Michael Curtiz: A Life in Film

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Final Curtain for an Actor's Actor

karl malden

When I found out that Karl Malden died last week, I initially recalled many of my favorite roles that he played and thought about how much he would be missed.

His peaceful demise at 97 years of age doesn’t qualify as a tragedy, but even as a signpost of normal passage, there is genuine bereavement at his departure.

As an actor and persona, Malden was so steady, so permanent. It never occurred to me that there would be a world without Karl Malden. He simply had always been there in movies, television and before all that, a belwether of Broadway.

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The hottest Streak

thomas-mitchell-at-his-height

I was chatting with an actor friend recently and as we discussed a couple of his choicest roles in successful pictures, he remarked, “I was a pretty hot actor at that time!” His statement resonated with me. Actors, are like baseball players, gamblers and any number of other professions. They are all prone to hot streaks. Some performers begin like supernovas and remain overheated for their entire careers; Burt Lancaster’s jump start in The Killers (1946) comes to mind.These fortunate few are usually called “stars”. The vast majority of working actors, then and now, try to better their craft while making a living. I wondered though who had the hottest streak of any screen actor in terms of appearing in the best films over the shortest period of time. What was the cinematic equivalent of Joe DiMaggio’s 56 game consecutive hitting streak?

Back in the days when Hollywood manufactured movies like General Motors used to roll out new cars, “hot” meant a lot more than just working steady. It meant you were a relatively fresh commodity in a town constantly looking for original faces. You were also a damn good actor and, if you were lucky enough not to be shackled by the ubiquitous seven year contract to a studio overseer, work was available all over town. You were in demand, you landed the choice parts and the movies themselves turned out to be good… if not sometimes great.

1939 is universally accepted as Hollywood’s finest year for movies. This singular epoch has been getting a lot of visibility lately. The Motion Picture Academy is screening all of their Best Picture nominees for 1939 this summer and Turner Classic Movies will be showing “39 from 39” next month, a retrospective that coincides with (surprise!) the release of a Warner Home Video DVD about this historic year of film. Bouquets to 1939 notwithstanding, this piece is about the incredible twelve month run of film roles by the great character actor, Thomas Mitchell.

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Still More Noir from Palm Springs


 

MSNBC's Kim Morgan on stage with the irrepressible Ann Rutherford following the screening of INSIDE JOB (1946). This rare programmer hadn't been shown to a theater audience since its release; it held up extremely well. Ann was terrific alongside Alan Curtis and Preston Foster. Even more delightful were Ann's endless stream of Old Hollywood anecdotes that left the patrons in stitches. From learning Yiddish from Preston Foster, to obtaining swimming lessons from Buster Crabbe at the Hollywood Athletic Club while "fibbing" her way into Westerns with Gene Autry, Ann had plenty of chutzpah to spare... and she still does! Her insider accounts of GONE WITH THE WIND were priceless and as she readily admitted, GWTW has "...turned my golden years to platinum".

Veteran character actor Edward Faulkner joins his cousin Ann Rutherford along with Anne Jeffreys and Marsha Hunt. Don't try to calculate the years of show biz expertise in this pic! Kim Morgan 's striking blue dress cinches the entire color spectrum of fashion in this formidable lineup.

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