Wednesday, January 21, 2015

“…one of the all-time best musicals…”

This is a good way to describe the movie “Kiss Me Kate."  It is a 1953 MGM musical starring Kathryn Grayson, Howard Keel, and Ann Miller. The Cole Porter music itself makes this movie a classic and Ann Miller’s performance makes it a treat.  It is a film adaptation of a Broadway musical of the same name, which in turn, is loosely based on Shakespeare's “Taming of the Shrew.” A visit to Bigfork will provide a warm lighthearted break from winter’s weather. Shown by Jack Nachbar at the Edge Center in Bigfork on Thursday February 12th at 6:30PM free of charge accompanied by Jack’s presentation providing a better understanding of the film and the film industry at the time period of the picture.  Of course there will be a cartoon of the same period to start out the fun.

“Kiss Me Kate” involves the battles of two stage performers that were once married and now have a strong dislike for each other.  They have to perform opposite each other in the Sakespeare classic “Taming of the Shrew” with predictable results.  The movie is a great story that played as a stage play on Broadway for an impressive 1077 performances.  The story line is also great with lots of twists and turns. It has the battling stars, miss-sent flowers that really complicated things, gangsters who want their gambling debts paid off, and a musical score that is outstanding.  Lots of problems to be solved with Cole Porter’s music to help things along.

Kathryn Grayson

Soprano Kathryn Grayson (1922 – 2010) was an American actress who, from the age of twelve, trained as an opera singer. By the 1940s, she was under contract to Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer and establishing a career primarily through musicals. She was lead in such films as “Thousands Cheer” (1943), “Anchors Aweigh” (1945) with Frank Sinatra and Gene Kelly, and with Howard Keel in “Show Boat” (1951).

With the decline of musicals, she worked in the theatre in “Camelot” (1962–1964). Kathryn also performed in operas, including "La bohème", "Madama Butterfly", "Orpheus in the Underworld", and 'La Traviata."

The dual role of Lilli Vanessi/Katharina in “Kiss Me Kate” was Kathryn’s most acclaimed role.  MGM brought out the heavy hardware for this musical being the only one produced in 3D, music by Porter, choreography by Hermes Pan, and musical direction by André Previn. With the double role Kathryn was able to show her strong acting talents. See:

Ann Miller

Johnnie Lucille Collier (1923 – 2004), was the given name of Ann Miller. She is best known for her work in musical films of the 40s and 50s. She was an accomplished dancer, singer, and actress. Her physical attributes made her a natural beauty for Hollywood singer/dancers of the period. She is best remembered for her work in the Hollywood musical films of the 1940s and 1950s. Her tap dancing ability became a PR gimmick when the studio claimed she could tap 500 times a minute…she could not.

Her career training really began early when, at five years old, her mother put her in dance classes because she thought it would help her leg strength after having rickets. At nine Johnnie and her mother moved to Los Angeles where Johnnie became Ann Miller dancing to support both of them.  See: 

Howard Keel

Harry Clifford Keel (1919 – 2004), professionally named Howard Keel might be better known to younger audiences as Clayton Farlow, from the CBS television series "Dallas." But in an earlier time, his rich-baritone voice made him a staple in MGM’s most famous musicals.

He had a tough early life and career that might make a good movie by itself. Born to a coalminer–father, they had it tough.  Once a school teacher noticed Harry brought no lunches to school, so she packed two every day so he could eat. Later she got tickets to every show Harry did close to her.

After his father died, his mom moved him to California where he eventually became an aircraft sales rep. At 30 someone told him he had a great voice and should take voice lessons, so, of course, he did and became a star.  In 1947 during a trip to London with “Oklahoma” he was acclaimed the next great star-singer and, indeed, he had a significant stage career.

Howard ended up at MGM after his work in London's West End. His career at MGM resulted in plum film roles in "Show Boat" (1951), "Kiss Me Kate" (1953), "Seven Brides for Seven Brothers" (1954), and "Kismet" (1955). For more about Howard see: 

Cole porter

Cole Albert Porter (1891 – 1964) was an American composer and songwriter who came from a wealthy family and defied his strong willed father’s wishes and went to work in music. He was classically trained and felt musical theatre was his calling. With success in the 20s and 30s, he became a major songwriter for Broadway productions. And, unlike most composers, he wrote the lyrics as well as the music.

A horse ridding accident in 1937 left him disabled and in constant pain. He kept working but with less successful results. “Kiss Me Kate” marked his major comeback and it won the first Tony Award for Best Musical. It is said that “Kiss Me Kate” was Porter’s response to Rodgers and Hammerstein's “Oklahoma.” “Kiss Me Kate” featured music and lyrics that were closely tied to the script and was hugely successfully. It was Porter’s only show to run more than 1000 performances. Read more at:

Come and see a fantastic film, with great music, and a cast of equally interesting actors. This movie is presented free of charge and with some appropriate snacks courtesy of Jack and his wife/projectionist Lynn. Place: The Edge Center for the Arts, Bigfork. Date and time: Thursday February 12th 6:30PM. Price of admission: free.

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Ball of Fire “…the jerk”

If you take a group of “high-brow” college professors trying to write the definitive lexicon of American common English, mix in a sexy nightclub performer, the police, little bit of mob action, and love, you might get a good movie plot. “Ball of Fire” is that movie starring Barbara Stanwyck and Gary Cooper. This is a 1941 screwball comedy that will leave you laughing. Directed by Howard Hawks and originally distributed by RKO, the movie pokes fun at lots of things especially language snobs. According to one notable reviewer, it had audiences “…jumping with enjoyment…” A visit to the Edge Center in Bigfork might be worth it just to see what made 1941 audiences react that way.  Shown by Jack Nachbar at the Edge Center in Bigfork on Thursday January 8th at 6:30PM free of charge accompanied by Jack’s presentation providing a better understanding of the film and the film industry at the time period of the picture.  Of course there will be a cartoon of the same period to start out the fun.

A good way to describe this movie might be from the lady in the movie.  This quote was nominated as one of AFIs 100 years….100 best quotes list.   "I love him because he's the kind of guy who gets drunk on a glass of buttermilk, and I love the way he blushes right up over his ears. I love him because he doesn't know how to kiss…the jerk!". The movie was nominated for Academy Awards for Best Actress in a Leading Role (Barbara Stanwyck), Best Music, Scoring of a Dramatic Picture, Best Sound, Recording and Best Story. Stanwyck and Cooper were both voted 11th in a 1999 AFI poll of greatest film legends.

Barbara was no gentle pussycat.  When she “punched” costar Kathleen Howard (above) in this movie, there was accidental contact that left Howard with a broken Jaw. Strong lady for sure. Barbara Stanwyck was born in 1907 and died 1990. She had a 60 year career in movies and television. She was a director’s favorite with a strong presence, professional bearing and a style of her own. Directors who considered her “special” included Cecil B. DeMille, Fritz Lang and Frank Capra. Orphaned at four and raised in foster homes, she rose to become the highest paid women in the United State in 1944.

Her awards included three Emmys, a Golden Globe and several nominations for Oscars and getting an honorary Oscar in 1982. She was also the recipient of honorary lifetime awards from the American Film Institute (1987), the Film Society of Lincoln Center (1986), the Los Angeles Film Critics Association (1981) and the Screen Actors Guild (1967). Stanwyck received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 1941. Reference

Gary Cooper's career spanned thirty-six years, from 1925 to 1961, and included leading roles in eighty-four feature films. He was movie star from the end of the silent film era to the end of the golden age of Classical Hollywood. He was a star in so many genres he became the typical American film hero for anything a director was seeking…strong, rugged, quiet and very funny when needed. He was born in 1901 and died in 1961. Raised in Montana, it is not surprising he cut his acting teeth in Westerns as both an actor and stunt rider.

He was naturally reserved and pensive, which shown in his screen persona.  That persona appealed to both men and women while it helped him bring a believable side to the characters he portrayed. Whether playing a real life war hero, as in “Sergeant York”, real life sports hero, as Lou Gehrig, or romantic lead, he was genuine because his real personality came through. His movie achievements included five Academy Award nominations for Best Actor, winning twice, for “Sergeant York” and “High Noon”, plus an Academy Honorary Award for his many memorable screen performances and contributions to the motion picture industry. For a more comprehensive list reference:

One more reference, if you need more of a push to come to Bigfork to see this film, might be part of the New York Times 1942 review by Bosley Crowther who was often very unimpressed with Hollywood efforts.

“According to legend, Samuel Goldwyn has made some beautiful lapsi linguae in his time and has done things with the King's English that stand as a monument to his name. Maybe. But still Mr. Goldwyn can't be too touchy on that score, for now he has produced a picture which deliberately kicks the language around in a manner so colorful and lively that you can almost sense his tongue stuck in his cheek. "Ball of Fire…had the customers jumping with enjoyment at the Music Hall yesterday.” Reference:

This movie is presented free of charge and with some appropriate snacks courtesy of Jack and his wife/projectionist Lynn.  Place: The Edge Center for the Arts, Bigfork. Date and time: Thursday January 8th 6:30PM. Price of admission: free.