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See ET’s Forerunner, An Evil Alien From The Unproduced NIGHT SKIES

Posted on 22 May 2014 by Rich Drees

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If you’re familiar the backstory of Steven Spielberg’s classic E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, then you know that the film had its roots in another project he had been developing – Night Skies. Working from a news story where a rural Kentucky family claimed that their home had been attacked by aliens, Spielberg and writer John Sayles set about developing a film which Sayles stated also drew inspiration from the classic western Drums Along The Mohawk. But the pair was never able to crack the story to Spielberg’s satisfaction, and the director split some of Night Skies‘s story elements off into two films. The aliens he made benign visitors for ET while he took the idea of a family under attack in their own home and spun that into Poltergeist.

While Spielberg and Sayles worked on the screenplay, makeup creator extraordinaire Rick Baker was working on creating a look for the aliens attacking the script’s helpless family. But while the story about how Night Skies morphed into ET and Poltergeist, to my knowledge, Baker’s alien design has never been seen outside of the circle of people involved in the development of the film. This may have been due to Baker being upset with Spielberg deciding to pass on the project after Baker had spent some $700,000 in developing and designing animatronic prototypes for the aliens.

Over the last three decades, Baker must have decided to let bygones be bygones and earlier today he tweeted out a picture of one of the sculpts he did for a Night Skies alien. So what do you think? Would this have been terrifying to audiences back in the early 1980s? In Spielberg’s hands, most definitely. Look what he managed to do with a rickety, malfunctioning mechanical shark just a few years earlier. And is it just me, or does the alien’s mouth remind you just a bit of Edward G Robinson too?

But in the end, everything worked out for everyone. Sayles went on to do who his own riff of a gentle alien visiting Earth in his film Bother From Another Planet. Baker would go on to receive the first Academy Award for Best Makeup and Hairstyling for his work on An American Werewolf in London, the first of a record-breaking total of 11 nominations and eight wins. Spielberg’s career certainly didn’t suffer by moving on to ET. And in the wake of that movie’s success he would once again revisit the ideas in Night Skies when he took some time to try and develop a sequel to ET before ultimately abandoning the idea.

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Listen To The Banned Commentary Tracks From Criterion’s James Bond Laserdiscs

Posted on 11 May 2014 by Rich Drees

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The Criterion Collection has a reputation among film fans for releasing films on DVD and blu-ray that are accompanied by special features that take a deeper and more critical look at the film in question than the usual “Making Of” featurettes normally found on discs. And it has been that way even back in the early 1990s when laserdiscs were the format of choice for cinephiles.

But sometimes that hard analysis leads to an honesty that some might not be ready for. At least that’s the thinking behind the withdrawal of a trio James Bond Criterion laserdiscs released in 1991. Shortly after Criterion released the first three Bond films – Dr. No, From Russia With Love and Goldfinger – the company was asked by Bond franchise producer Eon Productions to withdraw the discs from the market. Needless to say, that move caused the discs to become much sought after collectors items.

No official reason was ever given for the recall, but fan speculation zeroed in on the commentary tracks featuring directors Terence Young and Guy Hamilton, editor Peter Hunt, designer Ken Adam, screenwriter Richard Maibaum, critic Bruce Eder and movie historian and The James Bond Films author Steven Jay Rubin being a bit more honest than maybe others, i.e. the Eon Productions folks, were comfortable with. The smoking gun? The fact that subsequent releases of the video never carried over the tracks. (The HMSS Weblog has a run down of some of the more salacious comments.)

And what was so bad about the tracks? Well, it turns out that you can judge for yourselves. The folks at Bond franchise fansite 007Dossier have managed to rip the rare tracks off the laserdiscs and have posted them for your listening pleasure. Additionally, they have also posted the Criterion Discs’ “Music and effects only” isolated audio tracks from Dr. No and Goldfinger.

So if you’re interested in hearing what was said in those commentary tracks but don’t have a laserdisc player and the money to pick up the discs off of ebay, head over and download the tracks. As they’re MP3s, you could listen to them as podcasts or synching them up to play on your computer while screening the films, a la RiffTrax.

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Watching STAR WARS At Home Before VCRs

Posted on 04 May 2014 by Rich Drees

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In the days before home video cassette players, it was awful hard to see a movie once it had screened at your local theater. But for collectors of 8mm films, it was as easy as setting up a screen and threading a small projector. Eight millimeter films and projectors were the home entertainment precursors of video tape and were not that uncommon among families in middle America. In addition to cameras and film sold to consumers so that they could film family events, holidays and vacations, reels of edited highlights from popular movies were also available for purchase.

YouTube has two different versions of Star Wars that were released for fans in those pre-VCR days. The first is a 10-minute, silent black and white reel that features two sequences from the film. The first is where Obi-Wan Kenobi tells Luke about his father, the second the escape from the Death Star. Subtitles help to describe what is going on in each scene. The second is in color and has sound and is a compaction of nearly the entire film down to eighteen-and-a-half minutes.

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TCM Salutes Mickey Rooney Tomorrow

Posted on 12 April 2014 by Rich Drees

MickeyRooneyThe film career of Mickey Rooney, who passed away last weekend and the age of 93, will be highlighted tomorrow on Turner Classic Movies with a 24-hour marathon of some of the actor’s greatest roles. The films are all picked from the absolute heyday of the actor’s years at MGM during the 1930s and `40s and all are required viewing.

Interestingly, while Rooney is best known for his Andy Hardy series, the two entries from the franchise that TCM is highlighting A Family Affair and You’re Only Young Once (both 1937) are the earliest, before Rooney’s character really became the focal point. Another interesting choice is to air one of Rooney’s many popular pairings with Judy Garland, Babes On Broadway (1941), at the late night/early morning time slot of 4:30 am, though I would suspect that maybe the fact that the big musical finale of the film features a segment done in blackface.

Here is the complete schedule for tomorrow’s films.

6:00 AM – Broadway to Hollywood
7:30 AM – The Devil is a Sissy
9:15 AM – A Family Affair
10:30 AM – You’re Only Young Once
12:00 PM – Captains Courageous
2:00 PM – The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
3:45 PM – The Human Comedy
6:00 PM – Killer McCoy
8:00 PM – Boys Town
10:00 PM – Men of Boys Town
12:00 AM – National Velvet
2:15 AM – Babes on Broadway
4:30 AM – A Midsummer Night’s Dream

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IT’S A MAD MAD MAD MAD WORLD Locations Then And Now

Posted on 27 January 2014 by Rich Drees

It's A Mad Mad Mad Mad World

So last night during a fit of channel surfing, I came across Stanley Kramer’s all-star, comedy epic It’s A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World on MGM-HD and as I watched Phil Silvers, Mickey Rooney, Sid Caesar, Milton Berle and the rest rampage across southern California in a race to uncover $350,000 in stolen loot, I started to wonder about how the myriad locations used in the film have changed over the years. Lo and behold, this morning I stumble across this video, posted by the folks at the Criterion Collection just this past Friday highlighting the half century of changes that many of the locations have gone through. (And I am sure that it has nothing to do with the fact that they have just put out a new blu-rayof the film. OK, maybe just a little bit.) I think that the most amazing thing is how built up some areas became over the last 50 years as California has continued to expand while others have remained virtually unchanged over time.

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It’s A Wonderful Communist Plot

Posted on 23 December 2013 by Rich Drees

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It has been hailed as an American classic and placed on the American Film Institute’s List of 100 Greatest American movies and the Library of Congress’s National Film Registry, but would you believe that It’s A Wonderful Life was once considered communist propaganda? From 1947 to 1956, Frank Capra’s iconic film was under suspicion by the Federal Bureau of Investigation as being a ‘carrier of political propaganda.’

During post-World War Two years, a wave of paranoia swept across the country about possible communist infiltration into various aspects of American life, with Hollywood and the film industry falling into firmly into the crosshairs of such hysteria. People working in the film industry were investigated for possible communist affiliations, often based on the either a passing interest in the political philosophy from years or even decades earlier or on the unsubstantiated word of an informer. In 1947, the FBI undertook an analysis of several recent Hollywood films, It’s A Wonderful Life being one of them. (Also included in the study were the 1945 Academy Award nominated Pride Of The Marines, the 1946 seven-time Oscar winner The Best Years Of Our Lives and the 1947 Abbott and Costello comedy Buck Privates Come Home.) The results were compiled into a file titled Federal Bureau of Investigation file no. 100-HQ-138754 “Communist Infiltration of the Motion Picture Industry” or COMPIC. From this file, the FBI has released 2008 pages, some heavily redacted, which can be viewed at the Internet Archive.

The portion regarding It’s A Wonderful Life can be found in Section IV: “Communist Influence in Motion Pictures,” under the subsection titled “Analysis of Motion Picture Disclosing Communist Propaganda Therein.”

According to the Informants [REDACTED] in this picture the screen credits again fail to reflect the Communist support given to the screen writer. According to [REDACTED] the writers Frances Goodrick and Albert Hackett were very close to known Communists and on one occasion in the recent past while these two writers were doing a picture for Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Goodrick and Hackett practically lived with known Communists as Lester Cole, screen writer, and Earl Robinson, screen writer. Both of these individuals are identified in Section I of this memorandum as Communists.

With regard to the picture “It’s A Wonderful Life”, [REDACTED] stated in substance that the film represented a rather obvious attempt to discredit bankers by casting Lionel Barrymore as “scrooge-type” so that he would be the most hated man in the picture. This, according to these sources, is a common trick used by Communists.

In addition, [REDACTED] stated that, in his opinion, this picture deliberately maligned the upper class, attempting to show the people who had money were mean and despicable characters. [REDACTED] related that if he had made this picture portraying the banker, he wold have shown this individual to have been following the rules as laid down by the State Bank Examiners in connection with making loans. Further, [REDACTED] stated that the scene woundn’t have “suffered at all” in portraying the banker as a man who was protecting funds put in his care by private individuals and adhering to the rules governing the loan of that money rather than portraying the part as it was shown. In summary, [REDACTED] stated that it was not necessary to make the banker such a mean character and “I would never have done it that way”.

The analysis noted one of their redacted informants trying to draw a parallel between the film and a Russian film from “approximately 15 years” titled The Letter in which a banker is also the villain. Perhaps the FBI could have benefited from the internet being in existence back then as I can find no trace of such a film on the IMDB or via a Google search.

Interestingly, one of the people who helped the FBI develop the standards by which they “analyzed” It’s A Wonderful Life and other films was none other than Ayn Rand, whose political-themed novel The Fountainhead was already starting to gain her notoriety. However, when Rand appeared in front of the House Committee on Un-American Activities (HUAC) in October 1947, she was considered an “expert witness” on Hollywood, based on the fact that she had done some work for the studios intermittently. Her testimony wasn’t about It’s A Wonderful Life, but instead concentrated on the 1944 war film Song of Russia, produced by MGM at the height of the United States wartime alliance with the Soviet country.

But not everyone who was hauled in front of HUAC saw the Red Menace in the film. Film critic and former screenwriter John Charles Moffitt (1944’s Passage To Marseille) also appeared before the committee in October 1947. A one-time member of the communist party, Moffitt went out of his way in his testimony to Chief Investigator Robert E. Stripling to dispel the notion that It’s A Wonderful Life contained any subtle communist messages.

MR. STRIPLING. The term “heavy” has been used here as a designation of the part in which the person is a villain. Would you say that the banker has been often cast as a heavy, or consistently cast as a heavy, in pictures in Hollywood?

MR. MOFFITT. Yes, sir. I think that due to Communist pressure he is overfrequently cast as a heavy. By that I do not mean that I think no picture should ever show a villainous banker. In fact, I would right now like to defend one picture that I think has been unjustly accused of communism. That picture is Frank Capra’s It’s a Wonderful Life. The banker in that picture, played by Lionel Barrymore, was most certainly what we call a “dog heavy” in the business. He was a snarling, unsympathetic character. But the hero and his father, played by James Stewart and Samuel S. Hines, were businessmen, in the building and loan business, and they were shown as using money as a benevolent influence.

[Momentary interruption]

MR. MOFFITT.Well, to summarize, I think Mr. Capra’s picture, though it had a banker as villain, could not be properly called a Communist picture. It showed that the power of money can be used oppressively and it can be used benevolently. I think that picture was unjustly accused of communism.

It is not known if Moffitt’s testimony has any influence on the thinking of the FBI or the HUAC members, but it should be noted that the principal creators of It’s A Wonderful Life, director Capra and screenwriters Goodrick and Hackett, never were affected by the Black Listing that ruined the lives and livelihoods of other writers and directors during this period. It would be almost a decade from when It’s A Wonderful Life first came under suspicion until the Red Scare-generated Black List would start to crumble. Over the years, It’s A Wonderful Life would go on to become an American classic, an ironic fate for a film once considered to be “unAmerican.”

FBI Records via Aphelis.

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Lost Peter Sellers Short Films Redicovered

Posted on 16 December 2013 by Rich Drees

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Two short films starring Peter Sellar thought to have been lost have been rediscovered in Southend, England. The two, 30-minute films, Dearth Of A Salesman and Insomnia Is Good For You, are currently undergoing some restoration and will be screened at the local Southend Film Festival next May.

Sellers scholars believe that the comic actor produced the two short films in 1957 as a means to showcase his talents as he tried to move his career into the movies. Although he had some small television and film roles already to his credit, Sellers was still best known for being one-third of the cast of the highly popular and influential BBC radio series The Goon Show. The films themselves are parodies of government-produced information films.

The BBC is reporting that the film reels were originally discovered in a trash dumpster in 1996. Robert Farrow was overseeing the clearout of Park Lane Films’ former office in London ahead of an upcoming refurbishment when he took 21 film canisters home with the thought of using them to store his collection of Super 8 films. When he discovered that there were films in the canisters he put them in a closet in his own home until he recently reexamined the containers while cleaning out his own home.

As he told the BBC (via Deadline) –

It was then I realised they were two Sellers films including the negatives, titles, show prints, outtakes and the master print. It was amazing.

Although the existence of the films had been known, up until the discovery of the films there was little known about them with only a script for Insomnia is Good For You still remaining from their production.

According to Mark Cousins of the Peter Sellers Appreciation Society the discovery of the films leaves just one last piece of early work form the actor missing.

These early films, although they’re only shorts, are quite important because they were really made before he hit the big time… They are missing pieces of a jigsaw puzzle. [Sellers] is very well known for his later works such as Dr Strangelove and the Pink Panther films and these help to give people an appreciation of how he got there.

There has been no word yet as to if the short films will eventually become available via a home video or streaming release. But they have released a short clip from each film.

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MALTESE FALCON Statuette Brings $3.5 Million At Auction

Posted on 25 November 2013 by Rich Drees

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It was considered priceless by those who sought to posses it, but the stuff that dreams are made of has a price.

The screen used statuette used in the 1941 classic The Maltese Falcon which starred Humphrey Bogart fetched $3.5 million at an auction of Hollywood memorabilia today, not including a $585,000 buyers premium. It was estimated that the prop would earn $1.5 million.

Another Bogart-related prop, the 1940 Buick Phaeton used in the cliamctic airport scene in Casablanca went under the gavel for $380,000. Also up for sale were Casablanca producer Hal Wallis’s working copy of the shooting script for the film and the chair used in the office set of Bogart’s Maltese Falcon private eye Sam Spade.

Curated by Turner Classic Movies, the auction featured over 100 lots ranging across almost 100 years of film history from a joke file from W. C. Fields to Michael Keaton’s superhero costume from Batman and Harrison Ford’s whip from Indiana Jones And The Last Crusade. Numerous costumes included in the auction spanned from the early days of talking pictures like a majorette jacket worn by Shirley Temple in 1936’s Poor Little Rich Girl to Oscar-winning gowns for Shakespeare In Love designed by Sandy Powell. Other pieces include a preliminary design maquette for the Terror Dogs from Ghostbusters to a diving helmet from 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea to animation cells for the cast titles to films such as The Sound Of Music and Hello Dolly. Below are pictures of a few props that were on display at Bonham’s Auction House in Manhattan this past weekend preceding today’s sale.

The falcon prop was one of two cast in lead statuettes by the prop department at Warner Brothers Studio for the film and the only one that can be verified as having appeared in the classic noir tale. It had been owned by a private collector who purchased it in the 1980s.

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Vintage Film Journals And Magazines Now Searchable Online

Posted on 21 October 2013 by Rich Drees

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If you’ve been looking to do some research by digging through early issue of such notable film publications like Variety, the Hollywood Reporter or Photoplay, you’re in luck. The holdings that are part of the Media History Digital Library are now available to be searched online through a new project called Lantern.

In addition to the publications named above, the database also includes issues of Moving Picture World, Picture Play, Film Daily, Hollywood Filmograph, Movie Classic and numerous fan magazines, all available to search and view as images and pdfs on the Lantern site.

Heck, even if you’re not researching right anything currently, the site is still good for just general poking around. I know that I just spent an hour on their just inputting various search topics and following where ever they may have lead me.

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Help Save GHOSTBUSTERS’s Ecto-1A!

Posted on 16 October 2013 by Rich Drees

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One of the most iconic cars in motion picture history is the retrofitted 1959 Cadillac Miller-Meteor ambulance from the Ghostbusters movies known by fans as the Ectomobile. Unveiled in the first movie with the moniker, Ecto 1, it received some upgrades for when Manhattan’s paranormal eliminators went back into business in Ghostbusters 2 and was rechristened Ecto 1A.

In reality, there were actually three cars that “played” Ecto-1 in the films. The first, the dilapidated old black car seen in one early scene of the first Ghostbusters, was a rental and never converted into the Ecto-1 that fans know. The second was used in both the first and second films, but when it broke down during production of Ghostbusters 2, a third car was brought in to complete filming. Universal studios restored the first Ecto 1 back in 2007, but the replacement Ecto 1A never got similar treatment reportedly due to budgetary issues. It was on public display at Universal Studios in Orlando, Florida for a while, but now sits in a corner of Sony’s prop storage space, forgotten and in a sad state of disrepair. As you can see from the photo below (via Instagram user cheekybama) the car has a smashed windshield, a dented hood and its lightbar tossed unceremoniously on top. Additionally, the interior has had several parts stripped out, presumably by fans.

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But there may some hope for Ecto 1A. A group of Ghostbusters fans named, appropriately enough Ghostbuster Fans, have started a petition to buy the car and original parts at scrap value from Sony in order to restore it themselves. The group’s petition, which you can sign here, doesn’t state how the group will pay for the project, but I certainly do admire their spirit a (no pun intended) and their willingness to step up and save the car in the face of Sony’s disinterest.

While there are a couple of professionally built replicas of Ecto 1, one made for Universal’s “Spooktackular” stage show now owned by a collector in Tennessee while another replica currently is on display at the Historic Auto Attractions museum in Roscoe, Illinois, there are only two original, screen-used cars. Given the ongoing popularity of the films nearly a quarter of a century after the second one came out, it seems right that both of the cars are preserved for posterity.

Via Motor Authority.

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