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William Wyler’s Love Letter to His Comrades in Arms: The Best Years of Our Lives

In the opening shot of William Wyler’s The Best Years of Our Lives (1946), CAPT Fred Derry walks into an airport terminal in hopes of catching a flight home to Boone City, USA. Upon reaching the clerk at the counter, Fred learns there is a several day wait for a commercial flight, even though he’s a returning war hero. A wealthy middle-aged businessman then charges up next to Fred, interrupts his conversation with the airline clerk, and confirms his seat on the next flight regardless of the extra cost. He barely acknowledges CAPT Derry, no nod or a “thank you for your service.” The air is thick with rotten apathy, and it’s this scene that signals the audience is in for a different kind of war movie. William Wyler, himself a WWII veteran, saw America’s shift in attitude immediately following the war. The wells of patriotism had been tapped dry and those keeping the fires burning on the home front were tired of making sacrifices. Once the servicemen returned home, the warm welcome was short lived. After fighting for years in the Pacific and Europe, these soldiers were expected to resume life as normal almost immediately. Definitely easier said than done. The transition back to civilian life was difficult for many of the soldiers displaced by the war, and Wiliam Wyler wanted to pay tribute to their post-war struggles.

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Beloved Infidel from Twilight Time

In 1933, British gossip columnist Sheilah Graham arrived in New York to accept a position writing for The New York Mirror and The Evening Journal. After two years establishing herself in the entertainment scene, Graham was offered her very own syndicated column, Hollywood Today, with the North American Newspaper Alliance. Graham moved to Los Angeles so she could insert herself into the Hollywood scene, putting her in with the likes the notorious gossip columnists Louella Parsons and Hedda Hopper.

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Pierre Etaix: The Shorts. From The Criterion Collection

For decades, the work of Pierre Etaix has been unavailable to audiences. Unfortunately  Etaix did not have legal claim to his films, nor distribution rights. This resulted in his life’s work literally rotting away because of a bad business deal. After years of petitions and legal battles, Etaix reclaimed his films only to discover they would require an extensive restoration.

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Heidi’s Song (1982) from Warner Archive

I love cartoons. I grew up on animated shorts and feature-length films from Hanna-Barbera, Warner Bros., and MGM. Most were made before 1979, the year I was born. Thanks to re-runs on Saturday mornings, I received an education in mouse chasing from Tom, wisecracking from Bugs Bunny, and mystery solving from Scooby and the Gang. I have fond memories of new prime-time animated specials that you simply couldn’t miss. Remember, this was before VCR’s were affordable and DVR was something right out of The Jetsons. One of my strongest memories was seeing the premiere of the 1987 Rankin and Bass production of Kenneth Grahame’s Wind in the Willows. But for every clear memory there are a hundred fuzzy ones. There are TV shows and movies I have vague recollections of, but can’t remember specific details or when I saw them.

Enter Hanna-Barbera’s Heidi’s Song.

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Rage in Heaven (1941) from Warner Archive

One of the reasons I love classic film is the extensive number of “deep tracks”– those little hidden gems waiting to be discovered and shared. Alright, so maybe not all deep tracks are “gems”, but it’s still loads of fun to discover new-to-me old movies. A few years ago during a Robert Montgomery marathon on TCM, I managed to catch the strange psychological thriller Rage in Heaven. Released by MGM in 1941, and directed by W.S. “One-Take Woody” Van Dyke, Rage in Heaven stars Montgomery, the charming George Sanders, and the young, delightfully fresh-faced Ingrid Bergman. Discovered by David O. Selznick after seeing her performance in the Swedish film Intermezzo (1936), Bergman was immediately signed to a contract. She made her Hollywood debut in 1939 with the remake Intermezzo: A Love Story, with Leslie Howard. Bergman instantly won the affections of American moviegoers. And although her iconic role in the romantic classic Casablanca was three years away, Bergman quickly established herself as a Hollywood mainstay.

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Buster Keaton in The Saphead (1920) from Kino Classics

The Blu-ray release of Herbert Blaché’s The Saphead (1920) is the latest addition to Kino’s extensive catalog of Buster Keaton films. The Saphead holds the distinction of being Keaton’s first feature length motion picture. Prior to this movie, he starred in a number of two-reel shorts with dear friend and mentor Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle. The Saphead is adapted from Winchell Smith’s stage play The New Henrietta, which starred Douglas Fairbanks. When Metro Studios began casting for the film, Fairbanks was asked to recreate his role as the dim-witted, well-meaning Bertie Van Alstyne. He declined and suggested Keaton for the part.

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