Monday, July 06, 2020

Announcing Legends of Western Cinema Week 2020

Howdy!  Didn't mean to sneak up and ambush you or anything, but Heidi (of Along the Brandywine) and I are all set to co-host Legends of Western Cinema Week again this year!  It'll be August 17-21, and you can consider this post your official invite!

In case you're new to these parts, I'll tell you a little about what Legends of Western Cinema Week is like.  It's kind of like a blogathon and kind of like a blog party, in that there will be lots and lots of ways for you to participate.  Basically, it's just an excuse for people all across the blogosphere to celebrate western films and TV shows for five days straight.

What can you contribute?  Anything whatsoever that has to do with western cinema, be it on the big or small screen.  Movie or TV show reviews, top ten lists, a tribute to your favorite cowboy or cowgirl movie star, musings on western film scores, whatever you can dream up!

Want to do more than one post?  Totally allowed!  Want to post about the same movie or other subject as someone else?  Totally allowed!  This is a party, not a blogathon, and we welcome as many posts by as many people as possible.

If you can't figure out anything to write about, but still want to participate, fear not!  Heidi and I are coming up with a blog tag you can fill out, plus we'll both be posting some blog games for you to play.

You can sign up for this event in the comments on my post here or on Heidi's post.  There's no official "roster" to get added to until the event actually starts.  We're being real laid-back about this, can you tell?

Many thanks to Olivia (of Meanwhile, in Rivendell...) for creating these spiffy blog party buttons.  Share them with your friends and neighbors on your own blog/site to spread the word!

Thursday, July 02, 2020

Sign Up for the "One Bad Apple" Virtual Book Tour

I will be going on a virtual book tour to celebrate the release of One Bad Apple at the end of July!  This tour will run from Monday, July 27 through Friday, August 7.

Just like the tour I did for Dancing and Doughnuts, this will be very flexible.  Would you like to interview me on your blog?  Host a video chat on your Instagram or YouTube channel?  Post a book review on your blog or Instagram?  Contribute some totally different thing I haven't imagined?  I am open to ideas!

You can sign up using this Google form, and I will contact you via the email address you provide to that form to discuss dates and so on.

If you are already signed up to receive an advance copy of One Bad Apple, know that you'll be getting that by the end of the week.  Your book review would be a perfect way to participate in the book tour!

All book tour participants will be eligible for extra entries into the giveaway I'll be hosting starting on release day, July 28.  Just my way of thanking you!

Wednesday, July 01, 2020

"A Midsummer Night's Dream" (1935) -- Initial Thoughts

I have come to realize that I actually don't like A Midsummer Night's Dream very much.  The story and characters don't grab me, and I find several characters and much of the story preposterous, even grating.  However!  This filmed version is a fascinating watch, worth it for the special effects and the luminous Olivia de Havilland alone.

Because this is supposed to be High Art, or Important Theatre, or whatever, we have an Overture, and an Intermission.  They used Felix Mendelssohn's Overture and Incidental Music for A Midsummer Night's Dream, but with additional music by Erich Wolfgang Korngold (who wrote such wonderful scores as The Adventures of Robin Hood [1938]).

The opening credits alert us that this is going to be a magical, effects-laden film.  I have no idea how they did this swooshy effect to get the credits to swirl into being.  I tried to capture it with a gif:

It's so cool.  (I'm terrible at making gifs, btw -- I just film a little snippet with my phone and then use it to make the gif.  At least it gives you an idea of what I'm talking about.)

The costumes department must have come to blows over what era this is supposed to take place in, and settled the question by including ALL the eras.  We've got Elizabethan costumes.

We've got Ancient Roman costumes.

We've got medieval peasant costumes.  Oh well.  This is supposed to be a fantasy, so why not mix all the time periods together when it comes to clothes?  Certainly saves a lot of money on making everything match up -- just use whatever the wardrobe department already has and it'll be fine!  Save some money for the special effects!

The plot, in case you aren't aware, is this: Theseus (Ian Hunter) the Duke of Athens and Hippolyta (Verree Teasdale) the Queen of the Amazons are going to get married.  How should they celebrate their nuptials but by watching a play enacted by commoners with zero acting experience or talent?  Totally makes sense, right?

One plot is not enough for Shakespeare right now, so we've also got a young woman named Hermia (Olivia de Havilland) who loves and is beloved by a guy named Lysander (Dick Powell).  That's great, but Hermia's dad wants her to marry this other guy, Demetrius (Ross Alexander).  Hermia doesn't like Demetrius at all, especially because her friend Helena (Jean Muir) loves him.  So Hermia refuses to marry Demetrius, and her dad takes her to see Theseus and Hippolyta about it, to see if he can just have this wretched daughter killed for being so disagreeable.

As it turns out, two plots is not enough for Shakespeare today either, so we've also got King Oberon (Victor Jory) and Queen Titania (Anita Louise) battling each other over this random little kid Titania has adopted, but Oberon wants as his servant.

Now, mix those all together so that the fairies use magic to mess with the humans and each other, and everyone except Theseus and Hippolyta (who wisely remain in Athens and don't go wandering around any enchanted forests) are in for a very bad and confusing few days.  Which somehow is supposed to be funny.

Weirdly enough, Victor Jory makes a really cool King Oberon.  They give him this creepy crown, they superimpose spangly glimmers over all his shots, and he has such an unusual face anyway that it just works.

Anita Louise is a mystifyingly beautiful Queen Titania. She's ethereal without being twee, which is a hard line to walk.  I was surprised by how well I liked her.  Honestly most of my favorite parts of this film involved the fairies.

Oberon has these demonic bat-like fairies that follow him around, which get really creepy.

Titania has gauzy, glittery fairies that accompany her.  Their costumes are juuuuuuust this side of scandalous, but they're very pretty.  Unfortunately, whenever they appear, they tend to dance around for several minutes on end while the whole story stutters to a stop, which I could definitely have done without.  If you're a fan of glittery fairies dancing, though, you'll dig those parts.  These dances sometimes involved more very good special effects:

I mean, this movie is almost a hundred years old, and that's some pretty spectacular stuff even now.  Must've wowed the socks off audiences in its initial run.

Rounding out the fairies, we have Puck (Mickey Rooney).  Puck is always played exactly the same way in every single production of this story I've ever seen (granted, I've only seen 3, two live and this filmed version).  He's mischievous and squeaky and capers a lot and makes weird noises and is generally irksome.  Just once, I'd love to see him played as bored with the whole plot and totally done with Oberon's crap.  A sarcastic, annoyed Puck would be so amazing, I think.  As opposed to the rampant overacting every director seems to expect and encourage.

Speaking of overacting, oh my word.  James Cagney, what were you ON?  He never actually quite chewed on any scenery as Bottom, not even when he had a donkey head, but he might as well have.

I'm also not sure if he was supposed to break the fourth wall here and look directly at us, or if it was kind of accidental, or what, but it cracked me up.

The donkey head thing was another excellent effect, though:

Once Puck gave him that donkey head, I started to really like Bottom.  Cagney toned everything down and was really expressive and pitiable.  Very much liked him from then on.

His utter confusion over Titania falling madly in love with him was quite charming.

Of course, once Oberon gets what he wants, he reverses almost all the love charms.  Titania loves him again.

Lysander and Hermia get to get married after all.

Demetrius I guess gets to stay under a love spell forever so that Helena will be happy, and I don't know why Helena is totally cool with this sort of pretendy love, but I don't actually like either of them anyway, so whatever.

Theseus and Hippolyta have lots of fun laughing at the commonors' play-acting, which we have to sit through, and which I am just never amused by.  But it ends eventually.


Olivia de Havilland was just 19 years old in this film, and she's wonderful to watch.  Sweet, happy, unhappy, confused, angry, fearful -- she gets the best range of emotions to run through of anyone in the film, and she nails all of them.  Which is why I decided to review this for the Olivia de Havilland Blogathon hosted by Charity at The Sacred in the Secular in honor of Ms. de Havilland's 104th birthday today!

Happy birthday, Ms. de Havilland!  It's so wonderful that we still have you with us.

Check out the blogathon for the list of other blog posts in her honor!

Tuesday, June 23, 2020

"One Bad Apple" Advance Reader Copies Available!

EDIT: All my copies have been claimed!  Thank you so much, everyone!  You're so awesome!

One Bad Apple releases on July 28, five weeks from today!  So it's high time to start rustling up some advance readers.  If you would like to receive an ARC, please fill out this Google Form.  I will not use the email address you provide there for any purpose other than to send you an email with information on how to download your free copy.  You will be able to download your copy by the end of June.

Like my previous books, this is around 250 pages. It's Christian fiction, aimed mostly at teen readers, but enjoyable for adults and some younger readers too. Like every book and story in my Once Upon a Western collection, One Bad Apple is a non-magical retelling of a fairy tale set in the Old West. This time, I'm retelling "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs."

I'm going to try something new this year.  Instead of me sending an e-copy to advance readers via email, I'm going to use the BookFunnel website.  This should streamline the process for me and help you be certain that any file you download is totally safe because it's from a respected website, not me sending it from my laptop.

I will not be providing unlimited e-copies for free, so this will be a first-come, first-served sort of thing.  Any questions?  Let me know in the comments here!

Stay tuned for information about my upcoming virtual book tour, a giveaway, and more!

Wednesday, June 17, 2020

Two Upcoming Blogathons

Just a quick note to mention two blogathons coming up this summer that you might be interested in joining. 

First is the Oivia de Havilland blogathon hosted by The Sacred and the Secular on July 1-2 to celebrate what will be Ms. de Havilland's 104th birthday.  I've signed up to review A Midsummer Night's Dream (1935).

Then there's the We Love Lucy blogathon hosted by Musings of an Introvert on August 6-7 to celebrate what would have been Ms. Ball's birthday.  I've signed up to contribute a list of my 10 favorite I Love Lucy episodes.

Even though both of these are listed on my Upcoming Blog Events page and my sidebar, I wanted to highlight them in a post as well because I know people won't always check that page, and my sidebar doesn't show up if you're reading this on a mobile device.

Sunday, June 14, 2020

"The Mark of Zorro" (1940)

I love Zorro.  I've loved him since I was a tiny person -- he was one of my first heroes.  In fact, I think only Robin Hood and the Lone Ranger have been heroes of mine longer, and Zorro is sort of an amalgamation of the two of them, isn't he?  Championing the poor and oppressed, wearing a mask to strike fear into the heart of any evildoer who crosses him, and so on.

The first time I encountered Zorro, it was in a picture book based on the Disney Zorro series from the 1950s that starred Guy Williams.  Then I watched a few episodes of the early-nineties TV series that starred Duncan Regehr before finally getting to see a handful of the Guy Williams episodes on VHS.

But in my late teens, I got to see The Mark of Zorro (1940) for the first time on VHS as well.  Or maybe on PBS?  I remember there being a documentary with it too that talked about how Basil Rathbone was a wonderful swordsman for real, and that Tyrone Power had to learn a lot to keep up with him.  That the little trick Zorro does toward the end of this movie, where he slices through a burning candle and it stays upright and burning -- Basil Rathbone could do that for real.  They had to fake it for Power in the film by drawing in the end of his sword across the candle in post-production.

Anyway, this movie is a rollicking good time.  It opens in Spain, with handsome cadet Diego Vega bidding farewell to his friends because his family has called him home to California.

He's not pleased with having to go home to boring California where there's nothing to do but get married to some provincial girl, raise fat children, and tend vineyards.  He's used to dueling, riding fast horses, and pursuing beautiful women around the academy.

He's in for a surprise when he gets home, however.  His father is no longer the alcalde of Los Angeles.  And the new alcalde has a sly and smug henchman, Captain Pasquale (Basil Rathbone), who enjoys threatening strangers with his sword.  On the spot, with no apparent premeditation, Diego affects the demeanor of a harmless dandy, dabbing at his forehead and lips with a scented hankie and acting distressed by the sight of a sword.

The new alcalde, Don Luis Quintero (J. Edward. Bromberg), is a pompous fool.  Anyone can see Pasquale is the real power here.  But Diego pretends not to.

Anyone can also see that Pasquale has the hots for Quintero's wife Inez (Gale Sondergaard).  Inez promptly sets her sights on Diego -- she seems to have grown tired of Pasquale and is eager for a handsome new plaything.

Diego plays along with Inez, flattering her and bolstering her vanity.  But he's spotted Quintero's niece Lolita (Linda Darnell) and his thoughts and eyes belong to her now.

Diego finally returns to his family's hacienda, reuniting with his father (Montagu Love), mother (Janet Beecher), and his old mentor Fray Felipe (Eugene Pallette).  He continues pretending to abhor violence and long only for peace and quiet.

The people of Los Angeles are suffering under the rule of Quintero/Pasquale, who tax them close to death and are generally crabby and grabby.  One day, two soldiers put up a notice about more taxes to be collected when a stranger rides into the square.

He wears all black, including a black mask, waves a sword around a lot, and rides a black horse.  And he pulls down the taxation notice with the tip of his sword and makes the soldiers put up his own announcement instead.

Next, Zorro visits Quintero at night, appearing in his office seemingly by magic.  He frightens Quintero and tells him he won't rest until Quintero goes back to Spain.

They do some really nice things with shadows in this movie.  Here, Zorro's shadow looms over Quintero.

Here, he towers above soldiers that he's about to rob of the unfair taxes they've collected.

While Zorro dashes around the countryside robbing the rich and looking all debonair and exciting, Diego pretends to be bored pursuing the hand of Lolita Quintero in marriage.  We all know he actually likes her a whole lot, but he keeps up the facade of a popinjay.  Still, when they dance after dinner at her father's house, Lolita can't help feeling there's more to Diego than meets the eye.

Eventually, Pasquale begins to figure that out too.  He and Diego have a magnificent sword fight, though (SPOILER) he dies before confirming his suspicion that Diego and Zorro are one and the same.  (END SPOILER)

This is a really splendid duel, by the way -- because Rathbone was a fencing champion, he did all of his own fencing!  Power did a lot too, but did have a double for some of the trickier bits.

Everything ends happily, of course, with peace restored to the land.  Zorro can hang up his mask and sword, and Diego can wed the beautiful Lolita, settle down, and raise fat children and tend a vineyard.

This is not a deep film, but it's a highly enjoyable one.  If you'd like to see a different adaptation that uses the exact same script, but with a different cast, try to find the 1974 version, which is also lots of fun!

This has been my contribution to the Suave Swordsman: Basil Rathbone Blogathon hosted by Pale Writer.  Follow that link to find the other posts people have contributed to this event!

Is this movie family friendly?  Yes!  All innuendo about Inez's extramarital activities is veiled and oblique, and all violence is non-graphic.  There are a couple of kisses, but that's it.  I hadn't watched this movie for a few years, so I showed it to my kids for their first time this week, and they got a huge kick out of it!

Wednesday, June 10, 2020

"The High and the Mighty" (1954) -- Initial Thoughts

You know what I'm a huge fan of?  Slow-burning, character-driven dramas.  Which is exactly with The High and the Mighty (1954) is.  It's also an early disaster movie, of the airplane-based variety that got very popular in the '50s.  Happily, it focuses more on the drama than the disaster.  Happily for me, anyway -- if you're in it for the pyrotechnics, this probably won't be your favorite.

Also happily, it stars John Wayne.  And quite a few other familiar faces too, like Claire Trevor, who co-starred with Wayne in his star-making film Stagecoach (1939).  She's got a small part here, but she makes the most of it, bringing warmth and humor and kindness slowly to the surface, letting her real self slowly outshine the brassy, brittle exterior she'd so carefully crafted.  I really wish she'd gotten more meaningful encounters with Wayne, as they shared such wonderful chemistry 15 years earlier.  But her character attracted a different man instead.

(Claire Trevor, deciding on a fellow passenger to keep her company.)

Paul Fix is here too -- the person who made more films with John Wayne than any other.  He's playing a sweet old man who says his bones are full of holes and his neck is too weak to hold his head high anymore, and yet he's a firm and steady anchor for several other characters who find themselves tottering under the weight of uncertainty.

(Paul Fix explaining pocket watches to the stewardess.)

I didn't know Pedro Gonzalez Gonzalez was in this until he showed up on the screen, but I was so happy when he did!  He always plays just the most helpful characters.  Here, he got to play a really smart sailor who built his own radio -- he uses it to relay messages between the distressed airplane and the people trying to rescue them.

(Pedro Gonzalez Gonzalez helping to save the day.)

But I'm getting ahead of myself.  So, the whole movie starts out on Hawaii as a crew prepares to take off for California.  We get to know just a smidge about some of the characters there, as they check in.  That was a totally fascinating part for me -- was it REALLY that easy to get on a plane in the '50s?  You just walked up, gave them your ticket, stated your name and date of birth, they cross-checked you with their passenger list, and you're hunkydory.  Unless they weren't certain you were a US citizen, in which case you had to go talk to people at another desk.  But wow.  Can you imagine that kind of world?

(Well, right now it's almost hard to remember a world where
we got to fly places on airplanes, but anyway...)

Right, so we get to know just a little about the pilot (Robert Stack) and co-pilot (John Wayne) before they take off.  We learn that the pilot is boring and we should ignore him, and that the co-pilot is very sad and haunted because of personal tragedy.  And he's been flying since 1917, which means he's like a decade older than Wayne was at the time because Wayne was only 10 in 1917.  But anyway.  He's supposed to be pretty long in the tooth for a commercial pilot, but he's kept on because he's so experienced.

(I mean, look how expertly he climbs those steps.)

Then up we go.  This movie starts out slowly, building interpersonal tension before any disasters strike.  We've got a lot of people to get to know.

(Some of them work on getting acquainted faster than others.)

There are newlyweds (Karen Sharpe and John Smith) who spend an awful lot of time making out -- they're on their way home from their honeymoon and worried about starting real life when they get back.  There's another couple (John Howard and Laraine Day) who are getting ready for a divorce because he wants to sell the advertising company her father left to her so he can buy a mine or something in Canada.

Then there's the jolly couple (Phil Harris and Ann Doran) who always look on the bright side of life, even when their vacation plans keep getting interrupted or derailed.  They try to cheer other people up a lot, but when disaster strikes, they learn whether or not their optimism and hopeful outlooks are real or not.

Another couple (Robert Newton and Julie Bishop) are mildly nice to each other sometimes, and mildly bored the rest of the time.  It took me like half the movie to figure out why Newton was so familiar -- he played Long John Silver in the Disney version of Treasure Island (1950), but without his piratical accent, I couldn't recognize him for the longest time!

(Do you recognize him without the pegleg and parrot???)

The single characters get their share of the spotlight too.  Especially Joy Kim's emigrating Korean woman who carries so much joy and wonder within her at the thought that she's really going to live in America.  I liked her very much indeed -- she was such a believable mix of hope and apprehension.

(Plus, she and the stewardess had really nice, friendly chemistry.)

Then there's a rocket scientist (Paul Kelly) who regrets all his achievements because they mean potential misery and death.  There's a former beauty queen (Jan Sterling) who's terrified that the man she's in love with (William Hopper) won't think she's beautiful when he finally meets her.

(William Hopper did most of his scenes on a soundstage, writing letters and looking soulful.
And looking so delicious with his sleeves rolled up that I had to include him here.)

One wealthy businessman (David Brian), one not-so-wealthy businessman with a big grudge against someone (Sidney Blackmer), and a fisherman going home to his family (John Qualen) round them out.  Oh, except for a little boy (Michael Wellman) travelling alone because his parents are separated and keep shuttling him back and forth across the Pacific.  He spends most of the movie asleep, though.

Then there's the crew.  I already mentioned the pilot and co-pilot, but the lone flight attendant (Doe Avedon) gets a lot of storytime too.  She's got a lot of guts, and she never freaks out in front of the passengers, even when they are in the most obvious kind of trouble.  We also have William Campbell as a radio operator or something (mostly he's just here to toss snide or snappy remarks in once in a while), and Wally Brown as the middle-aged navigator with a fast wife back home that causes him a lot of grief.

(What a well-composed shot!)

Now, mix all those people up and get some nice interpersonal conflict going for the first hour or so, and you have yourself a real interesting recipe for a disaster, even if nothing happens to the plane.  But something does -- an engine catches fire after they're too far from Hawaii to turn back.  And so they have to face the fact that they probably will have to make a water landing and spend some time in the life raft before they get rescued.


I was a little disappointed that they never actually made a water landing because they'd spent a lot of time building us up for it by giving the passengers lots of instructions on how to survive the landing and what to do in the life raft.  But they end up not having to do that after all, and while I was happy for the characters not to have to go through that, I kinda would have liked to see how that played out.

Of course, it turns out that the experience and savvyness of Wayne's character save the day.  We would expect no less.  We get a totally happy ending, everyone landing safe and sound in California.


(John Wayne explains the plot for anyone who wasn't paying attention
during the first two hours of the film.)

John Wayne looks excellent in this film.  In his forties, he's handsome and commanding in his pilot's uniform.  He'd really hit his stride as an actor by this point and was convincing as a competent yet weary man who has many regrets, but keeps plugging along anyway.  I'll be watching this one again.

This has been my contribution to the Disaster Blogathon hosted by Quiggy at The Midnite Drive-In and J-Dub at Dubsism.  Check out their blogs for links to the other blogathon entries!