Friday, May 26, 2023

Stubborn Romance

Classic Hollywood boasted quite a few actor-actress duos that had such good chemistry, studio execs paired them again and again. Errol Flynn and Olivia de Havilland, Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall, Rock Hudson and Doris Day come to mind. But of all the classic on-screen matches, my favorite remains John Wayne and Maureen O’Hara. 

Now, this might have something to do with the fact that John Wayne is my favorite actor, and Maureen O’Hara is my favorite actress. So having them together onscreen would be a special treat for me even if they didn’t display both great chemistry and a wonderful camaraderie. 

John Wayne and Maureen O’Hara both excelled at playing strong-willed, strong-minded characters who did not back down from a fight, who had to be definitively won, not simply wooed. In real life, they were good friends, which I find endearing. I suppose it’s that real-life friendship that made them appear so natural together onscreen. 

In a 1974 speech, John Wayne joked, “I’ve been in more battles than Napoleon and more wars than Germany. I’ve captured Bataan, Corregidor, Fort Apache, and Maureen O’Hara.”* That’s part of what fascinates me—their characters were always almost military opponents as much as lovers. There’s a sense that their characters are excited to have found a worthy opponent at last, and it’s that worthiness that attracts them to each other, even though they spend more time battling than romancing. 

Wayne and O’Hara played opposite each other five times in just over twenty years, and I’d like to recap each of those films for you here. 

In Rio Grande (1950), hard-nosed Cavalry officer Kirby Yorke is tasked with training a bunch of raw recruits, including his son, whom he hasn’t seen in many years. Yorke’s estranged wife Kathleen arrives to take their son away again because she thinks Yorke is being too hard on him. Kirby and Kathleen bicker and fight and slowly fall in love again despite an Indian uprising, a court-martial, and their own proud and stubborn natures. 

In The Quiet Man (1952), ex-prize fighter Sean Thornton returns to his ancestral homeland of Ireland to retire in peace. He soon falls in love with Mary Kate Danaher and marries her, despite the objections of her boorish brother. But when Sean refuses to fight her brother over an insult, Mary Kate declares he’s not a real man after all and leaves him because she doesn’t know about the secrets he’d fled from back in America. 

The Wings of Eagles (1957) tells the true story of Navy pilot Frank ‘Spig’ Wead, who puts aviation above his marriage to Min, causing his personal life to decline until an accident paralyzes him, and he has to learn to live without the things he thought defined him. 

McLintock! (1963) is a loose adaptation of The Taming of the Shrew. Cattle baron G.W. McLintock has his hands full trying to deal with a headstrong daughter, his estranged wife, farmers, Indians, and dishonest government officials. He tries to keep everyone happy and peaceful, with comic results. 

And in Big Jake (1971), Jacob McCandles returns home after many years at the request of his estranged wife, who needs him to help rescue their kidnapped grandson. 

I’ve seen both Wayne and O’Hara in many, many movies, opposite many different stars. And, while they could convincingly play love stories opposite others, their five movies together possess a special zing the others lack. I think it goes back to them finally having truly worth opponents, someone who forces them to be at their best in conversation, romance, argument, and everything in between. The actors probably enjoyed acting opposite someone who would go toe-to-toe with them in any scene, the competition forcing them to utilize all their talents instead of falling into predictable or routine acting. 

The question, then, is why am I so entranced by this pair of stars playing generally cross lovers? I think a lot of it is because I am stubborn and strong-willed, so I enjoy seeing characters similar to myself find someone who can challenge them and who enjoys matching wits and wills with them. Also, their real-life friendship shines through in these performances, making their characters’ affection for each other feel warm and genuine even when they’re disagreeing. 

Of the five films John Wayne and Maureen O’Hara co-starred in, my favorite is definitely The Quiet Man. It has the happiest ending for their characters as a couple, and the finest scenes between them overall as well. I recommend it to anyone who enjoys an unusual love story in a charming setting.

*p. 139, Duke in His Own Words, by Editors of the Official John Wayne Magazine. Media Lab Books: NY, 2015.

(This post originally appeared in the January/February 2016 issue of Femnista magazine.)

It's John Wayne's birthday today, so I thought it was the perfect time to repost this Femnista article :-)  Happy birthday, Duke!

Thursday, May 25, 2023

What Makes Me Want to Watch It?

I recently posted a list of ten things that make me want to try out a book over on my book blog.  I had so much fun figuring those out that I thought I should do the same about movies.  What makes me think, "Yup, that is something I would like to watch?" about particular films?  I've come up with ten magnets that will always draw my attention.

1.  It's a western.  I will try basically any movie or TV show based solely on the fact that it is a western.  I don't have to know what it's about.  I don't have to know or care about anyone who's in it, the director, the composer, anything.  It's a western?  I'm there.  (With the obvious caveat that, if I learn it's skanky, I will either proceed with caution or skip it.)

2.  It stars someone I hold dear.  For a fairly large number of actors and actresses, not even remotely limited to my top favorites (actors, actresses), I will try nearly any movie or show.  Nearly -- I do have some standards, so even top favorites occasionally have made something I will pass on.  But the presence of someone I hold dear ties with "it's a western" for the top thing guaranteed to get me to watch something.

3.  It's set during WWII.  I mean, my top favorite TV show of all time (Combat! [1962-67]) is based in WWII.  That should tell you a lot.  A WWII-era setting, whether it's a war zone or the home front, will always grab my interest.

4.  It's based on a good book.  Bonus points if it's a classic book, but yeah, I love movies that are adaptations of books!  I often watch them first to find out if I like the characters and story, then go read the book if I do.  That makes the book feel like an expanded version of the story, rather than making the movie feel like a condensed version of a book I've read.

5.  It has heroes in it.  Yes, that includes superheroes, but it includes a lot more than that, too.  You throw words like "hero," "rescue," "sacrifice," and "courage" at me, and I am instantly paying attention.  I do enjoy superhero movies, but it's heroism in general that draws me to so many action movies, fantasy and sci-fi movies, and so on.  Westerns and war movies appeal to me because they so often involve heroes.

6.  It's film noir.  Got some gritty stories and mean streets and fatally attractive women and weary almost-heroes and murky shadows you could drown in?  I'm here for it.  Yes, heroes are thin on the ground in this genre, but they're there.  And antiheroes abound.

7.  It revolves around a platonic friendship.  If there are two characters who have or form a close bond of friendship, and that's the main relationship that the story centers around, I am interested right away.  So many of my favorite movies and TV shows revolve around either a pair of friends or a group of them!  "Found families" play into this -- group friendship bonds interest me just as much as a friendship between just two people.

8.  It's set in the 1960s.  My husband likes to tease me that I grew up in the sixties.  I didn't -- I wasn't born until the eighties -- but when I was growing up, most of the movies and TV shows we watched at home were made in the sixties because that's when my parents grew up, so that's what formed their taste.  And so, it's what formed my taste.  Whether a movie or show was made in the sixties or later on, if that's when it's set, I want to try it out!

9.  Someone I trust tells me I would like it.  I definitely will try movies just because specific people tell me I should.  My parents, my brother, DKoren, and two or three other people can get me to watch a movie on their recommendation alone.

10. It has a detective in it.  Yes, I love mysteries.  I particularly love to read them, but I enjoy watching them too.  Many of my favorite TV shows revolve around detectives solving crimes, and I like movies about them too.

So, basically, if it has a certain setting or specific types of characters, or simply stars particular people, I'm interested!  

Sunday, May 14, 2023

My Ten Favorite Action Movies -- 2023 Update

I'm narrowing my criterion for this list more than I did for my original list in 2013.  Only movies set in the 20th or 21st century allowed.  No swords.  Movies with lots of swords recently got showcased on my Ten Favorite Swashbucklers post anyway!

1. The Fugitive (1993)  Dr. Richard Kimble (Harrison Ford) is wrongly convicted of his wife's murder, escapes, and goes hunting for the real killer while U.S. Marshal Sammy Gerard (Tommy Lee Jones) hunts for him. My second-favorite movie of all time.

2. The Man from U.N.C.L.E. (2015) An American (Henry Cavill), a Russian (Armie Hammer), and a German (Alicia Vikander) team up during the Cold War to stop neo-Nazis from creating a nuclear bomb. This is an unabashedly fun movie, and I love it ever so dearly.

3. The Bourne Identity (2002) Amnesiac Jason Bourne (Matt Damon) races across Europe, evading unknown pursuers, seeking answers about his past, and falling in love with a quirky stranger (Franka Potente). The movie that changed my mind about Matt Damon. And based on one of my favorite books.

4. Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981) Archaeologist/adventurer Dr. Indiana Jones (Harrison Ford) tries to keep the Ark of the Covenant away from the Nazis. One of the finest adventure movies ever made. I had the deep joy of seeing this on the big screen a few years ago, and it was even more spectacular there than I had hoped.

5. Witness (1985) Detective John Book (Harrison Ford) goes undercover to protect a little Amish boy who is the only witness to a murder. Taut and sweet at the same time, and one of the very, very few R-rated movies I own.

6.  Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989) What's better than one Dr. Jones? Two Dr. Joneses! Indy and his dad (Sean Connery) try to keep the Holy Grail away from the Nazis. The chemistry between the two of them is as perfect as possible. This movie makes me laugh so much.

7. GoldenEye (1995) James Bond (Pierce Brosnan) battles his ex-partner (Sean Bean) to save Britain from an electronic meltdown. The first thing I ever saw Brosnan, Bean, and Judi Dench in -- and I became a total fan of all three.

8. Conspiracy Theory (1997) Paranoid cab driver Jerry Fletcher (Mel Gibson) convinces the woman he loves (Julia Roberts) to help him uncover a conspiracy. I think this is the first thing I ever saw Patrick Stewart in other than Star Trek: The Next Generation. It manages to be twisty and tender, creepy and sweet, all at the same time.  And it's also another of the very small number of R-rated movies I own.

9. Skyfall (2012) James Bond (Daniel Craig) must confront, not his own bitter past, but M's (Judi Dench) when MI6 headquarters is attacked.

10. R.E.D. (2010) Retired black-ops agent Frank Moses (Bruce Willis), his new girlfriend Sarah (Mary-Louise Parker), and a bunch of his old pals (Morgan Freeman, John Malkovich, Helen Mirren) and enemies (Brian Cox) team up to figure out who's trying to kill them, and why. Hilarious from beginning to end. You guys wanna get pancakes?

Do we share any favorites?  Do any of these surprise you?  I'm curious!

Tuesday, May 09, 2023

Movie Music: Erich Wolfgang Korngold's "The Adventures of Robin Hood" (1938)

Time to share a film score that is a classic in every possible way a soundtrack could be. From long ago, still enjoyable today, and something others might try to imitate but can never duplicate. And it even comes with an adventure story of its own, separate from the one in the movie it accompanies! 

Composer Erich Wolfgang Korngold and his family escaped Vienna just before the Nazis invaded in 1938 thanks to this film score. According to the liner notes of my copy, Korngold was offered the job of composing the score for The Adventures of Robin Hood in Hollywood, and that gave him a legitimage reason to leave Austria in what was becoming an increasingly dangerous time.  He was able to bring his wife and younger son along, but had to leave his older son with family in Austria. They arrived safely in California, where Korngold promptly turned down the job because there was too much action in the film! He wrote operas and scored romantic movies, not action films, and he didn't think he could match the studio's needs and expectations. But they prevailed on him to try, so he stayed, and wrote the entire score in six weeks. During that time, Hitler invaded Austria, and the Korngolds were relieved to learn that their other son had escaped with his grandparents to Switzerland just before the Nazis arrived.

This score went on to with Korngold his second Oscar, which is amazing when you think that he didn't want to write it at all at first. It's a very sweeping, lyrical score, one I enjoy listening to on a glum morning to help boost the mood for me and my kids. They're actually the reason I bought this album in the first place -- they love the movie and kept asking why I didn't have the soundtrack. Well, I didn't have it because the original recording isn't available -- all you can get are re-recordings. I did some research and consulted with a knowledgeable friend, and learned that the 1988 recording available from the Varese-Sarabande label is the best available, so that's the one I got. It was produced by George Korngold, the composer's young son who accompanied him to Hollywood on the trip to compose the score. 

When we listened to this when they were younger, my kids would tell me exactly what's happening in the movie during different parts of the music, and sometimes act it out :-) Very fun, though sometimes a bit disruptive of breakfast. 

The first cue, "Prologue (Main Title)," begins with a lot of rollicky, boisterous prancing that lets you know this is the sort of movie that will make you bounce up and down in your seat and cheer. Then the mood shifts and a softer theme weaves its way in, alerting the audience to the fact that yes, there will be a love story here too. But that doesn't last long -- the piece ends with a some bold and vaguely regal flourishes.

This score has some of the most cheerful action music you'll ever hear. "Escape from the Castle" is a joyous romp from start to finish, lots of flourishes and musical galloping. 

My favorite track is "The Archery Tournament." It's brash and playful and ready to have a good time. Rather like Robin Hood (Errol Flynn) in this version, come to think of it.

This is a really fun movie. If you haven't seen it, I strongly encourage you to! You can read my review of it right here if you want to know more about it.  And you can listen to the soundtrack album here on YouTube.

(This review originally appeared here at J and J Productions on February 15, 2016.)