Thursday, January 19, 2017

Thursday Movie Picks #132: Featuring Actors/Actresses Who Passed Away in 2016

This being Thursday, it's time for another Thursday Movie Picks, run by the Wandering Through the Shelves blog. This week's theme is actors and actresses who died in 2016, and of course as a lover of old movies, I'm picking some slightly older movies.

First up is Strait-Jacket, from 1964. This one is in honor of George Kennedy, although he only has a small role. The star here is Joan Crawford, playing a woman who axe-murdered her husband decades ago and spent a long time in a mental institution as a result. She's out now and living with her adult daughter (Diane Baker), but odd things start happening that bring Crawford's sanity back into question, especially when somebody gets axed to death. Kennedy's small part includes a memorable scene of him having to axe a chicken to death:

This was made by William Castle, known for his gimmicks; I guess the gimmick here is starring Joan Crawford.

Next we get the 1962 two-reeler Happy Anniversary. This was made by and stars Pierre Étaix, a French clown who made several movies in the 1960s, all known for their inventive visual humor. This short has Étaix playing a husband who is trying to buy a gift for his wife on her anniversary, only to have anything that can go wrong actually go wrong: there's traffic, he has trouble fitting a gift in his tiny car, and so on. Meanwhile, the wife is back at their apartment having made a nice dinner for her husband; they being French, she's also opened a nice bottle of wine. And she waits... and waits... and waits....

Finally, I'll mention another movie where the actor had a small role: Running on Empty. Judd Hirsch and Christine Lahti play a couple of 60s radicals who accidentally killed an innocent janitor when they bombed a napalm factory; they've been on the run ever since with their two children. The elder of the two children, played by River Phoenix, is a piano prodigy, and good enough to go to Juilliard. Except of course that there's a problem, which is that if he were to go off it might reveal his parents' identities, and will also probably mean he's never see his parents again. I'm mentioning this film in honor of actor Steven Hill, perhaps best known from the TV series Law and Order. He plays Christine Lahti's father, and has one memorable scene when he meets his daughter at a restaurant for the first time in ages as she asks him to consider taking custody of her son so he can go to Juilliard.

I thought about using Debbie Reynolds so that I could mention What's the Matter With Helen, which has her and Shelley Winters playing two mothers who have to leave Iowa after their sons commit a notorious Leopold and Loeb-style murder. The mothers' friendship eventually goes downhill....


joel65913 said...

Love these! Despite of the underlying somberness of the week's theme it's been very enjoyable seeing the variety of performers picked, and when the same performer has been chosen more than once the different work selected.

Pierre Etaix's work is unknown to me but I'm always anxious to discover new performers so I'll have to see if I can find any of his work. Honestly when I saw the title I at first thought you were referring to the David Niven/Mitzi Gaynor comedy that came out about the same time which while no barn burner is a cute comedy of its period.

Kennedy's participation in Strait-Jacket is small but that is one wacky movie. Of Crawford's films of that period though it's one of the better cast ones and Joan as always gave it everything she had.

I LOVE Running on Empty and the scene between Christine Lahti (who is brilliant in the film) and Steven Hill is a self contained acting class between two expert talents. I'm not much for one scene nominations but this should have been an exception. He's a knockout.

With a little more care and a better director What's the Matter with Helen? could have been a more solid film. Shelley chews the scenery after a while but Debbie gives a nicely observed performance and the period clothes and platinum hair really complement her.

joel65913 said...

We lost so many talents last year it was difficult to narrow to three, actually I couldn't do it and ended up with one extra but these performers and films are all so good I had to include them.

This Happy Feeling (1958)-Debbie Reynolds-When her boss makes a pass at a party in the Connecticut countryside New Yorker Janet Blake (Debbie) dashes into the rain just as Bill Tremaine (John Saxon) is passing and offers a ride to the subway. When she misconstrues a comment Bill makes as a come-on she jumps out and makes her way to the nearest house which belongs to retired star Preston “Mitch” Mitchell (Curt Jurgens) which he shares with his live-in housekeeper, the tippling Mrs. Early (a hysterical scene stealing Estelle Winwood). Stuck and soaked to the skin she stays the night in his guest room but when Mitch’s lady friend, the droll Nita Hollaway (a standout Alexis Smith) stops by in the morning she assumes the worst. Mitch sets her straight and hires Janet as his secretary beginning a charming romantic comedy with Debbie falling for Curt while John falls for her and she being pulled one way and another while Alexis makes caustic remarks from the sidelines. Little known Blake Edwards comedy is a hidden gem and a first-rate showcase for Debbie’s special magic.

Sense and Sensibility (1995)-Alan Rickman- When the Dashwood sisters Elinor and Marianne (Emma Thompson & Kate Winslet) and their mother are forced to move out of their home by their brother’s rotten wife they move to a cottage on their cousin’s estate in the English countryside. There Marianne becomes enamored of the dashing Willoughby (Greg Wise) while the more sedate Colonel Brandon (Alan Rickman) pines for her. Meanwhile Elinor yearns for the unavailable Edwards Ferrars (Hugh Grant). There’s so much more in this top flight Jane Austen adaptation directed by Ang Lee but this is a great example of Alan Rickman’s versatility. Best known as the suave but ruthlessly evil Hans Gruber in Die Hard he is the complete opposite here and makes both characters fully formed people.

Me, Natalie (1969)-Patty Duke-Natalie Miller (Patty) is an average looking Brooklyn teen who has a developed a complex from her mother always telling her she’ll be beautiful someday so don’t worry about being plain now. Her traditional father’s no help, he’s bribed a nerdy family friend (Bob Balaban) to marry her so she can be the housewife he thinks is all she should or can be. Encouraged by her jovial Uncle Harold (Martin Balsam) she breaks free. Renting an apartment from the dotty Miss Dennison (Elsa Lanchester) in Greenwich Village she embarks on a sometimes rocky journey of discovery where she finds that being comfortable with herself is more important than how she looks. Somewhat heavy with late 60’s trappings but aside from The Miracle Worker this is Patty Duke’s best big screen performance. Al Pacino makes his screen debut in a short scene at a dance.

Silver Streak (1976)-Gene Wilder-While traveling to his sister’s wedding on the Silver Streak train easy-going George Caldwell (Gene) falls smack dab into murder and intrigue when he becomes smitten with Hilly Burns (Jill Clayburgh) the secretary of seemingly innocuous Professor Schreiner. When he thinks he sees a dead body thrown from the train it’s the start of a wild ride both on and off the train during which he partners up with escapee Grover Muldoon (Richard Pryor) who gets him in and out of one crazy situation after another. Mix of comedy, slapstick, thriller and adventure was the first and best pairing of Wilder and Pryor.

Katie Hogan said...

I've not seen any of these BUT as Joel said, its nice to see a variety. You learn something new each week, even though the theme is sad.

Birgit said...

What's the matter with Helen is a great flick that freaked me out and glad you mentioned it. I have not seen the other films but I love your unique take on the theme by choosing films many have not seen like the Crawford film or choosing a film some have seen, like Running on Empty but having a star in the film that people forget was a really good actor(Stephen Hill). I haven't seen those first 3 films but want to and they are on the list.

Myerla said...

Haven't seen any of your picks but Running on Empty sounds interesting.

Sonia Cerca said...

I haven't seen any of these, but as Myerla said Running on Empty sounds interesting.