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THE ART OF THE MOVIE POSTER

                  

For Hicksflicks.com, Sept. 19, 2014

At the Cinemark Theaters in Draper, Utah, near one of the exit doors, is a framed poster (shown above), and it never fails to catch my eye. I'm utterly enchanted by it, though I'm not sure why.

To be sure, it's a lovely painting for the 1933 Jean Harlow-Clark Gable comedy "Hold Your Man," although it's for the Italian-dubbed version, titled "L'Uomo Che Voglio" (which is, more literally, "The Man I Want," according to Google).

           

The poster depicts Gable and Harlow as they embrace, perhaps dance, capturing them when both were young and at their most appealing, their movie careers just gaining steam. (Compare the poster with the photo above, which obviously served as a model.)

I have no idea who did this particular poster but it's so beautiful and entrancing that I can't go to that theater without stopping to take it in once more. There's something about the painting's style and grace, the simplicity of the form and the lack of background, save a slanted shadow.

And it's interesting to compare it to other posters for the same film that are aimed at American audiences, several of which you can view on this page.

They're all interesting and quite charming in their own way but none manages to climb the heights achieved by the painting on the Italian poster. At least to me, it's truly a masterpiece of understatement.

  

The film itself is a bit of fluff, light and airy — quite an enjoyable piece of fluff but not nearly as mesmerizing as the Italian poster.

"Hold Your Man" was Harlow and Gable's third pairing (after "The Secret Six" and "Red Dust," both 1931).

Gable was a year away from his Oscar for "It Happened One Night" and six years away from "Gone With the Wind."

  

Harlow would make 11 more films — including three more with Gable — before succumbing to kidney disease in 1937 at the age of 26.

             

I've always loved movie-poster art, especially for the classic studio contract-era films. But I must admit that for me, this painting, to be used as a publicity device for an assembly line studio comedy — and for a foreign-language version at that — somehow transcends all the rest.


Movies of the Week

WHERE WAS IT YOU LEFT ME?

For Hicksflicks.com, Sept. 19, 2014

The six movies opening in the Salt Lake area this weekend are a disparate group, including yet another teens-in-peril-in-a-bleak-future yarn, yet another dysfunctional-family comedy, yet another Liam Neeson thriller, and three "art" films, if that label is loosely applied, at least in one case.

"The Maze Runner" (PG-13) is a dystopian action-thriller with teens, as if we haven't had enough of those lately. This one, based on a novel by Utah author James Dashner, has a group of boys playing "Lord of the Flies" in a mysterious glen surrounded by a giant cement maze. Then a girl arrives and things change. And there be monsters.

"This is Where I Leave You" (R) is the first Oscar-bait picture of the fall season, a dark comedy with Tina Fey and Jason Bateman among the dysfunctional siblings who gather when their father dies, only to find that their mother (Jane Fonda) wants everyone to stay for a week.

"A Walk Among the Tombstones" (R). The latest Liam Neeson thriller is about a disgraced cop-turned-private eye hired by a drug kingpin to track down the guys that kidnapped and killed his wife. Of course things are never as they seem.

"My Old Lady" (PG-13). A middle-aged New Yorker (Kevin Kline) hopes his bad luck has changed when he inherits a Paris apartment. But he finds that it comes with a tenant (Maggie Smith) and her daughter (Kristin Scott Thomas), and thanks to an ancient French law, he can't evict her. This comedy-drama marks the writing-directing debut of playwright Israel Horovitz.

"Tusk" (R) is a horror-comedy by Kevin Smith ("Clerks," "Dogma") about a popular podcaster (Justin Long) who is taken hostage by an interview subject (Michael Parks) that wants to turn him into a walrus. Would I lie to you? The podcaster's pals (Haley Joel Osment, Genesis Rodriguez) team up with a quirky cop (Johnny Depp) to find him.

"The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby" (R) is actually three movies set during the same time period but from different points of view as they explore a marriage that is fractured after a tragedy. But this release is a combined version of the first two films, with all three promised to play separately down the road on the art-house circuit. Jessica Chastain, James McAvoy, William Hurt, Isabelle Huppert and Viola Davis star.

The three latter titles are playing at the Broadway Centre Cinemas in downtown Salt Lake City but only "Eleanor Rigby" is playing there exclusively.


DVD of the Week

ELMER GANTRY

          

For Hicksflicks.com, Sept. 19, 2014

Kino Lorber is busy. The Blu-ray/DVD label is releasing new upgraded Blu-rays of vintage DVD titles so fast it's difficult to keep up.

One of the latest is "Elmer Gantry" (1960), the stirring tent-revival tale adapted from Sinclair Lewis' 1927 novel.

The film won three Oscars — Burt Lancaster as best actor in the title role, Shirley Jones as best supporting actress, and for the screenplay adapted by director Richard Brooks.

The character of Elmer Gantry is sort of a darker version of Henry Hill, the fast-talking charismatic traveling salesman of "The Music Man" (which, come to think of it, also co-starred Jones). Gantry is a rambler and a gambler, a drinker and a thinker, always ready with a rapid-fire pitch for any product at hand, and he could charm the bait off a fishhook.

Gantry also knows his Bible, and when he finds himself attracted to tent-show preacher Sister Sharon Falconer (Jean Simmons) he uses one of her assistants (pop singer Patti Page in a rare dramatic turn) to ingratiate his way into her traveling crusade.

           

          Burt Lancaster, Jean Simmons, 'Elmer Gantry'

But he soon brings something unexpected to the show — a dramatically delivered fire-and-brimstone message of repentance as he spews a sermon upon the congregation (one of the film's most famous lines is his angry admonishment, "Sin, sin sin — you're all sinners!"). Then, Sister Sharon follows with a gentle sermon of love and forgiveness.

It morphs into what her manager (Dean Jagger) describes as a good-cop/bad-cop scenario, and it makes great press for a big-city newspaperman (Arthur Kennedy) who travels with them. Especially when they start climbing toward the big time.

But while Sister Sharon seems to genuinely feel moved by the spirit, the jury's out on Gantry. Is there any ounce of sincerity in him or is he just using his huckster talent to sell religion until he can persuade innocent Sister Sharon to fall for his charms?

Things get complicated when their first big-city success is publicized so much that a local prostitute (Jones) gets wind of it and recognizes Gantry as the louse that used her and dumped her years earlier, leading to her current degradation.

          

          Shirley Jones, Burt Lancaster, 'Elmer Gantry'

It's terrific moviemaking and although "Elmer Gantry" is two-and-a-half hours long, the time breezes by.

Writer-director Brooks — hot off of "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof" (1958), and with "Sweet Bird of Youth" (1962), "The Professionals" (1966) and "In Cold Blood" (1967) ahead of him — perfectly captures the period, the nature of revival shows and the passions of the characters.

And all the players are pitch perfect, with Simmons' role somewhat crafted after Aimee Semple McPherson. (McPherson was also the inspiration for Barbara Stanwyck's character in Frank Capra's 1931 melodrama "The Miracle Woman" and was the subject of the 1976 TV movie "The Disappearance of Amee," with Faye Dunaway.)

Jones garnered attention here primarily because her role as a prostitute was so far afield from what she had done up to that point, playing innocent young things in the musicals "Oklahoma!" (1955), "Carousel" (1956) and "April Love" (1957). Not that she didn't earn her Oscar, although one could argue that perhaps Janet Leigh, also nominated, deserved it more for "Psycho."

But Lancaster owns the movie and his vibrant performance had Oscar written all over it by the time the movie-awards season arrived.

Already a major star and with many more years and great films ahead of him, Lancaster's Academy Award beat out Jack Lemmon for "The Apartment," "Laurence Olivier" for "The Entertainer," Spencer Tracy for "Inherit the Wind" and Trevor Howard for "Sons and Lovers."

It was stiff competition, but there's no question that Lancaster deserved his win.


Welcome

Hi. I'm Chris Hicks.

But if you're looking for Chris Hicks the Australian rugby player or the American recording-industry executive or the Major League Baseball player or the author of "Think" or the singer-songwriter or the former basketball player, you're in the wrong place.

I'm Chris Hicks the movie guy from Salt Lake City. If that's who you're looking for, welcome to my website as I enter the 21st century … a little late (May 2013).

This site is all about movies, well mostly, and it's also about me, I guess, but I'll try to keep my ego in check.

My goal, my hope, is that you will be able to browse the pages here and be alerted to or reminded of some great movie you've never heard of or forgotten about. In other words, something that might enhance your movie-watching experience, whether it's by Alfred Hitchcock or Joss Whedon, or stars Audrey Hepburn or Jennifer Lawrence or someone you never heard of. And I've also tried to make it fun.

The bulk of stories and reviews here are gleaned from my 30-plus years of writing about film for the Deseret News, a daily newspaper in Salt Lake City, with side trips here and there to other entertainment forms.

I'm still writing for the D-News and contributing the occasional article to the website Familius, publisher of my May 2013 book, "Has Hollywood Lost Its Mind?"

This site is a mix of archival stuff (with permission) from the Deseret News, along with an array of non-DesNews material, including new blogs, reviews and stories as often as I can manage to squeeze them out.

Hope you enjoy my little site. If you do, tell your friends. If you don't, just say you couldn't find it.

Cheers,
Chris H.

Shameless Hucksterism

                     

Click cover for Parents.com article.

 

       

        Click cover for interview with Chris.

 

 

   Click here for Deseret News interview.

   Click here for Deseret News review.

 

 

Golden Oldies On the Big Screen

DR. STRANGELOVE

                 

For Hicksflicks.com, Sept. 19, 2014

Stanley Kubrick's classic anti-nuclear war satire, "Dr. Strangelove, or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb" (1964, b/w), is such a perfect dark comedy that it should be on any film fan's must-see list.

And I don't know about you, but I don't intend to miss the opportunity to see it again on the big screen as part of the latest cycle of classics being shown by Cinemark (Sunday, Sept. 21, at 2 p.m., and Wednesday, Sept. 24, at 2 and 7 p.m. at theaters all over northern Utah).

Peter Sellers, was at the peak of his powers in 1964 — the same year we also saw "The Pink Panther," "The World of Henry Orient" and "A Shot in the Dark."

And in "Dr. Strangelove" Sellers plays three roles brilliantly, the mad-as-a-hatter titular German scientist, the buffaloed U.S. President Merkin Muffley and British RAF Group Capt. Lionel Mandrake, whose de facto duty it becomes to attempt to save humanity from itself.

        

Sellers as, from left, Pres. Muffley, 'Dr. Strangelove,' Capt. Mandrake

Mandrake tries to reason with the paranoid, psychotic U.S. Brigadier Gen. Jack D. Ripper (Sterling Hayden), who is hell-bent on starting World War III by overriding his authority and sending nuclear-armed aircraft to attack Russia.

After the Pentagon tips to what's going on, Gen. Buck Turgidson (George C. Scott) counsels the president, suggesting a nuclear strike on Russia might not be so bad. But the president disagrees and sends U.S. Army forces to Ripper's base to try and stop the attack.

He also has the Russian ambassador meet them in the Pentagon's War Room while he calls the Soviet premier on the "Hot Line." Strangelove is also there as the president's scientific advisor and he has some bad news following a surprise disclosure by the Soviet premier.

               

   Slim Pickens during 'Dr. Strangelove's' most iconic moment.

All of which eventually leads the iconic moment when Slim Pickens rides a nuclear bomb to his — and our — doom. Ya-hooooo! (And look for James Earl Jones as another pilot.)

"Dr. Strangelove" is jet-black, to be sure, and the black-and-white cinematography perfectly captures the film's stark sense of dread while lending old-cinema credence to the string of hilarious sequences and wacky exchanges that lead up to the film's famous climax.

Kubrick's direction is spot on and he apparently let Sellers adlib many lines as all three of his characters, later incorporating them into the script.

The result is a collaboration of geniuses at a level that we've seldom seen on the big screen.


Golden Oldies Finally On DVD

SPENSER: FOR HIRE

         

For Hicksflicks.com, Sept. 19, 2014

Robert B. Parker's Spenser (no first name, please) is a late-20th century Boston gumshoe, a former boxer, a former cop, a gourmet cook and as literate as a college professor.

He's also a frustrated but self-satisfied comedian, as demonstrated by his constant stream of wisecracks that are mostly, but not always, appropriate to the occasion.

Whether the 1985 TV series based on Parker's character captures him well or misses the boat has been debated for decades by fans of the books and fans of the show — but one thing's for sure: "Spenser: For Hire" has been missing in action too long.

The three-season series, starring a post-"Vega$" Robert Urich as Spenser, has never been on home video in any form. Until now.

Warner Archive has, out of the blue, released the first season on DVD, and fans couldn't be more delighted. In fact, Warner Archive, a manufacture-on-demand website, is so sure "Spenser: For Hire" will be a big seller that more-than-the-usual-number of copies have been run off in advance.

The pilot episode, a feature-length TV movie titled "Promised Land," is based on Parker's novel of the same title, which was No. 4 in the Spenser series and introduced the character of Hawk, a tough-guy sidekick played by Avery Brooks (who would go on to captain "Star Trek: Deep Space Nine").

        

  Avery Brooks, left, Ron McLarty, Robert Urich, Barbara Stock, 'Spenser'

The rest of the series went off on its own, ignoring Parker's string of best-selling novels that began in 1973 and have continued beyond the author's 2010 death, with Ace Atkins continuing the series, each new title being preceded by "Robert B. Parker's."

Other characters from the books that made it to the TV series are Boston cops Lt. Quirk (Richard Jaeckel) and Sgt. Belson (Ron McLarty), along with Spenser's psychologist girlfriend Susan Silverman (Barbara Stock).

None of them is quite how Parker created them but the character that suffers the most is Susan, a strong, intelligent woman with whom Spenser forms a strong bond. They aren't married but they act like it in the books. In the show, it's more the occasional-girlfriend treatment so familiar in TV crime shows of the 1980s.

       

Urich as 'Spenser,' during Boston location shooting (in more ways than one).

Having said that, the first season of "Spenser: For Hire" is still well worth catching, whether or not you've read any of the books.

Urich is charming and witty (he starred in a dozen TV series and would later land a prominent role in "Lonesome Dove"), and Brooks is appropriately intimidating — and the use of Boston locations helps tremendously.