By all accounts, Emma Hamilton was quite an interesting person. A daughter of a blacksmith who died when she was two, she was a girl of the 1700s who had limited options. So she pushed past these limitations by pushing aside convention. At the start of That Hamilton Woman, the audience is teased with her history, a history presented so colorfully and cheerfully that we think it must be a tall tale or outlandish gossip. In reality, it barely touched on the truth. This whole movie barely touches on the truth. But it does a good job of providing the audience a sense of the deep, unrelenting love between two people whose combined remarkable talents were drawn upon by their country, and feel the sorrow of the tragedy that befalls even the most common of people. While the movie may not accurately reflect what actually happened, viewers can empathize with its dramatization as well as they can empathize with the secret lives unknown to history.
The Home of the Creative Mind
Welcome to PooBahSpiel, the online voice and home of the creative mind of Mark Monlux, Illustrator Extraordinaire. Prepare yourself for an endless regaling of art directly from the hand of this stellar artist. And brace yourself against his mighty wind of pontification. Updates are kinda weekly and show daily sketches, current projects, and other really nifty stuff.
Monday, August 13, 2018
Wednesday, August 8, 2018
Northwest Passage is one of the lesser-known great Epic pictures. Its budget was larger than the previously more costly epic, Ben-Hur. They would have spent more money, but the studio pulled in the reins. Northwest Passage was based on the book written by Kenneth Roberts in the ‘30s. It competed strongly with “Gone with the Wind” for the best-seller slot, but never managed to dethrone “Gone with the Wind.” MGM decided to cash in on the book’s popularity. Originally two movies were planned. The first movie, or “Book 1,” would cover Rogers’ Rangers’ various skirmishes at the time of the French and Indian war. “Book 2” would cover Rogers’ Rangers as they searched for the Northwest Passage. Kenneth Roberts accurately portrayed the thoughts and feelings of the settlers towards the Indians. It’s not pretty in the book and it’s not pretty on the screen. Even by 1940s’ standards, the racist stereotypes in Northwest Passage were a bit over the top. Roberts thought the fix was in for not making a sequel because one key character to both stories was left out of the movie. He was also very unhappy with how the movie was adapted. Maybe the fix was in, or maybe it became clear to MGM that Northwest Passage was not going to have a strong enough return to merit a second movie. Regardless, what we have is a grand epic that is an embarrassment to the populace that would like to think of itself as culturally sensitive—and a misleading title because the only mention of the Northwest Passage is at the end of the movie. So, if you can stand a grand Hollywood epic which depicts a massacre of Indians in outrageous Technicolor, this is the film for you.
Monday, July 30, 2018
When I watched Stage Fright, I was immediately struck that Alfred Hitchcock started the story with exposition dialogue. Immediate exposition is not something you present unless you are trying to set a tone. Think of the running paragraph of words that fade into the universe at the beginning of Star Wars, or fairy tales that begin, “Once upon a time, in a land, far, far away…” But the start of Stage Fright wasn’t like that. So I’m wondering just what Hitchcock is up to, and that thought nags at me throughout the film until, of course, Hitchcock does his reveal. That nagging little feeling keeps you unsettled all through the movie, and it makes you suspicious of all the characters. And some of the characters are put in the film for sheer fun. A good example is the “Lovely Ducks” lady. There’s really no reason to have her in the movie at all, except that the audience is treated to a wonderfully orchestrated moment of humor and setting that backhandedly builds suspense. Another lovely character in the movie is the father. Played by one of my favorite character actors, Alastair Sim, is so quirky and comfortable with being himself that the mother, played by Sybil Thorndyke, and he obviously live separate lives, but remain married. Hitchcock provides richness to even casual characters, which with the level of suspicion he’s introduced into Stage Fright, has you questioning whom he going to go deeper with, and what clues you will discover along the way. Once you get to the end of the movie, you realize it has been filled with Easter Eggs and clues throughout, and you want to go back and count them all as you view Stage Fright again.
Thursday, June 28, 2018
The Spy Who Came in from the Cold was the first of David John Moore Cornwell’s novels to be made into a movie. When he began writing, he was still working with the Secret Intelligence Service and wrote under the pen name of John le Carré. Then there was a huge political scandal when a spy revealed the identities of British operatives to the Russians. David John Moore Cornwall was “outed” along with many others. He kept writing under his pen name. Anyway, the author was more than a little familiar with the inner working of how intelligence is gathered in the real world. His approach was to focus on the art of deception. The John le Carré novels do have sex and violence in them, with even the occasional explosion. The Spy Who Came in from the Cold was released in an era when film censorship was still a concern. The writer had more than enough excellent cerebral material to create a high level of suspense to keep the audience entranced and without too much risk of the film not receiving the rating for which it was shooting. Le Carré commented that he was pleased with how well the film’s story kept to the book, and his presence on set was more of a sign-off as it involved only a modest amount of work. When The Spy Who Came in from the Cold was released, television was filled with secret-agent-themed programming. The Berlin Wall had only recently been built, and the Cold War had a very public face. Spy-themed television shows and movies provided an outlet for the high nervous tension of potential nuclear war to be released through escapism. The mood of the day leaned heavily to why The Spy Who Came in from the Cold was so popular. While The Spy Who Came in from the Cold received a few Oscar nominations, it didn’t win any. However, in England, a little closer to the front lines of the Cold War, it won four of the six British Academy of Film and Television Awards for which it was nominated. The age-old story remains of how transgressions with deception and lies affect the human spirit and explains, even now, long after the Wall has fallen, why this movie still holds up.
Sunday, June 17, 2018
A Letter to Three Wives is one of the few movies in the forties that pass the Bechdel Test. Perhaps that’s because Vera Caspary did the screen adaptation from a Cosmopolitan Magazine novel by John Klempner. Caspary, a writer of movies and novels, also wrote the movie Laura. Perhaps her influence is why this movie is dialogue driven, with even casual remarks bearing weight and meaning. A Letter to Three Wives is all about wants and desires, and how to people rationalize, pursue, and achieve them. A Letter to Three Wives pulls everything from the shadows. Consumption, advertising, and financial security are all dragged into the open. It’s a dialogue-driven movie because it’s through dialogue that fears, secrets, and concerns are revealed for the purpose of creating better relationships. This is what brings the drama because we know from the beginning of the movie that one relationship has been betrayed, doomed by closeted secrets and feelings. A Letter to Three Wives is meant to have people take a second look at both their desires and how they are pursued. A Letter to Three Wives might get a little preachy in places. But soapbox rants are just as much a part of relationships as words or cooing love or snarky teasing. The movie holds up well and even if the trappings of the world have changed, the same dialogue could be played out today, just as relevant now as in 1949.
Monday, May 21, 2018
The script for The More the Merrier was custom written as a vehicle for Jean Arthur. And while she was nominated for Best Actress, it was Charles Coburn who walked away with the Best Supporting Actor Oscar for his performance of the rapscallion Mr. Benjamin Dingle. Coburn tended to be given the same type in all the films he was featured, but in The More the Merrier, his character is given more room than normal, taking an impish delight in outwitting those around him while playing matchmaker. The movie does its best to show how crowded Washington, D.C. was during WWII. The actors are tripping over each other in their apartment, and when we see their characters anywhere outside their apartment, there’s a crowd of people in every scene, in every room, at every table, even on every rooftop. You will also notice that throughout the movie, the camera draws closer to the couple as their feelings for each other become closer. The madcap comedy does a great job of holding up over seven decades. Mr. Dingle’s antics and audacity remains fresh and entertaining. While I couldn’t capture the antics in the comic, I did my best to make it look crowded by filling each frame with a different character from the movie.
Received an Academy Award out of six nominations.
Monday, May 14, 2018
Cat Ballou is the name of this movie and the name of Jane Fonda’s character, a schoolmarm she plays straight. Her straight acting is necessary as she strikes the perfect counterbalance for most of the other main characters, who are provided comedic roles. Lee Marvin, who’s given the chance to overact in not one but two roles, gets most of the laughs. Historically, the gimmick of a double role, while interesting, doesn’t enhance a movie very much. But that isn’t the case in Cat Ballou. Had the writers decided to write the movie as a straight-up traditional Western, the gimmick would have been stale and lonely in its presentation. But they gave up on making Cat Ballou a classic Western and instead decided to make a Western that parodies Westerns. And that is why Lee Marvin was given full rein to be as broad as he wanted. Few actors get this chance. Marvin was deeply familiar with Westerns. He knew which subtle quirks would poke at audiences’ experience of Westerns. As a result, filled theaters roared each time Marvin hiked up his belt. Cat Ballou became the breakaway hit of 1965 and audiences ate up Marvin’s performance as he walked away with the picture. Not that Cat Ballou is a particularly tight picture. One of the plot holes is Cat Ballou herself. Fonda is introduced as a rancher’s daughter returning home from boarding school where she’s learned to be a schoolmarm. But the town takes little to no notice of a returning citizen, let alone the arrival of a new teacher. In fact, Fonda never steps foot in a schoolhouse. The schoolmarm is there because there’s usually a schoolmarm in Westerns. Just like there are usually horses, fancy shooting, sheriffs, trains, and other trappings. The story’s inconsistencies are overlooked because the movie doesn’t take itself, nor the genre it parodies, seriously.
Received one Academy Award out of five nominations.