Wednesday, September 11, 2019

Top Ten Anniversary: Favorite Tear-jerkers

We didn't intend to break up the procession of Top Ten lists, but the untimely demise of Miss Carol Lynley called for it. So were back now with list #9. (Can you guess how many there will be in the series?  Ha ha!) Today we're going to wallow in shameless emotion because we're breaking out the tearjerkers. Now... My own most significant tear-jerker is, amazingly enough, The Poseidon Adventure (1972), which reduced me to a mess as a child, but I am not including it in this list for reasons which will become clear later. Another one is also being omitted for reasons which will be made known in the not-too-distant future. However, the others below represent films that are practically guaranteed to set off my waterworks. There are many more (I'm Irish and well up at everything from Hallmark commercials to big game show wins...!), but these are MY favorites, in alphabetical order. Grab a hankie!
AN AFFAIR TO REMEMBER (1957) -- The original version of this film (by the same director!), Love Affair (1939), is great, but I like this one a skosh better because of its color and production values and the fact that I really like Deborah Kerr and Cary Grant as a couple. The better part of the movie is a "cutesy" shipboard romance between two people involved with others on shore, but once a story point hits just as the stars are about to reunite at the top of the Empire State Building, things turn melodramatic quickly. Things I love about it: the self-sacrifice that Kerr is willing to make in order to not burden the love of her life, the tragedy of such hopeful anticipation spoiled by a lightning fast event and, most of all, the tete-a-tete between Kerr and Grant at the finale as they toy with one another and delay our gratification. Probably the part that gets me more than any is when Grant starts to dart around Kerr's apartment in search of something and his expression when he finds it. This film's ending is so tear-jerky to me that I started crying during Sleepless in Seattle (1993) when Rita Wilson was merely describing it! I cannot, however, stomach the dreary, passionless later remake Love Affair (1994), which I awaited with bated breath, by Warren Beatty. Bonus points for the gorgeous opening song crooned by velvety Vic Damone. It was Oscar nominated, but lost to "All the Way," another beautiful song, from The Joker Is Wild.
GLORY (1989) -- This is one of the rare movies in this category that I have only seen one time. Sometimes you see a movie and you cannot wait to relive it over and over. Sometimes you see a movie and you absorb it so much that once can be enough. (The Pianist, 2002, springs to mind. I ADORED it and have it on DVD, but have never watched it again...) I can never forget sitting in the theater and watching as Denzel Washington, about to be unfairly punished by whip for breaking the Union army rules, is stripped of his jacket, revealing a litany of scars from countless prior assaults on his person. As the punishment proceeded, he began to release a tear (*the story of which is interesting in itself) and that was it for me. I don't think I stopped weeping until the movie was over... Like many movies in this post, the music means so much and, amazingly, it was not nominated for an Oscar despite being so unusual and wonderful. (The composer James Horner was nominated, however, for Field of Dreams that year.) *Washington was being flogged with a special whip that didn't cut, but did leave a sting. On the take that made it into the final print of the film, the director hesitated in calling "Cut!" and it resulted in a real tear from the actor as he was being struck. Agonizing, yes, but he took home an Oscar for his pains!
MADAME X (1966) -- We keep mentioning this film, but I swear it is just so memorable to me! Cynics and eye-rollers may be immune to it, but those who fall for a good "mother love" yarn and who like being emotionally manipulated in exchange for a good cry will feel differently. At the climactic murder trial, pretty Keir Dullea does all he can to help his downtrodden client Lana Turner without her even lifting a finger to help herself and finally she acquiesces. As she relates her own story, and we begin to see the mournful expressions on a now (finally!) aged Constance Bennett, and hear the pleading closing statement from Dullea, the flood begins. One of my quirky tear-jerking triggers is when someone who has behaved horribly eventually comes around and is remorseful for what they've done. In countless movies and TV shows I've become moved by this for some reason I haven't completely explored in my own psyche. Maybe it's because I sometimes say or do things I wish I wouldn't have and would like to be able to make it right. Not sure. As is so often the case with this list, Frank Skinner's music is delirious throughout. (There's a staircase climb near the start of the film as Miss Lana races to the top in heels and a snug skirt that I especially treasure!)
PENNY SERENADE (1941) -- This is the third film that Irene Dunne and Cary Grant made together (following The Awful Truth, 1937, and My Favorite Wife, 1940) and so by now their already wonderful chemistry was off-the-charts. The first two films were highly comedic and this one has its moments as well, though typically more gentle than the other ones. Here, Dunne plays a series of records on a phonograph as she recounts her life with Grant and is preparing to leave him. Their up and down relationship is revealed in a sequence of episodes that are amusing, touching, always-charming and in some cases heart-wrenching. The affable Grant, star of so many screwball comedies and light romances, has a scene before a judge that is positively gut-wrenching. He received one of his only two Oscar nominations for this tenderly sentimental film (losing to Gary Cooper for Sergeant York.) And Dunne, who could really do just about anything, is his perfect counterpoint with her extraordinary immediacy and realistic reactions as a cinema actress. Expert support, and I do mean expert, is offered up by Beulah Bondi as an adoption agent and Edgar Buchanan as an endearing character called "Applejack" who witnesses most of the couples trials and triumphs. The little girl who plays their daughter Trina is simply precious. Trivia tidbit: Dunne starred in Love Affair (with Charles Boyer) while Grant starred in the aforementioned remake An Affair to Remember.
STEEL MAGNOLIAS (1989) -- This is the play-turned-movie that gave us the line "Laughter through tears is my favorite emotion!" and that happens to resonate with me, but let's face it, among a certain crowd this whole damned movie is quotable. It's also got several moments that open up the floodgates. Needless to say, Sally Field's big meltdown in the cemetery is a whopper, and Julia Roberts' line about rather having "thirty minutes of wonderful than a lifetime of nothin' special" is touching, but as I've noted elsewhere there are strange things that tend to set me off. One is when Roberts' brothers come to visit her in the hospital. This is a teensy moment, but since they've been rowdy roughhousers all along, it's touching to see them actually show a little respect. The other one for me is when Dolly Parton and Sam Shepard share a moment that was not in the (all-female) play.  Parton's character has spent her whole life trying to make herself and others as beautiful as she can and her husband has barely taken an interest in any of it. He tugs at some soft wax on a stick and says, "What is this stuff?" and she replies, "It's supposed to make you pretty," with tears in her eyes. All the wax in the world can't help you save a life, though. Roberts was nominated for an Oscar (losing to Brenda Fricker of My Left Foot) and that was the film's sole nomination. Most staggering of all is that the superlative score by Georges Delerue was not nominated. The delicate, yet rich, music is unforgettable.
SOMEWHERE IN TIME (1980) -- Of all the movies I have paid tribute to here, this is the one I keep meaning to write about and yet never do...  Strangely unsuccessful in theaters, perhaps due to its unabashed romanticism and the fact that newly-famous Christopher Reeve wasn't in his red and blue Superman (1978) uniform (along with the fact that an actor's strike prevented promotion for the film from them), this soon developed a cult following. It stands as a Valentine to beautiful Mackinac Island (and, in fact, now to its picture perfect stars.) Reeve is a playwright who becomes obsessed with the enigmatic portrait of an actress from decades ago and eventually finds a way to go back in time to meet her. Stunning Jane Seymour in her most beautiful period plays the graceful, elegant actress. Appearing in support are Christopher Plummer and Teresa Wright. While Rachmaninoff is heavily utilized in the film to punctuate the couple's lush romance, John Barry also provided some incredible music to accent the story, including an airy yet rich love theme. It's especially wonderful leading up to the moment when Reeve and Seymour finally meet up for the first time. That's one point where I nearly always tear up. The music was ignored at Oscar time, though the costumes were nominated (losing to Tess.)
THE CHAMP (1979) -- I guess I oughtta quit bellyaching all the time about remakes when this is the third remake to appear in this list alone! The famous original was in 1931, starring Wallace Beery and Jackie Cooper. This time out, we have Jon Voight as a down-on-his-luck boxer trying to raise the young son (Ricky Schroder) left behind when mother Faye Dunaway felt the need to seek greener pastures and a more cultivated existence. While the movie was mocked for some of its more unusual elements (Dunaway's ethereal character is often awash in gauzy, enveloping clothing and her interest in Schroder sometimes seems a little icky!) and for it's heart-on-its-sleeve emotionalism, it still works thanks to Voight's devoted performance and the wellspring of tears that pour out of the little towhead. The poor little tyke just has problem after problem and he convincingly takes each one on like a trooper. He and Voight share a clear connection thanks to director Franco Zeffirelli, all underscored tastefully by Oscar-nominated Dave Grusin (who lost to Georges Delerue, winning that time for A Little Romance.)  This tear-jerker even has a tendency to crack tough "he-men" although there have been a few who could withstand the test.
THE SOUND OF MUSIC (1965) -- When a movie means as much to a person as this one means to me, there is going to be emotion. There are scenes meant to bring about tears and some not that still do anyway. One that was intended to hit the mark and does for me is when stern Christopher Plummer (looking devastatingly handsome throughout!) surprises his children by joining in with them as they serenade his lady love Eleanor Parker. The iceberg has begun to thaw. If you're like me and have "daddy issues" this scene is particularly touching. I actually got to live this whole thing out when I played the Captain on stage in 1995. Different parts at different stages of my life "get me." For instance, I was all choked up not even watching the movie one time. Just the Diane Sawyer anniversary special that was on a couple of years ago had me welling up with each new featured piece on the damn thing...! And, yes, the music is everything in practically every scene.
THE WIZARD OF OZ (1939) -- In a similar vein, I get really gooey, really easily when it comes to this film. It's "There's no place like home" message resonates with everyone and it does to me as well, though I really was never happy at home and can't imagine it being better than the freedom I eventually found! What really gets me is a) the fact that Judy Garland is so caring and innocent and giving, which, in light of the way her life wound up makes viewing more poignant, and b) dog lover that I am, anything to do with Toto. In the sepia-toned early section, when Toto joins Dorothy for "Over the Rainbow" and puts out a little paw, I'm just gone... G'night, folks! Later, when Toto makes a brave escape from the Wicked Witch of the West (played by the divine Margaret Hamilton), it's equally touching to me. The whole movie is such a perfect candy box and it's needless to mention how, again, music plays a substantial part in it.
TOMORROW IS FOREVER (1946) -- This lesser-known film has a wealth of talent on hand from the renowned (if, let's be honest, sometimes hammy) Orson Welles to the always rock-solid Claudette Colbert and even veteran leading man George Brent. It also introduced us to young Richard Long, who had a great career going until his untimely death from a heart attack at forty-seven. But the really big draw for me is the debut acting performance of one Natalie Wood. Yes, she'd been an extra once, but this was her first real role at age eight and she's astonishing in it. Uncharacteristically blonde and playing a German, she is nonetheless so naturally adorable, articulate, delicate and utterly charming. Like Judy Garland, the fact that she perished so young (at forty-three) adds a whole new layer of sentiment to what was already a very heartfelt performance. Her character is the adopted daughter of sickly Welles. She cares for him capably and demonstrably in spite of having been in a concentration camp herself and exposed to untold horrors.
I tend to fall for it every time. Thus, movies like Blossoms in the Dust (1941), A Tree Grows in Brooklyn (1945) and I Remember Mama (1948), and countless others could have made it onto this list as well. I love to be moved by a motion picture. And, as I say, different things move me at different times. The first time I saw Titanic (1996), I was moved by Leo and Kate's story, but the second time, I found myself reacting more to Gloria Stuart and what she was doing.


She doesn't appear like this for long, but this is the look Deborah Kerr sports as a nightclub singer in An Affair to Remember.
And here is a wardrobe test photo of Cary Grant from the brief shipboard swimming scene in the film. Grant was clearly still in admirable shape, though had recently quit a 2-pack a day smoking habit and began to eat a lot more than usual. Still, he always maintained a decent physique during his acting career.
On the subject of swimming, here is Mr. Ricardo Montalban between takes on the set of Madame X (1966.) He plays Lana Turner's suave lover who doesn't like it when she attempts to break off their affair once her husband returns. Montalban was another man who kept up a good figure throughout his acting career.
Between Captains and the Kings (1976), in which she was paired with Perry King in a look much like this, and Somewhere in Time (1980), I thought that Jane Seymour was the last word in Gibson-style beauty. She and Christopher Reeve made a beautiful couple.
The setting, the costumes, the music and the performances all join together to create a really beautiful viewing experience.
Yours truly as a pup in 1995 during an outdoor production of The Sound of Music. The day we were going to open, it occurred to me that the children had been (mis)directed to sing to me when they meet The Baroness. They'd been coming on with her after my fight with Maria over the clothes and then singing to me. However, I took them all aside and said to them, "You were taught this song to sing to the Baroness... so do that. Do not look at me! When you suddenly hear me singing after all these years of never doing it, then you look at me." Well... cut to the moment in the show that night when I began chiming in, "...I go to the hills..." and all of a sudden seven little shocked, touching moppet faces turned and looked at me in unison and I swear to God I almost lost it! It was a struggle to get through the song (and the brief duet with Maria after that, which is cut from the movie.) Some of these kids have their own kids now and a couple of them still perform, even professionally, which is gratifying.
I do not ask it. I demand that you click on this photo and take in the blue-eyed glory of Mr. Christopher Plummer. My God, no wonder the Baroness didn't want to give up without some sort of college try!
I've seen this picture cropped to just chests many times or in black and white, but not too often in color, so I share it here... the fabulous foursome on the set of the Wizard of Oz.
Garland and Terry (the canine heart-breaker who played Toto) had a wonderful relationship on and off screen. Terry even stayed with Garland prior to filming so that they would be better acquainted during the shoot. Terry later lent Susan Hayward this pose for "I'll Plant My Own Tree" when she took over Judy's role in Valley of the Dolls (1967.) Okay... I made that up...
One of several posters that were developed for the release of The Champ.
But looky here... a piece of photo art that was used in creating the poster. Note how the real poster extends both Voight's and Dunaway's necks unnaturally! That gave me an idea for a party game and since "laughter through tears is my favorite emotion," I will show you how to do it. You print off the above photo with a copy for each person there and then let them fill it in the way they wish. Then everyone votes for the winner... Example below! LOL
Now don't get your titty in a twist. I'm just having some fun at the end of this post. Till next time, I'm yours truly... Poseidon!

Friday, September 6, 2019

Disastrous Demise: Carol Lynley 1942-2019

It's tough when one of your favorite movies is now forty-seven years old and you must watch the stars of it pass away, one-by-one. Even so, with many celebrated cast members of The Poseidon Adventure (1972) having already met their fate, this one came sooner than expected. After all, Carol Lynley was seventy-seven years of age and that's no longer ancient by today's standards. We celebrate her career with this photo tribute "the morning after" her passing from a heart attack.
Born February 13th, 1942 in Manhattan, New York, Carol Ann Jones was soon making rounds as a child model. She used the name Carolyn Lee for this task and she became quite successful, appearing in countless ads and teen-oriented magazine covers.
All that work led to her appearance on a precipitous cover of Life magazine. When acting offers came her way following this, she went to Actor's Equity to register her name, Carolyn Lee only to be told that it was already in use. So she merely changed the emphasis and spelling and thereafter was known as Carol Lynley!
After a few television appearances, the pretty, yet unseasoned, young actress was picked by the Walt Disney Studios to costar with young James MacArthur in The Light in the Forest (1958.) The colorful, location-shot story is about a kidnapped white boy raised by a Delaware tribe who has to rockily re-assimilate back into civilization in the wake of a peace treaty. Lynley was among six young ladies nominated as Most Promising Female Newcomer at the next Golden Globe Awards, but the title went instead to Tina Louise, Linda Cristal and Susan Kohner.
Swiftly, she found herself under contract to 20th Century Fox and placed opposite Clifton Webb and Jane Wyman in the family comedy Holiday for Lovers (1958), based on a Broadway play. Jill St. John portrayed her older sister (a role that had been intended for Diane Varsi before she fled Hollywood and her Fox contract.) The mother role had been cast with Gene Tierney until illness led her to drop out at the eleventh hour.
Lynley had also worked on Broadway, first in The Potting Shed, followed by Blue Denim, a controversial production thanks to the subject matter of teen sex and abortion. The 1959 film adaptation was cleaned up a bit, yet still caused a stir. Brandon De Wilde played her boyfriend. Lynley was again (!) nominated for a Golden Globe as Most Promising Female Newcomer in a crowded field of eight, but this time lost to Angie Dickinson, Janet Munro, Tuesday Weld and one Stella Stevens. Lynley did the Fabian film Hound-Dog Man (1959), then married publicist Michael Selsman in 1960.
Diane Varsi's departure left the door open for Lynley to inherit the role of Allison MacKenzie in 1961's Return to Peyton Place, in which the still-young character heads to New York City to work on her novel and falls for the married editor who's helping her with it.
Now a married woman (with a baby daughter arriving in 1962), Lynley was still playing ingenue roles, such as in The Last Sunset (1961), where she was the daughter of Kirk Douglas and Dorothy Malone. She's at her bustiest ever in this publicity photo for the film!
After having her first and only child and doing some TV guest roles, Lynley costarred in Under the Yum Yum Tree (1963), a comedy which had her as a young lady pursued by a manically lascivious landlord played by Jack Lemmon.
A change of pace came with The Cardinal (1963) in which she went brunette and played the sister of Tom Tryon's title character. She portrayed her own daughter in the lengthy Otto Preminger epic and was noted for one particularly wince-inducing scene involving the perilous birth of a child.
By 1964, she was still looking great, playing a mental patient in the thriller Shock Treatment, opposite Stuart Whitman and a duplicitous Lauren Bacall.
That same year she joined Ann-Margret and Pamela Tiffin in The Pleasure Seekers, a semi-musical update of Three Coins in the Fountain (1954) following the love lives of three American girls living in Madrid, Spain. In the film, she shares a scene with Gene Tierney who had been slated to play her mother in Holiday for Lovers. Here, Tierney slaps her face and calls her a tramp! Lynley's sole marriage ended this year as well.
With Carroll Baker's color version of Harlow (1965) on the horizon, Lynley was rushed into a cheaper black and white version (shot in eight days!) also called Harlow, with the intention of getting into theaters first, which it did. Ginger Rogers was cast as her mother.
While Lynley looked "good" in her costumes, I never though she (or Carroll Baker for that matter!) looked very much like Jean Harlow. It takes more than a beauty mark and a white wig...
Nope. Still don't see it...
In 1965, Lynley worked for Otto Preminger again in Bunny Lake Is Missing, a murky thriller in which her young daughter goes missing, but then it seems as if perhaps the child never even existed to begin with!
Also in 1965, Lynley posed semi-nude for Playboy magazine, divorced and with an eye towards adding new dimension to her career.
While she was still winning the occasional leading role in movies, the Playboy spread didn't seem to ignite any particular interest in her or lead to a major part. She was cast in The Shuttered Room (1967), a chiller that found her married to Gig Young and menaced by a young Oliver Reed.
Danger Route (1967) offered an intriguing role as the girlfriend of secret agent Richard Johnson, but the movie sank in the mire of countless James Bond imitators coming out at that time.
1969 brought the minor comedy The Maltese Bippy, opposite then-hot Laugh-In's Dick Martin and Dan Rowan. Rare is the airing of this parody of The Maltese Falcon (1941) nowadays.
In Once You Kiss a Stranger (1969), she took on the old Robert Walker part from Strangers on a Train (1951) as a murderous loon who arranges to kill someone for Paul Burke if he'll do the same for her. Any homoerotic tension in the original was dissipated by her casting this time out. And, as often seemed to happen to her, she was saddled with a less-than-stellar leading man.
Still, she was looking great (still only twenty-seven!) in a bikini in the cheesy, half-baked film.
She next played an unwed pregnant girl in Norwood (1970), all about Vietnam veteran Glen Campbell's attempt to cross the country and appear on radio's Louisiana Hayride.
After several TV-movie appearances and guest roles, she'd been reduced by 1972 to having to appear in drek as bad as Beware! The Blob, a belated sequel to the 1958 camp classic, directed by Larry Hagman and starring Robert Walker Jr., son of the man whose role she had inherited in Stranger. Things were about to look up, however, even if briefly...
She was selected by producer Irwin Allen to appear in his ambitious new disaster film The Poseidon Adventure, which few people besides Allen were convinced was going to float at the box office. However, it was a smash success, coming in at number two for the year behind The Godfather.
Most of her scenes in the film were alongside comic actor (and Oscar-winner) Red Buttons, though their off-screen relationship was sometimes contentious. She infamously informed columnist Earl Wilson that Buttons was a "cunt!" Stories vary, however, on who was to blame for their issues (and they, like everyone else in the movie, worked well together in order to stay on time and under budget.)
As band vocalist Nonnie Parry, who struggles to survive an obstacle-laden overturned luxury liner, Lynley won over hordes of devoted fans and was shown to great advantage in a massive hit. Strangely enough, she was not able to capitalize on it when it came to future cinematic efforts.
Apart from the little-seen 1973 movie Cotter, Lynley only worked on television (including Irwin Allen's Flood!, 1976) and again on Broadway in Absurd Person Singular until 1977 when she costarred in such minor fare as Bad Georgia Road, a drive-in style flick inspired by things such as Macon County Line (1974.) Even so, she still looked good and sported a string bikini in one scene.
She did get to canoodle in bed with Tom Selleck in the drearily dull The Washington Affair (1977), a VHS of which seemed to be sitting on a shelf in every video rental store of the 1980s.
In 1978, she starred in an update of The Cat and the Canary, as a will beneficiary forced to stay the night in a house full of angry, deranged relatives.
Lynley made no further films of note, but did work fairly steadily through the 1980s and into the 1990s. She especially enjoyed working on Aaron Spelling shows like The Love Boat, Charlie's Angels, Hart to Hart, Fantasy Island and Hotel, which had her portraying a friend of Barbara Parkins who confesses that she's in love with her!
As her acting career wound down, she could still be spotted at various industry events and premieres.
She had long since settled her hash with Poseidon costar Red Buttons and the two enjoyed meeting up from time to time, reveling in the diehard cult glory that their long ago disaster movie had engendered.
Never nominated for an Academy Award, she did make two appearances on the telecast. One, in 1963, came when she accepted an Oscar for the absent cinematographer of Lawrence of Arabia. Her hair uncharacteristically piled up and wearing demure jewelry, she looked radiant.
In 1979, she and Robby Benson paired up to present the Oscars for Short Film.
We will miss the beguiling face of Carol Lynley, who played a role not only in one of our most beloved movies, but also in other fun flicks like Return to Peyton Place and The Shuttered Room.

Found this one late in the game, but just had to share it as it was so good and ticked a lot of my 1960s glamor boxes!