Monday, October 19, 2009

I love old movies and I love this old earth. This is where those two loves intersect...

Smoking. They’re always doing it in the old flicks, lending mysterious atmosphere and romantic ambience to plot twists. Oblivious to the damage it would eventually wreak on lungs and environment, the stars of the golden age puffed away. Bette Davis, one of cinema’s most famous onscreen smokers, had to hide her character’s nicotine habit in 1942’s Now Voyager. But by movie’s end, Charlotte Vale (BD) has come a long way, baby, and that includes public smoking. Her lover (played by Paul Henreid) famously lights two cigarettes at the same time, one for himself, one for the lovely Charlotte.

But if they were polluting the air with tobacco smoke in the old days, at least they get points for how they lit their cigarettes: wooden matches and shiny lighters. Witness Kirk Douglas’s wiseacre newsman in Ace in the Hole (1951) as he holds his unlit match to a typewriter carriage then flips the return: zing and the carriage ignites his match. His fag is lit and everyone knows what a smartass the new reporter is.The cigarette lighters of yesteryear were souvenirs, collectibles, keepsakes. They had sentimental and/or monetary value. They were sometimes beautifully designed and often inscribed. James Stewart unwittingly “steals” one from the wedding loot in the wealthy household of Tracy Lord (Katherine Hepburn) in The Philadelphia Story (1940). The refillable lighter was a valued piece of property not to be discarded, unless of course, it was the only clue to identify one as a murderer, as in Hitchcock’s Strangers on a Train.

But rue the day lighters became disposable. Plastic lighters are part of the detritus that is turning our oceans into what Capt. Charles Moore has called “plastic soup”. Plastic is not biodegradable. And under 5% of all plastics get recycled. Under 5%! The rest ends up polluting the environment, most noticeably our oceans. Albatross chicks are dying at an alarming rate and dissections have shown bird stomachs full of bottle caps and other plastic items such as lighters. The Birdman of Alcatraz (1962) would have cried over the fate of these beautiful winged creatures.Plastic got a boost after the end of WW2 when Life magazine rejoiced with a cover story titled: Throwaway Living. But for a while glass remained the container of choice: milk still arrived at your door in glass containers. In 1955’s Rebel Without a Cause, James Dean stands exhausted by the refrigerator running a cold milk bottle over his forehead. And in Mr. Lucky, Cary Grant delivers big bottles of water for the office water cooler. No nasty plastic water bottles in sight, of course. Mildred Pierce (1945) has only real dishes in her restaurants including the porcelain coffee cups. And in countless domestic scenes groceries are brought home in paper bags, not indestructible plastic bags.

We had no idea what the full impact of Mr. Robinson’s one word of advice to Benjamin Braddock would be when in 1967’s The Graduate he uttered: “Plastics.” Objects made of plastic so thoughtlessly discarded are ruining our world. There are alternatives that we must embrace and soon. Remember that hot phone call between Donna Reed and James Stewart in It’s a Wonderful Life (1946)? So sizzling was it that you might have forgotten Sam Wainwright on the other end of the line extolling the future of “making plastics out of soybeans”. Sam was onto something. Hee Haw!

Planet in Focus International Environmental Film & Video Festival opens this week in Toronto. Oct. 21-25, 2009.

"Planet in Focus produces Canada’s largest and longest running environmental film & video festival. Its mandate is to produce an annual event that screens and promotes outstanding and compelling films and videos covering a broad range of environmental themes and issues by Canadian and International filmmakers. Our mission is to promote the use of environmental film and video as a catalyst for public awareness, discussion, and appropriate action on the environmental, ecological and social health of the planet."

Monday, September 7, 2009

Ode to Technicolor

Laurence Olivier and a black fog descend on London. Traffic teams, neon signs glimmer and silhouettes deepen as all turns a darker shade of grey in the depths of night. Olivier is forced to hole up in a hotel due to the weather. Suddenly as he enters the lobby it’s like Dorothy opening the door onto Oz: brilliant colour, divine light, another world: not the land over the rainbow but a rainbow unto itself.

It was 1938 and rare for a comedy to get the Technicolor treatment, colour being reserved for musicals and period pieces, but Alexander Korda was producing The Divorce of Lady X and he was in love with his leading lady. The credits list a Technicolor Photographic Advisor and a Technicolor Colour Director. Korda also enlisted award-winning cinematographer Harry Stradling Sr. The Art Director’s credit reads: Settings Designed in Colour by Lazare Meerson. And it looks as if Mr. Meerson took his palette from the candy store, the soda fountain, the cake shop. Sherbet, parfait, ice cream, cotton candy, cake, icing, candy, candy and more candy.

All eye candy! Merle Oberon makes her entrance waving a two toned blue feather fan and wearing a white wedding cake of a gown adorned with lavender bows. She’s attending a costume ball at the hotel and now she can’t go home because of the fog. But all the rooms are booked so she has to talk Olivier, a complete stranger to her, into letting her stay in his lavish and colourful suite. There’s romance and mistaken identities brewing and, of course, antics ensue. (I believe the studios had special writers for the latter, their doors labeled AE Department). It’s a romp, a farce, a romantic comedy but mostly it’s a colour extravaganza. Peacock, lavender, lemon, gold, bubble gum, violet, plum, rose, mint, pistachio: The Divorce of Lady X is one huge crystal bowl of gay assorted bonbons. Vibrant pastels play off jewel tones as energetically as Olivier plays off Oberon.

Olivier’s character is a barrister and the day after he shares his suite (most chastely) with Oberon a new client shows up wanting a divorce because his wife has apparently spent the night in a hotel room with a man. Olivier believes this man’s wife is Merle Oberon and he goes into a spin in his elegantly appointed office: slate grey doors, ice blue walls, warm caramel-coloured leather chairs, buttery yellow picture frames.

Ralph Richardson portrays the allegedly cuckolded husband. While he downs glowing amber whiskey at the club surrounded by pale aqua walls and glittering chandeliers, Binnie Barnes, his supposedly cheating wife, sits at her vanity in a smoky grey-mauve dress. Her huge apartment foyer has mint green walls interrupted by robins’ egg blue doors and her boudoir sports a daffodil yellow fireplace, peach lampshades, cream quilts, champagne carpets and the palest banana chachkas: the perfect setting to have AE.

There’s great dialogue and wonderful acting but also scene after scene of endless hand wringing and mischievous doings and it would be tedious if not for the sheen and glow, the satin and froth. What the plot lacks Technicolor makes up for. Olivier’s hair is black as midnight against a wall mural of sunshine yellow and dusky blue. Here on a red velvet banquet he converses with Merle who wears an ink black dress that highlights her blush-pink heart-shaped face and creamy décolleté. Her lips are like cherry candy.

As the revelation is about to unfold that Merle is not married to Sir Ralph she nervously flits about the parlour in a gown that rivals the hearth fire: orange-gold accessorized with a wisp of a red gossamer scarf. The fire burns deep orange and glimmers like jewels while Merle’s jewels sparkle like emerald fire and compete with her eyes. Sapphire blue carpeting, pale green seltzer bottles, silver coffee pots, yellow lamp glow, apple green and peppermint tapestry – what more could you want on a foggy grey day?

(PS You’ll have to find the DVD or catch this gem on TCM as you won’t see the colours I’ve described here in the youtube upload).

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Burt's Revivalist Do

The best thing about Elmer Gantry is Burt Lancaster's hair. His unruly locks vie for attention with his pearly whites but the coif wins hands down every time. This is Lancaster’s hobo hair. His hard drinking, whoring, boxcar-riding hair. But when he hooks up with the Bible thumpers his hair gets religion and calms down and sometime after that I lose interest. Okay, it’s not just the loss of his erratic mop that causes me to yawn. To be precise I go AWOL when Elmer first kisses Sister Sharon.

I blame Jean Simmons. Too pure and sweet for the part of Sister Sharon Falconer, Simmons simpers her way through the movie while Burt blazes. Shara (as Elmer calls her) needed some edge and Jean just didn’t have it. She was a well trained thespian, perfect as Ophelia opposite Olivier's Hamlet, sublime playing Ruth Gordon in The Actress and spot on as the helpless waif in So Long at the Fair. But I am always perplexed that she was cast twice opposite Marlon Brando while so many other actresses of the era would've been much better suited to play alongside the brooding star.

In Desiree she plays the title character to Brando's Napoleon and in Guys and Dolls she trills alongside his Sky Masterson. In the latter she is once again cast as a religious prude, and prude she could do; it was her melting-of-the-prude-in-the-arms-of-the-brute that I never found convincing. I couldn't understand the casting behind Gantry until I discovered that the director, Richard Brooks, was married to her at the time.

So who could have put some bite into this itinerant girl evangelist? The character was modeled after Aimee Semple MacPherson, the Canadian born traveling preacher whose mission it became to spread the Gospel worldwide in the 20s and 30s. McPherson famously disappeared for 35 days in 1920 and when she finally emerged (after having been presumed dead) she claimed to have been kidnapped. But all signs indicated that Aimee had been holed up with a married man in various hotels around the country. A song popularized by Pete Seeger at the time went: “The dents in the mattress fit Aimee’s caboose” and in 1976 a movie was made about that time in her life. Titled The Disappearance of Aimee it starred Faye Dunaway. Now that's good casting.

But who could have matched Burt’s passion and hair back in the late 50s when Lewis’ novel was being adapted for the screen? Katherine Hepburn would have been a good choice but Kate and Burt had already starred together in similar roles in The Rainmaker (1956) where he plays a fast talking con man (black cowboy hat covering hair) to Kate's shy virgin spinster.

I think Barbara Stanwyck would have been perfect for the lady preacher. And so did Frank Capra when, in 1931, he cast her to play a McPherson-inspired character in his movie The Miracle Woman.

So how about Susan Hayward? By 1960 Hayward had portrayed a number of hardcore characters – fiery, bad, rotten even – but always vulnerable. Smash-up: The Story of a Woman brought her the first of five Academy Award nominations. And when she gave real-life convicted murderer Barbara Gordon a heart in I Want to Live! she won the Academy Award for Best Actress. She’d have matched Burt’s fire just fine. And she had great hair.

It took me a few attempts before I finally watched Elmer Gantry all the way through. Rewrites and Hayward would have helped make it a better flick. Still, Burt is a joy to watch. He won an Academy Award for playing the Midwestern preacher/huckster in this sprawling wreck of a movie. He deserved it and so did his hair.

Monday, March 30, 2009

April 3,1924: A Star is Born

As Don Corleone in The Godfather he stuffed wads of toilet paper into his mouth and reportedly read cue cards. As Paul in Last Tango in Paris he buttered Maria Schneider up and mooned the stuck up dancers in the ballroom. In Teahouse of the August Moon he turned Japanese while as Sky Masterson in Guys and Dolls he danced and crooned softly in Jean Simmons's ear.

In his long and controversial career Marlon Brando embraced a wide range of characters from the Mexican revolutionary Emiliano Zapata in Viva Zapata! to the grotesque sci-fi drag queen Dr Moreau in The Island of Dr Moreau. Along the way he was both hailed as the greatest actor of all time and severely criticized for squandering his talents.

But whatever Brando’s failures and successes, both personal and professional, he did give us some beautifully rendered scenes. Among the best of these is his improvised encounter with the body of his deceased wife, Rose, in Last Tango in Paris. No tricks, no holds, no prisoners. For me that scene is right up there with Dirk Bogarde dying in Death in Venice, James Dean traversing his land in Giant, Peter O’Toole going on a killing spree in Lawrence of Arabia, Jack Nicholson ordering a chicken salad sandwich in Five Easy Pieces. If Brando’s entire oeuvre had consisted of only that scene I would still be inclined to declare him a celluloid genius. Thankfully, that scene wasn’t the only jewel he gave us.

His brooding sexual presence and fine emotional interpretations made films like The Ugly American, Sayonara, Burn! and Reflections in a Golden Eye worth watching and rewatching. And then, of course, there’s his portrayal of Stanley Kowalski in A Streetcar Named Desire, his second movie and the one that made him an overnight sensation.

It was that same sensual impulse, stripped of Stanley's brutality, that informed his performance in On the Waterfront, made three years after Streetcar. As longshoreman Terry Malloy, Brando uttered what have become some of cinema’s most famous words: “I coulda had class. I coulda bin a contender. I coulda bin somebody, instead of a bum, which is what I am."

Some have said that in the years following Waterfront, Terry’s speech took on an ominous quality regarding Brando’s life and career. He was a difficult man to be sure. As a child he endured the abuse of his alcoholic parents. As a young man he came to fame much too suddenly. And once the world discovered him they would never let go. Relentlessly pursued, worshiped, vilified his was no easy road to travel.

Marlon Brando belonged to a generation of actors who rejected the controlled British approach to acting and instead embraced the raw improvisational techniques of the Method. Elaine Stritch said: ''Marlon's going to school to learn the Method was like sending a tiger to jungle school.''

In 1964 Brando made a comedic romp called A Bedtime Story wherein his low class smooth operator bounces off of David Niven’s high class gigolo. When the two first meet they engage in a discussion on the art of picking up women. Brando, unaware of the older man’s superior skills as a pickup artist and mistaking him for a "picked peach", sets out to enlighten him. In his signature mumble he tells Niven: “Let me put some new colours in your paintbox, Dad.”

That line says more about Brando's life and career than any of Terry Malloy's speeches. Marlon Brando gave us new, bolder colours. And he had class.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Stella by Starlight

Were she still alive Stella Adler would have turned 108 this month but she would have told you she was a mere girl of 102. For many years Stella fudged her birth year to keep her true age a mystery. I went to see her lecture one drizzly April day at Toronto's Town Hall in the mid 80s when she was in her eighth decade. Looking stunning in black evening gown and honey-coloured curls she walked on stage to a standing ovation. You would not have known she was 82 and she certainly wouldn't have told you. But she was willing to tell us plenty else that day with this caveat: "I'm not going to tell you anything you don't already know. I'm just here to remind you, to reawaken your imagination."

And before really getting into her subject matter she implored us to give her our undivided attention. "New York actors," she said, hoping the comparison would make us more astute, "are very bad at listening. It's not sitting back. It's not just with your ears. Listening is with everything you have. Listening is with your blood and your bones."

Of the members of the legendary Group Theatre, Adler was the only one to have actually studied with Stanislavski, the great Russian actor and teacher whose systems and teachings the Group took for their own. "One of the things Stanislavski taught me was the importance of location: Where are you? Where?" And then she told us an anecdote about preparing to play Nora in A Doll's House. "Because I wasn't joining in the conversation at a dinner party the host asked me what was on my mind. I answered: 'Norwegian topography.'"

Other lessons passed down from the master: "All plays take part in the present. It is up to the actor to create the past. You don't think so?" Adler challenged, her kolh-lined eyes scanning the audience. "Well let me do the thinking. I gave up a lot of fun to think. I could've been a real fun time girl!"

Everything save the audience's attention moved down an octave as Adler spoke in a soft low voice to unravel the dark mystery that was August Strindberg, a man who hated woman as much as he loved them, a man who wanted to marry a virgin, and who, in pursuit of this goal, wed and divorced three actresses in succession. A fact that produced a delighted guffaw from Adler.

"Strindberg," she told us, "created what he called the 'thrid sex': the emancipated woman." A sex he could never quite abide, for he felt essentially that woman's place was beside man, caring for him and his offspring. "How do you like him so far?" she asked us, and a woman in the first row yelled: "If he weren't already dead I'd kill him!"

But for all his dark complexity and obvious misogyny, Adler told us she still respected Strindberg and his work for having posed the questions that concern us all and for having so embraced the daily struggle that confronts us all. Adler then performed a small piece from Miss Julie. "...I climb and climb, but the trunk is so thick and smooth and it's so far to the first branch. But I know if I can once reach that first branch, I'll go to the top just as if I'm on a ladder. I haven't reached it yet, but I shall get there, even if only in my dreams."

Having covered Strindberg and touched on Ibsen, Adler's assistant, a young man whom she addressed as Eddie, all but tugged at her sleeve to get her to wrap it up as she had gone into overtime. As she quietly had words with him the audience caught a name (she talked in a stage whisper, of course) and broke into applause. The name was Tennessee Williams.

Adler read from an account written by Tennessee about his sudden move from poverty to riches following the success of The Glass Menagerie on Broadway. Williams recounts in the piece the spiritual vacuity he'd found whilst living like a king in an ivory tower. Swamped with insincere accolades and false attentions he finally fled his Manhattan hotel suite and escaped to anonymity and the earthly reality of Mexico.

"Success," he wrote of the time, "is like a wolf waiting to eat you, each and every fang one of the small vanities..." At this metaphor Adler nodded knowingly and sadly, her golden curls quivering under the hot stage lights. Her eyes sparkled with tears as she told us she could feel Tennessee writing this with all the stops pulled out. She read on: "...the public Somebody you are when you have a name is a fiction created with mirrors...the only somebody worth being is the private solitary and unseen you that existed from your first breath."

Concluding with a piece from Orpheus Descending, Adler was youthful in her delivery, ancient in her comprehension. Total silence reined as the last line was delivered. Then with eyes raised towards the clear blue of an imagined sky, she summarized: "A bird that can't be seen..." remembering the one who'd written of that bird, the one who had longed to be "a kind of bird with transparent wings the colour of the sky, a bird you can't tell from the sky..."Stella Adler, who, as a member of the Group Theatre in the early 30s, helped to remove "starism" (as she called it) from American acting, has nevertheless earned a place among the stars - not so much Hollywood's constellation (it has been said that her career in movies was dwarfed by the anti-Semitic bent of the 40s and 50s) but among the celestial bodies of the heavens: beautiful and pure: Stellar Stella.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Ladies of the Silver Screen and Why I Love Them Part Two

Marge Gunderson (Fargo): "I'm not sure I agree with you a hunnert percent on your police work, there, Lou." Frances McDormand as the smalltown cop. Strong, compassionate, pregnant, a trooper in more ways than one.

Susan Vance: (Bringing Up Baby): Cary Grant plays opposite Katherine Hepburn in this first rate screwball comedy: "Now it isn't that I don't like you, Susan, because, after all, in moments of quiet, I'm strangely drawn toward you but - well, there haven't been any quiet moments..." Delightfully daffy, seriously screwy, elegantly cuckoo, Kate at her wacky best.

Charlotte Vale (Now Voyager): Bette Davis with caterpillars for eyebrows.

Mrs Henry Windle Vale (Now Voyager): Gladys Cooper as Charlotte's bad mother, the mother who never tells her daughter about plucking or other activities that rhyme with plucking or anything the least bit plucky. Cooper was a stage actress extraodinaire and it shows.

Stella Dallas (Stella Dallas): Big jewelry, big heart, big sacrifices. If Mrs Vale was one of the nastiest mothers in cinema then Stella wins for being the most loving and sacrificial. In her clanging baubles and gaudy frocks, Barbara Stanwyck aces the part.

Loreli Lee (Gentlemen Prefer Blondes): Upon discovering that the tiara really does belong on top of one's head, Marilyn Monroe as Loreli Lee declares: "I just LOVE finding mew places to wear diamonds." I always understood Loreli's attraction to the sparkly stuff, and Marilyn played the diamond-digging Loreli ("a girl such as I") with her usual winning platinum aplomb.

Baby Jane Hudson (Whatever Happened to Baby Jane): Wearing ringlets and rouge not fit for courtesan nor streetwalker, Baby Jane (former child star now in her 60s) taunts and tortures her crippled sister: "But ya ah in a wheelchair, Blanche, ya ah." BD chewing up the scenery.

Madame X (Madame X): Lana Turner doing the sacrificial wife/mother bit in this superb hanky soaker. Her costars are formindable: Burgess Meredith, John Forsyth, Keir Dullea, and Ricardo Montalban as her sleazy lover. With Constance Bennett playing her evil mother-in-law the cast was complete.

Billie Dawn (Born Yesterday): Judy Holliday originated the role of this not-so-dumb-blonde-gangster's-moll on Broadway but almost didn't get the screen part. Good thing she did: her gin game is the prize in this box of Crackerjacks.

Norma Desmond (Sunset Boulevard): Gloria Swanson as the hasbeen star of the silent screen. "We had faces then." Full of silent actress gesturing and grand dame overacting Swanson is perfectly creepy in her stagey, needy turn as Norma Desmond.

Prissy (Gone With the Wind): "I don't know nothin' 'bout birthin' babies!" Butterfly McQueen's glorious high pitched voice was once described in print as "a clarinet with a cold". In later years McQueen would be called "Uncle Thomasina" for taking on the stereotypical role of Scarlett O'Hara's maid. I include the character here because McQueen once said: "Now I am happy I did Gone With the Wind. I wasn't when I was 28, but it's part of black history. You have no idea how hard it is for black actors, but things change, things blossom in time." Butterfly was one of the blossoms.

Scarlett O'Hara: (GWTW): The girl had a way with drapery. After I saw the flick in the 60s I made a frock out of my mother's tablecloth. Not as stunning as Vivien Leigh's velvet creation but certainly suitable for the Swinging Decade.

Blanche DuBois (A Streetcar Named Desire): "Oh, look we have created enchantment." Here Vivien Leigh calls upon her vocal chords to help create the last-ditch-attempt and bruised reality of Blanche DuBois: dipping way down low then rising to a frantic pitch, she inhabits Blanche's unhinged mind with characteristic expertise.

Sally Bowles (Cabaret): Liza, Liza, Liza! (With a zee.) I painted my nails green after seeing Cabaret and in my small town that non pink nail polish rocked the small boats of the small people almost as much as my tablecloth dress and my other eye catching sartorial creations.

The Girl (Seven Year Itch): Marilyn in that marshmallow pink ensemble, Marilyn in that iconic white dress, Marilyn in anything (including her underwear which she keeps in the icebox in this heat saturated movie). When I was little I thought Tom Ewell was very funny but now that I am all grown up (kinda) I wish Wilder had gotten his first choice: Walter Mathau.

Judith Canfield (Stage Door): Lucille Ball wasn't always the card we knew from I Love Lucy. In her early movie career she tackled serious roles, this one opposite Kate Hepburn, Ginger Rogers, Eve Arden and Ann Miller.

Tracy Lord (Philadelphia Story): My, Kate was yar - especially in that sleek, sexy, sparkly white evening dress by Adrian.

Dinah Lord (Philadelphia Story): Virginia Weidler as the spirited little sister of Tracy. Only Groucho could out do her rousing rendition of "Lydia O Lydia, say have you met Lydia, Lydia, the Tatooed Lady. She has eyes that folks adore so and a torso even more so."

Kate Trask (East of Eden): Jo Van Fleet won a Best Supporting Actress Oscar for playing James Dean's mom in both his first film and hers. She was 41 years old at the time and had up until then been a stage actress exclusively.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Ladies of the Silver Screen and Why I Love Them

Leslie Crosbie (The Letter): Bette Davis pumping bullets into a man in a white linen suit on a moonlit veranda in Manila. I would love to play this part but BD has pretty much defined it for all time. No remakes allowed.

Mrs Hampton aka the Eurasian Woman (The Letter): Gale Sondergaard parting the bead curtains in the opium den revealing her mysterious and regal self while that crazy opium addict snickers in the background. Sondergaard's biggest career mistake (or not; see below*) was turning down the role of the Wicked Witch of the West in The Wizard of Oz.

Maude (Harold and Maude): "My body is in the earth, my head in the stars." When I was a teenager I performed a monologue from the play The Actress for an audition. I didn't get the part but it was the beginning of my appreciation for the woman who wrote that autobiographical script: Ruth Gordon. Eighteen years after The Actress appeared on the silver screen Ms Gordon breathed life into Harold's Maude and gave us the most vibrant free-spirited octogenarian in all cinema.

Holly Golightly (Breakfast at Tiffany's) Audrey in Givenchy! It made me want to go to Tiffany's. I finally got there a few years ago, just stood outside like Holly did in the movie.

Margo Channing (All About Eve): "Fasten your seat belts. It's going to be a bumpy night". Another great turn from Mother Goddam.

Mrs Robinson (The Graduate): She loses in the end but with Anne Bancroft playing this sexy mom/seductress could she ever really be considered a loser? I first saw La Bancroft in The Miracle Worker as the kindhearted Annie Sullivan. This switch up to the cold and calculating Mrs R endeared her to me forever.

Jeanne (Last Tango in Paris): My hair was poker straight so naturally I wanted Maria Schneider's full head of curly hair. But that was all I coveted of hers. Brando was cruel to say she'd be playing soccer with her breasts in a few years but it made me like my slender silhouette even more (Twiggy had already given me a pretty good appreciation for skinny).

Sylvia Scarlet. Alice Adams (from movies of the same names): Because Katherine Hepburn played both.

Kitty Foyle (Kitty Foyle): Never seen it, just like her name.

Fran Kubelick (The Apartment): Another great name (Wilder specialized in them). In that fabulous career girl coat Shirley MacLaine gave Fran a touching and elegant vulnerability. I admire Wilder's decision to shoot in b & w.

Irma LaDouce (Irma LaDouce): French prostitute packing a mean poodle. The awesome Ms MacLaine in another Wilder jewel. This one in Technicolour for jewels have to be colourful especially if they are in Gay Paree!

Elmira Gulch (The Wizard of Oz): "I'm all but lame for the bite on my leg!" Not lame enough to stop her from pedaling a mean bike.

*Wicked Witch of the West (The Wizard of Oz): Margaret Hamilton's career never recovered from the typecasting but she gave us one of the great evil ladies of cinema. As a child I always wrote a witch part for myself into the plays I put on in my basement. Hamilton's crone was a terrific role model.

Glinda (The Wizard of Oz): Billie Burke in sparkly splendor with that inimitable dance of consonants off her enchanted tongue: "Toto too." Ah, the glitter and glimmer of Glinda! I once found a dress in the garbage outside a tony downtown shop that was much like Glinda's garb except that it was blue and falling apart: a cross between the Good Witch's frock and Miss Haversham's rags.

Dorothy Gale (The Wizard of Oz): Every year they showed The Wizard of Oz at Christmas when I was a kid. Since we only had a b & w set I watched it for several years without that splendid change to colour when Dorothy lands Over the Rainbow. Still I was entranced. I'm so glad Shirley Temple didn't play Dorothy as planned. I love Judy.