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Elwood P. Dowd: Well, I've wrestled with reality for 35 years, Doctor, and I'm happy to state I finally won out over it.

         Harvey (1950)
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December Issue

Classic Film

The Audience Choice Screenings

In December we are letting the audience pick the films, and this year they've done a brilliant job.

For our last musical in the Friday night screening series they've chosen a true classic - classic in the sense that the story is a tried and true one - it follows the trials and tribulations of a dance company as  they struggle to put on a show... and in the best tradition of the times, all that is keeping them going is 'The show must go on!'


Saturday sees Spencer Tracey in a taught drama set in a town where the train doesn't usually stop. The film starts when the train does stop, Spencer gets off, and all the trouble starts. A must-see film.

And our last film for the year... the incomparable Harvey. All films you shouldn't miss.

So in this month's eZine we turn our attention to stage adaptations, our classic film star Spencer Tracey and American film in the 1950's

 
Stage to Screen
Theatre has been a fertile source material for film
The theatre has provided a rich vein of inspiration to film-makers since film's very early days. Adaptations from the stage to the screen continue through into contemporary films with some more recent examples including Lantana (2001), Closer (2004), Doubt (2005), and The Ides of March (2011).

We have screened a number of films that began their lives as stage plays - Bus Stop (1956), A Streetcar named Desire (1951), Oliver! (1968), Summer of the Seventeenth Doll (1959), The Philadelphia Story (1940) and Dial M for Murder (1954) and eventually became very good films. And of course - Harvey (screening on Sunday 6th of December) is base on a Pulitzer prize winning play
                      A recent stage production of Dial M for Murder
But there are a number of notable films that were adapted from the stage, which we are yet to screen. The best among them are - 12 Angry Men (starring Henry Fonda), Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolfe? (starring the very scary Elizabeth Taylor), all of the Marx Brothers' early films were stage plays first, and many of the great musicals that we didn't get a chance to screen originated on the stage.

Check them out if you get the chance.

There are challenges associated with taking a play from the stage to the screen. In many ways the script is almost entirely laid out for the director in the pages of the play. Plays and films are of a similar length, and as it is with books, many of the audience will have seen the stage production and will have certain expectations about what they will see on screen. These considerations mean many of the poorer stage adaptions look like a filmed play.

Our last film for the year (Harvey) seems to have a bet each way on how to translate a play to the big screen. One of the film's central characters - Josephine Hull, who plays older sister Etty, first appeared in the role on stage and her performance is very theatrical. And in parts some of the sets look stagey, but unlike films like Dial M for Murder, the action takes place in multiple locations. It seems to strike the right balance, but you can make up your own mind by attending the screening.

In another interesting stage-screen translation - Twenty years after the release of Harvey, James Stewart played the role of Elwood P. Dowd once again in a triumphant Broadway revival of Harvey in 1970.
Classic Film Stars
A young Spencer Tracey

Spencer Bonaventure Tracy was born on April 5, 1900, in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, where he also grew up. The youngest son of an Irish-American sales manager for a truck company, Tracy was raised Catholic, and both he and his older brother Carroll served as altar boys. Spencer got into trouble early on for missing school and getting into fights, eventually going to at least 15 different elementary schools.

He enlisted in the U.S. Navy during World War I with friend Pat O'Brien but never saw any action, having spent most of his time stationed in Norfolk, Virginia. After the war, Tracy spent several semesters at Ripon College, where he discovered acting. He then made his way to New York City, where he studied at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts.

In 1922, he made his Broadway debut alongside Pat O'Brien as a robot in R.U.R., a science fiction play by Kavel Capek. He also appeared in the short-lived comedy A Royal Fandango the following year. In 1930, he gave a star-making performance as a convicted killer in the Broadway drama The Last Mile. Director John Ford saw Tracy in the production and wanted him for his film Up The River (1930), alongside Humphrey Bogart.

Under contract with Fox, Tracy made a string of films where he was often cast as a tough guy or criminal and attracted positive notices from critics with films such as 20,000 Years in Sing Sing and The Power and the Glory.

Tracy developed a reputation as a heavy drinker off screen despite being married he was also known to have extramarital affairs with other performers, including Loretta Young. Tracy may have broken his marriage vows, but he and Louise never divorced. The couple had two children, John and Susan.

Making the move to MGM in 1935, Tracy started to achieve box office success. His first hit as a leading man came with Fury, directed by Fritz Lang and was followed by success in San Francisco, co-starring with Clark Gable.

Tracy achieved both commercial and critical success with Captains Courageous. Audiences and critics alike praised his performance as a Portuguese fisherman, and the film brought him his first Academy Award. Tracy picked up another Academy Award the following year for his portrayal of Father Flanagan in Boys Town.

In 1942, Tracy first appeared opposite Katharine Hepburn in Woman of the Year. The pair had tremendous chemistry, both on and off-screen. Some felt that Tracy had finally met his match in Hepburn, and their talent for verbal sparring was dazzling. Many of their projects involved a battle-of-the-sexes theme, such as Adam's Rib (1949).

By the mid-1950s, Tracy's career seemed to slow down. One memorable role from this time was Bad Day at Black Rock (1955). He played a one-armed man searching for the truth in a small desert town. Directed by John Sturges, the film also featured Lee Marvin and Ernest Borgnine.

Spencer Tracy on Film: A Biography (2000) Part 1
                                   Spencer Tracey Biography (2000)

Tracy started the 1960s with several strong leading roles. With Inherit the Wind (1960), he brought a fictionalized version of the renowned lawyer Clarence Darrow to the big screen. The film, based on an earlier play, explored the infamous Scopes Trial of 1925, which was a legal battle over the teaching of evolution. In Judgment at Nuremburg (1961), he played an American judge presiding in a trial of his German counterparts after World War II.

In his later years, Tracy reportedly became moody and difficult and suffered from health problems, all of which affected his ability to work. In 1967, Tracy filmed his last movie, Guess Who's Coming to Dinner, which also starred Hepburn and actor Sidney Poitier. The movie explored the subject of interracial dating. Shortly after the filming was complete, Tracy died of a heart attack on June 10, 1967, at his home in Beverly Hills, California. Hepburn had been with him during his final days.

Remembered as an actor's actor, Tracy had the amazing ability to make his performances seem effortless. He made an unlikely box office draw, with his stocky form and craggy face. Yet still he became one of Hollywood's most bankable names during his peak. Tracy is also forever linked to another great star, Katharine Hepburn. From their meeting on the set of Woman of the Year in 1941, they remained a couple until Tracy's death.

American film in the 1950's
The 1950's was  a very challenging time for the American cinema as a great many things were changing. The eyes and ears of a worldwide audience were no longer exclusively theirs with the advent of television, and the revival of a number of national film industries, most notably in Italy, and a little later in Britain.

The audience ws fracturing too. Rather than the whole family agreeing to see the same film together, the rise of the teenager meant that some of the family wanted something quite different. It was also a time which saw women take their place more fully in the workforce and in society in general. And the fact that more people owned cars meant that the dirve-ins really started to flourish, which in turn meant that those establishments needed a different product to screen.
And the 50's saw the emergence of rock and roll and a new breed of star performers, a number of who also crossed over into film. The most notable of them being Elvis Presley.

All these factors shaped the American film industry, and given the influence of their films across the world, they went some way to shaping the direction cinema took internationally.

The 'threat' that women posed to society is credited with the creation of the Femme Fatale, a key element in the success of Film Noir. This threat was also responsible in part for the careers of actresses like Marilyn Monroe, Jayne Mansfield, and Mamie Van Doren... the blonde bombshells who posed no threat to American male masculinity. There is an
interesting article on a number of these actresses here.

There were the teen themed films to appeal to the new teenage audience.Elvis pumped out Jailhouse Rock (1957), Loving You (1957) and King Creole (1958), with more to come in the 60's (unfortunately). There were the sci-fi and horror films that usually played at the drive-in - Not of This Earth (1957), Attack of the Crab Monsters (1957), The Blob (1958) featuring Steve McQueen in his first starring role), A Bucket of Blood (1959), and The Wasp Woman (1959) to name just a few. The dacade also saw the release of I Was A Teenage Werewolf (1957) (Michael Landon's first feature film), and Ed Wood's debut transvestite shock film Glen or Glenda (1953).

The 50's gave us the first and most enduring teen mega-star... James Dean, even if Dean was no longer a teenager when he played Jim Stark and had already died by the time Rebel Without a Cause (1955) was released. Likely one more source of teen angst.
The decade in American film also gave us Brando in A Streetcar named Desire (1951), The Wild One (1954) and On the Waterfront (1954). The Wild One was banned for decades in Britain for fears it would spark a bikie war.

The 50's gave us wider screens with Paramount's wrap-around, big-screen Cinerama debuting in 1952, a break-through technique that required three cameras, three projectors, interlocking, semi-curved (at 146 degrees) screens, and four-track stereo sound. It made audiences feel that they were at the center of the action. But it didn't last

There was also 3D, Aroma-Rama, and Smell-O-Vision which were equally short lived, though 3D had a recent short-lived revival which also seems to have waned.

There were the epics like The Ten Commandments (1956) and Ben Hur (1959), both of which starred Charlton 'Teeth' Heston.

Billy Wilder really hit his strides in the 50's with Sunset Boulevard (1950), Ace in the Hole (1951), Stalag 17 (1953), Sabrina (1954), Witness for the Prosecution (1957) and Some Like it Hot (1959). And even more prolific prolific, Hitchcock made Stage Fright (1950), Strangers on a Train (1951), I Confess (1953), Dial M for Murder (1954), Rear Window (1954), To Catch a Thief (1955), The trouble with Harry (1955), The Man who knew too much (1956), The Wrong Man (1956), Vertigo (1958),
and North by Northwest (1959)

It was a great decade in American film.. the decade from which two of our films come from during our December screenings

Screening

Friday, 4th of December

7.00pm start

42nd Street (1931)


 

A producer puts on what may be his last Broadway show, and at the last moment a chorus girl has to replace the star...

Starring a very young Ginger Rogers.



Comedy/Musical/Romance      Rated:G      89 min




 
More Details

Screening

Sunday, 6th of December

7.00pm start

Harvey (1950)

Due to his insistence that he has an invisible six-foot rabbit for a best friend, a whimsical middle-aged man is thought by his family to be insane - but he may be wiser than anyone knows.

Comedy/Drama     Rated: G     104 mins

 
More Details

Screening

Saturday, 5th of December

7.00pm start

Bad Day at Black Rock (1955)

A one handed stranger comes to a tiny town possessing a terrible past they want to keep secret, by violent means if necessary.

Stars Spencer Tracey, Ernest Borgnine and Lee Marvin.

Drama/Thriller/Western      Rated: PG       81 mins
More Details
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