Monday, May 18, 2015

The Dark side of Hollywood part 1: Old Hollywood 1950s-early 1960s

Everyone no matter if they admit it or not has a fascination with Hollywood. As long as their were star's there has been a worship of them like the Gods and Goddess of Greek myth. We are going to look at a series of films that peel back the beauty, glamour and bright lights to show a more sinister side of the business called show.There are almost endless movies you could attach to this sub genre of films so I made some rules on what could and couldn't be on the list... Here are the reasons why maybe some of your favorites aren't on the list.

Comedies for the most part. Unless they have a real dark biting humor. Also films about people making amateur films such as "Man Bites Dog" or Last House on Dead End Street" also do not make the list. In the same vain no found footage films. Yes that means Cannibal Holocaust, while its a fan favorite and certainly one of mine it works outside of the construct of Hollywood therefore its not included. By the same logic indie film satires such as "Living in Oblivion" (1995) Films that are about the making of a real film (Hitchcock,Ed Wood, Shadow of the Vampire) are also excluded. And straight up documentaries such as "Overnight" as well. 

Dark Hollywood:  1950-55
Films focusing on the making of films as satire has been around since for a long time. In fact "Something to Sing About" (1937) is considered one of the first to satire film making. 

At the end of the second World War America was forever changed and therefore the kind of cinema people wanted to see changed as well.  

Enter the film Noir a film style made popular by early films such as The Maltese Falcon (1941) Laura (1944) and Out of the Past (1947)  Film goers wanted more gritty realism and to explore subject matters that pushed the limits of crime,sex and violence. Noirs was the perfect template to explore the corrupt side of what many saw as a very clean almost perfect place. Also keep in mind that the scandal machine and gossip rags were no where near what it is today and this would be decades before the internet.  For many people sitting in the dark theater these films really ripped apart the pre conception of a place where nothing bad happened and where all your dreams came true. But some dreams can turn into nightmares. 

Sunset Blvd (1950) Billy Wilder
Its an image etched into every film lovers brain. Norma Desmond (Gloria Swanson) the aging silent film doing weird hyper surreal almost dance like moves as she descends down the staircase, reporters and camera flashes all around her. Shes part glamorous vamp part movie monster. She then says one of the MOST misquoted quoted film lines ever "Mr DeMille i`m ready for my close up" Often quoted as "I`m ready for my close up Mr. DeMille"  This is the grand daddy of all meta Hollywood films, way ahead of its time. Strange even by noir standards this film never ceases to surprise and entertain. It features cameos by DeMille himself, Hedda Hopper,  Buster Keaton. just to name a few Also look for a very young Jack Webb. Dark and weirdly funny, not to be missed. Its rumored that Mae West was considered for the role of Norma. 

In a Lonely Place (1950) Nicholas Ray 
Bogart plays a down on his luck screenwriter embroiled in doomed romance and possibly murder in this Noir classic. Bogart's character is stripped down in the most bare and raw way unlike anything we've seen from him. Sure he's known for playing dark characters but Dix Steele might be his darkest. In one scene he almost beats a mans brains in with a rock (over petty road rage) had it not been for Gloria Grahame's character stopping him. He really gives a amazing performance under the helm of Rebel Without a Cause directer Nicholas Ray. I feel its one of his most underrated film roles. Only lately has it finally gained its place as a true Noir gem. Its easy to find on home video and I suggest you check it out.

The Bad and the Beautiful (1952) Vincente Minnelli
Kirk Douglas plays a film producer who isn't very well liked. Mostly done in flashback a group of people explore how he "ruined" his life; but by the end they seem to realize maybe he wasn't such a bad guy after all. This is a case where the title does no justice to the film (sounding like a bad soap opera) Douglas is amazing as always in this self aware satire on Hollywood and its inner workings. There has been a lot of debate about which real life people Douglas's character was based on. Vel Lewton was one which is very obvious by the title of his first picture "Doom of the Cat Men" a clear reference to "Cat People" Its also thought to be a blend of legendary hot head David O Sleznick. Even Leo G Carrolls character is thought to be modeled after Hitchcock. In any case its a fun film for movie lovers.

The Big Knife (1955) Richard Aldrich
From the director of such films as "Kiss Me Deadly" (1955) and later "Whatever Happened to Baby Jane (1962 and also on the list) comes "The Big Knife" based on play of the same name. Jack Palace plays Charles Castle a successful Hollywood actor who is manipulated by his studio boss to help cover up a potential murder in order to protect his own career. A very dark film that really opened the veil of how corrupt and corrosive the Hollywood machine could be.  Its at times very over the top but its still a lot of fun to watch. Look for a young Shelley Winters. 

1959-60s: End of an Era:  "Touch of Evil" (1958) is largely considered the last film in the classic Film Noir genre. America was embroiled in yet another conflict Vietnam (starting in 55') and like WW2 the films themselves were very much changing. Many grand epics that the studios were making were no longer considered "cool" by the growing counter culture that wanted films that reflected things they were dealing with. 1960 saw a landmark film that would help spawn not one but two sub genres. "Psycho" (1960) was a game changer and helped to create the "Psychological thriller" sub-genre as well as pave the way for the "slasher' genre" that would really explode on the scene much later. (but more about that later) A product of this can be seen in other films in our list (Whatever Happened to Baby Jane being a great example) That same year a film from Britain "Peeping Tom" would also explore similar themes yet unlike Psycho it makes our list for being set in the back drop of the film system. 

Peeping Tom (1960) Michael Powell 
First off "Peeping Tom" is a film about making films YET is the only one on our list to not be set in Hollywood. But I felt that this was such an important film that I would allow it anyways. Released at the same year as "Psycho" Powell's raw disturbing and dark humored "Peeping Tom" may be less well known as Hitchcocks film, but its a classic none the less and for my money is edgier and better than Psycho. So much has been written on this film that i`ll spare you a full review but simply put its a must see. 

Whatever Happened to Baby Jane (1962) Richard Aldrich
Similar in tone to Sunset Blvd. WHTBJ is a twisted,dark, funny and genuinely disturbing and often campy film. Its also over time has become something of a legend in Hollywood itself for the off screen hatred between its two bigger than life stars Bettie Davis and Joan Crawford. Many people have tried to do something similar but never has captured the magic of the film, its truly one of a kind. So if you've never seen it I suggest you not watch any of the remakes, parodies etc, just go in fresh and experience it. This film was so successful that William Castle  went on to use Crawford in another horror film "Strait Jacket" which is also A LOT of fun. 

That is part 1 of this multi-part series. Hope you enjoyed and please leave feedback.

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