Category Archives: MovieZoot Blog Posts

Searching for Life and Death Clues in
by Sheri Warren Sankner

1. Magnifying glass“Elementary, my dear Watson.” Four words heard frequently that are indelibly linked to the most famous fictional murder mysteries in history. When it comes to whodunits, no one solves them better than Scotland Yard’s fictional detective Sherlock Holmes and his sidekick, physician Dr. Watson. Referring to himself as a “consulting detective” in the stories, Holmes is famous for his proficiency with observation, forensic science, and logical reasoning. The reader and the viewer are along for the ride as the two crime fighters uncover life and death clues.

Sherlock Holmes was first introduced to the world in 1887 in “A Study in Scarlet,” written by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Since then, Holmes has been featured in four novels, 56 short stories, and on screen 254 times, a Guinness Book world record for the most portrayed literary human character in film and television. All but one of the stories occur during the Victorian or Edwardian eras, between about 1880 and 1914. Most are narrated by the character of Holmes’s friend and biographer Dr. Watson, who usually accompanies him on his investigations and often shares a home with him at 221B Baker Street in London, where many of the stories begin.

2. Sherlock Holmes silhouetteA British cultural icon, the character and stories have had a profound and lasting effect on mystery writing and popular culture as a whole, with the original tales as well as thousands written by authors other than Conan Doyle being adapted into stage and radio plays, television, films, video games, and other media for over one hundred years.

It is believed that the famous fictional sleuth was inspired by Dr. Joseph Bell, one of the teachers at the medical school of Edinburgh University, whom Arthur Doyle met as a 17- year-old student. When he met the impressive Dr. Bell, Conan Doyle described the impressive Dr. Bell as a “thin wiry, dark” man, “with a high-nosed acute face, penetrating grey eyes, and angular shoulders.” Dr. Bell “would sit in his receiving room with a face like a Red Indian, and diagnose the people as they came in, before they even opened their mouths. He would tell them details of their past life; and hardly would he ever make a mistake.” Conan Doyle even dedicated “The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes” to Dr. Bell, who gave credit to the author for Sherlock Holmes’ genius: “You are yourself Sherlock Holmes and well you know it,” he wrote him.

3. Sherlock Holmes silhouette 2Holmes is a classic obsessive-compulsive personality. “He works compulsively on all his cases and his deductive powers are phenomenal. He can get engulfed in periods of depression between cases and is known to take cocaine when he cannot stand the lack of activity. He has an in-depth knowledge of music and plays on a Stradivarius that he bought for a song in Tottenham. He is also known to run chemistry experiments in his spare time to the dismay of both Dr. Watson and his landlady Mrs. Hudson. He’s not known to have had an intimate or amorous relation with a woman.”

4. Sign of FourThe watch list film this week from 1932, “The Sign of Four: Sherlock Holmes’ Greatest Case,” is a classic Sherlock Holmes tale. This black and white British crime/mystery was directed by Graham Cutts and starred Ian Hunter, Arthur Wontner, Ilsa Bevin, Graham Soutton and Miles Malleson. A young woman needs Holmes and Watson for protection when she’s tormented by an escaped killer, who wants revenge for her father’s previous actions.

Unfortunately, when the woman is abducted, Holmes and Watson must infiltrate the city’s criminal underworld to track her down.

The plot twists and turns throughout. It follows Jonathan Small, a prisoner serving a long sentence, who reveals the location of a stash of loot to two army officers, Major Sholto and Captain Morstan, in command of his prison. Small expects them to help him to escape from jail with the three splitting the booty equally.

Sholto and Morstan find the valuable treasure behind a brick wall in an Indian fortress. The two men quarrel because each wants the whole treasure for himself. After a struggle, Sholto kills his accomplice and returns to England without helping Small escape as promised.

5. The Sign of FourYears pass and Sholto is a wealthy man living in London thanks to his theft of the treasure. One day he reads of Small’s escape and fears his retribution, becoming haunted by the sound of Small’s wooden leg. Believing that he will be killed in revenge for his past betrayal, Sholto tells his sons Bartholomew and Theodore about his murky past and how he gained the family fortune. He instructs his sons to send Morstan’s daughter Mary a valuable pearl necklace and split their inheritance with her. Sholto is murdered by Small, however, before he could tell where his treasure was located.

Small had broken out of jail with two accomplices, a tattooed convict and a native named Tonga. He forces Theodore into telling him about Mary Morstan. They soon begin threatening Miss Morstan in the hope that she will hand over her share of the treasure to them. Frightened, she asks Sherlock Holmes to help protect her. Theodore comes to her and reveals that the treasure’s secret hiding place has been discovered. He offers her the share as his father instructed and they go to the family house. When they arrive there, they find Bartholomew dead and the treasure missing.

Holmes has his theory about the murder, but the innocent Theodore is arrested for murder. Holmes and Watson try to prove Theodore’s innocence and track down the gang threatening Miss Morstan. They soon discover that Small and his gang are waiting to take the necklace from Mary Morstan to complete their haul and then flee the country. Meanwhile, they are hiding out in a circus. Watson unwisely takes Mary to investigate, and she is forcibly abducted. Small’s gang plan to escape by boat up the River Thames, but are pursued by Holmes and Watson. The film climaxes in a shoot-out at a deserted warehouse.

6. Ian_Hunter_in_Gallant_Sons_trailerIan Hunter is a standout in this film as the level-headed Dr. Watson. This smooth, fair-haired British leading man, who was actually born in South Africa, enjoyed a productive four decade long film career in both England and Hollywood.

To see Ian Hunter and follow along with this Sherlock Holmes suspenseful The Sign of Four mystery, visit

By Chris Hoey

Heroes come and go, but they always capture something important about the culture from which they come. Sherlock Holmes, an imperfect sleuth because he sees so much, using the unique power of the human mind to deduce the facts of a case when given the smallest details. How has Holmes captured the imagination of generations, across mixed media, from the pages of a book to the airwaves of the radio to television and film? We can learn a lot from the heroes of justice that Holmes counts among his particular type of icon.

Greek Ancient Hercules God StatueCenturies ago, heroes were the ones who conquered enemies both natural and supernatural to protect his kind and cheat death. Odysseus and Hercules fit the mold for the ancient Greeks who needed to know that brute strength and a clever mind could guarantee a long and rewarding life. Stories were passed through the ages, comforting people who may have felt powerless in the face of cruel and unjust natural forces.

2. Sherlock Holmes StatueHolmes made his mark in a world rapidly becoming more complex and civilized. As natural forces rapidly became tame by mankind’s inventions in the industrial age, fellow man became the unjust and cruel force to face the hero’s fury. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s consulting detective fit the bill as the hero for the time when intellect had clearly conquered mankind’s major foe.

But Holmes also had a flaw. Unlike ancient heroes, fans could rejoice that the case was solved, but also relish the idea that Holmes was not perfect. His thinly veiled habit with his snuff box and his sometimes arrogant demeanor kept the hero in the real world, with the rest of us. His family tree included some rotten limbs.

3. Bond in the BarrelAnother British hero followed Holme’s model in James Bond. Here was a hero with the intellectual, physical and technical skill that the modern age needed. In a world where dangerous minds harnessed the power of man’s destructive inventions, Bond fed our need for a hero who enforced justice using all the devices civilization could devise. Bond has been Holmes with gadgets.

Today’s film heroes have taken a turn back in time, as they are now superhuman hybrids. Somehow we have lost faith that Holmes and Bond can protect us from threats that we face in the world now. The villains have become super-charged as well, capable of destroying cities and states without deploying doomsday machines. Our modern villains like to use our technology and cities’ infrastructure against us, so our heroes must be super.

4. Benedict CumberbatchHow does Holmes keep returning? Holmes seems as comfortable solving the impossible case in Victorian England as he does in modern London. Robert Downey Jr. portrays a Holmes with above average dexterity for a man at the turn of the last century. Benedict Cumberbatch portrays a Holmes who is just as believable in the turn of the latest century. Holmes, the hero who can come back to save humanity across centuries, may have a hidden strength in his trivial flaws.

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A Closer Look at “Carnival of Souls”
by Virginia Montgomery

1. carnivalofsouls burning into your mindEarly on in “Carnival of Souls,” a horror movie filmed in 1962, we see a car containing three women accidentally drive off a bridge into rapidly flowing water. Only one of the women comes out of the water alive. But did she really survive? The movie does not give us an answer till the very end.

“Carnival of Souls,” which is arguably the first modern “Zombie film,” has become a cult film. It was created on a low budget that used locations and people imaginatively. And though it is simplistic by today’s movie standards with all the modern special effects moviemakers now employ, it is still a film with psychological overtones that make us think about the dead and their relationship to the physical world.

2. Carnival of Souls - ghoulSo, are souls really spooks? As we live our lives each day, is there something drawing us to the land of the dead? Do we feel alone? Or, are we surrounded by spooks that remain mostly invisible but from time to time remind us that our imagination can be as real as the life we are living? Even if we escape a deadly situation, do we really escape it in a way that does not affect us? Or, are we shaken?

The heroine of “Carnival of Souls,” Mary Henry — played by Candace Hilligoss — is haunted by a ghoulish face that pops up unexpectedly. He seems to connect her to the netherworld even as she struggles to get on with her human life. Everything that she does seems to be like a dream but she doesn’t understand what is happening. Mary does a lot of running throughout the film — just as we do often in life.

Sometimes things happen to us that are out of our control such as the scene in which the organ seems to play itself. No matter how we try, we are drawn to our destiny, without a lot of work on our part. Everyone goes through a period where events happen that are out of our control. We are swept along and must accept it.

3. CS - MaryMary was drawn to the dusty old Pavilion that has not seen any activity in many years. Movie watchers feel a sense of terror, not knowing but feeling that something is about to happen.

Even though it has not been proven that ghosts exist, there may be a time when a familiar fragrance worn by a dead friend or an unexpected warmth or chill may stop us in our tracks and cause us to feel another presence.

Do ghosts exist and is it possible that some of them are not so friendly?

4. Roger EbertFamed film critic Roger Ebert critiqued “Carnival of Souls” in 1989 saying, “‘Carnival of Souls’ is an odd, obscure horror film that was made on a low budget in 1962 in Lawrence, Kan., and still has an intriguing power. Like a lost episode from ‘Twilight Zone,’ it places the supernatural right in the middle of everyday life and surrounds it with ordinary people. The movie is being revived in art houses around the country for Halloween, and it’s possible that it plays better today than when it was released. It ventures to the edge of camp, but never strays across the line, taking itself with an eerie seriousness.”

5. Carnival of Souls busBut consider this excerpt from an article in titled “Do Spirits of the dead walk among us?’”

According to a survey published in October 2005, 68 percent of people believe in ghosts. Wow! This take on real meaning when you compare it to the percentage of people who believe in God?: 55 percent. One in 10 people claim to have had a direct encounter with a ghost or ghosts.

Scientists, of course, dismiss the very notion of survival after death as quite simply absurd. They have ready explanation for all the classic manifestations of spirits, ghosts, and ghouls. Bizarre noises in the night?

These are just everyday sounds over interpreted  by twitchy people. Creepy shadows in the corner of the bedroom? Tricks of the light. Strange cold spots in the hallway? Try fitting draught-excluders.

Of course it makes sense to rule out the commonplace before reaching more unusual explanations, however, at some point, when all else is considered, what is left? Haunting, sightings, and things that go bump in the night that’s what. Are they ghosts? Are they really the spirits of the dead?

6. The Living DeadOr are they the true living dead?

Watch Carnival of Souls on now!

by Chris Hoey

1. Day of the Trifids image 1How far can you push without getting pushed back? How long, and how much can happen before a person starts to get what’s coming to them? We have a sub-genre of films that addresses what the consequences of our behavior may be. “The Day of the Triffids,” “The Blob,” “Swamp Thing,” “Invasion of the Body Snatchers,” “Little Shop of Horrors” and even the cult classics “The Toxic Avenger” and “Attack of the Killer Tomatoes” explore the idea of what happens when the forces we exploit may have had enough.

In “The Day of the Triffids,” plants have not only developed into carnivorous creatures, but ones that can stalk, communicate and hunt humans. To make it worse, most humans have, by another force of nature, lost their most potent protection — the sense of sight. The horror film creates our worst nightmares come true by making us fear what surrounds us.

2. The BlobIn “The Blob,” the creature is an amoeboid from another planet that grows in ferocity and mass as it consumes each new victim. The creature seems to only know how to consume and search for more to consume. It is impervious to any harm because it simply envelopes all in its path.

Spending a night near a swamp, listening to the sounds of the savagery that occurs in the shallow waters of nature can send shivers down your spine. Where else would a horrifying, vengeful creature develop, but a swamp? “Swamp Thing” brings to life this version of the horror we cannot see for all the trees, and water, and slime.

“Invasion of the Body Snatchers” takes this idea of the unnaturally organic human consuming creature to a new level. Instead of eating, or dragging off the human, kicking and screaming, the body snatchers sense a human through emotional outbursts and entombs the person in a pod, like a seed, from which a new, inhuman, formerly human creature emerges. The evil endgame here is the eradication of the human race, with emotionless masses taking their place.

3. Venus Fly Trap“Little Shop of Horrors” adds music and humor to the horror story of the human-eating plant that takes over. In this story, the main character, Seymour, is motivated by love for his co-worker to feed with his own blood the star plant in the shop. As the customers and the money flow in, the plant, named Audrey II, literally eats its way through the cast while singing and dancing as best a plant can dance.

“The Toxic Avenger,” however, takes this trope in a new direction. Instead of humans being victims to the natural world that we’ve exploited, the chemicals we’ve invented turn one person into an environmentally conscious consciousness that prevents further destruction of the planet. It’s a chemically charged creature who protects nature against the very toxic sludge that created him.

4. Attack of Killer Tomatoes“Attack of the Killer Tomatoes” removes any reason from this common theme of nature fighting back against humans. In this film, tomatoes, off the vine and ripe for a fight, roll down mainstreet America like a ghoulish gang of Ragu-powered punks.

5. Wanted PosterMovies that scare us to care about the organic things that we share the universe with, frighten us more effectively by making our world able to fight back. And when it does fight back, it often has an unfair advantage. Why do movies like this succeed in capturing our attention? Do they make us think about our behavior or are they just good fun to make us scared of that can of spaghetti sauce?

Watch The Day of the Triffids on now!

“Circus of Fear” with Christopher Lee
by Sheri Warren Sankner

1. Fear scrabble piecesFranklin Delano Roosevelt said in his first inaugural address, “We have nothing to fear but fear itself.” He may have been talking about the fear of war at the time, but his words ring true in so many realms. Fear, we have all felt its firm grip on our minds and bodies — the sweaty palms, the quickened breathing, the hair standing up on the back of our necks, the goose bumps on our arms, the racing thoughts, and the uneasy sense of panic and extreme anxiety. Fear can render us useless, freeze us in our tracks, and make us worry incessantly or hide away in quiet desperation.

Whatever the challenge or situation we face in life, fear can stop our progress, keep us from succeeding and stifle our potential. But despite its negative effects, many of us still seem to thrive on fear’s risky, edge-of-the-seat thrills. Over the years, films have found interesting ways of personifying fear and terror. Through it all though, our hope in happy endings is key. “The Shawshank Redemption” so eloquently taught us that “Fear can hold you prisoner, but hope can set you free.”

2. Old time movie cameraFilmmakers have used fear as a literary tool since the earliest black and white productions. Fear might even be considered a “character” in some of the most successful horror films and psychological thrillers. Originally called “Spook tales,” the first horror film on record is “Le Manoir du Diable,” created in 1896 by early visionary, Georges Méliès. Since then, some of our most memorable cinema experiences have conjured up terrifying characters, scary moods and shocking events.

3. Bela LugosiSome of the most memorable characters in the horror genre were introduced on the silver screen in 1931 with Bela Lugosi’s “Dracula,” Boris Karloff’s “Frankenstein,” and Fredric March’s “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” among others. These were the traditional literary antiheroes from beloved classic books.

In addition to monsters, fear on film can also take the shape of real bad guys like Robert Mitchum’s Cady in 1962’s “Cape Fear,” Michael Myers in the “Halloween” series, and the supernatural dream freak Freddy Krueger in “The Nightmare on Elm Street” franchise. We have watched crazy, animated killing machines like the Chucky doll in “Child’s Play” and the frightening Stephen King clown Pennywhistle from “It.” We have dreaded aliens and been scared witless by the 1958 sci-fi horror classic “The Blob” from outer space that consumes everything in its path and the 1980 John Carpenter film, “The Fog,” which rolled into a coastal town 100 years after a ship mysteriously sank in its waters. We have also been frightened to our sanctimonious cores by religious and satanic symbolism in films like “The Exorcist,” “The Omen,” and “The Amityville Horror.”

4. Alfred HItchcockPerhaps, the master of suspense, Alfred Hitchcock recognized and played upon our fears the best. If we had a weakness, fetish or a phobia, Hitchcock knew how to use it to terrorize us. No one can forget Kim Novak in the 1958 American film noir psychological thriller, “Vertigo,” which personified a dizzying fear of heights. Murderous flocks of birds terrorized us in the 1963 psychological horror-thriller film “The Birds” with Tippi Hedron. James Stewart’s voyeurism leads Grace Kelly into trouble in “Rear Window.” Finally, the classic “Psycho” introduces Norman Bates’ split personality and murderous mother fixation.

5. Psycho ShowerA New York Times article cites Hitchcock’s amazing contributions to the film industry. “Entire genres owe debts to his work, including modern thrillers (like ‘Jaws’ and every Bond movie ever made), horror and slasher films, disaster pictures and psychological suspense dramas. And his distinctive use of montage, camera angles and symbolic images would be consciously or unconsciously appropriated by generations of filmmakers.”

From early film noir to horror and psychological thrillers, many films have been expert at creating psychological suspense and inducing anxiety in its audiences. even posted a top 100 best movies with fear in their titles, including this week’s Watchlist film, “Circus of Fear” starring Sir Christopher Lee.

6. Christopher LeeLee was perhaps the only actor of his generation to have starred in so many films and cult sagas, appearing in over 200 films during his illustrious career. Although most notable for playing the bloodsucking vampire, Dracula, on screen, he portrayed other varied characters, many whom were menacing villains. Known for his deeply, melodic basso voice and towering, slender frame, Lee always brought an air of dark sophistication and foreboding to his roles. His role as Gregor, a facially scarred lion tamer in “Circus of Fear” is no different.

Also known as “Psycho-Circus” in the U.S., “Circus of Fear” was written by Harry Alan Towers and directed by John Llewellyn Moxey. It was based on the 1926 novel “The Three Just Men” by Edgar Wallace. In addition to Lee, it starred Leo Genn, Anthony Newlands, and Klaus Kinski (another actor who played Dracula).

7. Circus of Fear posterThis well-crafted story revolves around a gang of professional criminals who rob an armored truck on the London Bridge in broad daylight. During the heist, one of the crooks shoots a guard who is trying to escape. This plot turn leads the police to Barberini’s Circus, where they seem to have hidden the cash and a series of puzzling deaths begin to plague the traveling circus. The circus has more than its share of strange and troubled personalities. Scotland Yard is on the trail of the robbers and the shooter. Their suspects include the mask-wearing and disfigured lion tamer (Lee), a vengeful ringmaster, an insanely jealous knife-thrower, and a blackmailing dwarf called “Mr. Big.” Scotland Yard’s Detective Elliot (played by Leo Genn) investigates this cast of misfits being murdered by throwing knives. His investigation of the clues leads to a climax in front of the assembled suspects during a knife-throwing act.

Check out “Circus of Fear” and its hair-raising twists and turns now!

“The Fearless Hyena”
by Chris Hoey

1. Jackie Chan

In the last film of Jackie Chan’s early filmmaking days in Hong Kong, Chan meticulously practices the art he perfected through trial and error over the course of many films. For many of his early films, the ending credits displayed the pain and suffering the cast and crew suffered in the creation of Chan’s special brand of martial arts films. In the classic “blooper” reel, the audience was treated to the stunts that went awry and the fight scenes in which strikes landed accidentally. Chan’s penchant for improvisation coupled with careful choreography helped to build his reputation as a master filmmaker even as his style proved to be mayhem for production management.

2. JC HandprintsChan can sometimes baffle set designers and set dressers with the style of fight scenes he stages. He famously likes to use anything the audience sees in the scene. During the famous “chopsticks” fight scene, two characters fight for the meaty morsels with chopstick skills. The dishes on the table barely move throughout the scene while the two combatants toss bits of food around, stealing the chunks from each other in cunning crescendo of culinary martial arts. Chan has an eye for continuity, however, as both dishes maintain a consistent look throughout the action. You won’t find a bowl of rice that goes from half-full to empty to full again, depending on the camera angle here.

3. JC Shadow SilouetteMaybe the forgiving aspect of Chan’s style is that chaos and speed reign. If an audience member is taking time to notice a bowl or a set piece that is out of place from shot to shot, they must have a quick eye. In one scene, Chan’s character challenges his master to a duel of balancing various pottery vases and vessels. The pots and even cups and saucers seem to appear out of thin air, and that seems to be the point. Chan presents a fantasy sequence where we delight in the skills in the action rather than the reality of the objects in the scene.

Chan’s stunning fight scenes and stunt work also further the plot and director’s purpose in the film. Often the sequences settle a score between opposing forces, but much more frequently the scenes help to set a tone or make the audience laugh. In one famous scene from the film, Chan’s character engages in “emotional kung fu,” in which the practitioner of the art uses happiness, sadness, and any other display of emotion to expose his adversary’s weakness.

4. JC Hollywood StarIn the end, fans of Chan are always satisfied because, just like his characters, who are practiced and faithful to the martial arts, Chan is faithful to his own style of motion picture arts. The story and the continuity serve a greater purpose in his films. That may be the reason there is nothing like a classic Jackie Chan film.

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Olivier Stars in and Directs Marilyn Monroe
by Sheri Warren Sankner

1. the-prince-and-the-showgirl1What happens when you put the world’s greatest Shakespearean actor together with Hollywood’s sexiest starlet? You get heaven and hell in the form of “The Prince and the Showgirl,” this week’s Moviezoot watch list film with Sir Laurence Olivier and Marilyn Monroe. Made in 1957, this film featured a snobbishly cantankerous and domineering Olivier directing a fragile, insecure, method-acting Monroe, whom he described as a “professional amateur.” Marilyn Monroe Productions, which had been formed in 1955, produced the film, and possibly led the actress to believe she would have more control over the filmmaking process.

“Of all the things I’ve done in life, directing a motion picture is the most beautiful. It’s the most exciting and the nearest than an interpretive craftsman, such as an actor can possibly get to being a creator,” Olivier once said. He may have had some doubts though with the tumultuous creating of “The Prince and the Showgirl” and all of its ensuing dramatic problems with Monroe.

2. Olivier and Monroe 2In fact, the 2011 drama “My Week with Marilyn,” which starred Michelle Williams, Kenneth Branagh, and Eddie Redmayne, is based on the books by Colin Clark, that chronicle the stormy making of the film. This film focused on a week of shooting with Monroe being escorted around London by Colin (Redmayne), after her husband Arthur Miller (Dougray Scott) left for the United States. It depicts her bouts of self-doubt and depression, obvious drug and alcohol use, late scene arrivals, flubbed lines, and even a miscarriage. It was filmed at Saltwood Castle, White Waltham Airfield, and other London locations, including the same studio where they filmed “The Prince and the Showgirl” originally in 1956. It was a difficult, trying period for both stars to say the least.

3. Olivier Later YearsIn his 1983 autobiography “Confessions of an Actor,” Olivier writes that when he met Marilyn Monroe prior to the production, he believed he would fall in love with her. During production, however, he became tired of Monroe’s legendary diva-like lack of discipline and her constant questioning of his directions and wound up despising her instead. He admitted later though that her performance overshadowed his own, even going so far as to say that she was the best thing in the film and that the final result was worth the aggravation.

How this unlikely pair came together for this romantic comedy is another story. Named the #6 Actress on The American Film Institute’s 50 Greatest Screen Legends, Marilyn Monroe was a noted American actress, comedienne, singer, and model. In 1949, she posed nude for the now famous calendar shot, which appeared in Playboy in 1953.

4. Marilyn Monroe test shotShe was the first centerfold in that magazine’s long history. Monroe went on to become one of the world’s most enduring entertainment icons, remembered for her charming personification of the Hollywood sex symbol and her tragic personal and professional struggles within the industry. With unmatched magnetism and childlike vulnerability, Monroe was a true movie star long before the film’s 1957 release.

After seeing Monroe in her small part in ”The Asphalt Jungle” (1950), Joseph L. Mankiewicz cast her in “All About Eve” (1950), resulting in a seven-year contract with 20th Century Fox. “Niagara” (1953), “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes” (1953), “How to Marry a Millionaire” (1953) and “The Seven Year Itch” (1955) solidified her status as a superstar.

5. marilyn-monroe-1502475049OiaUnfortunately, Monroe wasn’t happy with her sexpot image and she wanted to be taken seriously as an actress. Her work began to slow down around this time though, due to her habit of being continually late to sets, her bungled scenes and forgotten lines, her constant illnesses, and her unwillingness to cooperate with her producers, directors, and other actors. In 1955, after a failed marriage to baseball great Joe DiMaggio, Monroe moved to New York from Hollywood in an attempt to ditch her sexy image and become the serious actor she dreamed she could be. While there, she worked with director Lee Strasberg at New York’s The Actors Studio.

6. MM Dress Blowing UpShe also began psychoanalysis to learn more about herself. Sadly, she’d spent most of her childhood in foster homes and orphanages while her mother was committed to a mental institution. Critics recognized her artistic and dramatic acting transformation in 1956’s “Bus Stop,” though many were shocked by her marriage to serious playwright Arthur Miller.

Monroe has said, “My problem is that I drive myself … I’m trying to become an artist, and to be true, and sometimes I feel I’m on the verge of craziness, I’m just trying to get the truest part of myself out, and it’s very hard. There are times when I think, ‘All I have to be is true’. But sometimes it doesn’t come out so easily. I always have this secret feeling that I’m really a fake or something, a phony.”

7. Marilyn MonroeIn 1957, Monroe flew to Britain to make the film, which was far from a success financially and critically. Unfortunately it didn’t make as much money as anticipated considering the two box-office draws, and many critics panned it for being too slow moving.

Named the 2nd Greatest Movie Star of all time by Premier Magazine, behind #1 Cary Grant and before #3 Tom Cruise, Monroe once said, “Fame is fickle, and I know it. It has its compensations but it also has its drawbacks, and I’ve experienced them both.” While she only acted in 30 films before her tragic death by suicide, her legend lives on in film history forever. There are over 600 books and several songs written about her.

8. Olivier and Monroe Press Shot SmilingUnlike Monroe, Sir Laurence Olivier was an actor’s actor. Named the #14 greatest actor on The 50 Greatest Screen Legends list by the American Film Institute and considered by many to be the greatest English-speaking actor of the twentieth century, Olivier’s career was built on his many roles in Shakespeare adaptations. A handsome man with a rich, smooth speaking voice, he often played noble and fiercely proud leaders and royal figures, including the role of Charles, the Prince Regent in “The Prince and the Showgirl.” He often directed himself in films. All five of the films that he directed were adaptations of plays: “Henry V” (1944), “Hamlet” (1948) and “Richard III” (1955) were all based on the plays of the same names by William Shakespeare; “The Prince and the Showgirl” (1957) was based on the play “The Sleeping Prince” by Terence Rattigan; and “Three Sisters” (1970) was based on the play of the same name by Anton Chekhov.

Olivier also starred in 1940’s “Rebecca” and 1948’s “Hamlet,” both Best Picture Academy Award winners. He was the first actor nominated for a Best Actor Oscar in five different decades, from the 1930s to the 1970s. He was nominated 13 times for the Academy Award, nine times as Best Actor, once as Best Supporting Actor, twice for Best Picture, and once as Best Director.

Despite his success and peer and critic accolades alike, Olivier seemed unhappy with his fame and struggled with his own self-esteem much like Monroe. His oldest son, Tarquin Olivier claims in his 1993 memoir “My Father Laurence Olivier” that his father was dissatisfied with his career and felt a failure. Olivier disparaged his own achievements, pointing to Cary Grant’s career as the prime example of greatness. As fate would have it, Grant presented Olivier with his career achievement Oscar in 1979, though they were never friends.

9. Olivier and MonroeOlivier was familiar with mental illness due to his marriage to bipolar actress Vivien Leigh, whom he cared for during her manic episodes. Olivier once said of Monroe, “There were two entirely unrelated sides to Marilyn. You would not be far out if you described her as schizoid; the two people that she was could hardly have been more different. She was so adorable, so witty, such incredible fun and more physically attractive than anyone I could have imagined, apart from herself on the screen.”

Check out Monroe and Olivier now in The Prince and the Showgirl on

First-time Director Shows Inexperience
in Gorgeous Disaster
by John Francis

1. One Eyed Jacks PosterThere were a number of big Hollywood names attached to Marlon Brando’s first and only directorial effort, “One Eyed Jacks”: Stanley Kubrick, Sam Peckinpah, Spencer Tracy, Henry Fonda, and Rod Serling, none of whom made the final cut.

The convoluted path to get the film made only adds to Brando’s own complex and convoluted legacy. The great British director Kubrick (“2001: A Space Odyssey”) was initially set to helm the film, with another great director, Sam Peckinpah (“Wild Bunch”) set to write the screenplay on a first draft written by Serling of “Twilight Zone” fame.

Brando then fired Kubrick, who had fired Peckinpah, and brought in Calder Willingham, who was also fired, leading to Guy Trosper, who worked on the script with Brando, becoming the director. Film historians think that was Brando’s intention all along. When actor Karl Malden, who played Brando’s nemesis in the film, Dad Longworth, was asked who really wrote the film, his reply was: “There is one answer to your question — Marlon Brando, a genius in our time.”

Tracy and Fonda were both considered by Kubrick for the role of Dad, but once he was gone, Malden, who was on salary with Brando’s production company, was hired.

2. Brando DirectingSo, with Brando starring and directing, the film finally got off the ground, but Brando’s inexperience behind the camera would cause untold problems for the production.

The filming was supposed to take three months with a budget of $1.8 million. Brando spent six months and $6 million, shooting a million feet of film, six times the average film of the time. Brando also used Paramount’s new Vista-Vision process, which was much more expensive to shoot. His rough cut was eight hours, which he trimmed to five hours, then three. A frustrated Paramount took over and cut it down to its final length, 141 minutes.

Filming began at the end of 1958, but it was not completed until the fall of 1960 and released on March 31, 1961 in New York City.

Brando not only shot an inordinate amount of film, he was indecisive and methodical, pondered each camera setup while 120 members of the crew sat around doing nothing and would sit for hours waiting for the ocean waves to change for that perfect shot.

One story from the set had Brando getting drunk to film a scene in which his character Rio was drunk, but he got too drunk to act or direct, so he insisted on doing it again the next day. The following day, he again got too drunk to act or direct.

3. Brando and MaldenBrando talked about directing the film in a 1975 interview with Rolling Stone magazine: “You work yourself to death. You’re the first one up in the morning … I mean, we shot that thing on the run, you know, you make up the dialogue the scene before, improvising, and your brain is going crazy.”

Despite the studio taking over the film, never a good thing, the mixed reviews and all the turmoil and confusion on the set, “One Eyed Jacks” has fared well over the years. Many critics lament the fact that Brando never directed again, even though he showed flashes of brilliance in his own tortured way on “One Eyed Jacks.”

In 2016, Universal Pictures undertook a 4K digital restoration in partnership with The Film Foundation and in consultation with filmmakers Martin Scorsese and Steven Spielberg. Scorsese did the introduction and film critic Howard Hampton contributed a lengthy essay ”One-Eyed Jacks: Zen Nihilism” who called the film:

“A muted riot of sweaty brows and deadly stares, star turned director Brando’s ominous, custom-tailored western ‘One Eyed Jacks’ belongs to a line of conflicted, half-mad productions that appear doomed from the outset yet turn into more impactful film experiences than a barrel of cautiously wrought, fastidiously executed “classics’.”

4. Brando in One Eyed JacksThe Criterion Collection called it “a western like no other, combining the mythological scope of that most American of genres with the searing naturalism of a performance by Marlon Brando — all suffused with Freudian overtones and masculine anxiety. Though the production was overwhelmed by its director’s perfectionism and plagued by setbacks and studio reediting, ‘One-Eyed Jacks’ stands as one of Brando’s great achievements, thanks above all to his tortured turn as Rio, a bank robber bent on revenge against his former partner in crime.”

Film writer Steven Schneider included the film among the “1,001 Movies You Must See Before You Die.”

Brando wasn’t so enamored of Paramount’s cut of his film, but by this time he had probably had enough of it anyway.

“Now, it’s a good picture for them (Paramount),” he’s quoted as saying when it was released, “but it’s not the picture I made … now the characters in the film are black-and-white, not gray-and-human as I planned them.”

Brando’s eight hours of footage has been lost to time, but it would have been fascinating to see that version of the film.

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A Royal Black Actor Becomes A South African Politician
by Sheri Warren Sankner

1. Zulu movie photoOnly a few classic war films have stood the true test of time. “The Longest Day,” “Green Berets,” “The Dirty Dozen,” “Platoon,” “Full Metal Jacket,” “Saving Private Ryan” and “Apocalypse Now” come to mind immediately. The 1964 British classic, “Zulu” is also one of these well-made electrifying films. It’s a must-see Watchlist film this week. From the stirring musical score to the outstanding cast and from the epic battle scenes (the last hour of the film) to the intimate character portrayals, “Zulu” has it all.

“Zulu” brings us the history of two clashing nations, both aggressive, expansionists. Through trade expansion in the 18th and 19th centuries, Britain suddenly possessed an empire encompassing one quarter of the Earth. The Zulus, under warrior-king Shaka Zulu, had become a society dedicated to warfare. Right up there with the Spartans over two thousand years before them, they were the most fearless soldiers the world had ever witnessed.

2. Defense of Rorke's DriftBased on true events in the Boer War, “Zulu” recounts the amazing story of the battle of Rorke’s Drift in January 1879, where 150 British soldiers heroically staved off around 4,000 Zulu warriors. This battle is preceded the previous day by Britain’s disastrous Battle of Islandlwana, when 1,800 British and allied troops were decimated by 20,000 Zulus, thus launching the Anglo-Zulu war. The Zulus, who were still looking for a fight, marched to Rorke’s Drift, a garrison standing on the border between the British colony of Natal and Zulu territory. Against the worst odds imaginable, the B Company of the 24th Regiment of Foot, South Wales manage, with exceptional courage, to hold off the Zulu attacks until morning. The valor of the men at Rorke’s Drift resulted in the awarding of eleven Victoria Crosses. The roll of honor is read by Welsh actor Richard Burton at the film’s end.

Survivors from the earlier battle had alerted the soldiers at Rorke’s Drift to the planned attack. Led by Lieutenant John Chard (played by Stanley Baker, who also produced the film along with director Cy Endfield), a member of the Royal Engineers who was there to oversee a pontoon bridge’s repairs, the unit quickly began beefing up their defenses. The garrison was actually commanded by Lieutenant Gonville Bromhead (played by Michael Caine in his first true starring role) who allowed Chard to assume command of the unit due to receipt of his commission three months before him. Baker and Caine are effective in the lead roles of rival lieutenants from different social classes who come to respect and like each other.

3. Michael Caine ZULU“Zulu” introduces movie fans to many notable character actors, including Nigel Green, who is cast as Color Sergeant Bourne; Jack Hawkins, who plays Otto Witt, the well-intentioned, fervent missionary; and James Booth, who plays Private Henry Hook, a malingerer in the garrison’s hospital with a surprising heroic side.

4. Buthelezi2Perhaps, the most remarkable and significant footnote in this film though is the involvement of future Inkatha party and real-life Zulu tribal leader Chief Mangosuthu Buthelezi, who actually plays his own distant relative in the film, King Cetshwayo kaMpande. The producers of “Zulu” had visited him in 1963 to discuss extras for the film, but then ended up offering him the role of the Zulu King Cetshwayo, his own great-grandfather. Chief Mangosuthu Buthelezi also acted in “Tokoloshe” (1965) and “Talking With David Frost” (1991).

5. 450px-Mangosuthu_Buthelezi_(1983)In 2014, commenting on the filming of “Zulu” during apartheid in South Africa, Dr. Buthelezi said, “In a sense we forgot we were in this country at the time. Whites and blacks could mingle without any fuss. You might say it was a very small thing but for this country, which was so racist at the time, it was something of great significance for us. The film helped restore to pride about where we come from – about how our people resisted the mightiest army in the world at the time, even though we were poorly equipped with cow-hide shields and spears.”

Dr. Buthelezi, great-grandson of King Dinizulu and direct descendent of warrior-king Shaka, was born Ashpenaz Nathan Mangosuthu GATT Buthelezi on August 27, 1928, at Mahlabatini, near the traditional Zulu capital of Lend. (King Dinizulu was banished and died in exile after the 1906 Zulu rebellion against British rule.) As heir to the Chieftainship of the Buzelezi tribe, Buthelezi’s royal Zulu ancestry was as vital to his political standing as his own political skills.

6. ButheleziThis iconic royal black actor went on to play a leading role in South Africa’s political history. Throughout most of the apartheid era, Buthelezi was considered one of the foremost black leaders on the continent of Africa. He also played a key role in creating a framework for a negotiated solution to South Africa’s racial conflict, signing the landmark Mahlabatini Declaration of Faith in 1974 with Harry Schwarz. Founder of the Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP) and heir to the Chieftainship of the Buzelezi tribe (1953—), he was elected Chief Executive Officer of the KwaZulu Territory in 1970, Chief Executive Councilor of the KwaZulu Legislative Assembly in 1972, and Chief Minister of KwaZulu in 1976. He also served as Chancellor of the University of Zululand and Minister of Home Affairs of South Africa from 1994 to 2004, in Nelson Mandela’s coalition government.

7. Zulu movie imageCheck out Mangosuthu Buthelezi on in his first starring role in Zulu.

“Night of the Living Dead”
by Chris Hoey

1. Duane Jones image 1Duane Jones, who played the hero, Ben, of “Night of the Living Dead,” set the stage in 1968 for many who followed his path to Hollywood stardom. As a student of live theatre, he was the best actor for the role of “Ben,” so he got the part. Even though the script didn’t mention race or ethnicity, Duane Jones got the part. But the story of talent winning the day, and actors relying on their craft to excel seems like a rare story in Hollywood today. How often does talent carry an actor beyond the stage and onto the screen for good?

2. Duane Jones image 2Sidney Poitier is another actor to leap from the stage to celluloid in the sixties. His role in “A Raisin in the Sun” both on stage and on film helped make him the first Bahamian actor to win the Best Actor Oscar for “Lilies of the Field.”

3. Duane Jones image 3Christopher Walken also used his theater background as a triple-threat to become an internet smash when he starred in Fatboy Slim’s video for “Weapon of Choice.” Walken swings, sashays, steps and snaps throughout a posh hotel in one of the most unanticipated performances in music video history. After revealing his song and dance roots, Walken’s career cruised into overdrive in films like “Hairspray” where all his talents could be on display.

Another unlikely song and dance man to make the transition to the silver screen was Jerry Orbach. Rising to fame as the world-weary detective Lennie Briscoe on the long-running “Law and Order,” Orbach’s training on the stage put him in position to voice the candelabra, Lumiere, in “Beauty and the Beast, ” who sings the show-stopping “Be Our Guest.”

A past in the theater has proven fertile training ground for actors to break out of being typecast into stereotypical roles. And there’s even more to Jones than his great theatrical skill – he was also an accomplished academic as well. He was well-versed as a leading man at several institutions of higher learning throughout his career, spearheading academically-oriented theater departments throughout the seventies.

Perhaps the respect Jones earned as an actor who earned a role in a film, rather than a black actor who portrayed a black character helped to trailblaze some of Hollywood’s most recent offerings. In Jordan Peele’s “Get Out,” the horror genre follows Romero’s lead. Peele’s film has been nominated for three of the top Oscars this year.

4. Duane Jones image 4Another film that stands on the shoulders of the groundbreaking work of actors like Poitier and Jones is the smash-hit “Black Panther.” A film that makes no issue of race, but unquestionably breaks ground in a Hollywood that has withstood criticism for depictions of race for decades. Jones’ work, grounded in stage acting, shows that an accomplished actor can rise above society’s concepts of race and roles. Actors like Jones have played an important part in establishing Hollywood as the place where even the most unlikely dreams can come true.

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