A hundred years, ago, on June 7, 1917, in Ohio was born Dino Paul Crocetti, the son of an Italian immigrant and his wife, also of Italian origin. Dino spoke nothing but Italian until he was five years old—and didn’t have an easy time growing up, what with having to work jobs as varied as that of a steel mill worker and a gas station attendant. Until 1946, when he finally landed up in Hollywood, changed his name to the more Anglicized ‘Dean Martin’, and teamed up with comic actor Jerry Lewis in a series of comedies. They were to part ways some years later, but Dean Martin went on to become a far greater star—as actor and as singer—than anyone could ever have imagined.
Happy New Year, Happy New Year, Happy New Year.
That’s what’s been flooding my timeline on Facebook, that’s what’s coming my way on text messages, in e-mails from family, friends, even banks and online stores. And yes, don’t we all wish for a happier 365 days ahead? Don’t we all wish that this year to come will be full of good health and joy and realized dreams for ourselves and those we love?
The last thing one wants in the first week of January is a reminder of death, especially that of someone we love. Even if that someone was not friend or family, or even acquaintance—someone we only knew through their work. Sadly, though, this has become an almost-given, come December: yet another film star I loved passes away. A year ago, it was the beautiful Sadhana; in 2013, Joan Fontaine, Peter O’Toole, and one of my absolute favourites, Eleanor Parker. Rod Taylor, Suchitra Sen, Nalini Jaywant, Dev Anand… all gone in December or January. And this year, Debbie Reynolds passed away, just the day after her daughter Carrie Fisher died.
A very belated tribute to an actor I’ve actually seen only in a couple of films, but whom I like a lot: James Shigeta. The Hawaiian-born Shigeta passed away on July 28 this year, and it came to me as a shock a couple of days ago when I discovered that he was gone—and that no newspaper and none of the sites I occasionally visit—mentioned it. The news, however, made me remember the first film in which I saw James Shigeta: Flower Drum Song, one of his earliest films. Very different from his debut film (the superb The Crimson Kimono, one of my favourite noirs), but enjoyable in its own way—and an interesting commentary, both deliberate and unwitting, on immigrants in the US.
The other day, scrolling through previous posts, I realised I hadn’t reviewed any Hollywood films for a while (to be honest, I’ve not even watched many Hollywood films over the past couple of months). I also realised that it’s been ages since I watched any films starring Tyrone Power, one of my favourite Hollywood actors. Time to amend that, I decided. So I got out a Power film I hadn’t watched before. An Irving Berlin production, replete with good songs and plenty of Ty candy.
People who’ve been frequenting this blog for the past couple of years probably know by now that there’s one annual tradition I follow on Dusted Off: every year, on my birthday—which is today, January 8—I post a review of a film featuring someone born on the same date as me. I’ve reviewed films featuring well-known stars born on January 8: Nanda, Elvis Presley, Fearless Nadia—and some lesser-known but also good ones, like José Ferrer and Kerwin Matthews.
This year, I’m wishing a happy birthday to Ron Moody (born January 8, 1924), the British actor whose first film appearance was back in 1958, and who’s acted all the way up to (according to IMDB) 2010. To celebrate Mr Moody’s 90th birthday, I’ll be reviewing the film that won him a Golden Globe, as well as an Oscar nomination—Oliver!, the musical adaptation of Charles Dickens’s Oliver Twist, aka The Parish Boy’s Progress.
Like Love Affair/An Affair to Remember, In the Good Old Summertime is also one of those romances that’s proved very popular across time and space. This is a cheery little love story, of a man and a woman who begin corresponding with each other, fall in love through their correspondence (all without even knowing the name of the other person), and when they eventually meet, become instant enemies. Sounds familiar? Yes, that’s The Shop Around the Corner. Also You’ve Got Mail. And Sirf Tum. It’s also this film, a sweet musical remake of the original The Shop Around the Corner.
One of my biggest failings when it comes to cinema viewing is the naive belief that an actor or actress whom I’ve seen and appreciated for the first time will necessarily be fantastic in all their subsequent films that I watch. Thus, having watched The Sound of Music—and raved over every single element of it, especially Julie Andrews—I began searching out other films that starred Julie Andrews, in the childish hope that they’d all be as fabulous as The Sound of Music.
Alas, no. This one, for instance, made only two years after the von Trapp saga, is nowhere close to as endearing. Julie is superb as the 20’s flapper girl Millie Dillmount, trying her best to be hard-heartedly modern, but the film is a bit of a drag.
I so, so adore this film.
And that, mind you, keeping in mind the fact that I generally don’t think very highly of Hollywood musicals. I have nothing against the music, usually—most of the films had excellent songs—but what really gets my goat is that other than sounding and looking good, few of Hollywood’s musicals have anything substantial to back them up. Look at Oklahoma! or South Pacific (or even Singin’ in the Rain, for that matter): great music, nice looking leads, superb dancing—and that’s it. I can count, on my fingers, musicals that also have worthwhile plots. The Sound of Music. Fiddler on the Roof. And this, a gloriously funny and romantic story about a loony telephone operator and the man she falls in love with.
A couple of days back, a friend of mine, well aware of my obsession with old films, forwarded me a few URLs for sites where one can watch classic cinema for free. I had just begun watching Oklahoma!, and by the time I finished, I had a URL to add to my friend’s list. Yep, Sam: you missed this one: youtube, and I don’t mean a film in n number of parts. I mean the songs. Oklahoma!, for those who’d like to see it, is freely available on youtube—watch the songs in sequence, and you’re pretty much done.
I usually restrict myself to films from the 30’s through to the 60’s. Occasionally, however, along comes a film that’s a little more recent, but manages to charm me enough to let me write about it. Fiddler on the Roof, though from 1971, has that indefinable something—a touch, perhaps, of an earlier decade—that puts it solidly amongst the classics. And anyway, 1971 is just two years away from the 60’s.
Fiddler on the Roof is, as some of you would probably know, a musical, based on stories from the book Tevye the Milkman by Sholem Aleichem. With words by Sheldon Harnick set to music by Jerry Bock, the musical opened on Broadway in 1964. Seven years later, it was made into this heart-warming film.