Popcorn Sermons #2: MARTY

On June 3rd I presented the film MARTY at the beautiful Museum of Russian Icons. This is an abridged version of that presentation which was made all the more richer by the insights, comments and questions of the audience members in our discussion that followed the film.

“Whaddya feel like doin’ tonight?”    I dunno, Angie. Whaddya feel like doin?”

These lines could only be from one film, Marty (1955). The story of 34-year-old Marty Piletti (Ernest Borgnine) a lonely butcher who lives with his widowed mother (Esther Minciotti) in the Bronx. 

There’ve been many films about lonely people trying to find someone to marry. Why has this film’s emotional power lasted for over 60 years? There are no big name actors; no fancy camera work; no epic musical score. It’s just a Saturday night and Marty and his friend, Angie, are trying to figure out “Whaddya feel like doin?”

Maybe it’s because it illustrates with simple, heartfelt, humanity the words of the gospel according to Mark 6:4 “A prophet is not without honor except in his native place and among his own kin and in his own house.” For if you change the prophet’s occupation from carpenter to butcher, make his native place the Bronx; the kin, his extended family and friends; and the house personified by his widowed mother, you’ve got the words of St. Mark set in a working-class Italian-American neighborhood in the 1950s. You’ve got Marty. A Bronx prophet who lives by the words of Luke 6:31 “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” 

But, after years of rejection on the dating scene, Marty, who everyone agrees is a nice guy, has given up on himself, believing he’s too fat and ugly for any woman to love. His mother encourages him to the point of harassment, “You gonna die without a son!” to go to the Stardust Ballroom and try just one more to meet someone.  And, under the man-made glow of the mirrored dance ball, Marty does meet someone. He meets Clara (Betsy Blair), a shy school teacher from Brooklyn who’s as lonely as he is.

The saying goes: love is blind, but isn’t just the opposite true? Doesn’t love help us to see clearly, beyond appearances and circumstances, right to the heart and soul of another? Marty and Clara see each other for the wonderful gifts they truly are.

But then native place, kin and house weigh in. A Bronx buddy meets Marty with a car full of women: “These squirrels are nurses. Money in the bank, man” and asks Marty if he wants to join them. Angie ignores Clara all together and wants Marty to come with him as: “There’s still plenty action around.” His mother asks Clara a trick question: “You don’t think my sister Caterina should live in her daughter-in-law’s house?” 

But Marty remains faithful to himself and to Clara throughout the night.

He happily awakens Sunday morning, knowing he has plans to see Clara that evening. He holds his cousin’s baby, symbolizing the new life Marty feels he’s starting for himself. But, native place, kin and house don’t let up and Marty, without Clara by his side, falters.

Borgnine portrayed Marty with a physicality that revealed more about the man than words ever could. I defy anyone to watch his performance and not get a lump in their throat. At the Stardust Ballroom, he awkwardly practices a few steps before asking a woman to dance; or the hug that follows the small, tentative kiss between he and Clara. His hug is like that of a drowning man who’s just been thrown a life preserver. And, as if in prayer, Marty closes his eyes 3 times in the film, sending up a silent, simple, desperate, “Help me.” Once, when he’s rejected by a girl he’s called; again when Clara tells him she likes him and lastly when he’s back where he began, miserable and lonely with the guys, wondering: “Whaddya feel like doin’ tonight?”

Mark’s gospel continues “…And their lack of faith made it impossible for him to perform any miracles.”

But, that third time, when Marty opens his eyes, he sees his world clearly. “What am I hangin’ around with you guys for!? …I had a good time last night. I’m gonna have a good time tonight. If we have enough good times together,…I’m gonna beg that girl to marry me!” Marty rushes to the pay phone, closes the door on his past “Excuse me, Angie” and greets his future “Hello, Clara.”

And a miracle has been performed, one that with a little faith we can all experience: Love.

 Please join me on July 15, at 1:30pm at the Museum of Russian Icons  for the 3rd film in my Popcorn Sermons series. It’s a classic film noir with rapid fire dialogue, dames in black, and mugs with guns. It’s also the story of Cain and Abel, recast as brothers Joe (John Garfield) and Leo (Thomas Gomez) Morse caught up in the FORCE OF EVIL.

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Join me at the beautiful Museum of Russian Icons on June 3rd for the second film in our program: MARTY

Popcorn Sermons flier 1

Terry Malloy’s own Via Dolorosa

On May 20th I spoke of this great climatic scene from ON THE WATERFRONT. I believe its power owes a lot to the symbolism and imagery borrowed from the first 9 Stations of the Cross. Judge for yourself as Terry, following his testimony before the Crime Commission, goes down to the docks to confront John Friendly:

1. Jesus is condemned to death; Terry, too, stands condemned; abandoned, scorned. His fellow longshoremen do nothing as he’s beaten up by Friendly’s thugs (Roman soldiers).

2. Jesus carries His cross; Terry carries the longshoremen’s hook; the cross of the workingman on the docks.

3. Jesus falls the first time; Terry stumbles back. 

4. Jesus meets his mother, 5. Simon helps Jesus to carry his cross, 6. Veronica wipes the face of Jesus; Edie personifies all three stations as she tries to wipe Terry’s face, console, help him. 

7. Jesus falls a second time; Terry stumbles a second time. 

8. Jesus meets the women of Jerusalem; Edie tries to reach Terry, but is stopped.

9. Jesus falls a third time; Terry stumbles a third time! 

It’s a remarkable piece of filmmaking. The Shipper yells “All right, let’s go to work!” 

Terry, redeemed in everyone’s eyes, including his own, enters the cargo area first. Christianity teaches that Christ’s suffering allows us to enter into the kingdom of heaven, Terry’s suffering allows the longshoremen to enter into their own version of heaven on the docks: an honest day’s wages for an honest day’s work.

The cargo door closes. ‘Friendly,’ has been cast out for good!

The Great McGinty begets Boris Badenov

The Great McGinty Boris Badenov 1

BEGETS-icon

Whereby the experiences on set or in watching someone else’s film, begets another…

Written and Directed by Preston Sturges, The Great McGinty (1940) tells of a hobo’s (Brian Donlevy) rise up through the political ranks to the Governor’s mansion, thanks to playing along with ‘The Boss’ (Akim Tamiroff) of the state’s political machine. A witty farce with as much to say about politics and human nature today as it did then, The Great McGinty was a smash hit and won the Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay for 1940. Its success launched Sturges’ brilliant, though brief, career as both writer and director which incredibly produced 7 more hit films in just the next 4 years!

So, what’s one of the lasting legacies of this witty, brilliant, man who’s known mostly to only film school grads and TCM fans? Cue the evil laughter…

Akim Tamiroff is not a household name, but the character actor’s performance as ‘The Boss’ was extremely popular among the public, including the then-20-year-old Jay Ward. Sturges created ‘The Boss,’ as a little-big man with an explosive temper; a bad guy who was always mangling the English language, and yet somehow remained likable despite his rather vain, delusional, ways. Tamiroff’s performance was so beloved that years later it inspired Jay Ward, now of Jay Ward Productions, in creating Boris Badenov, half of the villainous Cold War spy team of Boris and Natasha, on TV’s The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle (1959-1964). Not only does Boris look, sound and act like Tamiroff, but the English language is but a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma when heard through Boris’ poorly animated grimace. 

Unfortunately, Sturges died before the first episode of The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle aired. The Stanislavsky-trained Tamiroff never commented on, or perhaps was unaware of, this animated homage. But, it did make Boris Badenov the first ‘Method’ cartoon character of children’s television.

Preston Sturges: Classic Film Genius

Please join me Fridays in April at 1:00 pm at the Beaman Memorial Library for my film program “Preston Sturges: Classic Film Genius. For a complete schedule and more information visit: The Beaman Memorial Library

“The most incredible thing about my career is that I had one.” ~Peston Sturges (1898-1959)

 He wasn’t a good student, didn’t like to read, never went to college, and yet by the time Preston SturgePreston Sturges 2b big?s was in his 40s he had changed the course of Hollywood history and was hailed as a genius. Between 1940 and 1944 he was responsible for an incredible streak of hit movies populated with zany characters, witty dialogue and a subversive sense of humor – along with a big dose of American energy. “Pep,” they used to call it.

Sturges, for whom luck and optimism were religion, came to screenwriting via the stage. At age 29, a product of an unstable, bohemian upbringing (his mother Mary ‘D’Este’ was a friend and cohort of the dancer, Isadora Duncan), he had no career, no job, no money and was convalescing from an emergency appendectomy. Bored, he came across a copy of A Study of the Drama by Brander Matthews and began to read. Inspired, he wrote a play, Strictly Dishonorable, which became a Broadway hit. This lead to an offer from Hollywood, which led to a highly successful screenwriting career throughout the 30s. But Sturges didn’t like how little creative control the screenwriter had. He saw that the director was king on the set. “I want to be a ‘Prince of the Blood,’ and that’s what a director is,” he told his friends.

So in 1939, at the age of 40, he changed the course of Hollywood history by striking a deal with Paramount Studios to be both writer and director, two distinct positions at the time. He did so by offering his original screenplay, The Great McGinty, for just $1.00 with the condition that he’d also direct it (the actual amount was later changed to $10 for legal reasons). Friends and suits alike told him he was crazy. It had never been done before and he didn’t know what he was doing.

But he did. 

Preston Sturges was the very first person to ever see his name proceeded by the words: WRITTEN AND DIRECTED BY. Others, such as Billy Wilder, John Houston and Joseph Mankiewicz would soon follow in his footsteps. But, not before Sturges had the supreme satisfaction of seeing his movie become a box office smash. The Great McGinty even went on to win the Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay!

In the next four years Sturges wrote six more original comedies and directed all of them to box office and critical success. The industry, both suits and creatives alike, those who loved him and those who hated him, acknowledged he was a genius. But he was a genius with a temper and a temperament. Burnout had to be factor given how hard he was working. But, regardless, he rubbed the suits at Paramount the wrong way one too many times. In 1944, after one particularly explosive argument with Paramount executive Buddy DeSylva, Sturges was, unbelievably, fired, despite being at the top of his game.

He tried to find a home with other studios but word had spread about how difficult he could be. When Sturges was able to find something, which was sporadic at best over the next 15 years, he could never match the success of his earlier work. Like many other directors, actors, and screenwriters of those years, he found himself out-of-step with the sensibilities of the post-war public. Sadly, Preston Sturges died at the age of 60 of a fatal heart attack while staying at the Algonquin Hotel. In a final wink to his audience, he passed away while writing his autobiography which he was calling: The Events Leading Up to My Death.

CLASSIC STURGES LINES: “If it wasn’t for graft, you’d get a very low type of people in politics.” The Great McGinty (1940)Who wants to live cheaply? Everything that means happiness costs money.” – Christmas in July (1940); “Let us be crooked but never common.”The Lady Eve (1941); “I need him like the axe needs the turkey.” – The Lady Eve (1941); “I say it with some embarrassment. I want to make a comedy.”- Sullivan’s Travels (1941); “Nothing is permanent in this world, except Roosevelt.” – The Palm Beach Story (1942); “One of the tragedies of this life is that the men who are most in need of beating up are always enormous.” – The Palm Beach Story (1942); “Well, that’s the war for you. It’s always hard on women. Either they take your men away and never send them back at all; or they send them back unexpectedly just to embarrass you. No consideration at all.” – Hail the Conquering Hero (1944)

The Great McGinty  Sullivans Travels 2  The Miracle of Morgan's Creek

RECOMMENDED FILMS: The Great McGinty (1940), Christmas in July (1940), The Lady Eve (1941), Sullivan’s Travels (1941), The Palm Beach Story (1942), The Miracle of Morgan’s Creek (1944), and Hail the Conquering Hero (1944)

American Masters (1990) Preston Sturges: The Rise and Fall of an American Dreamer (This documentary is hard to find but it is included as a bonus feature in the Criterion Collection edition of Sullivan’s Travels released in 2001)

RECOMMENDED READING: A book about Sturges: Christmas in July; The Life and Art of Preston Sturges by Diane Jacobs, 1992 Sturges’ favorite book: Two Lifetimes in One: How Never To Be Tired: How To Have Energy To Burn by Marie Beyond Rey, 1938

NOT LOST IN TRANSLATION Sturges’ love of language extended to the slang of his day. Here are a few examples used in his films: beazle – a beautiful woman; get the dope on – get inside information; frail – a woman; mitts – hands; gink – a foolish or contemptible person; mug – a person’s face; a hoodlum or thug; piker – a gambler who only makes small bets; mickey – a knockout drug ‘slipped’ into a drink for the purpose of stealing from someone; take a powder – get lost; leave quickly; McGinty – a grift or a grifter; go peel an eel – go jerk off

Interesting… It’s a common belief that films suffered under the Hollywood Production Code during the mid-1930s, 40s and 50s. I tend to agree with *Fellini who said, “Artist’s need to rebel. The worst thing they can have is total freedom.” I believe the code’s restrictions pushed all involved in Hollywood to greater creative heights and as such, these films possess a beauty and emotional resonance to this day.

And then there is Preston Sturges, who incredibly got away with almost anything! This scene is like something you’d see in a film or on TV today vs the 1940s. In an era when the word ‘sex’ was never uttered unless the word ‘opposite’ was said right before it, it’s playfully used as a punchline in this clip from Sullivan’s Travels (1941).

*Fellini also said, “Life is a combination of magic and pasta.” Clearly, the man knew what he was talking about.

Deluxe Version!

BEGETS-icon

In a 6-month celebration of my mini-Begets column I’ve written a special deluxe version whereby the experiences in one aspect of the arts begets inspiration in some of the others.

It starts with a book…

The Sun Also Rises (1926) by Ernest Hemingway

The Sun Also Rises coverIconic best-seller, and high-school must-read, about a group of expats, who travel from Paris to Pamplona, Spain to watch the running of the bulls and the bullfights. Muy, muy macho stuff.

Hemingway at bullfights B&WPurportedly Hemingway (in white trousers and dark shirt) in the bullring, attempting to drag a man away from a charging bull during the San Fermin Festival in Pamplona, Spain in July, 1925. The very trip that was the basis for his book.

which beget the phrase…

D. Selznick

 

The Son-in-Law Also Rises (1930) inspired by the marriage of David O. Selznick to Louis B. Mayer’s daughter, Irene, and Selznick’s subsequent appointment as head of production at MGM Studios.

 

and begets the children’s book…

Ferdinand cover

 

The Story of Ferdinand by Munro Leaf (1936) lauded as a classic from the start, tells the tale of a peaceful, flower-loving, little bull named Ferdinand. And then there’s Hemingway’s lesser known, forgettable, rebuttal, ‘The Faithful Bull’ published, to no acclaim, in ‘Holiday’ magazine in 1951.

and eventually begets the film adaptation…

Thesunalsorises

 

The Sun Also Rises (1957) starring Tyrone Power, Ava Gardner and Errol Flynn and emphasizing the inebriated and hedonistic lifestyle embraced by the Lost Generation told in brilliant Deluxe Color and CinemaScope.

 

 

which begets the home decor fad…

bullfight poster

 

 

Bullfight Posters (late 1950s to 1970s)

It seemed as though for decades there wasn’t a finished basement anywhere in America that didn’t proudly display a bullfight poster, a.k.a. early man-cave art.

 

 

 

which finally begets the least Hemingway moment ever put on film with bulls…

City Slickers (1991) starring Billy Crystal, Daniel Stern and Bruno Kirby

The opening scene is a modern day running of the bulls in Spain featuring 3 New Yorkers attempting to walk—or rather run—in Hemingway’s macho-footsteps. After watching this, all one can say is: ‘No mas, no mas.’

 

FILM PROGRAM: Preston Sturges; Classic Film Genius

I’m happy to announce I’ll be conducting a Film Program on the 1940s filmmaker *Preston Sturges at the Beaman Memorial Public Library in West Boylston, MA. The Program is FREE and it’s going to be a lot of fun however, the Beaman requests that you do call them at 508-835-3711 to sign-up!

Preston Sturges 2b big?

 

 

Films shown on Fridays, April 6, 13, 20, and 27 at 1 p.m.

He wasn’t a good student, he didn’t like to read, he never went to college, and yet by the time Preston Sturges was in his 40s he had changed the course of Hollywood history. Between 1940 to 1944 he wrote and directed a streak of hit films displaying a sly wit and a subversive sense of humor that somehow got past Hollywood’s Production Code!

Each Friday I’ll talk about the films, the times and the larger-than-life personality and talent of Preston Sturges, himself.

 

 

 

The Great McGinty

 

APRIL 6 – The Great McGinty (1940) “If it wasn’t for graft, you’d get a very low type of people in politics.”

 

The Lady Eve 1

 

APRIL 13 – The Lady Eve (1941) “I need him like the axe needs the turkey.”

 

 

Sullivans Travels 2

 

APRIL 20 – Sullivan’s Travels (1941) “Why don’t you go back to the car? You look as much like a boy as Mae West.”

 

 

The Miracle of Morgan's Creek

 

APRIL 27 – The Miracle of Morgan’s Creek (1944) “You almost wished I’d be in terrible trouble so you could help me out of it? Well, you certainly got your wish.”

 

 

* Oscar Trivia: Preston Sturges’ screenplay, THE GREAT McGINTY (1940) won the very first Academy Award given for Best Original Screenplay – a brand new category in 1940 – and, it was a comedy!

Brief Encounter begets The Apartment

Brief Encounter blog  the apartment blog

BEGETS-icon

Whereby the experiences on set or in watching someone else’s film, begets another…

Brief Encounter (1946) is an English film about two married strangers, Laura Jesson (Celia Johnson) and Dr. Alec Harvey (Trevor Howard) who meet accidentally at a train station. To their own astonishment, and guilt, they fall in love. But this is England, and their affair, though intense, is very buttoned-down, very chaste. And completely unforgettable! It’s one of the most romantic films ever made. What’s not in the English nature to display is expressed throughout the film by the use of Rachmaninov’s passionate Piano Concerto No. 2. Eventually Laura and Alec meet at a ‘flat’ belonging to his friend, who’s suppose to be elsewhere. But the friend shows up and is outraged at Alec for attempting to use his apartment for a tryst.

It was this moment which struck filmmaker Billy Wilder when he saw the film. He scribbled in his notebook: ‘What about the poor schnook who has to crawl into the still-warm bed of the lovers?’

Fourteen years later Wilder gave us the poor schnook in The Apartment (1960). His name was C.C. Baxter (Jack Lemmon) and he wasn’t outraged at all. Just the opposite, C.C. cooperated with his bosses who wanted to use his apartment for hook-ups. He figured it was his way to advance up the corporate ladder, and it worked. That is until C.C. fell for the big boss’ (Fred MacMurray) mistress, Fran Kublik (Shirley MacLaine). And then, it broke his heart. But where Brief Encounter was unabashedly romantic, with characters trying to be noble, The Apartment was cynical, with most, thinking of no one but themselves–in other words, it was a bit ‘Wilder.’

The last line of Brief Encounter, spoken by Laura’s husband and which brings her to tears: “Thank you for coming back to me.” The last line of The Apartment, spoken by Fran during a card game after C.C.’s declared his love for her: “Shut up and deal.” So much for American romance!