thing to say until everybody’s gone home.
Tony Kirby in You Can’t Take it With You: You know, every time I think about how lucky I am, I feel like screaming.
Lucy Warriner in The Awful Truth: I’ve seen your picture in the paper and wondered what you looked like.
Walter Burns in His Girl Friday: Diabetes! I ought to know better than to hire anybody with a disease.
(PS – if you didn’t read those really fast you did it wrong. Go back and do it again.)
T – Tracy and Hepburn
It’s difficult to mention just one of the screen’s many fascinating couples but I am. For as far as couples go, this is the piece de resistance. Extraordinarily talented in their own right, and they are two of the greatest actors who ever appeared on-screen, Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn‘s on-screen chemistry is the stuff of legend. They could fast-talk and stumble in Screwball style with the best of ’em. They could emote as realistically as any actor ever could. They fought, they laughed, they cried, they loved and in film after film we did it all along with them. Here’s to what we can’t put a finger on, the certain je ne se quois – the elusive and magical thing called, chemistry – between Tracy and Hepburn.
U – Universal Monsters
To Frankenstein’s Monster and his bride. To Dracula. To The Creature from the Black Lagoon. To the Invisible Man. To the Phantom of the Opera. To the Wolf Man. To the Mummy. To Horror. To tragedy. To history. To affection. To friends. Legends all.
Count Dracula: Listen to them. Children of the night. What music they make.
Baron Frankenstein: Well, as I said before, here I say again, Here’s… Here’s to a son… to the House of Frankenstein.
Various characters: Even a man who is pure in heart
and says his prayers by night
may become a wolf when the wolfbane blooms
and the autumn moon is bright.
Lucas: There are many strange legends in the Amazon. Even I, Lucas, have heard the legend of a man-fish.
Imhotep: Anck-es-en-Amon, my love has lasted longer than the temples of our gods. No man ever suffered as I did for you.
The Invisible Man: The drugs I took seemed to light up my brain. Suddenly I realized the power I held, the power to rule, to make the world grovel at my feet.
Erik (The Phantom): Feast your eyes! Glut your soul on my accursed ugliness!
V – The Man of a thousand Voices
Voice-artist extraordinaire, Mel Blanc.
From radio to television Blanc’s career was one of the most important in Hollywood history. Yes, I think so. While we can in some instances picture one great movie star in place of another in many of our classic films, there is no one other than Blanc who could have voiced so many memorable, iconic characters during the Golden Age of American Animation. Specifically, the wonderful characters created at Warner Bros.‘, Termite Terrace and their Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies theatrical shorts. Blanc gave life to Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, Porky Pig, Tweety Bird, Sylvester the Cat, Yosemite Sam, Foghorn Leghorn, Marvin the Martian, Pepe Le Pew, Speedy Gonzalez and a personal favorite of mine although less known by current audiences, Private SNAFU, among many others before, during and after his career at Warner Bros. Although one cannot discount the many other talents at Termite Terrace without whom these characters would not have been, it is Blanc’s talent that stands out most of all today for it is a lost art he excelled at and he remains the king. We will never see the likes of this man again. It’s a deafening silence he left when we lost him.
W – Wilder, Billy
For his Sunset Blvd. alone this writer, filmmaker – ARTIST – would have made my alphabet. But then his life’s work – by pen or camera – also gave us these…
Directed by Ernst Lubitsch, Ninotchka in 1939, Double Indemnity in 1944, Ace in the Hole in 1951, The Seven Year Itch in 1955, Witness for the Prosecution in 1957, Some Like it Hot in 1959, The Apartment in 1960. When he speaks we listen.
X – The greatest EX who ever lived.
As the hilarious ex-husband in Leo McCarey’s, The Awful Truth (1937)
and Howard Hawks, His Girl Friday (1940)
As an ex-widower and almost, sort of ex-husband in Garson Kanin’s, My Favorite Wife (1940)
As an ex- AND future husband in George Cukor’s, The Philadelphia Story (1940)
Or even as an ex-cat burglar in Alfred Hitchcock’s, To Catch a Thief (1955)
Is there any doubt he was the best ex ever? It’s Cary Grant, by the way.
Now, you must take my word for it – I really tried not to put pictures of him in this post. Originally listed under “G,” I intended to post a simple link to the TCM tribute narrated by Tony Curtis. Why? Because I celebrated this site’s one-year anniversary with images of him and I already included him in the ode to the Fedora above. I wanted to stay away from the Archie Leach precipice. But honestly. He could make ’em laugh. He could make ’em cry. He could make ’em swoon. He was chased by the worst of the worst and suspected of ultimate evils. Every woman wanted to be with him. Every man wanted to be him. So, I didn’t do this for me. This one’s for the world.
Y – You Dirty Rat
The Warner gangsters and the actors that portrayed them. Tom Powers in The Public Enemy. Little Caesar (Rico) in Little Caesar. Rocky Sullivan in Angels with Dirty Faces. Cody Jarrett in White Heat. Duke Mantee in The Petrified Forest. All characters and pictures that defined a studio and an era. Gangster films remain popular to this day but, after that first decade when the personification of the gangster looked like James Cagney, Edward G. Robinson and Humphrey Bogart, they’ve evolved into often sympathetic, relatable criminals. Their descendents would later lurk in the shadows of film noir and much later move into mansions in New York City suburbs to make whispered offers people couldn’t refuse. This is, however, in honor of the originals, the ones that had no redeeming qualities, the dregs of society. They died in sewers, that lot. And to this day they remain a standard in enjoyable depictions of hateful giants who squashed any ant that got in their way. They had a look and a sound that we will never tire of. Theirs weren’t idle threats…
Tom Powers in The Public Enemy: Why that dirty, no good, yellow-bellied stool. I’m gonna give it to him right in the head the first time I see him.
They kept their promises and paid the price. And left an irrevocable mark in film that bled into our collective conscience.
Z – Zing! Went the Strings of My Heart.
“Zing! Went the Strings of My Heart” is a 1934 popular song with words and music by James F. Hanley. It was introduced by Hal Le Roy and Eunice Healey in the Broadway revue Thumbs Up! (IMDB)
Twas like a breath of spring, I heard a robin sing
About a nest set apart
All nature seemed to be in perfect harmony
Zing! Went the strings of my heart.
This song is, in fact, one of my favorites ever sang by Judy Garland, which is huge given I never heard anything come out of her mouth I didn’t love. But the mention of the song, somewhat of an obvious mention for the letter, “Z,” is really a way for me to pay tribute to the music in the movies, so much of which made my heartstrings ZING! So by way of one song, here’s to the many composers, writers, lyricists that made the musicals more musical, the thrillers more thrilling, the suspense more suspenseful, the drama, deeper and the laughter more uproarious. My favorites in no order…
Bernard Herrmann, Max Steiner, Franz Waxman, Stephen Sondheim, Leonard Bernstein, Charles Chaplin, Maurice Jarre, Betty Comden and Adolph Green, Harold Arlen and E. Y. Harburg, Richard Rodgers, Oscar Hammerstein II, Irving Berlin, Cole Porter, George and Ira Gershwin, Alan Jay Lerner, Frederic Loewe and…I think you get the idea. A hell of a talent pool and a legacy almost too rich to fathom. The musical numbers featured in classic film, amongst my favorite songs of all time, became standards for a reason. They simply cannot be equaled. And there are too many to mention. This is for all of them.
And the jig is up. I did it. There are no doubt more classic film notations that I left out than those I included although, as you can see, I cheated in every way possible, something I feel a wee bit bad about because other entries in the blogathon event probably adhered to the rules. Regardless, this was a lot of fun to put together and I hope you enjoyed it, long as it may be. And I do hope I’m invited back to participate in other list-y events.
To read more A to Z movie lists please visit the host site for this unique blogathon event, Mettel Ray Movie Blog.