Six Greats to Celebrate the Fifth
There’s something magical about this particular birthdate of April 5 in movie history, spawning several tremendous screen talents that are reflective of the diverse content in the Twilight Time hi-def Blu-ray firmament. Turning 90 today, Roger Corman (producer-director of 1967’s The St. Valentine’s Day Massacre), beyond his tremendous achievement as the godfather of B-picturemaking, mentored enough future acting, directing and behind-the-camera artisans to match the number of candles on his celebratory cake. Reaching age 75 today, Michael Moriarty is semi-retired but still looms large for a handful of attention-getting screen roles in the 1970s and ’80s, particularly his pair of 1973 performances as the soulful pitcher in Bang the Drum Slowly and the officious Marine duty officer who gives shore patrol swabbies Jack Nicholson and Otis Young a tight-assed ton of grief near the moving finale of The Last Detail. Born 116 years ago, Spencer Tracy (1900-1967) remains the epitome of effortless-seeming natural screen acting, and his TT quartet of Broken Lance (1954), Inherit the Wind (1960), Judgment at Nuremberg (1961) and Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner (1967) are an enduring testament to a singular grace that endears him to audiences then, now and ever after. Arriving among us a year later, Melvyn Douglas (1901-1981) evolved from amiable light comedian to mature man of gravitas with breathtaking versatility, and in between his two late-career Oscars® for Hud (1963) and Being There (1979) offered a quietly agonized and exquisitely dark portrait of the possessive farmer father of a sexually awakening young girl in the mysterious and beautiful Rapture (1965). For a touch of British nobility, Nigel Hawthorne (1929-2001) followed his stage and screen triumphs as the dotty title monarch in The Madness of King George (1994) with a pointedly touching turn as the ill-fated George, Duke of Clarence in the all-star reinvention of Richard III (1995), starring Ian McKellen in the malevolent title role. All manner of tributes are marking this year’s centenary of Gregory Peck (1916-2003) as an actor of commanding decency, iconic directness and industry leadership, but the indelible portrayer of Atticus Finch was always generously game to cede the spotlight to fellow players, uncork his fun side or expose his inner demons. One such instance is TT’s Beloved Infidel (1959), in which his characterization of the declining, alcoholic F. Scott Fitzgerald is a deeply felt study of the inner battle between genius and weakness and the constant struggles they trigger in our most intimate relationships. And though she hasn’t made her grand entrance into the TT library yet, attention must also be paid to the 108th birthday of the unique and indomitable Bette Davis (1908-1989), whose place in the cinematic firmament is as secure and lasting as fellow two-time Academy Award® winner Tracy. Even beyond birthday salutes, the even better news is that more great work of Corman, Moriarty, Douglas, Hawthorne, Peck and – yes!! – lady Davis is on the TT horizon.