Saturday, June 25, 2011

Of Peter Falk, Columbo, Husbands and glass eyes

      Anyone who has the chuztpah to pull out his glass eye and use it to taunt a baseball umpire is someone who has the stuff to be a winner in life. 

     Peter Falk, glass eye and all, was a winner.

     Everyone knows by now that Falk died yesterday, June 24. He was 83 and suffered with Alzheimers disease for about three years. The star of beloved Columbo  and many films had a start in life that would doom many others. He had a tumor at 3 years old that caused him to lose an eye. He also had a slight speech impediment. 

       Falk loved to tell a story about his glass eye. He was an  athlete in high school. Once, after he was called out at third base, Falk took out his glass eye, handed it to the umpire and said, "you'll do better with this."

     That's the stuff that makes legends.

     Falk was born in Manhattan, lived some in the Bronx and later in Ossining, NY. He went to college in New York, quit and joined the Merchant Marine, then returned to college and got a degree in public administration budgeting. Bah. Boring.  While working in Hartford, Connecticut as a pencil pusher, Falk got into local theatre. He made his Broadway debute in 1956.  The next year, he won a film role as the bartender in Eugene O'Neal's The Iceman Cometh.  Falk got early recognition after a role in Murder Inc. earned him an Oscar nomination.

       It was in 1967 that Falk created Columbo. He got the role after Lee J. Cobb and Bing Crosby turned it down. Falk blew off suggestions for a dapper attire and used his own raggedly trench coat, picked out a Peugot from the motor pool and made the Columbo character truly his own. The pilot, Prescription for Murder, aired that year.

     Most people think Columbo came after Falk's most notable movie roles, but it came first. The show aired off and on for the next three decades. Great roles: Falk was one of the trio of Husbands with Cassavetes and Ben Gazzara, a landmark film noted for its departure from traditional movie methods. That was 1971.
    Falks very best work ever was playing the husband of Gena Rowlands in A Woman Under The Influence, 1976. Rowlands was Cassavetes' real life wife. It was a movie Cassavetes wrote and directed. Rowlands was nominated for an Oscar. It is a blistering story of a wife trapped and growing more claustrophobic, the film showing her descent into madness. 

   But man, beloved Columbo had staying power. The last round of feature length shows aired in the early 1990s and attracted the elite of movie stars. Watch this:

   Peter Falk beloved trenchcoat and all will be missed. RIP.


Thursday, June 23, 2011

Brando. Jiggle the molecules. TCM's marvelous bio in two parts.

           No other DVD  is as sought after, or is as hard to find, as Brando. The title says it all. Brando. This is TCM's two-part killer biography produced by Leslie Greif. The Greif company produced such penetrating and compelling video biographies, including one on Steve McQueen, called Steve McQueen, The Essence of Cool.

          You can't miss with great interviewees like Quincy Jones, who met Marlon Brando in the early 1950s, when the young man from the mid-West was falling in love with the Harlem jazz scene. Brando relished this knew, sultry and musical world and began playing conga. See this:


     Brando first aired in 2007, three years after Brando died and after his nine children settled most of the tangles over his estate. By the way, Brando left quite a huge estate. He did not die broke as some reported. He made and pissed away more money in his day than most small nations.

     Brando never ceases to fascinate. His childhood with a tough dad and drunk mom. His rebellious youth. Taking Broadway by storm. His re-defining acting, influencing nearly every actor of any repute. His smoldering sexy looks. His unflinching dedication to civil rights for all. 

    Nobody captures it like Greif. The trailer is tantalizing:


     The reluctant icon. Good way to put it. Now go get it. A deal you can't refuse. Just click here!

Friday, June 17, 2011

Baby, I don't care

      Film Noir. They were just a bunch of entertaining B movies.  Then the French took a fancy to them. Now there are Film Noir scholars, Film Noir books. Film Noir DVD sets.

    They are the dark, brooding, movies with great contrasts of shadow and light, evil bad guys, bad good guys, and devastatingly beautiful femme fatales. Snappy dialog. Fast-paced plots. Often told by a narrator who goes into the past. Film noir isn't just the late 1940s and early '50s. There are a some great Film Noir today.

     I though Ronald Regan and the monkey were B movies. Then Film Noir Night came on TCM, so I watched three classics. 

    The best:  Out of the Past  (1950). Robert Mitchum, Jane Greer and Kirk Douglas in a very early role. Mitchum's insouciance was a great contrast to Douglas' crisp, razor-sharp shark. I've never seen a man so big slouch so well in a chair while talking about so much money.

   I never thought muchl about Mitchum. I heard of him but  never appreciated his abilities on screen until this movie. Out of the Past caught my attention when I read that the film Against All Odds is a cheap knock off.  Having the best lines help. "You're like a leaf floating from gutter to gutter."  

   Night And The City  (1950). This is the better version even though so many love Robert DeNiro. Harry Fabian is a desperate guy, a two-bit hustler alternating between whiny resentment and enthusiasm for hare-brained schemes. He was was more desperate than funny. Always running. Fabian was running at the beginning of the movie in foggy London, and he was running at the end.

    In A Lonely Place (1950). Some say Humphrey Bogart's character here came closest to his true personality. I hope not. Bogie's a suspect in the murder of a young hat check girl. His beautiful neighbor Gloria Grahame provides an alibi. But after she falls for him, Bogie's  violent and erratic behavior makes her wonder whether he IS the killer. 

    World weary anti-heros, tough bad guys, beautiful women who fall for the wrong men. Nothing new, but told well. Best film noir: Double Indemnity 1944 Fred MacMurry and Barbara Stanwick. Kiss of Death (1947) gave Richard Widmark his debut role in an chilling and creepy part. It was directed by Henry Hathaway who went onto the A-list, including the first True Grit in 1969. 
     Don't Bother To Knock (1952). This movie doesn't roll backward in time, but it stars Marilyn Monroe in a role that will put your hair on end. She was a fine actress, but I guess did not realize it. 

     Plenty of good Film Noir today. Pulp Fiction. Streets of Blood. Bad Lieutenant. Stone. Friends of Eddie Coyle. Ripley's Game. Angel Heart.. Film Noir is just too good to stay in the past.