Thursday, July 19, 2007

Happy Birthday Hume Cronyn

Looking for something to write about (I seem to be temporarily out of ideas) I checked my favorite celebrity birthday site and realized that it was Hume Cronyn's birthday on July 18. A great but underrated actor, Cronyn often played strange, distasteful little men chock-full of neuroses and axes to grind. I don't think I've seen that many of his films, but the ones that come immediately to mind are People Will Talk (1951 ) and Shadow of a Doubt (1943), an excellent celebratory birthday pairing if I do say so.

In People Will Talk, Cronyn plays a weasley little college professor who, jealous of his colleague's success and popularity, sets out to destroy his reputation and strip him of his medical credentials. Written and directed by Joseph Mankiewicz and starring Cary Grant, Jeanne Crain, Finlay Currie, Walter Slezak, and Margaret Hamilton, the film is full of witty one-liners, thoughtful philosophic insight, and delightful characters. Cronyn's character and the confessions he forces from his victims provide the necessary tension to a film that would be too idyllic otherwise.

Cronyn's character in Alfred Hitchcock's Shadow of a Doubt is less cruel, but far more disturbing. Next door neighbor to the Newton family in peaceful Santa Rosa, California, Cronyn comes over every evening during their dinner to discuss various strategies for knocking off the head of the family. Relishing each gruesome detail, Herbie (Cronyn) follows crime stories in the paper as if murder were something abstract and benign, feeling far removed from their reality in his remote California town. Cronyn plays Herbie as both naive and ghoulish and, though his role is small, it helps to drive home Hitchcock's point that no place is safe, no matter what it looks like from the outside.

If you enjoy Hume Cronyn's particular brand of weird charm, you may want to watch some of his other films, such as Lifeboat (1944) with Talulah Bankhead and Walter Slezak or The Postman Always Rings Twice (1946) with Lana Turner and John Garfield.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Movie Kitsch on KDOC

It took a long time, but KDOC has finally realized that their success as an all-reruns all the time station lies in its ability to tap the retro/vintage crowd. Their programming is still eclectic (what politeness!), but on the whole they are closing in on quality camp, kitsch, and nostalgia, giving less airtime to bad shows from the 1980s like Matlock and Saved By the Bell and focusing more on the 1970s and beyond. Though their programming is definitely improving, it is still quite apparent that they don't totally get it. Their new graphics, though objectively better than before, have lost a certain je ne sais quoi that emphasized their unique low budgetness. My favorite was how their ads for Kojak always used surf guitar in the background as though, in their admiration for Quentin Tarantino, they hadn't noticed that surf guitar and crime are an LA thing, incongruous when paired with the mean streets of New York. A KDOC fan from way back, I remember how by 9pm their re-run programming used to be replaced by hours and hours of Dr. Gene Scott mumbling on about no one knows what and scribbling obscure and occult-looking symbols from a variety of ancient languages on a whiteboard. As nostalgic as I am, I'm glad those days are gone. Instead, we have Universal horror movies and countless hours of The Endless Summer, Elvis, and Annette Funicello/Frankie Avalon beach movies. Mini-marathons of Twilight Zone, Bewitched, and The Partridge Family. It's an improvement no matter how you look at it.

This saturday, as part of their series of Saturday night monster movies, they're showing The Mummy (1932) starring Boris Karloff and directed by Karl Freund. Sunday night's selection from retro surf culture is Dr. Goldfoot and the Bikini Machine (1966) with Frankie Avalon, Dwayne Hickman, and Vincent Price in a daring crossover role. It is my own rather worthless opinion that the beach movies are much less of a sure bet than the old monster movies. Last week, I watched The Wolf Man with Lon Chaney, Claude Rains, Bela Lugosi, and Maria Ouspenskaya, and the most troublesome thing about it was that I couldn't honestly believe that Claude Rains was supposed to be Lon Chaney's father. Bad special effects, corny lines, none of those things bothered me, but Lon Chaney as an Englishman? It was a minor irritant to my enjoyment of the movie.

On the other hand, I tried to watch Beach Blanket Bingo the next night and I didn't last 10 minutes. Almost immediately, Annette and Frankie go surfing for a few minutes and, of course, when Annette comes back to the beach after wiping out her massive and immovable flip is still intact! Wasn't she, you know, under water? Shouldn't that have had some effect? If that wasn't bad enough Frankie spent all his time ordering these "girls" (a hapless troupe of bikini-clad bimbos) around as if he were a sultan and they his harem. What made it even worse was that they were only to happy to satisfy his every wish. I would have popped him one!

So get the gang together, mix a coupla Singapore Slings, get some teeny tiny eatables and have yourselves a movie night courtesy of KDOC.