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    Elizabeth's Risky Game

    Posted by Mike Finnegan on

    For their earlier two screen projects A Place in the Sun (1951) and Giant (1956), actress Elizabeth Taylor (1932-2011), born 85 years ago today, gave terrifically sexy and tender performances and George Stevens (1904-1975) earned Academy Awards® for Best Director. So despite the fact that each experienced career highs and lows after those two benchmarks, a certain anticipation couldn’t be helped that these simpatico artists were reuniting. The material that drew them together again was a seriocomic chamber piece (from a short-lived Broadway play) called The Only Game in Town (1970), about two wistful loners, trying to strike a real romantic connection in the flashy and illusory world of Las Vegas, by Frank D. Gilroy, a Tony® and Pulitzer Prize winner for his moving family drama The Subject Was Roses and later the writer/director of a future unorthodox romance constructed on illusion, the fanciful Charles Bronson/Jill Ireland Twilight Time Old West yarn From Noon Till Three (1976). As if the star/director combo wasn’t dazzling enough, the originally intended casting to play the lounge pianist and chronic gambler opposite Taylor’s world-weary showgirl, waiting for her stolid businessman lover to finalize his divorce and tie the knot, was Frank Sinatra. But production postponements caused Sinatra to withdraw, and an intriguing new dynamic emerged when Warren Beatty, a long-time admirer of the director, signed on for the role instead. What would this high-wattage, characteristically controlling troika – Taylor, Beatty and Stevens – make of this intimate, charming and tender take on the ultimate risk: lowering one’s guard and making a personal commitment? Less, it turns out, than knee-jerking audiences and reviewers of this explosively transitional moviemaking era expected, but more, it also follows with the passage of time, that finds some measure of appreciation nearly a half-century later. Taylor was particularly targeted for criticism, but her embrace of her character’s tarnished glamour and motherly playfulness now reads as perhaps more authentic and down-to-earth than the more trenchant, scorched-earth work that won her screen goddess stature and accolades. Similarly, Beatty, whose recent Rules Don’t Apply encountered scant admiration when he married focused character introspection with vintage professionalism, opens up marvelously as an attractive loser always on the make while skating on thin ice. Following decades of making increasingly important movies about grand themes, Stevens made this moody, minor-key duet, his final film as it turned out, exploring fundamental humanistic interdependence. Lovingly shot by Henri Decaë (veteran of another underappreciated-in-its-day love story, the 1977 Twilight Time title Bobby Deerfield) and scored by Doctor Zhivago and Ryan’s Daughter maestro Maurice Jarre, The Only Game in Town may be played on TT hi-def Blu-ray (available here: and more revelatory work by beloved birthday honoree Taylor will turn up on the TT label later this year.

    The Fog of War and Filmmaking

    When the Academy Award®-winning producer and Oscar®-nominated stars of Lawrence of Arabia (1962) were reunited four years later for another big-budget period epic, cinematic lightning did not strike twice. The Night of the Generals (1967), which began its national theatrical release 50 years ago today, is a tantalizing murder mystery set inside the German military elite during the World War II [...]

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    Musically Succeeding

    In the movie musical landscape of 1967, the most visible examples, some more successful than others, proved to be Thoroughly Modern Millie, Camelot and three for the family trade, Doctor Dolittle and Disney’s disparate duo of the animated The Jungle Book and the live-action The Happiest Millionaire. Elvis Presley fans got a threesome consisting of Easy Come, Easy Go, Double [...]

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    Cutter Paul and Fogey John

    Here’s to the befuddled average guys who cope with life’s tough breaks when the awkward events swirling around them invade their comfort zones and upend their core beliefs. Two class actors who memorably embodied such characters share today as a birthday. American treasure Paul Dooley, turning 89, is already in the driver’s seat voicing his recurring part of the [...]

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    Peckinpah in Montage

    Today would have marked the 92nd birthday of the great Sam Peckinpah (1925-1984) and 20 years ago at this time, in an occurrence that would prove not only rare but indeed singular, a short film created from new footage, home movies, interviews and reminiscences covering the production of his best-regarded movie became a newly-minted Academy Award® nominee for Best Documentary [...]

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    Temperature Rising: May-June Lineup

    The 11 films (on 10 discs) kicking off Summer 2017 on the Twilight Time hi-def Blu-ray label crank up the action heat with hard-hitting criminal conspiracies (two involving TT favorite Charles Bronson) and expertly told war sagas. Yet there’s also room for quieter, lesser-known personal stories from veteran directors as well, along with another splendid 3D title that [...]

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    Lou at 55 Meets La Bamba at 30

    “Lightning in a bottle” and “my Cinderella story” are the two characterizations Lou Diamond Phillips, the prolific actor-director turning 55 today, applies to his big-screen breakout role as singer/songwriter/guitarist Ritchie Valens in writer/director Luis Valdez’s fondly remembered musical biopic La Bamba (1987). Although on the film shoot the non-Latino Phillips was himself already seven years older than the 17-year-old Valens was [...]

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    François’ Femmes Fatales

    Isabelle Huppert’s fearless and enigmatic performance in director Paul Verhoeven’s controversial Elle, already the winner of the 2016 Best Actress Golden Globe and prizes from the Los Angeles, New York and National Society of Film Critics and up for similar honors at the upcoming César Awards on the 24th and Hollywood’s Academy Awards on the 26th, stands boldly in the [...]

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    Third Man Duo's Third Time Out

    The Fallen Idol (1948) and The Third Man (1949), two collaborations of author Graham Greene and director Carol Reed, were considered excellent in their day and masterworks today. A similar reception did not result in their 10-years-later reunion on Our Man in Havana (1959), but nonetheless there’s a sufficient amount of espionage spoofery, droll performances, worldly commentary on bureaucratic gamesmanship [...]

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    Valentine to Thelma

    In addition to significant others, another worthy subset of Valentine’s Day honorees getting the hearts/flowers/hugs treatment are that of moms or mother figures. How appropriate too that February 14 is the birthday of character actress supreme Thelma Ritter (1902-1969), who played many witty and salty maternal roles on screen to a Brooklyn-accented fare-thee-well. Nominated six times for the Best Supporting Actress [...]

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