The Barstow family films a memorable home movie of their trip to Disneyland. Robbins and Meg Barstow, along with their children Mary, David and Daniel were among 25 families who won a free trip to the newly opened Disneyland in Anaheim, Calif., as part of a "Scotch Brand Cellophane Tape" contest sponsored by 3M. Through vivid color and droll narration ("The landscape was very different from back home in Connecticut"), we see a fantastic historical snapshot of Hollywood, Beverly Hills, Catalina Island, Knott's Berry Farm, Universal Studios and Disneyland in mid-1956. Home movies have assumed a rapidly increasing importance in American cultural studies as they provide a priceless and authentic record of time and place.Expanded essay by Liz Coffey (PDF, 307KB)
Betty Grable's first starring role in a Technicolor musical happened only because Alice Faye had an attack of appendicitis, but Grable took advantage of the situation and quickly made herself as important to 20th Century-Fox as Faye. Released just over a year before America entered World War II, this film and others starring Grable established her as the pinup queen. The title explains much, with Grable traveling to South America and falling in love with Don Ameche. Carmen Miranda makes her American film debut, and the Nicolas Brothers' unparalleled dance routines dazzle.Expanded essay by Carla Arton (PDF, 407KB)
Harry Smith made his mark in many fields. He was a painter, archivist and compiler of the landmark "Anthology of American Music" (which helped stimulate a folk and blues revival). Smith also was a groundbreaking avant-garde filmmaker whose revolutionary animation challenged traditional concepts of cinema. His films used batik, collage and optical printing to create a tumult of shapes and images that integrates chaos with control. Consisting of seven films made over a 17-year span, "Early Abstractions" is a lovely, ever-moving collage of abstraction, color and imagery.
Produced by Arthur Freed and directed by Vincente Minnelli, "Gigi" is a lush Technicolor musical from MGM that tells the story of a friendship between a playboy (Louis Jourdan) and a young girl (Leslie Caron) that turns to love. "Gigi" is based on a 1944 novella by Colette and received a treatment on Broadway in 1951, but it was Arthur Freed who envisioned the story as a film musical and ultimately fought to get it made. Frenchwoman Leslie Caron was cast in the title role, and Maurice Chevalier was cast as Honoré Lachaille, a role that was expanded in the film version and which helped revitalize Chevalier's career. "Gigi" won numerous industry awards, including a total of nine Academy Awards, a record at the time, and is often considered to be one of MGM's best musicals. Interview with Leslie Caron (PDF, 1.42MB)
George Stevens directed this adventure epic suggested by the Rudyard Kipling poem. Its screenplay was the brainchild of Joel Sayre, Fred Guiol, and the writing team of Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur. Cary Grant, Victor McLaglen and Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. star as eternally brawling British sergeants in colonial India, with Sam Jaffe as their faithful Indian water bearer, Gunga Din. Grant and McLaglen scheme to keep Fairbanks in the army after he's announced his intentions to retire and marry the lovely Emmy (Joan Fontaine) in a scenario curiously reminiscent of the earlier Hecht-MacArthur collaboration "The Front Page." As the sergeants scheme to keep the trio together, they're tasked with quelling a revolution by a fanatical religious cult. To prove his worthiness to become the regiment's trumpeter, water bearer Gunga Din bravely comes to the rescue.
Just prior to World War II, a rescue operation aided the youngest victims of Nazi terror when 10,000 Jewish and other children were sent from their homes and families to live with foster families and in group homes in Great Britain. This Oscar-winning film was directed by Mark Jonathan Harris, writer and director of another Oscar winner, "The Long Way Home," and was produced by Deborah Oppenheimer, whose mother was among the children evacuated. The film examines the bond between parent and child, uncovering the anguish of the parents who reluctantly acknowledged they could no longer protect their children, but through their love saw a chance to protect them, by proxy if not proximity. Interviews with the surviving children reveal feelings of abandonment and estrangement that often took years to overcome. The film is a tribute not only to the children who survived, but to the people of England who agreed to rescue the refugees when U.S. leadership would not.Expanded essay by Mark Jonathan Harris (PDF, 206KB)
The African-American folk hero John Henry was probably based on an actual person who worked on the railroads around the 1870s. The legend began to appear in print in the early 20th century, but emerged early on as a popular folk song. Akin to other such rugged folk heroes as Paul Bunyan, John Henry is said to have worked as a "steel-driving man," hammering a steel drill into rock and earth to build tunnels and lay track. According to legend, his prowess was measured in a competition against a steam-powered hammer. John Henry won the race against "Inky-Poo," only to collapse and die, hammer in hand. Stop-motion animation pioneer George Pal created this short film after the NAACP and Ebony magazine criticized his offensively stereotyped Jasper series of cartoons. The magazine later praised "John Henry" as the first Hollywood film to feature African-American folklore in a positive light and to treat its characters with "dignity, imagination, poetry, and love." Highly popular during its time, the film was nominated for an Academy Award. It has been preserved by the UCLA Film & Television Archive.
This well-crafted and suspenseful story, directed by Curtis Hanson, teams a trio of incompatible cops who ultimately bring down a corrupt police department and political machine. Hanson and Brian Helgeland adapted the James Ellroy novel and together they successfully interpret film noir's dark and seamy allure for new audiences. Detective Jack Vincennes (Kevin Spacey) an in-it-for-himself type, Officer Bud White (Russell Crowe), who believes in bending the law to enforce it, and Detective Ed Exley (Guy Pearce), a straight arrow whose self-righteousness alienates him from his colleagues, all possess some deep-rooted sense of honor that draws them together to untangle the film's web of corruption that climaxes in its virtuoso choreographed shootout. The cast is rounded out by Danny DeVito as the film's occasional narrator and reporter for "Hush-Hush" magazine, Kim Basinger as a Veronica Lake look-alike call girl, and James Cromwell as the duplicitous chief of police. Cinematographer Dante Spinotti infuses this homage with a Technicolor richness seldom seen in noirs of the 40s and 50s.
Young Joe (Roddy McDowall) is distraught when his father, an unemployed English coal miner (Donald Crisp), is forced to sell Joe's beloved collie Lassie (whose real name was pal) to pay the rent. The buyer (Nigel Bruce) takes Lassie home to Scotland and his daughter (Elizabeth Taylor), but after several attempts, Lassie manages to escape and sets out on a perilous journey back to Joe. "New York Times" reviewer Bosley Crowther noted that the story is told "with such poignance and simple beauty that only the hardest heart can fail to be moved." This is the first and what many consider to be the best of several generations of Lassie movies and television programs which were adapted from novels by Eric Knight. The film's rich color cinematography that captures the lush countryside was nominated for an Academy Award.Movie poster
Darkness and claustrophobia mark the visual style of many film noirs: the use of black-and-white or gloomy grays, low-key lighting, striking contrasts between light and dark, shadows, nighttime or interior settings and rain-soaked streets. "Leave Her to Heaven" proves the magnificent exception. Filmed in vibrant, three-strip Technicolor, many pivotal scenes occur in spectacular outdoor locations, shot by famed cinematographer Leon Shamroy in Arizona and California. A classic femme fatale, Gene Tierney stars as Ellen, whose charisma and stunning visage mask a possessive, sociopathic soul triggered by "loving too much." Anyone who stands between her and those she obsessively loves tend to meet "accidental" deaths, most famously a teen boy who drowns in a chilling scene. Martin Scorsese has labeled "Heaven" as among his all-time favorite films and Tierney one of film's most underrated actresses. "Leave Her to Heaven" makes a supremely compelling case for these sentiments. Film poster
M-G-M was the studio generally associated with "prestige" pictures -- those with lavish sets and costumes, often boasting literary source material. Here the high-brow opulence is courtesy of Warner Bros., typically known for modern "ripped-from-the-headlines" stories, and the experiment in grandeur earned the studio an Oscar for Best Picture and another for best screenplay. William Dieterle directed Paul Muni as French novelist Zola who defends the falsely accused Captain Dreyfus (Joseph Schildkraut in an Oscar-winning performance). The Dreyfus case, which was a cause célèbre of antisemitism during the latter years of the Nineteenth Century, formed an exciting climax to Zola's career as a champion of truth and liberty, and is, consequently, the dramatic highlight of this film biography.
"Lonesome" is the first of only a few American feature films directed by Hungarian-born filmmaker and scientist Paul Fejös. Recognized by today's audiences as a comic melodrama about young lovers separated during a thunderstorm at Coney Island, the film was not particularly well received upon its release. Restored by the George Eastman House, "Lonesome" has proven popular among repertory audiences due in large part to its successful early use of dialogue and two-color Technicolor. Universal's first big excursion into sound, legend has it that the studio outfitted the film with its music and effects track and three talking sequences by clandestinely using a Fox Movietone News truck on loan to Universal for conducting sound tests. As Universal hurriedly "sounded" three other features, Fox repossessed their truck. The talking sequences, better for their technological innovation than their wit, hardly diminish Fejos' eloquent and brilliantly photographed tale of a lonely machinist and an equally lonely telephone operator who fall in love during one enchanted day.Expanded essay by Raquel Stecher (PDF, 25KB) 2b1af7f3a8