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Archive for the ‘author Marilyn Ferdinand’ Category


By Marilyn Ferdinand

“Who can turn the world on with her smile? Who can take a nothing day and suddenly make it all seem worthwhile?”

The well-remembered opening lines to the theme song of The Mary Tyler Moore Show are aimed directly at its viewers, even as the song segues into a pep talk for Mary herself as her character, Mary Richards, starts a new life in Minneapolis. Whose smile does cheer us up? Why did we want to spend a half-hour of our lives every week watching this sitcom? The late Mary Tyler Moore, a beloved person among her fans and those who knew and worked with her, is a welcome guest in everyone’s home.

Ever since Mary Tyler Moore lit up American households as the attractive, talented, adorable wife of TV comedy writer Rob Petrie in the seminal sitcom of the early 1960s, The Dick Van Dyke Show, audiences have been in love with her. It was inevitable that she would have her own TV show in short order. Nonetheless, while hewing to many of the stock characterizations found on many sitcoms, Mary Tyler Moore broke one very significant mold—Mary was a single, childless, professional woman and happy to be so.

Mary Richards was not the first single girl to make it big on TV—Ann Marie (Marlo Thomas) on That Girl (1966-1971) reached American homes first. But she was an aspiring model and actress, a career path quite common for fictional women of the 1950s and ’60s, and ABC insisted that she have a regular boyfriend. Mary was an associate producer at TV station WJM right from the get-go, leaving a broken romance behind her and ready to play the field in her new city. The image from the opening credits of her spinning in wonder at her new surroundings and tossing her hat in the air—one might even say, into the ring—showed her delight in her new freedom, a freedom women were fighting for with great vigor during the time the show was on the air. (more…)

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By Marilyn Ferdinand

As soon as the opening theme of electronica and crackling police radio intones and a kinetic roll of street scenes, abstract streaks, and cast member faces appearing and disappearing like fortunes in a magic eight ball hit the screen, it’s clear that Homicide: Life on the Street is no ordinary cop show.

Homicide defied expectations. A police drama with very little action and an unabashedly majority African-American cast, it was always a ratings trailer perpetually in danger of cancellation. However, by eschewing convention and dealing in a mature way with such issues as suicide, faith, homosexual awakening, friendship, and corruption, it became a critical darling and a multiple award winner, including three Emmys, three Peabodies, and six Television Critics Association awards. It was a prestige-builder for its network, NBC, and it attracted some major stars for guest shots, including Steve Buscemi, Edie Falco, Paul Giamatti, James Earl Jones, Lily Tomlin, and Alfre Woodard.

The landmark series was based on the nonfiction book Homicide: A Year on the Killing Streets by Baltimore Sun reporter David Simon, who spent a year following the Baltimore Police Department homicide unit. Its creator was Paul Attanasio, a gifted screenwriter (Quiz Show, Donnie Brasco) and producer (Gideon’s Crossing, House, both TV series). Its intensity and soulfulness, however, belonged to its writers and its actors.

The core group at the start of the show comprised the squad leader, Lt. Al “Gee” Giardello (Yaphet Kotto), a very black half-Italian man with a gusto for life, lone female Det. Kay Howard (Melissa Leo) and her footloose partner Det. Beau Felton (Daniel Baldwin), commonsense Det. Meldrick Lewis (Clark Johnson) and his slightly sad partner Det. Steve Crosetti (Jon Polito), and vulnerable, newly divorced Det. Stanley Bolander (Ned Beatty) and hardline conspiracy theorist Det. John Munch (Richard Belzer), a character so good that Belzer only just retired him last year after his long run on Law and Order: Special Victims Unit. (more…)

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By Marilyn Ferdinand

If you were alive in the 1960s, chances are you were exposed to a little record album called The Button-Down Mind of Bob Newhart. Released in 1960, this clever series of one-sided phone calls about everything from baseball to Nikita Khrushchev took on historical and up-to-the-minute topics and poked at the ubiquity of public relations and marketing in determining our tastes. The album, a frequent visitor to my parents’ turntable, won Album of the Year at the 1961 Grammy Awards and the button-down mind behind it, Bob Newhart, was the only comedian ever to win a Best New Artist Grammy.

Bob Newhart is a native of my fair city, Chicago, and even attended my alma mater, Loyola University of Chicago. When it came time for him to carry on a tradition that younger Americans think was first begun with Jerry Seinfeld—stand-up comics getting their own sitcom—he set The Bob Newhart Show in his hometown. His office building is on Michigan Avenue, right across from the Tribune Tower, and his apartment building is on Sheridan Road, just a mile or so from the Lake Shore Campus of Loyola. Watching Bob Newhart, therefore, was as much an act of civic pride for me as it was a chance to enjoy his distinctive humor.

The Bob Newhart Show brings together a quirky cast of characters who function as worthy foils for Newhart’s character, psychiatrist Dr. Robert Hartley. Bob is married to lovely, sharp as a tack Emily (Suzanne Pleshetter), who’s great at tossing zingers but also enjoys the laughs around her. The Hartleys’ next-door neighbor Howard Borden (Bill Dailey), a forerunner of Kramer in Seinfeld, frequently barges into the couple’s apartment, sharing dinner and tales of his work and woes as an airline pilot. Rounding out the cast of regulars is debonair dentist Jerry Robinson (Peter Bonerz), with whom Bob shares an office suite and a secretary, Carol Kester (Marcia Wallace), and several members of a therapy group Bob runs, most notably gloom-and-doom Elliot Carlin (Jack Riley), whom Bob unfailing refers to as “Mr. Carlin.” (more…)

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By Marilyn Ferdinand

When I affirmed I’d be part of this countdown, I sent a title to Sam to see if he thought it was appropriate for a film festival named for Allan. Sam, always the accommodating host at Wonders in the Dark, said, of course it was. I mulled that for some time until I realized I might be trying to school Allan from the other side of the pearly gates on films he generally overlooked in his expansive view of cinema (yes, we all have our blind spots). Following that realization, I looked for a different film, one on which Allan himself might have offered some pointed criticism that would make cinephilia a better place. I came up with Bedelia.

Allan showed some esteem for Bedelia’s director, Lance Comfort, whose Hatter’s Castle made his Movie Timeline for 1942. He also seems to have respected the talents of Margaret Lockwood, who plays the title character in Bedelia. He included her as a runner-up in two of his “Best of” lists, for supporting actress in The Stars Look Down (1939) and actress for The Man in Grey (1941). He had this to say about her in his review of 1939’s A Girl Must Live:

Lockwood had achieved stardom the previous year in The Lady Vanishes and (Carol) Reed’s Bank Holiday and this would be her second of four films for Reed – The Stars Look Down and Night Train to Munich would follow – and it’s fascinating to think of her playing the innocent ingénue only a few years before bitching up the screen in regency costume dramas.”

I wonder if Allan would have seen her mesmerizing performance in Bedelia as a warm-up for her imperious later roles. It certainly seems that way to me.

Lockwood plays Bedelia Carrington, the brand-new bride of Charlie Carrington (Ian Hunter), a middle-class Yorkshire building engineer. While on their honeymoon in Monte Carlo, they make the acquaintance of an artist, Ben Cheney (Barry K. Barnes), who arranges to chat them up at their fancy hotel—an extravagance for both men. Bedelia has been married before, to an emerging artist who died young. Ben promises Charlie to see if he can find a painting by Bedelia’s first husband—unaccountably, she has none of his works—and to look the couple up after all are back in England to finish a portrait of Bedelia Charlie commissioned in Monte Carlo. This he does, also bringing a painting bearing her late husband’s signature to a Christmas party hosted by the Carringtons. That very evening, Charlie falls very ill and hovers near death for weeks. His slow, steady recovery under the watchful eye of a private-duty nurse (Jill Esmond), however, seems to make Bedelia more and more anxious. It’s only a matter of time until her dark secret leads to a strangely compassionate conclusion.

We learn in the opening frames that Bedelia is some kind of wicked enchantress, as a voiceover by Ben reveals her peculiar nature as we gaze at a pretty crummy painting of the ravishingly beautiful woman. To its credit, however, the film maintains an admirable suspense, allowing Lockwood to build a character who keeps us off-balance—a gorgeous woman who, like Rita Hayworth, is more than the sum of her hair tosses. We know she is hiding something when she lies to her husband, but she seems absolutely besotted with him. We know she doesn’t like to be photographed or drawn, but she agrees, albeit reluctantly, to allow Ben to paint her portrait. We feel the same revulsion toward Ben that she does; he appears to be watching Bedelia, questioning a jeweler about a pearl she brought in to be reset, and he rents a dog to get Bedelia to talk to him.

Bedelia 1

Ian Hunter is an excellent foil for Lockwood. Playing a doting husband with a welcoming sense of humor, he is completely natural in his relationship with Bedelia—including standing up to her when she makes what he considers to be unreasonable demands. He’s not a clueless dupe, and his love and equanimity with her has us believing Bedelia’s declaration that he is different from any other man she’s met. Equally, Barnes isn’t afraid to behave like an aggressive cad who works hard—maybe too hard—to throw Bedelia off her game. A great supporting cast fills out this film that is more than a mystery; it’s a finely wrought melodrama about the complicated nature of love, hate, and the drive for freedom.

Bedelia derives from a novel by Vera Caspary, whose novel Laura formed the basis for one of cinema’s most famous and acclaimed noir films. Caspary, a successful author of murder mysteries, collaborated on the screenplay for Bedelia, an apprenticeship in the art of writing for film that would eventually win her accolades from the Writers Guild of America for A Letter to Three Wives (1950). The film might have reached the heights of Laura (1944), whose opening it mimics, if it had been made on a Hollywood budget, not the shoestring that usually attended productions by British National Films (BNF), a company that went belly-up only two years after Bedelia was released. But no expense was spared in dressing Lockwood, whose allure is essential to the effectiveness of the film; I don’t think I saw her wear anything more than once in any scene, not even her robe.

Bedelia is not perfect or terribly stylish, but its psychological complexity and some of its plot points are echoed in some of the world’s greatest films, including Hitchcock’s Vertigo (1958). I’d like to think that Bedelia is a film Allan would have appreciated.

You can view Bedelia on YouTube here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v7WPeJRXaF0

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ISM14

By Marilyn Ferdinand

The line between science fiction and horror is often breached because humanity’s fear of the unknown has proven fertile soil for the fevered imaginations of scifi writers and filmmakers. The 1950s, of course, produced a slew of Atomic Age nightmares, as the science fact of massively destructive weapons merged with the paranoias of the time. Some forget that this period in human and movie history also was awash in psychoanalysis—the science of the mind—with Freudian theories all the rage in films of all types.

The 1957 scifi/horror classic The Incredible Shrinking Man from director Jack Arnold is firmly rooted in these socioscientific concerns. The plot is propelled by environmental horrors. A radioactive cloud floats toward the boat where the title character, Scott Carey (Grant Williams), and his wife Louise (Randy Stuart) are relaxing and coats him with a stardust sheen. Scott doesn’t start shrinking, however, until he is exposed to insecticide after they return home. While there is plenty of frightening action ahead, it is in the aftermath of these initial events that the film takes on more psychological and philosophical shading, and makes a pointed critique of a society slipping a straitjacket of conformity and wholesomeness over its citizens following the chaos and lingering malaise of World War II.

Scott asserts his privilege as a white man in a white-male-dominated society in the very first scene by ordering his wife to go below deck to get him a beer: “To the galley, wench.

Fetch me a flagon of beer,” he jests. Unwittingly, he did the manly thing by saving her from getting dusted, but because his rescue was unintentional and unconscious, we know we are in Freud’s realm of the uncanny. Freud said, “The uncanny is anything we experience in adulthood that reminds us of earlier psychic stages, of aspects of our unconscious life, or of the primitive experience of the human species.” (more…)

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cria
By Marilyn Ferdinand

Ana, a small, darkly serious girl of about 10, stands at the top of the stairs of her darkly ominous home and hears sounds that we guess are all too familiar to her. A man and a woman are in a room below obviously in the throes of a sexual embrace. The passionate declarations of love cease abruptly as something apparently has gone wrong—someone can’t breathe. Ana descends the stairs and watches as an attractive woman, dressed save for an unbuttoned blouse, runs toward the front door, spilling the contents of her purse in the process. Ana watches her unemotionally as she gathers her things; when the woman finally notices her, they stare at each other wordlessly, and then the woman exits the house. Ana enters the room, finds her father laying dead on his bed, picks up an emptied glass from his dresser, takes it into the kitchen, and washes and hides it among the glasses sitting next to the sink. Clearly, Ana believes she has poisoned her own father, an act for which she shows no emotion.

Cria Cuervos, a masterpiece of Spanish cinema, is the work of director Carlos Saura, perhaps best known for his dance films, especially his flamenco trilogy comprising Blood Wedding (1981), Carmen (1983), and El amor brujo (1986). As with those films, Saura’s passionate, brooding sensibility informs what in other hands might be a simple story of grief. Ana, you see, is a Spanish girl living in a spacious home in Madrid because her father (Hector Alterio) is an officer in Franco’s fascist army. The times and her father’s compulsive womanizing that cruelly tortured Ana’s beloved mother (Geraldine Chaplin) until her untimely and painful death have marked Ana. She seeks a vengeance her mother was too weak to exact, thus marking her as every bit her father’s daughter. (more…)

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american-graffiti-5

By Marilyn Ferdinand

One thing I’ve learned from a lifetime of moviegoing is that every story is unique, and at the same time, universal. Despite the wide variety of life on earth, in essence, there simply aren’t that many ways to be human, and that is why we can look at life in India, Japan, Argentina, France, anywhere, and find things to which we relate. This is especially true of reminiscences of childhood, be they Richard Linklater’s fictionalized version of his Texas upbringing in Boyhood (2014), Steve Tesich’s kaleidoscopic look at coming of age in America through his immigrant eyes in Four Friends (1981), or Jean Shepherd’s affectionate look at his life in 1940s Indiana in A Christmas Story (1983). All children are subject to the authority of those more powerful than they are, and they all have to learn how to become those people as they stretch toward adulthood and, eventually, life on their own terms.

American Graffiti is a highly particular look at teens on the cusp of independence in the California car culture of director/screenwriter George Lucas’ adolescence. The hot rods, drive-ins, and cruising strip are rendered with such loving detail in the glow of a pleasant California night that Lucas’ adolescence has become iconic of everyone’s youth, a supposedly more innocent time that tends to meld all of our teen years into “the best years of our lives.” But Lucas provides more than a gauzy look back for retirees and those nostalgic for a time they were too young to experience. He presents an array of types—the cool greaser, the slut, the nerd, the straight arrow, the smart observer, the street gang—and through his astute casting and smart script and direction, turns them into real people who show exactly how the endless summer of youth really feels for those living it. (more…)

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