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TCM Classic Film Festival: No Sleep, No Food, Good Times

Count me now on the list of jerks who’s been to the TCM Classic Film Festival. To say that my experience was incredible is a complete understatement.

I arrived in California on Wednesday evening. After a lovely, relaxing dinner with some close friends, I traveled up to Hollywood from Orange County to check into my hotel. Little did I know, that meal would be the last one for quite a while. After finally meeting some of my Twitter friends in person for the first time, I settled in for a good night’s sleep. It would be the last one of those too. I quickly learned there is no place for eating or sleeping at the festival. After all, “sleeping is giving in, no matter what the time is.”

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For the Boys Blogathon: Buddies Forever!

This post is my submission for The Scarlett Olive’s For the Boys Blogathon. I would like to thank Katie and Hilary for hosting this event and welcoming my participation.

Note: You will NOT see the word “Bromance” mentioned in this post. I find it to be the most ridiculous term ever. I will also go on record to say that I strongly dislike “Chick-flick”, “Bromcom”, “Romcom”. You will see the words “man”, “manly” and “dude” maybe even “dudely.”

Ah, the buddy flick. Two guys (sometimes more) out to take on the world. It doesn’t matter when, where, and how their journey takes place, it’s about their friendship and how they deal with adversity and triumph. Women may come and go, and there may even be a fight between them over the same woman. Yet almost always, the friendship will prevail–even in death.  Using the mechanism of the buddy film, Hollywood is able to appeal to men’s emotional side. In classic film, a vast majority of the buddy films appear to be dramas. In the gangster genre I immediately think of James Cagney and Pat O’Brien. These two were close friends in real life, and although they made all kinds of films (and frequently collaborated Frank McHugh, another close pal), I always think of their roles in Angels with Dirty Faces. Another pairing is that of William Powell and Clark Gable. Theirs was in Manhattan Melodrama, one of my favorites, and a similar story line to that of Angels with Dirty Faces: two young friends grow up together on the wrong side of the tracks. One makes it to the right side and lives an honorable and decent life, while the other continues in a life of crime. Despite their differences, they remain friends and can always pick up where they left off.

In the action/adventure genre there is only one teaming that comes to mind: Errol Flynn and Alan Hale. Although Hale was very much a supporting character to Flynn’s leading roles, it’s hard to think of one without the other. Flynn is charming and handsome, and Hale is the sidekick with all the funny quips. They get along so well because there is no competition over women. They each know their place and are friends until the very end. There are some classic comedies with best pals. First are the Road pictures starring Bob Hope and Bing Crosby. In the silent era, Buster Keaton and Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle made quite the team. Laurel and Hardy, Abbott and Costello, The Marx Brothers are all perfect examples. There are even buddies in musicals, with Gene Kelly and Frank Sinatra starring in three films (Anchors Aweigh, On the Town, and Take Me Out to the Ballgame) immediately coming to mind.

Of all the genres, the two that are the fullest of testosterone and strong male friendships, are war stories and westerns. From Battleground to Ride the High Country, these films always feature two friends dealing with the toughest of circumstances.

In the 1980′s and early 1990′s, theaters were inundated with action-packed, testosterone-fueled BFF adventures: 48 Hours, Beverly Hills Cop, Lethal Weapon, and their respective sequels (and threequels and fourquels). These films definitely appealed to a very male audience, but frequently cast the current luscious beefcake to help draw in the ladies. At the time many of these films were considered edgy. By today’s standards, the “raunchy” language of 1980s Eddie Murphy is a distant memory (after all, he is Donkey, Doctor Dolittle and runs Daddy Day Care…oh and he occasionally gives car rides to needy transvestite hookers). In recent years the buddy flick has become an exposition for the raunchiest language, random and pointless nudity (each film appears to compete for the most hideous nude scene or most graphic discussions about bodily functions), and general caveman-like behavior. Their masculinity is worn not on their sleeve, but on a t-shirt three sizes too small and positioned squarely on their chest. Underneath is a tagline that says “I love boobies and I’m absolutely and positively NOT GAY!.”  Some of these newer films are quite funny, despite their overt attempts at pure manly manliness (I give Judd Apatow a lot of credit because his films have heart, sometimes too much. They also appear to be a little insecure about acknowledging love between two friends, re: constant gay jokes).

Going back to classics, I have to admit that I love a lot of the “manly” genres. Some of my favorite films feature two male friends. Sure there might be a love interest, but the friendship is always a main attraction. When thinking about the films for this blogathon, I turned to my husband. The two of us compared our list of quintessential male buddy films and we had a lot of duplicates. However, he had several listed that I did not consider. A few of them are highlighted below.

Cool Hand Luke

My husband is very adamant over Cool Hand Luke being the essential buddy flick. There are no women (unless you consider the big bosomed car wash lady), thus no traditional romance. The “romance” is between the two main characters Luke (Paul Newman) and Dragline (George Kennedy). It is Luke’s strength and determination (and Messiah-like presence) to find a way out that has Dragline and the whole chain gang admiring him. Dragline’s devotion to Luke is so strong and he risks his life just to be around him. Call it hero worship. They are a mismatched duo, but they have each other’s back right to the end. No women, no fortune, no prospects– just brought together by incredibly horrendous circumstances. How does Cool Hand Luke appeal to women? I don’t think I should have to answer that one.

Gunga Din

I have to admit that George Stevens’s classic is one of my all time favorites. In my opinion it is one of the greatest action/adventure films ever made. The friendship between Cutter (Cary Grant), MacChesney (Victor McLaglen), and Ballantine (Douglas Fairbanks, Jr.) is unwavering. That’s not to say they do not have their differences. Cutter is a bit of a handful with his pipe dreams about finding hidden treasures and golden palaces, and often agitates his comrades. MacChesney is the highest ranked officer of the trio and tries to maintain straight military protocol. Ballantine struggles over starting his life with the woman he loves, or continuing the adventures with his best friends. In addition to the strong friendship between the three, Cutter forms an unlikely bond with the regiment’s water boy, Gunga Din (Sam Jaffe). The two have a mutual admiration and both set out to find their fortunes. Although there is a female character, Ballantine’s fiancee Emmy (Joan Fontaine), she is negatively portrayed as needy and generally whiny. Not great for female viewers, but it helps reinforce the unbreakable bond between the best friends. Despite this, I still love the story and the main characters. Although it ends on a bittersweet note, Gunga Din is also quite a funny film at times.

Blazing Saddles

I realize that Blazing Saddles does not fall under the traditional “classic film” label because it was made after the 1969 cut-off, but it would be flat out wrong to dismiss it strictly based on when it was made. Mel Brooks is a master and Blazing Saddles is his finest masterpiece. Sure it is off-color at times, but it all comes from a good place. Brooks took the typical western (and the musical) and turned it upside down. The Ballad of Rock Ridge is a parody of the main theme in the film High Noon, Madeline Kahn is in full Marlene Dietrich mode with her stage performances, and the hero is…black. Whoa! A western with a black hero? And his sidekick is white? Obviously this arrangement makes way for a endless amount of jokes, but also serves as a commentary on racism. Sheriff Bart (Cleavon Little) and Jim (Gene Wilder) form a fast friendship. They are both social outcasts– Bart because he is black, and Jim because he’s a drunk, and fallen from his glory days as sharpshooter The Waco Kid. The pair team up to save the town of Rock Ridge against the evil forces of Hedley “That’s Hed-ley” Lamarr (Harvey Korman). Underneath the sometimes gross humor (the farting scene) and colorful language, is a story about two best friends…who ride into the sunset not on their horses, but in a limousine.

Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid

For my husband, Cool Hand Luke is the ultimate buddy film. For me, I look no further than Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. From start to tragic finish, it is a beautiful film. Butch (Paul Newman) and Sundance (Robert Redford) rob trains and banks. They are really good at it too. Although criminals, they are loved from the first moment. The two are partners through and through right until the bloody end. Butch and Sundance are truly living an outlaw’s life, but having loads of fun in the process. They are also fortunate enough to keep company with the beautiful Etta Place (Katharine Ross), who loves them both. She teaches them manners and Spanish, and goes along with their schemes for a time. She doesn’t overstay her welcome though. This is one of the few male geared films that has a positive female role.

Only Angels Have Wings

Although heavy on the adventure and romance, Only Angels Have Wings features a strong friendship between two men: Geoff Carter (Cary Grant) and Kid Dabb (Thomas Mitchell) and they absolutely adore one another. Each would walk through fire for the other, and both value honesty, even when the truth hurts. Geoff has his problems with commitment to women, although Bonnie Lee (Jean Arthur) is making quite the impression. When Geoff grounds Kid from flying, the decision is not an easy one. Geoff knows how much it bruises Kid’s ego, but it’s the right decision to keep everyone safe. That is what a true friend does– makes a hard decision to save a life, even if it damages the friendship.

There are several more films that need an honorable mention. The Lord of the Rings trilogy is the ultimate buddy epic. Two best friends, Frodo and Sam literally going to the ends of the earth knowing they may never make it back. Not only do they have each other, but they have the support of many others from their original band of brothers. The Big Lebowski features two friends (three if you count poor Donny) that couldn’t be more different. The Dude (Jeff Bridges) is a burned out hippie who lives for bowling, Creedence, White Russians, and his rug (which really tied the room together). Walter (John Goodman) is a Vietnam vet with major anger issues, who often babysits his ex-wife’s dog (“It’s a f*cking show dog with f*cking papers”). This mismatched duo, with their sad little friend Donny, encounter the most bizarre of situations. Although The Dude is often disgusted with Walter’s behavior, he ultimately enjoys his company.

To close out this entry on a testosterone fueled note, here are BFF’s Roddy Piper and Keith David beating the shit out of each other.

Note: The video features fantastic shit-kickery and some bad language, so don’t watch at work, church, or around the kiddies.

“Either put on these glasses, or start eating that trash can.”

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A Wonderful Night at the Fabulous Fox Theatre: The Mark of Zorro (1920)

Thursday, August 25th, I attended a very special screening at Atlanta’s Fox Theatre: 1920′s The Mark of Zorro starring the original King of Hollywood– Douglas Fairbanks. Up until last Thursday I had never seen a Douglas Fairbanks film. Something I’m not proud of for sure. The Fox Theatre is truly a gem. For most of the year the theatre features off-broadway musicals and plays, concerts, and ballet performances. In the summer The Fox holds a movie festival featuring classics and newer films. The architecture and décor enrich the moving-going experience. Often described as Arabic, Moorish, and Egyptian, the design is opulent. The main feature of the theatre is of course the auditorium. The ceiling is painted twilight blue with moving clouds and has lighted crystals that twinkle like emerging stars. Sitting near the stage and looking up, one can almost imagine being in a majestic courtyard in some far away land. The Fox also boasts the second largest theatre organ in the country. The “Mighty Mo” is used for pre-show sing-a-longs and silent film accompaniment. The organ also controls a full size baby grand piano! The screening was hosted by TCM and introduced/emceed by Ben Mankiewicz. In his introduction, Mankiewicz discussed Fairbanks’s influence on the action/adventure genre. In Mankiewicz’s words “Fairbanks was Errol Flynn before Errol Flynn was Errol Flynn.” The accompanist for the evening was renowned theatre organist Clark Wilson. He travels around the country playing his original scores for silent films (more info about Wilson in this article).

Don Diego Vega and Sgt. Gonzales
Don Diego Vega and Sgt. Gonzales

Honestly, The Mark of Zorro should be called The Mark of Fairbanksbecause in every scene he leaves his mark as he triumphs over the rest of the cast in commanding fashion. Fairbanks is Don Diego Vega, a wealthy fop who is more interested in performing magic tricks than wooing women. He is socially awkward–hands in his pockets, shuffling around with his head down. Don Diego is the kind of guy who would today live in his parents’ basement. In the opening scene, he is sitting in a bar drinking with a group of rowdy men, including the villain of our story, Sgt. Pedro Gonzales (played by Noah Beery, older brother to Wallace Beery). Led by Gonzales, the men are all discussing the pesky Zorro, champion of the poor and oppressed. Gonzales, right hand man to the governor and his dictatorship, details how he will capture and kill the masked bandit. After an elaborate display by the sergeant, Don Diego stands up and politely makes his exit. In this moment, Sgt. Gonzales has no earthly idea that he will soon receive that famous mark…

Zorro makes his entrance to an unsuspecting Gonzales
Zorro makes his entrance to an unsuspecting Gonzales

Fairbanks’s first entrance as Zorro is one of the greatest in cinema. With smoke and a wicked little smile, the audience knows the bad guys will get what is coming to them…and it is going to be loads of fun.Fairbanks’s Zorro is lean, light, and quick–blink and he’s gone as quickly as he arrived. In between swordplay and ducking flying objects, Zorro easily slinks past his opposition. He lights a cigarette, grabs a drink (he’s thirsty!), and sits back to watch the bad guys fight each other. I imagine Zorro’s motto might be “Fighting evil one prank at a time.” Being a master swordsman, Zorro is also quite the lover. No awkwardness or magic tricks here. Zorro always knows the right things to say or do, especially to the lovely Lolita Pulido (played by Marguerite De La Motte). Currently being “courted” by Don Diego, Pulido is quickly swept off her feet by the dashing and mischievous Zorro. After watching The Mark of Zorro, I now understand the magnificence that is Douglas Fairbanks. His wit, athleticism, and timing is perfect. I thoroughly enjoyed his performance and the film. His athletic style made an impression on many actors and especially on a young Archie Leach. In 1920, Leach was on his way to America to tour with the Pender troupe. During the voyage, he met Fairbanks and new bride Mary Pickford, who were on their way home from a European honeymoon. The newlyweds were nice enough to spend time with Leach, who idolized Fairbanks. The young acrobatic Leach later became Cary Grant. For years, they kept in touch and Grant often cited Fairbanks as being a huge inspiration. Fairbanks’s influence changed the action/adventure genre and many copy cats followed. He is the original Errol Flynn. or Tyrone Power. or Stewart Granger. And in my generation–the original Harrison Ford. Douglas Fairbanks as Han Solo? Hmm…