It’s the first day of issue for a set of four postal stamps honoring a quartet of great (native or naturalized) American motion picture directors, and we can’t argue with the selection of a single one of them. Here’s what the USPS has to say about the occasion:
These Great Film Directors (Forever®) stamps honor four great filmmakers who captured the many varieties of the American experience. Frank Capra, John Ford, John Huston, and Billy Wilder created some of the most iconic scenes in American cinema. They gave audiences an unforgettable (and in some cases, deeply personal) vision of life.
These four filmmakers received multiple Academy Award nominations, 15 Oscars, and numerous other honors during their lifetimes. But their greatest accomplishment lies in the vitality and artistry of the stories they told through film. The stamp art combines a portrait of each man with a scene from one of his most iconic works.
The background art for the stamp honoring Frank Capra shows a scene from It Happened One Night, a comedy in which a runaway heiress (played by Claudette Colbert) and a reporter (Clark Gable) compare their hitchhiking skills.
The Maltese Falcon inspired the background art for the John Huston stamp. In this classic mystery, gumshoe Sam Spade (Humphrey Bogart) goes up against various unscrupulous characters (among them Mary Astor, Peter Lorre, and Sydney Greenstreet).
And for Billy Wilder, the background artwork was inspired by Some Like It Hot, a farce about two male musicians (Jack Lemmon and Tony Curtis) who seek refuge from gangsters by posing as members of an all-girl band featuring luscious singer Sugar Kane (Marilyn Monroe).
You can purchase these stamps, along with First Day of Issue color postmarked envelopes and other related items, here.
You screened it for her, you can screen it for me…
Like most movie buffs, we occasionally are asked to name our favorite movie.
At first thought, it seems a difficult question. After all, there aren’t many genres of movies we don’t enjoy, and we happily watch pictures more than a century old and the latest releases. We have a list of favorite directors as long as our arm and a list of favorite actors and actresses as long as our leg.
But in the end, it’s really not that tough a call. For our money, Casablanca is the perfect movie—or the closest we’ve ever seen to it. Amazing performances from the whole cast, from Bogart and Bergman down to the tiniest bit roles. A witty, suspenseful, and moving script that deftly combines romance, drama, and humor and features some of the most celebrated dialogue and memorable scenes ever committed to celluloid.
We’ve seen Casablanca a dozen times or more, most of those on a big screen, surrounded by a collection of appreciative fellow movie buffs. It’s one of the benefits of living in a city like New York; we get to see an amazing range of movies from across a century-plus of cinema in theatres.
But there are plenty of burgs where a movie classic like Casablanca can be seen only on television, on a DVD or when Turner Classic Movies airs it. So I got excited—not for myself, but for the millions of Americans living somewhere other than NYC or Los Angeles or Chicago or San Francisco or half dozen other cities that have outlets for viewing classic movies in theatres—when I learned that on Wednesday, March 21, TCM is commemorating the movie’s 70th anniversary with a one-time digital screening of this classic in more than 335 theatres across the country. There will be an introductory short starring TCM host Robert Osborne, who will “take audiences behind the scenes of this epic love story.”
Every theatre is showing the movie at 7 p.m., so in each time zone, thousands of moviegoers will be watching it simultaneously. We love that.
There’s a good chance there’s a participating theatre near you. If you’ve never seen this wonderful movie on a big screen with an audience of fellow movie fans, you owe it to yourself to attend. Tickets went on sale today.
Cinematic Slang: A bunch of violets
Hollywood pictures of the early 1930s are often interesting in the attitudes they exhibit toward gay men and lesbians. The presentation of gay characters are sometimes very matter of fact, offering no particular judgment or attitude, and even when the depictions are a bit demeaning, at least the fact that there are gay men and lesbians in the world is acknowledged. In pictures from the late ’30s, ’40s and ’50s, one rarely sees a gay character depicted at all (Peter Lorre‘s Joel Cairo in The Maltese Falcon (1941) is one notable exception to this rule).
Jews underwent a similar cinematic fate in Hollywood, it seems to us. In the 1920s and early ’30s, there were many Jewish characters depicted in Hollywood movies. Were those depictions sometimes stereotypical? Undeniably, but not all were, and at least Jews had a prominent presence in the Hollywood movies of the era. That seemed to change drastically in the ensuing decades.
We were watching a pre-code James Cagney film not long ago (Picture Snatcher, 1933), and in one scene, for reasons not salient to this account, Cagney is on the phone pretending to be a woman. A dame he’s scamming walks in, hears his end of the conversation, and asks, “Want to borrow one of my dresses, dearie? Who was that on the phone?”
“Ah, just a bunch of violets,” Cagney answers. “He had the wrong number. I egged him on for a laugh.”
“A bunch of violets”—as an old euphemism for “gay man,” that was a new one on us.
The stuff that dreams are made of
Mary Astor is perhaps best remembered today for her role as femme fatale Brigid O’Shaughnessy in the third — and, of course, by far best known — version of Dashiell Hammett‘s The Maltese Falcon, John Huston‘s 941 remake in which Astor starred opposite Humphrey Bogart, Peter Lorre, and Sydney Greenstreet.
But Astor was a veteran actress by then, having already made 97 movies, more than 40 of them silent pictures, starting with 1921’s Bullets or Ballots.
If you’re not familiar with Astor’s rich and varied career, now’s your chance to get caught up just a bit. Turner Classic Movies is celebrating Astor’s 104 birthday by airing some of her pre-Falcon movies all day tomorrow — Monday, May 3.
Here’s the line-up:
6:15 a.m. — Beau Brummel (1924)
In this silent film, the legendary dandy takes on British society to court a lady above his station. Cast: John Barrymore, Mary Astor, Willard Louis. Dir: Harry Beaumont. BW-128 mins
8:30 a.m. — The Runaway Bride (1930)
A criminal gang goes after the jewels their dying leader stashed in a woman’s handbag. Cast: Mary Astor, Lloyd Hughes, David Newell. Dir: Donald Crisp. BW-66 mins
9:45 a.m. — The Sin Ship (1931)
A ship’s captain fights to protect a female passenger from his crew. Cast: Louis Wolheim, Mary Astor, Ian Keith. Dir: Louis Wolheim. BW-65 mins
11:00 a.m. — Smart Women (1931)
A woman plots to make her cheating husband jealous. Cast: Mary Astor, Robert Ames, Edward Everett Horton. Dir: Gregory La Cava. BW-68 mins
12:15 p.m. — Dinky (1935)
A military school cadet’s mother is framed and sent to prison. Cast: Jackie Cooper, Mary Astor, Roger Pryor. Dir: D. Ross Lederman. BW-65 mins
1:30 p.m. — Woman Against Woman (1938)
A divorcee decides she wants her husband back after he’s re-married. Cast: Mary Astor, Herbert Marshall, Virginia Bruce. Dir: Robert Sinclair. BW-61 mins
2:45 p.m. — There’s Always a Woman (1938)
While working on a simple case, married private eyes uncover a murder. Cast: Joan Blondell, Melvyn Douglas, Mary Astor. Dir: Alexander Hall. BW-81 mins
4:15 p.m. — Midnight (1939)
An unemployed showgirl poses as Hungarian royalty to infiltrate Parisian society. Cast: Claudette Colbert, Don Ameche, John Barrymore, Mary Astor. Dir: Mitchell Leisen. BW-94 mins
6:00 p.m. — The Great Lie (1941)
Believing her husband to be dead, a flyer’s wife bargains with his former love to adopt the woman’s baby. Cast: Bette Davis, Mary Astor, George Brent. Dir: Edmund Goulding. BW-108 mins
Warm up those DVRs, pronto!
Give me a book that's entertaining when I'm lying in the hay,
To while away the hours on a simmery summer day.
I want to be lazy like a daisy in the middle of July
And watch the pretty pictures in the sky.
Ho hum, dreaming in the sun,
I'm a lucky one, it's true.
Ho hum, I'm not so very dumb.
I'll bet you'd like to dream there, too.
Beautiful butterlies are dancing in the field across the way,
The nearest thing to heaven on a simmery summery day.
What's the use of hustle-bustle? Find a little time to play.
And you'll never simmer on a summer day.
—On a Simmery, Summery Day
Words and music by James Cavanaugh, John Redmond and Frank Weldon, 1940