By Chuck Ross
With the Labor Day weekend upon us, here are two movies I consider must-sees -- one on TV in a few hours, and the other on TV tomorrow afternoon.
First we have one of the best bio-pics ever put out by the major studios: "Lust for Life," starring Kirk Douglas as Vincent van Gogh. It was released in 1956 and made by MGM.
The script, by radio veteran Norman Corwin, is smart without being ponderous. It's not full of bon mots, but neither is it overly sentimental.
The performances are outstanding. Douglas, who physically resembles the artist, inhabits the character in a way that expresses van Gogh's internal and external conflicts simutaneously. Anthony Quinn plays painter Paul Gauguin, in a role that righfully was recognized with a Best Supporting Oscar. James Donald is excellent as Vincent's brother Theo -- and it's hard to believe it's the same actor who played the doctor the next year in "Bridge Over the River Kwai."
Behind the camera were two of the best, Russell Harlan and Freddy Young. Young would later paint the screen with breathtaking beauty for David Lean's epics "Lawrence of Arabia" and "Dr. Zhivago." The wide-screen cinematography of "Lust for Life" is one of the highlights of the film.
All of this was put together with vivid intensity by director Vincente Minnelli, one of the major directors in Hollywood in the 1940s and 1950s. Critic David Thomson, in his superb "New Biographical Dictionary of Film" wrote of Minnelli directing this picture that it "is a heartrending identification with an artist, as moving as anything in American cinema. And the artist concerned is not Firbank or Toulouse-Lautrec--but van Gogh, a harsh, clumsy mystic. 'Lust for Life,' has everything that is often found absent from Minnelli's work: the use of color, costume, and bravura emotional acting to define a tragic human situation."
I wouldn't be as harsh on Minnelli about his other work, but I certainly agree with Thomson about his praise for "Lust for Life."
The film is on Turner Classic Movies (TCM) tonight, Friday, Aug. 30, 2013, at 8:45 p.m. Pacific time (11:45 p.m. on the east coast.) It's also available on DVD and while it's not available for streaming on Netflix, it can be streamed through Amazon.
Let's move on to my second recommendation this weekend of a movie on TV. Nothing pleases me more than being able to recommend to you movies that were huge flops when they were released that are actually fine films.
Here's a case in point. The original "Unfaithfully Yours," a Preston Sturges movie from 1948. (It was remade in 1984 with Dudley Moore.) It screens tomorrow, Saturday, Aug. 31st, 2013, at noon, Pacific time, also on TCM (3 p.m. Eastern time). Like "Lust for Life," it's also available in DVD, and for streaming on Amazon, but not Netflix.
Here's what Pauline Kael said of "Unfaithfully Yours": "One of the most sophisticated slapstick comedies ever made, this classic, written and directed by Preston Sturges, got terrible reviews and failed at the box office. The hero, a symphony conductor (a parody of Sir Thomas Beecham), is played by Rex Harrison, who is at one of his comic peaks. During a concert the conductor, convinced that his wife (Linda Darnell) has been unfaithful to him, fantasizes how he will handle the situation in three different ways, according to the style of the music on the program–Rossini’s Overture to Semiramide, the “Pilgrim’s Chorus” from Wagner’s Tannhäuser, and Tchaikovsky’s “Francesca da Rimini.” After the concert, he tries to carry them out, scrambling them hopelessly. There are so many great lines and situations in this movie that writers and directors have been stealing from it for years, just as they’ve been stealing from Sturges’s other work, but no one has ever come close to the wild-man deviltry of the best Preston Sturges comedies."
While I like the movie, I'm not as wild about it as Kael was, and if you watch it thinking it will have the same high-spirited zaniness of Sturges' "The Lady Eve" or "The Palm Beach Story," you'll likely be disappointed. Nor does it have the comic wistfullness or bright dialogue of Sturges' "Sullivan's Travels."
Kael's description of sophisticated slapstick is more to the point. I primarily recommend "Unfaithfully Yours" because I think it has one of the cleverest screenplays ever made.
Here are some thoughts by Sturges himself about why he thought the film failed at the box office. This is from the book "Preston Sturges By Preston Sturges: His Life in His Words.":
I believe the success or failure of any writing depends upon the residual. By that I mean what the reader has left in his mind after closing the book; what the spectator takes home with him after leaving the theatre or movie palace.
Years ago, in Chicago, I went with Father to see a matinee. He laughed so hard that he shook like jelly through the whole comedy, and as we walked up the aisle at the end of the performance, I turned to him enthusiastically, ‘That was some play, wasn’t it!’ The tears of laughter still wet upon his cheeks he turned to me and said indignantly, ‘What are you talking about? I thought it was rotten!’
It was years before I understood what he meant. Then I forgot it and very stupidly made ‘Unfaithfully Yours.’ The audiences laughed from the beginning to the end of the picture. And they went home with nothing. Because nothing had happened. It just looked like something had happened. The audiences ate my seven-course special and went home hungry.
The performances, I thought, were very good, and my favorite parts of the picture are the three prospects of Sir Alfred [the Rex Harrison character], which I tried to do as if written and directed by Sir Alfred, who is neither a writer nor a director. Imagining his own roles vividly, the marionette-like behavior of the other characters during the prospects is the natural result of Sir Alfred’s ability to have them say and do exactly what he wants them to do. Only one critic in the world recognized what I was trying to do; I was greatly criticized by a few others for verbosity and for using a static camera in those scenes…
“Unfaithfully Yours" received much critical acclaim and lost a fortune.more »
Adaptation of the Clever and Entertaining 1973 Sci-Fi Movie 'Westworld' Has Pilot Production Commitment From HBO, with Quite a Pedigree Behind the Camera: J.J. Abrams, Jerry Weintraub and Jonathan Nolan
"In one of the biggest commitments ever for HBO, the pay cable network has nabbed 'Westworld,' a drama series inspired by Michael Crichton’s 1973 sci-fi movie," writes Nellie Andreeva at Deadline.com.
The story continues, "The project, from J.J. Abrams‘ Bad Robot, 'Person Of Interest' creator Jonathan Nolan, producer Jerry Weintraub and Warner Bros TV, has received a pilot production commitment."
Nolan is the brother of Christopher Nolan and together they co-wrote "The Dark Knight" and other projects. Jonathan also wrote the short-story that is the basis of one of his brother's best movies, "Memento."
The article also says that "written by Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy ('Burn Notice'), the new 'Westworld' is described as a dark odyssey about the dawn of artificial consciousness and the future of sin. Jonathan Nolan is set to direct the pilot."
The article adds, "This marks the second series inspired by 'Westworld,' which starred Yul Brynner, Richard Benjamin and James Brolin and introduced new digital visual techniques.The first, the short-lived 1980 drama 'Beyond Westworld,' was a continuation of both 'Westworld' and its movie sequel 'Futureworld.' "more »
A&E has canceled a drama series. Deadline.com reports that the cable channel made the decision not to go ahead with a fifth season of "The Glades."
The decision comes even though the show's fourth-season finale hit season highs in viewership, the piece notes.
"I hear the network made the call this morning," Nellie Andreeva reports on the website. "Like its companion 'Longmire,' 'Glades' posted season highs in its finale earlier this week, averaging 3.4 million total viewers, 1.1 million adults 18-49 and 1.3 million adults 25-54. But year-to-year, 'Glades' was down double digits in key demos while 'Longmire' posted gains."
The cable channel will bring back "Longmire" for a third season, as we reported previously.
Andreeva adds: "'The Glades,' from Fox TV Studios, was the first A&E scripted series to stick and helped establish the network’s scripted brand."more »
Apple today launched a new program that could translate into money for owners of iPhones. The Wall Street Journal reports that the company just kicked off its eagerly anticipated iPhone trade-in program at U.S. retail stores.
The move is the latest in a series of efforts by Apple to gain and retain customers for its line of smartphones.
"The Cupertino, Calif. tech giant said its 'reuse and recycling' program emphasizes the value of iPhones, even after they’ve been used," WSJ reports.
A company spokeswoman said: “In addition to helping support the environment, customers will be able to receive a credit for their returned phone that they can use toward the purchase of a new iPhone."
Apple is offering as much as $280 in its retail stores for a used iPhone.
WSJ adds: "To get a credit, customers have to show that their trade-in iPhone works by powering it on. Customers also have to be in wireless carrier contracts when they leave the store, Apple employees said.
"Trading in and buying a new phone through the program won’t re-start a customer’s contract, a person familiar with the process said. Additionally, if the cost of phone they’re buying is lower than the trade-in credit they receive, they’ll get a gift card with the remaining balance."
Other companies have previously offered money for used iPhones. "A cottage industry has sprung up around recycling used gadgets, or reselling them on sites like eBay," the story reports. "Gazelle, which offers to buy used iPhones from customers through its website, indicates it will pay as much as $350 for a like-new device."
WSJ adds: "Apple store workers will offer the program to customers as an option to help pay for a new device, and as an alternative to sometimes costly repairs, employees familiar with the program said. In its training for store employees, Apple emphasized that its partnership with Brightstar for the trade-in program will also focus on creating recycling jobs in the U.S. Most [of] the phone’s components will be reused or recycled, one person said."more »
After agreeing to star in a U.S. reality show, Canada's famed Royal Canadian Mounted Police apparently got more than they bargained for, according to The Hollywood Reporter.
"The RCMP has formally pulled out of the true-life series about policing the Yukon by True Entertainment, the maker of 'The Real Housewives of Atlanta,' after officers were filmed arresting an apparently intoxicated woman in Whitehorse on Wednesday night," the publication reports. "The incident, witnessed by locals as the cameras rolled, caused a public outcry over an American reality series turning rural poverty into trashy entertainment."
In a statement issued Thursday, David Gilbert, a spokesman for the police group, said: "While the RCMP believes it is important to convey the complexities of policing in the Yukon and highlight the successful relationships that make this possible, the RCMP has concluded that it is unable to continue to participate in this production."
THR adds: "The unnamed reality series started shooting on Aug. 10 'to capture the variety and uniqueness of policing in our territory,' Gilbert explained. But on Aug. 16, the RCMP temporarily suspended its participation in the reality series after initial community concerns."
As concerns over the project mounted, former Yukon MP Audrey McLaughlin told Canadian broadcaster CBC: "Don't the police have anything else to do? There are two police cars, two officers, a whole film crew for this one poor unfortunate woman."
The woman's arrest apparently was the last straw.
Gilbert said the RCMP has "taken the necessary steps to formally terminate our agreement with the production company."more »
"The wife of rock musician Ted Nugent was arrested Thursday afternoon at Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport after a gun was found in her carry-on luggage," the Dallas Morning News reports. "Airport spokesman David Magana confirmed that the D/FW Airport Department of Public Safety had taken Shemane Ann Nugent, 51, into custody."
Magana did not comment further, other than to say: “The rest of it is working its way through our system of legal approval.”
The report adds: "Nugent’s attorney, David Finn, said taking the gun to the airport was an 'honest mistake.' Nugent 'completely forgot or never knew the weapon was in her bag.'”
The attorney noted that Shemane Nugent has a license to carry a concealed handgun.
Finn added: “She is very embarrassed. She’s never been in this situation before. She has expressed remorse for any inconvenience for any public safety officials.”
Ted Nugent, known for "Cat Scratch Fever" and a number of hard rock anthems, is an outspoken gun rights advocate who has had a second career as a reality television star, with a series of shows including "Surviving Nugent," "Wanted: Ted or Alive" and "Ted Nugent's Gun Country." He has made headlines clashing with President Obama on gun control and other issues.
Dallas/Fort Worth "ranks second behind Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport for guns found in carry-on luggage, according to a Transportation Security Administration spokesman," the report notes.
Shemane and Ted Nugent have been married since 1989.more »
On a night when NFL preseason football broadcasts played heck with broadcast lineups, CBS drove to a comfortable win as "Big Brother" blew its competition out of the stadium, based on Nielsen overnights for the key 18-49 demo.
TVbytheNumbers.com reports that "Big Brother" notched a 2.6 average in viewers 18-49, surging a half-point from a week ago. But the report adds: "There were numerous local pre-emptions for NFL preseason football on ABC, Fox, CBS, The CW and NBC. CBS had pre-emptions in approximately 40% of the country due to NFL preseason football."
Consequently, the broadcast network results are probably inflated and are subject to more than the usual adjustments, the report notes. But nonetheless, here they are:
CBS easily won the night, averaging a 2.0 for prime time overall in adults 18-49, followed by NBC (1.5), ABC (1.4), Fox (1.4), Univision (1.3) and CW (0.4). CBS also won total viewers, averaging 7.2 million to lead ABC (6.3 million), NBC (4.9 million), Fox (4.5 million), Univision (3.4 million) and CW (1.1 million).
CBS sandwiched "Big Brother" in the middle of a lineup of repeat programs, with the best result being a 1.8 average for "Two and a Half Men" in the 18-49 demo.
NBC aired the finale of "Hollywood Game Night," which didn't do much better than its lead-in, a repeat installment of the show. Both programs averaged 1.5 ratings in viewers 18-49, with the finale nosing ahead in total viewers, 4.82 million to 4.66 million. A rerun of "America's Got Talent" opened prime time with a 1.4 in 18-49 and 5.16 million viewers.
Third-place ABC was the only one of the big 4 broadcasters to put up a schedule consisting entirely of fresh programming. Back-to-back editions of "Motive" settled for a 1.3 and a 1.4 average in the 18-49 demo, while "Rookie Blue" pulled in a 1.5.
Fox matched ABC's 1.4 demo average for the night with repeats of "Glee," "New Girl" and "The Mindy Project."more »
A champion NBA player who is also a reality television star -- and who has been making headlines lately for his off-court problems -- has been arrested. The Los Angeles Times reports that Lamar Odom, who won two championships with the Los Angeles Lakers and most recently played with the L.A. Clippers, was arrested this morning on suspicion of DUI.
Odom is one of the title characters, along with his wife, Khloe Kardashian Odom, on the E! reality show "Khloe & Lamar." The story reports that Odom "was spotted driving erratically on the 101 Freeway in the San Fernando Valley, the California Highway Patrol said."
According to jail records, Odom was arrested at 3:54 a.m. and booked into jail in Van Nuys, Calif., the story reports.
"CHP officials said they spotted Odom driving a white Mercedes sports utility vehicle eastbound on the 101 Freeway near Sepulveda Boulevard. The driver was driving in a 'serpentine manner' at speeds of about 50 mph," the Times reports. "Authorities tried to pull over Odom, but he continued driving eastbound, passing Van Nuys Boulevard and Woodman Avenue. He exited at Coldwater Canyon Boulevard and came to a stop, CHP officials said."
The story cites a CHP report saying Odom showed "objective signs of intoxication and was unable to perform field sobriety tests as explained and demonstrated."
The report adds: "Odom was arrested on suspicion of driving under the influence of alcohol and possibly drugs."
Odom has been the subject of recent speculation in the media that he is dealing with a drug problem. Reports surfaced last weekend that Odom went missing following a fight with his wife, the story notes.
"His agent told ESPN that the basketball player was 'not missing,' and a source told the outlet that Odom was at a Los Angeles hotel as friends tried to help him with a drug problem," the Times report adds.more »
This coming Monday, Sept. 2, 2013, is Labor Day, an official holiday for those of us working here at Crain Communications.
So we'll next see you on Tuesday, Sept. 3.
Meanwhile, if anything breaks over the holiday weekend, we'll be sure to notify you via one of our TVWeek EXTRA alert emails.
Have a fun and safe holiday weekend!
All our best,
Your friends here at TVWeekmore »
Actor Seen in 'Mad Men,' 'Modern Family,' 'Will & Grace' and Other TV Shows -- and in the Movie 'The Hangover' -- Dead at 91
An actor who began his career late in life after making a name for himself in the music business has died. The Los Angeles Times reports that Murray Gershenz, who started acting at age 79, died Wednesday of a heart attack at 91.
He was known as "Music Man Murray," after spending nearly 75 years collecting more than 300,000 records that filled his shop. His huge collection and his quest to sell it was the subject of the documentary film "Music Man Murray," which debuted last year, the piece adds.
Gershenz found a second career as a character actor, landing bit parts on shows including "Raising Hope," "House" and "Parks and Recreation." He also had a memorable role in "The Hangover," playing an elderly man who fully disrobes, and he had a number of appearances on late-night talk shows, working with hosts such as Jay Leno and Jimmy Kimmel.
Gershenz told the Times during a tour last year of his record shop that he started buying records when he was 16.
"I fell in love with music -- and I was a compulsive collector," he told the newspaper.
The piece notes, "At one point he interrupted our tour to take a call from someone he assumed to be potential buyer. Instead, it was a casting agent inquiring about his availability for a Doritos commercial."
"The acting gigs were coming in steady, and he wanted to devote his time to it, which he did. His goal was to sell the collection by the time he was 90," the article says.
Gershenz sold his collection earlier this year, which required a fleet of 52-foot-long trucks to load.
Here's an acting demo reel for Gershenz:more »