Sheila Birling: [about the girl who committed suicide by drinking disinfectant] Was she pretty?

Inspector Goole: She wasn't very pretty when I saw her last in the infirmary.

         An Inspector Calls (1954)
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August Issue

Classic Film


In August we are screening two comedies, one... a classic Screwball comedy, the other a Classic comedy in the screwball tradition. To mark those screenings we take a look at classic Actor Jack Lemmon (who appears in Irma La Douce), and we look back at American film in the 1930's.

Don't forget to check out more of the details about this month's screenings by clicking the links at the bottom.

We hope you enjoy this month's eZine.
Classic Actors
Jack Lemmon
A private school-educated everyman who could play outrageous comedy and wrenching tragedy, Jack Lemmon burst onto the movie scene as a 1950s Columbia contract player and remained a beloved star until his death in 2001. Whether through humor or pathos, he excelled at illuminating the struggles of average men against a callous world; as director Billy Wilder once noted, "There was a little bit of genius in everything he did." Born in 1925, the son of a Boston doughnut company executive, Lemmon was educated at Phillips Andover Academy and taught himself to play piano as a teen. A budding thespian by the time he entered Harvard, he was elected president of the famed Hasty Pudding Club. After his college career was briefly interrupted by a stint in the Navy at the end of World War II, Lemmon graduated from Harvard and headed to New York to pursue acting. By the early '50s, Lemmon had appeared in hundreds of live TV roles, including in the dramatic series Kraft Television Theater and Robert Montgomery Presents, as well as co-starring with first wife, Cynthia Stone, in two short-lived sitcoms. After Lemmon landed a major role in the 1953 Broadway revival of Room Service, a talent scout for Columbia Pictures convinced the actor to try Hollywood instead.

Defying Columbia chief Harry Cohn's demand that he change his last name lest the critics take advantage of it in negative reviews, Lemmon quickly made a positive impression in his first film, the Judy Holliday comic hit It Should Happen to You (1954) and quickly became a reliably nimble comic presence at Columbia. A loan out to Warner Bros. for the smash Mister Roberts (1955), however, truly began to reveal his ability. Drawing on his Navy memories to play the wily Ensign Pulver, Lemmon held his own opposite heavyweights Henry Fonda and James Cagney and won a Best Supporting Actor Oscar for his fourth film. A free-agent star by the end of the 1950s, writer/director Billy Wilder tapped him to play one of the cross-dressing musicians in the gender-tweaking comic classic Some Like It Hot (1959). As enthusiastically female bull fiddler Daphne to Tony Curtis' preening Lothario sax player Josephine, Lemmon danced a sidesplitting tango with millionaire suitor Joe E. Brown and delivered a sublime speechless reaction to Brown's nonchalant acceptance of his manhood.

He followed this up with an image-defining performance in Wilder's multiple-Oscar winner The Apartment (1960). As ambitious New York office drone C.C. Baxter, who climbs the corporate ladder by loaning his small one-bedroom to his philandering bosses, Lemmon was both the likeable cynic and beleaguered romantic, perfectly embodying Wilder's world weary view of a dog eat dog world.
Determined to prove that he could play serious roles, Lemmon campaigned to play Lee Remick's alcoholic husband in Days of Wine and Roses (1962). Revealing the darker side of middle-class desperation, Lemmon earned still more critical kudos and another Oscar nomination. Despite this triumph, he returned to comedy, re-teaming with Wilder and The Apartment co-star Shirley MacLaine in Irma la Douce (1963). Irma la Douce became a major hit for the trio.

Lemmon's mid-'60s comic roles included a lascivious landlord in Under the Yum Yum Tree (1963) and a homicidal husband in How to Murder Your Wife (1965). Lemmon began his second legendary creative partnership when Wilder cast Walter Matthau opposite him in The Fortune Cookie (1966). The duo's popularity was cemented when they re-teamed for the hit film version of Neil Simon's The Odd Couple (1968). Despite his genuine pathos as suicidal, anal-retentive divorcé Felix Unger, Lemmon still managed to evoke great hilarity with Felix's technique for clearing his sinuses, becoming a superbly neurotic foil to Matthau's very casual Oscar Madison.

Matthau subsequently starred in Kotch (1971), Lemmon's sole directorial effort, and Lemmon appeared in scion Charles Matthau's The Grass Harp (1995). Lemmon and Matthau also fittingly co-starred in Wilder's final film, Buddy Buddy (1981). After starring in The Out-of-Towners (1970) and Avanti! (1972), Lemmon took minimal salary in order to play a disillusioned middle-aged businessman in the drama Save the Tiger (1973). Though the film did little business, Lemmon finally won the Best Actor Oscar that had eluded him for over a decade and moved easily between comedy and drama from then on. As in The Odd Couple, he marshaled both humor and gloom for his portrayal of an unemployed, despondent gray flannel suit executive in Neil Simon's The Prisoner of Second Avenue (1972). His reunion with Wilder and Matthau for another screen version of the fast-talking newspaperman comedy The Front Page (1974), however, was strictly for laughs.
Working less frequently in films in the mid-'70s, Lemmon managed to retain his status as one of the best actors in the business with his passionate turn as a conscience-stricken nuclear power plant executive in The China Syndrome (1979). Along with the Best Actor prize at the Cannes Film Festival, Lemmon also earned an Oscar nomination for the film.

He received another Oscar nod with the film version of the play Tribute (1980). Lemmon continued to push himself as an actor throughout the 1980s and 1990s with films such as Missing (1982). In 1986, Lemmon returned to Broadway in Eugene O'Neill's Long Day's Journey Into Night. Though critics began voicing their doubts after such films as Dad (1989), Lemmon offset his affection for sentiment in the early '90s with vivid performances as a slightly seedy character in JFK (1991), a fading, high-strung real estate agent in David Mamet's harsh Glengarry Glen Ross (1992), and a truant father in Robert Altman's Short Cuts (1993). Lemmon proved that older actors could still draw crowds when he co-starred with Matthau as warring neighbors in the hit comedy Grumpy Old Men (1993) and the sequel Grumpier Old Men (1995). The two concluded their decades-long, perennially appealing odd couple act with Out to Sea (1997) and The Odd Couple II (1998).

Along with gathering such lifetime laurels as the Kennedy Center Honors and the Screen Actors' Guild trophy, Lemmon also continued to win nominations and awards for his work in such TV dramas as the 1997 version of 12 Angry Men (inspiring Golden Globe rival Ving Rhames to famously surrender his prize to Lemmon) and Inherit the Wind (1999). Lemmon's Emmy-worthy turn as a serenely wise dying professor in Tuesdays With Morrie proved to be his final major role and an appropriate end to his stellar career. One year after longtime friend Matthau passed away in July 2000, Lemmon succumbed to cancer on June 27, 2001. He was survived by his second wife, Felicia Farr (whom he married in 1962), and his two children. ~ Lucia Bozzola, Rovi

Below is a very interesting long form interview from the late 1990's.
An Extended Interview with Jack Lemmon
American Film in the 1930's
Despite the Depression, people still found the money to go to the cinema

The American society of the 1930s was shaped by the stock market crash of 1929, and the economic depression which ensued. Widespread poverty and unemployment in the early 1930s re­sulted in an increased sense of cynicism and a heightened disrespect for authority. The global spread of fascism in Europe added to the anxieties of the period.

Hollywood attempted to grapple with the social and political problems produced by the Great Depression, despite not being severely affected by the Depression.

The film industry was however feeling the effect of technical changes with the introduction of sound. The silent cinema had developed a high level of visual sophistication and had produced a generation of extremely well-known stars. By 1930, the unique conditions of the sound cinema, including the very sensitive microphones on the sets, had forced the camera to assume a static role in film production, and an entire generation of silent era stars became, within a few years, unemploy­able hacks because of their unimposing voices. In the wake of this "mass extinction," new performers began to emerge. Broadway stars and writers developed a new found interest in film.

Gangster films became very popular in the 1930's, but not all gangster films were the same. In an early gangster film, such as City Streets(1931) a sense of moral integrity and innocence could still be viewed as a strong oppositional force to the urbanized corruption of crime. In The Public Enemy (1933), there is no innocence and the gangsters' violence becomes an extension of the society around them. In City Streets, Cooper's character is a superb shooter who must be seduced into killing. In The Public Enemy, Cagney portrays a killer who is enamored by his own remarkable capacity for violence.

While the gangster film was expressed the anarchistic impulses of the 1930s, the screwball comedy captured the chaos of the times and turned it into a high energy, funny, uplifting genre. In many screwball comedies, such as It Happened One Night (1934), the social class structure is turned topsy-turvy. This  was especially overt in the comedies of Frank Capra. In Capra's It Happened One Night, as well as in his other films of the 1930s, the common man is presented as the exclusive bearer of common sense while the wealthy, the intellectual, and other members of "privileged" society are presented as having lost touch with their humanity.

Throughout this period, the film studios remained one of the largest employers in Southern California and, while the price of a movie ticket was low, box office receipts were at an all-time high. The massive social unrest caused by the Depression did, however, worry many of the studio moguls. Warner Brothers in particular maintained a consistent approach to the production of social protest films. Budgets, more than politics, dictated their schedule and many of their films of the early 1930s were inexpensively made. The films were usually about controversial, and highly exploitable, subject matter — a guarantee for quick returns at the box office. Many of these films, such as I Am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang (1932) and Wild Boys of the Road (1933). were among some of the finer productions of the period.

While Warner Brothers articulated the anger of the Depression, Columbia Pictures attempted to appeal to feelings of populism and patriotism. In a film like Washington Merry-Go-Round (1932), Columbia attempted to merge fictional narrative with news-reel footage of one of the major events of the early 1930s, the Veterans Bonus Marches. In these marches over 20,000 veterans of World War One marched on Washington, D.C., demanding their army bonus pay. President Hoover ordered the U.S. Army to break up the rallies and protests with machine guns and tanks. Somehow, in Washington Merry-Go-Round, this event becomes the basis for patriotic reaffirmation.

In American Madness (1932), the bank runs of the 1930s are presented as being caused by human weakness and individual villains, not by the collapse of the economic system. Likewise, the heroic efforts of a single man could, in the film's view, prevent and alter the problems of the period.

One of the most influential directors of the 1930s was Frank Capra, and his films, especially his comedies, seemingly reflect the realities and illusions of the Great Depression era. Despite the ups and downs of his career it is the 1930s that stand as the period during which Capra as a filmmaker seemed to have been completely in artistic and mental union with his audience.

By the start of the sound movie era, Capra was already a well established director with a polished technical style, and because of the commercially successful track record of his films he was allowed a remarkable degree of directorial freedom as he became Columbia Pictures' most prominent filmmaker. With an unusual degree of artistic control, Capra began to shape his own distinctive cinema.

During the 1930s, the elements of Capra's ambivalent attitude began to manifest themselves loudly in his films. A disdain for the wealthy class appears in many of his films, especially in Ladies of Leisure (1930), Platinum Blonde (1931), It Happened One Night (1934). and Mr. Deeds Goes to Town (1936).

While Capra was a proponent of the wisdom of the common people, he also dis­trusted them anytime they assembled into a group numbering more then 12. In such films as The Miracle Woman (1931), American Madness and Mr. Deeds Goes to Town, the people are viewed as a mindless mob that can be goaded into action by lies and chicanery. In these instances, Capra views the people as an angry rabid crowd ready to perform either a hanging or a cruci­fixion. Likewise, the crowd can only be controlled by a strong, determined man (e.g., Walter Huston in American Madness and Gary Cooper in Mr. Deeds Goes to Town) who can withstand public humiliation and the threat of potential violence. The implicit message seems to be that the greatest virtue of the common man is that he can be led by a decent, sentimental leader.

Capra's attitude toward the common man is in sharp contrast to his defiantly anti-intellectual bias. Even when his heroes are writers, such as Robert Williams in Platinum Blonde and Clark Gable in It Happened One Night, their working method is more intuitive than analytical and their concerns are emotional rather than rational. Byproducts of intellectualism, such as the law and psychoanalysis, are viewed by Capra as either nonsense or a crooked scheme. Despite the fact that the main character in Mr. Deeds Goes to Town is something of a rustic philosopher, he is untainted by any overt education and his philosophy appears to have been gathered by osmosis while sitting in a New Hampshire woods. In turn, his adversaries are lawyers who resent his natural intelligence almost as much as they envy his money.

Capra's popularity was based upon his ability to identify and portray the inherent beliefs and subconscious concerns of his period. His films did not so much express the physical realities of the 1930s, but rather they articulated the apprehensions and myths of that era. The contradictions and confusions found in his films were not just his, but were also those of his viewers. Capra represented his time, for both better and for worse, to a degree unparalleled by any other filmmaker.

American cinemas remained segregated through the 1930's

A separate Black American cinema first emerged in 1915 in response to the overt racism in DW Griffith's film Birth of a Nation. The industry took over a decade to find its feet and to become profitable, but by the 1930's it was producing good films with all black casts and its own stars.

The 1930's was a time when segregation was commonplace. Baseball had its Negro Leagues, and Black Ball players were kept out of the highest levels of the games until Jackie Robinson broke through in 1947. Cinemas remained segregated, especially in the South, and Black people rarely made it into the movies unless they were bit players. The one exception was Paul Robeson whose singing talent and public popularity was so great and so unique that Hollywood couldn't ignore him. But by the 1950's Robeson's political activism led to his blacklisting in 1950.

From the 1930's through to about the 1970's a Black cinema industry ran in parallel to mainstream American cinema, producing many of its own stars and playing to appreciative Black audiences.

You can find out more about Black American cinema by clicking on the documentary below

A History of Black Cinema
The 1930's was an interesting time in American society and this was reflected in the films they made.

Screening at Now Office Furniture

Saturday, TBA

7.00pm start

It Happened One Night (1934)

A spoiled heiress, running away from her family, is helped by a man who is actually a reporter in need of a story.

Comedy/Romance     Rated:G      105 min
More Details

Screening at Cafe Nova

Sunday, 21st of August

7.00pm start

Irma La Douce (1963)

In Paris, an ex-cop falls in love with a prostitute, and tries to get her out of that life by paying for all of her time. Not so easy...

Comedy/Romance     Rated:PG    147 min
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