Well, it’s almost over. Whatever are we to do next?
Tonight will be our last night at the Summer Swashbuckler series at the Film Forum. It’s been a marvelous adventure and (for both Pat and I, I think) an exciting trip back in time to our boyhoods, when swashbuckling was the dream of half of the boys in school. The other half had their sights set on baseball….
I’m so very glad that Pat found out about the film series. We both love movies, dearly; but, as he pointed out yesterday, for the last fifteen years almost all of our movie watching has been contemporary. Oh, sure, there were days when we would get out a Katharine Hepburn dvd, there was Valentine’s Day, when we went to BAM and saw BALL OF FIRE on the big screen. We have seen some old pictures during our twenty years together but one of the things that we have in common is that, as children, if it wasn’t in black and white, we wasn’t interested. He watched Charlie Chan and Sherlock Holmes while I was watching Fred and Ginger and Lana Turner. I don’t when or how or why we let our interest in the history of American cinema wane but it did. Suddenly, thanks to the Film Forum and this series, a fire has been lit again! What fun.
During the last month we have been treated to four Errol Flynn movies (CAPTAIN BLOOD, THE SEAHAWK, THE PRINCE AND THE PAUPER and THE ADVENTURES OF ROBIN HOOD), Leslie Howard in THE SCARLET PIMPERNEL, Ronald Coleman in THE PRISONER OF ZENDA, James Whale’s THE MAN IN THE IRON MASK, TREASURE ISLAND, Stewart Granger as SCARAMOUCHE, Tyron Power in THE MARK OF ZORRO, Don Ameche in THE THREE MUSKETEERS (with the Ritz Brothers—I have some choice words about this picture) and tonight is Robert Donat as THE COUNT OF MONTE CRISTO and Douglas Fairbanks Sr in THE IRON MASK.
Douglas Fairbanks sr. Let me tell you about Douglas Fairbanks sr. During this series we saw the great silent film star in THE MARK OF ZORRO, THE THREE MUSKETEERS, THE BLACK PIRATE and DON Q, SON OF ZORRO. These are all silent films. Here’s my secret. I never saw a silent movie before. I am sure they are available on dvd but I don’t own any and I certainly never saw one in the cinema; what is more I certainly never saw one with piano accompaniment. But all four of these Fairbanks pictures had a man pounding away his ORIGINAL SCORE to the film—sometimes twice a day for two hours each showing. Have mercy. Now. Never having seen a silent picture, I had no idea that Douglas Fairbanks was a STUD!!!! I had seen photos of him, so I knew he was handsome; I had no idea he had the most AMAZING body—his chest and his biceps were huge and in THE BLACK PIRATE he wore an outfit that exposed his legs and I have only, ever, seen a set of quads like this and they belong to ME. Oh YES. Douglas Fairbanks has legs like mine. NOBODY has legs like mine. Well, lemme tell you WHY Mr Fairbanks had such an incredible body: because he was an athlete of Olympian skill. You watch him swordfight and think Wow. Then you watch him pole vault, backflip, dive and swim. You watch him scale walls and commit feats of daring-do so out of the ordinary that you think you are watching the International Gymnastics Finals. The man was not just an actor, he was an athlete, the kind that I WISH I were! Nothing can, adequately, describe the prowess that this man possessed. As if watching silent films (for the first time) and Douglas Fairbanks (for the first time) weren’t enough—I finally got to see the acting abilities of women whom I have only read about for years! Billie Dove! Mary Astor! Marguerite De La Motte! Barbara La Marr! I get it now. I get what she meant when she said “We didn’t need dialogue, we had FACES then!” This was a major thrill for me—and it serves to set a new bar and inspiration for my work on myself as a health and fitness expert, as an athlete.
I touched, earlier this month, on my feelings for Errol Flynn and how important it has been to see his four films this month. I also mentioned how much I loved THE SCARLET PIMPERNEL. The other films that have, randomly and without the theme of a certain star, been shown have all delighted me, equally! I had never seen THE PRISONER OF ZENDA and now it is one of the films I will order on dvd (we already bought the Tyrone Power MARK OF ZORRO). I never saw ANY version of THE MAN IN THE IRON MASK—nor did I ever read the book. This one was a surprise and a treat because I loved the story but I was also enthralled by the lush sets and costumes and the great cinematography and lighting. And then there was the over the top and campy performances of, oh, almost EVERY SINGLE ACTOR in the film but especially Louis Hayward and Joseph Schildkraut (I think Pat told me that James Whale coined the phrase swishbuckling for them). I had also never seen TREASURE ISLAND or, for that matter, a movie with Jackie Cooper as a child actor. Hmm. Holy Bernadette Peters, Batman!! All the kid do was cry and weep and pout and cry some more. He was so irritating! Nevertheless, I loved the movie. It’s Long John Silver and Jim Hawkins ! Wallace Berry and Lionel Barrymore! You can’t go wrong, even if the child star is like Shirley Temple with a pageboy. An especially nice treat was SCARAMOUCHE because I love Mel Ferrer and Janet Leigh but I am IN LOVE with Eleanor Parker (how can I help it—I am a gay male and she was the Baroness Schraeder in THE SOUND OF MUSIC; since I’m eight years old she has been the most elegant female I have ever seen) and I have always thought Stewart Graner was SO dashing! Now I have seen him (not only) in a movie but (also) in a swashbuckling movie! It’s tongue in cheek and daring and elegant and funny. I loved it and was very upset to hear fellow movie goers disparaging it as not very good and a C- movie. Ech. Some people are impossible to please.
Now, though, we come to the real rewards I have received for this month long trip to the movies, for this study in cinematic history (that Pat and I both want to continue). And it is with shame, shame, shame that I say this.
I just saw my first Danny Kaye film and my first Douglas Fairbanks Jr films.
That’s right. I never saw a Danny Kaye movie. Oh, when I was a child I saw HANS CHRISTIAN ANDERSEN but I don’t remember it. As a teenager and young man I saw Danny Kaye on tv specials and stuff. I know that people ADORE him. Hell, he is one of Pat’s personal heroes, as well as Jake Speck (Jake is the closest I have ever come to having a son of my own and I love him as though he WERE my son and even though I knew of his idolatry of Mr Kaye, I never bothered to see any of his movies). My experience of Danny Kaye has been in clips and retrospectives. I saw THE MADWOMAN OF CHAILLOT but the truth is he has a significant but small role. For me, it is a Katharine Hepburn movie.
THE TURNOUT FOR THE COURT JESTER WAS THE BIGGEST FOR ANY MOVIE THIS MONTH.
People began to clap and cheer when the film started. They howled every time he so much as twitched an eyebrow. He continues to have a following that borders on fanaticism. Earlier this year I saw Jake’s one man show about Danny Kaye and heard all the facts and trivia---I truly had no idea that he had accomplished SO very much in his career. I truly had no idea what he had meant to the industry. What a remarkable talent. Having seen THE COURT JESTER, now, I understand. My Danny Kaye education has begun…
Sidebar: Angela Lansbury and Glynnis Johns in THE COURT JESTER. Lord Have Freakin Mercy.
Sidebar: Basil Rathbone in every movie I have seen him in this month. Oh My God. Did you know that he was considered the greatest film swordsman of his day? Because he always played the bad guy, though, he only won ONE sword fight on film, his entire career.
Oh. The other treat? Douglas Fairbanks Jr. We saw him in PRISONER OF ZENDA, GUNGA DIN and THE EXILE. He was so dashing and handsome, so charming and winning in ZENDA that it was difficult to view him as the bad guy. And THE EXILE is one of my new favourite movies. It was so simple and charming and it won me over, in spades! Online it is called sweeping and romantic…and a sadly forgotten gem. Gem, it is! I tend to fall asleep during movies, tend to have my mind wander..but this movie captivated me and kept me on the edge of my seat. Maria Montez is heavenly! All of this movie was heavenly. And, by the way, he wrote and directed it. I am, now, a die hard fan. I cannot, though, say anything about GUNGA DIN. I saw ten or fifteen minutes and went, promptly, to sleep. But he was good in what I saw. Handsome and charming.
And by the way, when I first came to New York, a well known publicity office hired me to go shoot red carpet and events for them, getting their clients on film. I shot a photo of Douglas Fairbanks jr, shortly before he died. I SHOT DOUGLAS FAIRBANKS! He is seen, above, with Arthur Penn. Suweet!
So I am sad to see the Swashbuckling series go… I loved it, so. I loved seeing my old idol, Errol Flynn and getting to find new ones, like Danny Kaye and both of the Fairbanks men…
I would be remiss, though, if I did not touch (briefly) on the absurd version of THE THREE MUSKETEERS starring Don Ameche and the Ritz Brothers. Granted, it was a MUSICAL COMEDY version of the Dumas story in which Porthos, Athos and Aramis are substituted (through comedy of errors) by three ridiculous oafs played by the Ritz Brothers. I suppose it was alright for the day and for what it wanted to be. I’m just a THREE MUSKETEERS purist. It has to be true to the novel or I cannot be bothered. Do you know that there have been SO many film versions of this novel that I couldn’t even begin to distill all the research for this piece? I’ve seen the Douglas Fairbanks silent film and it is (sort of) true to the book—not bad. I give it a solid B-. The wonderful Gene Kelly version is a real A-. I don’t think I can talk about the 1993 version starring Kiefer Sutherland, Charlie Sheen and Oliver Platt except to say that Chris O’Donnell is the most GORGEOUS D’Artagnan there has ever been and Rebecca de Mornay, a perfect Milady de Winter, even if they did butcher her part…. Of course, the best (in my mind) and most faithful version is the one with the all star cast, with Michael York, Raquel Welch and Faye Dunaway (I don’t think she was acting in the role of Milady de Winter—I think it was type casting). That version is an A+. By the way, there was a tv version with Maximillian Schell playing D’Artagnan. I found the Don Ameche version absurd, even though I have always loved him and even though Anne of Austria was played by a young Gloria Stuart! Oh, my head.
But for a month long movie festival, to have so few letdowns is a great average. And to come away with a new appreciation for silent films and for stars whose work I, otherwise, would not have known…well, it’s a rare, fair day when I can look back on a month of a single activity and say “THAT was worth the time, the trouble, the money and all the calories gained from all that movie popcorn!”
And it WAS worth the time. It really was.
Next up is the BUSTER KEATON retrospective….AND a screening of Jayne Mansfield in THE GIRL CAN’T HELP IT.
Did I ever tell you that I can squeak like Jayne Mansfieild?
That’s another story for another day….
please note: above (in descending order) are Douglas Fairbanks, Janet Leigh in Scaramouche, Maria Montez, Angela Lansbury and Glynnis Johns with Danny Kaye in The Court Jester, Arthur Penn and Douglas Fairbanks jr., and Douglas Fairbanks jr. All photos came from the internet except the one of Penn and Fairbanks jr., which I shot