Sunday, January 01, 2012

It's as if I'm being interviewed by James Lipton

Happy New Year even though we don't celebrate it until tomorrow.  In the meantime, here’s a meme that’s going around the screenwriters' blogs. I’ve been tagged.

ONE (1) earliest film-related memory:

Seeing TEN COMMANDMENTS as a mere tyke and being scared shitless. Not by the special effects or torture to the Jews but by the bad over-acting. Charlton Heston and Yul Brynner in the same movie? Even Cinemascope couldn’t contain them. Both had me diving under the seat. And incredibly, they weren’t the worst offenders. That dishonor would go to Ms. Anne Baxter. She gave maybe the single worst most overblown performance in the history of film…rivaling Butty Hutton in THE GREATEST SHOW ON EARTH. Even Nathan Lane would say, “Whoa, bring it down.” I still haven’t recovered.

TWO (2) favorite lines from movies:

Edward G. Robinson in TEN COMMANDMENTS: “Nnnyyeah, Moses, where’s your God now?”

And any line from TOOTSIE.

THREE (3) jobs you’d do if you could not work in the “biz”:

Morning man at W.O.L.D.

FOUR (4) jobs you actually have held outside the industry:

Amway salesman (Hey, that detergent really works)
Record store clerk
Comic strip artist
Teaching broadcasting

THREE (3) book authors I like:

Philip Roth
John Kennedy Toole
Kurt Vonnegut

TWO (2) movies you’d like to remake or properties you’d like to adapt:

VOLUNTEERS. They never did justice to our script. When the movie came out I wanted to stand in the lobby and just hand out screenplays.

The other movie that I’d like to remake is THE PRODUCERS. Come on. It’s time.

ONE (1) screenwriter you think is underrated:

Steve Gordon. Wrote ARTHUR then tragically died. No one wrote better funnier witty dialogue than Steve. I've written about him before. 

He also wrote a movie starring Henry Winkler and Kim Darby called THE ONE AND ONLY about a TV wrestler, directed by Carl Reiner.  It might be available on Netflix.  Or, if you know Kim Darby, see if she'll invite you over to watch it. 

And TV freaks might vaguely remember a show in the late 70’s called THE PRACTICE starring Danny Thomas as a crusty neighborhood doctor in the Bronx (Becker meets Uncle Tanoose). Steve created and wrote that show and it just crackled. I’m hoping that someday it will resurface on DVD or at least on the Lebanese channel.

Steve Gordon was…and is…an inspiration to me.


Mark Patterson said...

So which comic-strip did you work on? Were you assisting on another strip, or was this your own?

bmfc1 said...

Nice Harry Chapin reference.

Reno said...

Funny Tootsie line: the director (Dabney Coleman, into his headset) asked a cameraman how far back he could pull. The reply: "How do you feel about Cleveland?"

birdie said...

Every line from Tootsie...I officially love you.:-)

"What the hell are you doing me sending me your roommates play? I'm your agent not your mother!"

"My job is to field offers."
"Who told you that, the agent fairy?"

or..."I had a wonderful time. My date left with someone else. Do you have any secanol?"

Was on TCM the other night. Still think it's the most perfect comedy of all time.

Jim said...

Betty Hutton can be forgiven everything else she's ever done just for her dance number in "The Gay Divorcee" alongside Edward Everett Horton who was somehow shoehorned into a ridiculously tiny singlet and an even tinier, even more ridiculous pair of shorts.

Tom W said...

@Jim: that was Betty Grable in The Gay Divorcee, not Betty Hutton. Still worth watching.

Matt Patton said...

The Ten Commandments was shot in VistaVision, not CinemaScope. (You can tell the difference because VV prints didn't turn blue over time like CS prints did). As for Anne Baxter, she had a gift for psychotic intensity--she seemed even crazier in ALL ABOUT EVE, but you had the over-acting of Bette Davis and George Sanders to distract you and lessen the impact. Mind you, compared with Heston and Brynner, they were models of restraint . . .

alopecia said...

Happy New Year, Ken (can I call you Ken?), and thanks for the laughs and insights.

For what it's worth, The One and Only is available for purchase at iTunes for ten bucks (eighteen in high-def), but not for rental.

D. McEwan said...

Of course, Edward G. Robinson never actually says that line in The Ten Commandments, but here's my favorite line that IS actally in the movie, spoken by Anne Baxter (who, overacting or not, is gorgeous and sexy throughout the entire movie): "Oh Moses, Moses, you stubborn, splendid, adorable fool!" Now that is sum mighty fine dialogue writin'.

There's another great line in that movie, this one uttered by Nina Foch to Dame Judith Anderson. I assume Nina was considered a legendary acting teacher because she could teach you how to say a line like this without giggling: "Your tongue will dig your grave, Memnet." (I always see Dame Judith in my head, on her hands and knees, lapping up tonguefuls of dirt.)

One of the unique traits of DeMille's Ten Commandments is that, of all the all-star extravaganzas ever made, it's the only one with no homosexuals in the cast. (Vincent Price, who admitted to bisexuality late in life, is as close as they came. Heston to Vincent Price: "Are you a master builder or a master butcher?") DeMille was a committed homophobe, and would not knowingly hire gay actors by that point. (Whether he knew Charles Laughton was gay when he made Sign of the Cross 20 years earlier or not I do not know. He may have decided that, gay or not, Laughton was what he needed for his degenerate Nero.)

It's a big, stupid, silly movie, but it shure is purty to look at.

There are other ways to differentiate VistaVision from Cinemascope beyond the color-drift over time. For one thing, the aspect-ration is quite different. The big sellng point on VistaVision wasn't the widescreen, it was the greater amount of information in each frame. VV films were photographed on film running sideways, allowing a larger frame which had room for more information. The clarity of Vista Vision was a beautiful thing.

There was also that "Photographed in VistaVision" opening logo.

But for overacting duels, Heston and Brynner were not matched until Ricardo Montalban took on William Shatner in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Kahn.

DJ said...

An even better line was from the great Sir Cedric Hardwicke, as Seti. When his priests complain to him that Moses has raided the temple granary to feed the malnourished Hebrew slaves, he gives them a quick appraisal and retorts "You don't look any leaner."

Fred Farlies said...

Netflix lists availability of The One & Only as Unknown. Much like the Mariners' prospects for the coming season. But, it's only what, ~45 days till pitchers & catchers report?

Paul Duca said...

Is your car locked up from the arsonists?

AlaskaRay said...

Check for "The One and Only", just over $5 including shipping.


Johnny Walker said...

I'll put out another request for Gordon's original ARTHUR screenplay. The bits you've posted were absolutely magical.

VP81955 said...

Betty Hutton can be forgiven everything else she's ever done just for...

"The Miracle Of Morgan's Creek," the Betty Hutton movie for people who don't like Betty Hutton. (Much of it is attributable to both Eddie Bracken, who's wonderful, and Preston Sturges, who's wonderfully subversive to have put all this -- Betty's character is named Trudy Kockenlocker! -- past the censors. This may have been while Joseph Breen was at RKO and not running that office.)

pumpkinhead said...

Saw The One and Only in the theater. Remember The Practice. It's gratifying when I find out that I'm not the only one who ever saw/remembers this old stuff.

My favorite Charleton Heston role will always be "Good Actor."

And I always learn something interesting reading the comments.

pumpkinhead said...

Opening credits to The Practice

pumpkinhead said...

Also saw Tootsie in the theater. By far the biggest laugh the movie got, even over the climactic reveal, was in response to two words: "You slut."

Dan Tedson said...

I'm surprised Douglas Adams isn't on your authors list. But I'm surprised he isn't on every list ever made ever. Sometimes I even add a towel to my shopping list just to give him a shout out.

Friday question - in general, what months do staff writers work through the year? Is it 6 months on, 6 months off, that sort of thing?

jbryant said...

Matt: George Sanders overacting? Haven't seen ALL ABOUT EVE in a while, but I recall him as being rather wry and restrained.

Greg Ehrbar said...

"Oh Moses, Moses, you stubborn, splendid, adorable fool!"is, I believe, from Deuteronomy. Pretty sure. "Your tongue will dig your grave, Memnet," if from one of those lost scrolls of Ocoee or something.

Doesn't Yul Brynner also do the Felix Unger thing, too? "Moses, Moses, Moses..."

Whenever my mom was getting on my Dad's case about something, he would start paraphrasing Anne Baxter -- "Some pharoah! Couldn't even kill Moses!"

Oh and speaking of William Shatner, he apparently charges $60 for an autograph and $100 for an autograph and photo. Wonder how much is would cost to have him shout, "No BLAH BLAH BLAH!!!"?

Paul Duca said...

In ALL ABOUT EVE Sanders says "San oasis of culture in the California desert".

Matt Patton said...

D. McEwen: I'd forgotten what you mentioned about VistaVision -- I read in an online article that because so much information can be stored in a VV print, the process is still used by special-effects specialists to produce trick shots (do they still call them trick shots-- if they don't, it's a pity). I remember seeing Vertigo back in 1984 or so, when it was released in theaters but before the print had been restored. Even un-restored, the film looked absolutely beautiful. VistaVision is one heck of a process.

Jim, Cheers Fan said...

The other movie that I’d like to remake is THE PRODUCERS. Come on. It’s time.

My first reaction was "blasphemer!" I think the challenge would be to rewrite it so that you didn't just sit there thinking (as I did watching the musical) "God I miss Zero Mostel!" Knowing nothing about how movies are financed, could you transfer it to Hollywood? The little old ladies replaced with Candy Spelling/Real Housewives types? George Clooney as Madoff Bialystok? Nah, can't see him screaming "I WANT THAT MONEY!" Alec Baldwin?

jbryant said...

I guess this talk of a remake of THE PRODUCERS is deliberately not counting the recent film version of the Broadway musical?

Pat Reeder said...

As a comedy writer myself, I'm normally a great admirer of good comic scripts, but for some reason, "Tootsie" left me cold. Like "Heaven Can Wait," "Shampoo" and "Down and Out in Beverly Hills," it left me baffled by what people thought was so damn funny about it. About the only things I remember actually laughing at are Bill Murray's lines, which I seem to recall reading were all shot in two days and mostly ad-libbed. Guess I've seen too much British comedy to find a man in a dress to be that unique and amusing.

Then again, maybe my mood was soured right up front when Hoffman expressed how desperate for work he was by saying he'd even sink to doing radio voiceovers. Didn't appreciate having my industry and the incredibly talented people in it insulted. Ironic that I now hear Hoffman doing so much VO work.

VW: Prexpria - The new miracle erectile dysfunction drug.

D. McEwan said...

"Greg Ehrbar said...
Doesn't Yul Brynner also do the Felix Unger thing, too? 'Moses, Moses, Moses...'"

Yes, he certainly does.

Anne's last line was "You couldn't even kill him," to which Yul replies: "His god IS God," an odd way for a polytheistic man to express it.

It's hard to top DeMille movies for tin-eared dialogue. In Shakespeare's Antony and Cleopatra Enobarbus describes Cleopatra thusly: "Age can not wither nor custom stale her infinite variety. Other women do cloy the appetites they feed, but she makes hungry where most she satisfies."

In DeMille's Cleopatra she is described thusly: "She's always new."

I liked the bargaining exchanges. First off, Edward G. Robinson striking a deal with Yul:

Ramses: "Do you haggle with me like a seller of melons in the marketplace?"

Dathan: "No, I will not haggle, great prince," [He then preceeds to the haggling] "Here's your money. But for ten talons of fine gold, I'll give you the wealth of Egypt. Give me my freedom and I'll give you the sceptor. Give me the water girl Lillia, and I'll give you the princess of your heart's desire. Give me this house of Baka, and I'll give you the throne. Give me all that I ask, or give me leave to go."

Or later, when Yvonne DeCarlo is sellng herself to Heston over Anne Baxter. First off, she asks about her so-far-unseen-rival:

Sephora: "She was very beautiful, this woman of Egypt who left her scar upon your heart. Her skin was white as curd..." [ew] "... her eyes green as the cedars of Lebanon, her lips, tamarisk honey..." [I have no idea what "tamarisk honey" is, beyond merely being honey.] "...Like the breast of a dove, her arms were soft, and The Wine of Desire was in her veins."

Moses: "Yes, she was beautiful, as a jewel"

Sephora: "A jewel has brilliant fire, but it gives no warmth. Our hands are not so soft, but they can serve. Our bodies ot so white, but they are strong. Our lips are not perfumed, but they speak the truth. Love is not an art to us..." [Nor is screenwriting] "... It's life to us. We are not dressed in gold and fine linen. Strength and honor are our clothing. Our tents are not the columned halls of Egypt, but our children play happily before them. We can offer you little, but we offer all we have."

Moses: "I have not little, Sephora, I have nothing."

Spehora: "Nothing from some is more than gold from others." [This line of logic has NEVER worked for me!]

Moses: "You would fill the emptiness of my heart?"

Sephora: "I could never fill all of it, Moses, but I shall not be jealous of a memory." They then cut directly to the old Pharoah's death. Apparently just hearing this sickly dialogue killed Sir Cedric Hardwicke.

"Dan Tedson said...
I'm surprised Douglas Adams isn't on your authors list."

Well he's on mine! I was lucky enough to meet Adams a number of times. In fact, I have the whole Hitchhiker's series, in hardcover, all signed except for the last one, which was published posthumusly, as well as signed copies of both Dirk Gently books.

When my first book was published, I Googled myself, looking for reviews, and up popped all the best seller lists. This was because the week my first book came out, the Best Seller List included a book by Douglas Adams and one by Ian McEwan.

Anonymous said...

Just gotta say, tho I don't brag about it to friends, I really enjoyed "Volunteers." Offhand it seemed like it couldn't decide if it was going to be like "Animal House," or a Hope/Crosby road picture. It was a strange brew but the relationship between Hanks and Watanabe was golden, and their repartee was a joy.

Great lines (from memory):

"It's not that I can't help these people. I just don't want to."

"Come on, At Toon, don't you have any manhood?"
"Yeah, and I'd like to keep what I got!"

Kirk said...

What I find interesting about The Ten Commandments is all the romantic triangles. Yul Brynner loves Anne Baxter who loves Charlton Heston who loves Yvonne De Carlo (well, I guess that's more of a square.) Meanwhile, Edward G Robinson loves Debra Paget who loves John Derek. I actually grew up thinking all that was in the Old Testament. When I finally did read The Bible in my 20s, I was a bit disappointed to find that the Pharoah doesn't do all that bad stuff because he's jealous of Moses. No, it's simply because that ol' master manipulator God has temporarily taken over his mind (which, in all fairness, really should get Ramses off the hook when faced with damnation.) Unrequited love seems to run through all Cecil B DeMille's movies, at least the ones I've seen. He must have had his heart broken at one time or another. That final scene between Anne Baxter (incidentally, how could she NOT overact given that dialogue?) and Yul Brynner, to me at least, reeks more of romantic disappointment than any real concern about which god is the real god.

Re: The One and Only. Saw it in the 10th grade and one funny bit really stands out. Henry Winkler is being introduced to Kim Darby's parents. Her father says to call him Tom. Winkler replies, "Mom and Tom. I like that!"

Mike said...

What Mark Patterson said.

Forget the telly. American TV is wall-to-wall shite and a lost cause. It's your own fault for voting for Republicans.

gottacook said...

Ken, if you don't mind, which Vonnegut and Roth novels or stories are your favorites? Each had (or has had) such long careers, starting to publish in their late 20s and writing for more than five decades. My own favorite Roth novel is probably The Professor of Desire (1977). I think Vonnegut's satiric-dystopia short stories such as "Harrison Bergeron" are quite appropriately being taught to 8th-graders (here in the Maryland D.C. suburbs) and may even have a longer life than many of his novels, my favorite of which remains his second one, The Sirens of Titan.

Paul Duca said...

Speaking of Steve may have heard that Katy Perry and Russell Brand are getting a divorce. Wags say it's because she finally got around to seeing him in the remake of ARTHUR.
(Russell may get the last laugh, though...I guess there were no pre-nups, and the price to Katy for her freedom is mentioned in the neighborhood of $20 million)

D. McEwan said...

"Kirk said...
What I find interesting about The Ten Commandments is all the romantic triangles. Yul Brynner loves Anne Baxter who loves Charlton Heston who loves Yvonne De Carlo (well, I guess that's more of a square.) Meanwhile, Edward G Robinson loves Debra Paget who loves John Derek."

Moses is, rather, in two romantic triangles: He and Ramses both want Anne Baxter (Ramses does not love her. She represents the throne, and he loves the throne.) And both Anne and Yvonne love Moses. Moses, however, only loves "God." "You lost him when he went to seek his god; I lost him when he found his god," says Yvonne to Anne in their only scene together. Heston does provide The Voice of God, so it's pure narcisssim on Heston's part. He ignores all the ladies, and loves the burning bush that sounds like him.

And what Edward G. Robinson's Dathan feels for Debra Paget's Lillia is not "love," it's plain old lust. Paget is the one with a rectangle instead of a triangle. Joshua loves her, and Dathan and Vincent Price's Baka both lust for her, and are fine with forcing her.

I guess Paget got over being repelled by Vincent Price, since they are married and in love in both Edgar Allen Poe's Tales of Terror and The Haunted Palace (Her last film.), both good Roger Corman movies.

In fairness to DeMille, he states quite plainly and clearly in the movie's prologue that they had to seek other sources for the plot of the movie's first half, as The Bible is silent on this part of the myth. (Come on, folks, Moses did not actually exist. It's a myth.) The opening screen credits are also clear about their other sources.

But wow. You got to wait until aqe 20 to read The Bible? I should have been so lucky, but my mother was forcing it into my and my siblings' ears and eyes from birth on. Every morning, growing up, Mother read aloud to us from The Bible over breakfast, which I'm sure is why I never eat breakfast anymore, I associate it with being bored by forced Bible readings. (Mother never understood why, with her intensive brainwashing campaign, four of her five kids grew up to be atheists. She never liked my answer: "Because we're all smarter than you are.")

And Mother HATED DeMille's Ten Commandments because of the added stories. She felt that, if it wasn't in The Bible, it didn't happen, though she was never open to my theory that, if it IS in The Bible, it didn't happen either.

"That final scene between Anne Baxter (incidentally, how could she NOT overact given that dialogue?) and Yul Brynner, to me at least, reeks more of romantic disappointment than any real concern about which god is the real god."

You are right. That whole "Show me his blood on your sword" stuff was her, once again, telling Ramses that Moses was more man than he ever was. Castrating to the end, and poor Ramses at the end is a man with his army cut off.

"Mike said...
Forget the telly. American TV is wall-to-wall shite and a lost cause. It's your own fault for voting for Republicans."

A. No it's not. There is some very good stuff on TV, along with a lot of crap. Sturgeon's Law: "90% of everything is crap."

B. I've voted in every American election since 1972, and I have NEVER voted for ANY republican, or as I call them, Repulsivans, for any office whatever. So why do I deserve it again?

What benighted country are you writing from, "Mike"? Britain with it's archaic Royal Family and love affair with Torys (and the country is bankrupt, but not The wealthy Royals)? France, with their governement of greater pervs than our congress? What country? Come on, "Mike" speak up. I can trash whichever country it is every bit as accurately as you tried trashing ours.

Nobody Will Read This said...

I love the random reference to Harry Chapin, "Morning man at W.O.L.D."

Anonymous said...

You, an Amway salesman? There's got be a good story. C'mon, give.

scottmc said...

A coincidence on New York television tonight. For New Yorkers uninterested in the Saints-Lions game, they can pick between the two versions of ARTHUR. The remake is on HBO while the original is on PBS. If it is on PBS in New York it is likely that it will be shown on other PBS stations around the country in the coming weeks.

Paul Duca said...

I found some footage of James Lipton being interviewed: