For, Nov. 21, 2014

EDITOR'S NOTE: Some things never change. "The Simpsons" notwithstanding, this Deseret News column from Aug. 1, 1993, still holds water. And except for a reference to "tape" (as opposed to more modern "digital"), I'm not sure I'd change a word.

Some years ago, when my children were younger, we had a little family joke about Tom and Jerry cartoons. They would be in the next room, watching them on television, and every now and then they'd run in to get me. "Hey, Dad," one of them would say. "Come and watch — it's an old one."
I trained them well.

They could tell the difference between the short cartoons that were stiff, made-for-TV efforts from the classically animated shorts that had played in theaters a hundred years before they were born.

And they also knew — and still know — that I can't stand those television-style stiffs, though I do enjoy the oldies.

And not for nostalgic reasons. The older 'toons really are better.

Back when I was growing up, in the Stone Age of the '50s and '60s, we looked forward to a cartoon preceding the movie in theaters, and the Tom and Jerry shorts were so good that the ever-battling duo copped no less than seven Oscars in its prime, between 1943 and 1952.


Likewise, Popeye, the Disney characters (Donald, Mickey, Goofy, etc.) and the Warner Bros. clan (Bugs, Daffy, the Road Runner, etc.) all had wonderfully funny knockabout cartoons in the classical animation mold when they were shown in theaters during this period.

But as television came along, gobbling up each 6-minute short all too quickly, these franchises turned to cheaper ways of turning out more, more, more. And then all of these cartoons were thrown together in the daytime TV mix.

Whether modern children notice the difference from cartoon to cartoon is questionable, I guess, but thank goodness we have the best of the oldies preserved on tape.

You might consider sitting down with your kids sometime and watching the oldies with them, pointing out how much more graceful and fully developed the classics are — not to mention funnier — than the more recent quick-and-dirty efforts.




For, Nov. 21, 2014

Last week eight movies opened in Salt Lake theaters and the week before we had 10 new films. This week? Two. And one of those is a foreign-language drama from Hungary playing at one of the local art houses.

Why the dearth of new flicks? Everyone got out of the way of big dog — the latest "Hunger Games" sequel.

"The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Part 1" (PG-13). Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) returns in this third, penultimate "Hunger Games" flick (the final chapter will arrive in November 2015) only to find her world upside-down until she is recruited to lead a rebellion in the dystopian world in which she lives.


"The Notebook (Le Grand Cahier)" (R, in Hungarian with English subtitles). World War II drama focusing on young twin boys who become sociopaths in reaction to the Nazi brutality they witness around them. Exclusively at the Tower Theater.




For, Nov. 21, 2014

When Raymond Chandler's novel "The Long Goodbye," his sixth featuring the wise-guy detective Philip Marlowe, was adapted for the movies, it switched settings from 1940s Los Angeles to 1970s Hollywood — which, when it was made, became a modern-day setting.

But that's the least of it.

"The Long Goodbye" (1973, R) is a Robert Altman film when the director was riding high after "MASH" and could get a major studio (United Artists in this case) to finance films that were his own personal brand of quirky, visually and aurally.

But in this case, he also allows his screenwriter (Leigh Brackett, who also wrote the Bogart version of "The Big Sleep"!) to deviate wildly from Chandler's plot and undermines Marlowe's ethics in a climactic move that is very Seventies Dark and anti-Raymond Chandler.

In some ways, Altman's "The Long Goodbye" is a satire of the genre, with Elliott Gould's Marlowe chainsmoking in a health-conscious environment and with other anachronisms that seem to make him a sort of Rip Van Winkle — he's in his mid-30s in the 1970s but seems to be right out of the 1940s.


The convoluted plot has Marlowe giving a friend a ride to Tijuana, unaware that the friend is accused of killing his wife. The police close the case after learning that Marlowe's friend has committed suicide in Mexico and Marlowe moves on to another case. But that case and nagging doubts bring him back to his old friend as he tries to solve a puzzle with pieces that don't seem to fit.

As an Altman film, "The Long Goodbye" is certainly worth a look for fans of his work, or of Gould's, who is very good here. Intermittently fascinating on several levels, it's that ending that really undoes much of what has gone before. But as a riff on the genre it has some merit. (Co-stars include Nina van Pallandt, Sterling Hayden, Henry Gibson, and in uncredited bit parts early in their careers, David Carradine and Arnold Schwarzenegger.)

"The Long Goodbye" has been out of print for a dozen years but now has been given a new life with a Blu-ray upgrade by Kino Lorber.


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.

Chris H.

Shameless Hucksterism


Click cover for 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



For, Nov. 21, 2014

Billy Wilder has made many great movies — "Double Indemnity," "Stalag 17," "Witness for the Prosecution," "The Apartment," "Some Like it Hot" and many more.

But "Sunset Blvd." (1950, b/w) stands out as a strong example of film noir as satire, in this case specifically skewering Hollywood with its story of a down-on-his-luck screenwriter (William Holden) hired by former silent-movie star Norma Desmond (real-life former silent-movie star Gloria Swanson) to "doctor" an existing script for her comeback vehicle.

But Norma is living in the past with only her ever-faithful valet (played by another silent star, Erich von Stroheim) to protect her, and he has a secret that is revealed late in the film.

Norma grows closer to falling off the precipice of sanity as her delusions overtake her. And that may explain why the film opens with the body of Holden's character floating in a swimming pool at Norma's mansion.


There are many memorable lines and scenes in this movie, and it has the distinction of being the first to be narrated by a dead man as Holden's voiceover narration begins with that first shot of him in the water. It's a technique that was unique at the time, though it's been copied many times since, from "American Beauty" to TV's "Desperate Housewives."

"Sunset Blvd" is a great film and one that benefits from being seen on the big screen, which you can do next Friday (Nov. 28) through the following Thursday (Dec. 4) at the Tower Theater. It will play daily at noon and on Tuesday at 7 p.m.

Golden Oldies Finally On DVD



For, Nov. 21, 2014

A young woman is invited to a séance by a phony psychic who claims that he has a message from her deceased brother. Her boyfriend is sure the séance is a scam but she's intrigued, so they attend. And wouldn't you know it, the woman becomes possessed by the spirit of another woman, a serial killer who's been executed — and who wants revenge on the psychic!

This plot development takes a bit too long in coming but the buildup is not without interest, especially the montage that shows us the exploits of the murderess. (And how unusual is it for a film this old to feature a female serial killer.)

What really gives "Supernatural" (1933, b/w) its juice, however, is a very young Carole Lombard in an early starring role (before she became the queen of screwball comedy with "Twentieth Century" and "My Man Godfrey") as the innocent who becomes possessed. And her boyfriend is Randolph Scott, years before he became the king of B-movie Westerns.


Randolph Scott, left, and Carole Lombard, center, in 'Supernatural'

"Supernatural" is a short film, just over an hour in length, more of a programmer than a feature. A lot of films came in at 60 to 75 minutes if they were going to fill out a double bill, and they were almost always genre pictures of one kind or another.

And as a follow-up to director Victor Halperin's "White Zombie," which stars Bela Lugosi, this one boasts a bigger budget and a glossier sheen.

"Supernatural" is an assembly-line picture but it's a good one.

And it's now on DVD for the first time thanks to the burn-on-demand Universal Vault label, which has been giving us quite a few Lombard films from her earliest days at Paramount Pictures (whose older library is owned by Universal).