Spotlight: Audie Murphy

Spotlight: Audie MurphyAs most of you know, Audie Murphy was America's most decorated soldier of World War II. After the war, Murphy went to Hollywood and began a movie career under the tutelage of James Cagney. Most of the movies he made were westerns.

Indian Prairie has acquired the Audie Murphy Western Collection, which contains four films. Sierra (1950) is the first. Murphy's inexperience as an actor shows in this, his second starring western. And his then wife, Wanda Hendrix, gives him no help due in part to her unusual voice. The film is nevertheless worthwhile because of the spectacular photography, the singing of Burl Ives (who sings a few very beautiful ballads and a very comical song for children), and the appearance in small roles of future superstar, Tony Curtis, and television's most famous western marshal James Arness.

All four films include an introduction by Turner Classic Movies' Ben Mankiewicz. The special features section of each film includes interesting facts. Also, Sierra includes a mini-biography of Murphy. One of the interesting stories about this film is a mock fast draw gunfight between Murphy and Curtis. If you watch the other films in this collection, you will note how much Murphy grew as an actor.

The other films in the collection are Drums Across the River (1954), Ride Clear of Diablo (1954), and Ride a Crooked Trail (1958). They are all solid westerns well worth watching.

In addition, Indian Prairie has three other Audie Murphy films: His autobiographical To Hell and Back (1955); Night Passage (1957), a film I previously reviewed; and No Name on the Bullet (1959). To Hell and Back was Universal Studios' biggest box office hit ever, until it was eclipsed 20 years later by Jaws.
Audie Murphy was good actor, who, unlike most actors, was a genuine hero. He stood 5’5”, had a baby face, but with his genuine humility and his life experiences he brought something special to his films. A friend said at his funeral, "Like the man, the headstone is too small." He is buried at Arlington National Cemetery and after John Kennedy, his grave is the most visited gravesite.

Spotlight: Holiday Films

Spotlight: Holiday FilmsHoliday films are an important American pastime and though they can be a bit sappy, they can also warm our hearts and restore our faith in humanity. They're the perfect thing for helping to get everyone into the holiday spirit. Who cares if the weather is frightful when good movies and family fun keep us warm?

Just a few classics are listed below, but don't just settle for a movie… make it an event!

Spotlight: Man’s Best Friend

Spotlight: Man’s Best FriendWaiting for Rin Tin Tin: The Life and the Legend by Susan Orlean (2011)? Try one of these classic stories about man’s best friend.

Lassie Come Home by Eric Knight (2003) is the classic story of a beloved collie, sold by his impoverished family, who makes his way back home to his boy. Jack London's The Call of the Wild (1981) is another story of loyalty. Buck the dog is rescued from a brutal existence as a Yukon sledge dog by John Thornton, to whom he becomes devoted. The Incredible Journey (1996) is another story, this time two dogs and a cat, that make their way over hundreds of miles of Canadian wilderness to find a home. Roger Caras’ Treasury of Great Dog Stories (1987) brings together stories by such well known authors as Mark Twain and Stephen Crane.

Spotlight: True Grit

Spotlight: True GritThis film was made in 1969 and remade in 2010. Both films have much to recommend them, as they followed the 1968 Charles Portis novel closely; the only strong criticism is they both should have stayed truer to book. The 1969 film starred John Wayne, Kim Darby, Glen Campbell, and Robert Duvall. The 2010 film starred Jeff Bridges, Hailee Steinfeld, and Matt Damon.

John Wayne received his only Academy Award for this film and Jeff Bridges received a nomination for his performance. Kim Darby gave a fine performance portraying 14-year-old Mattie Ross, who has hired Marshall Rooster Cogburn to bring her father's murderer, the nefarious Tom Chaney, to justice. But young Hailee Steinfeld gave an outstanding performance in the same role and received an Academy Award nomination.
Campbell played La Boeuf, a Texas Ranger also on the trail of Chaney, in the 1969 film (portrayed by Damon in the remake). Matt Damon's performance is far superior. I will not mention the names of the actors who played Tom Chaney, but I believe the actor from 1969 film gave a better performance and is much truer to the character from the novel.

The photography in both films is beautiful, but I give the edge to the 1969 film. With respect to the music, I give the edge to the 2010 film.

The 1969 film received two Oscar nominations, the 2010 film received 10. Whether or not you like westerns, I strongly recommend both films. There is plenty of action, comedy and pathos in both. And if you have not read the book, you should do so at your earliest convenience. It’s an American classic.

Spotlight: Canine Stars

Spotlight: Canine StarsReading about Rin Tin Tin in Susan Orlean’s new book Rin Tin Tin: The Life and Legend make you interested in other canine stars? Try some of these movies with appealing dog actors.

Lassie Come Home (1943) with Roddy McDowall and Elizabeth Taylor is the story of the devoted Lassie who returns home to his beloved young master. Homeward Bound: The Incredible Journey (1993) is another story of devoted pets in search of their real home. Shiloh (1996) is an abused hunting dog rescued by a young boy and Benji (1974) is a lovable hero who rescues two young children from kidnappers. My Dog Skip (2000) helps a shy boy make friends and become a hero.

For more movie ideas, check out our lists of movies about cats and dogs and the rest of the animal kingdom.

Spotlight: The Spellmans by Lisa Lutz

Spotlight: The Spellmans by Lisa Lutz
Lisa Lutz
created a delightfully zany family in the Spellmans. Follow their hilarious antics in the quartet: The Spellman Files, Curse of the Spellmans, Revenge of the Spellmans, and The Spellmans Strike Again.

Although the Spellmans own a PI firm, the dysfunctional family spends more time spying on each other. Narrator Isabel “Izzy” Spellman is the 20-something middle daughter who never starts a story at the beginning. Following her train of thought is half the fun. The supporting cast, from the other Spellmans to the octogenarian lawyer and 40ish police detective, contributes to the entertaining atmosphere.

While the final book seemed to wrap up the series, it appears the Spellmans will be making another appearance in 2012.

If you like Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum series, try The Spellman Files. And for other books like these, check out our booklist.

Spotlight: Judy Holliday

Spotlight: Judy HollidayJudy Holliday began her career as part of a nightclub act, then appeared successfully on the Broadway stage before going to Hollywood. In the early 1940s, she appeared in three films at 20th Century Films, but was dropped by the studio and return to Broadway.

In 1949, she returned to Hollywood to make Adam’s Rib. It was her next film, Born Yesterday, which made her a star. In the film, she reprised her Broadway role as the intellectually ambitious moll.

In all of her performances, she possessed superb comic timing and quirky charm. I think you will enjoy one of her films from our collection. Other notable films include Bells are Ringing (1960), The Marrying Kind (1952), and The Solid Gold Cadillac (1956).

Spotlight: Anne Baxter

Spotlight: Anne BaxterAnne Baxter was born in Michigan City, Indiana, on May 7, 1923. She was the daughter of a salesman and granddaughter of world-renowned architect Frank Lloyd Wright.

By the time she was 13, she had already appeared on stage in New York to rave reviews. In 1937, Anne went to Hollywood to have a go at the film industry, but she was thought to be too young for film. She returned to the New York and continued to act on Broadway and in summer stock. Anne returned to California two years later to try again.

This time she was given a screen test at 20th Century-Fox and she was signed to a seven-year contract. As often happened during the “studio years” in Hollywood, Anne was loaned out to MGM before she would make a movie with Fox. At home in a variety of parts, she won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress in 1946 for her work in The Razor's Edge. She was nominated again in 1950 for performance in the title role of All About Eve, her most memorable role.

In 1960, Anne married Randolph Galt, American owner of a cattle station near Sydney, Australia. She left Hollywood in 1961 for Australia, an experience she described in her critically-acclaimed book Intermission: A True Story. Anne died of a stroke in New York. She was 62.

Other notable movies include Charley’s Aunt (1941), The Fighting Sullivans (1944), and The Ten Commandments (1956).

Spotlight: 1930s Germany

Spotlight: 1930s GermanyIf you have just finished reading In the Garden of Beasts (Erik Larson’s portrait of Germany as the Nazis rise to power and influence), you might like one of the following movie depictions of the same time and place.

Cabaret (1972) is the popular musical starring Liza Minelli as the original “good time girl” who is oblivious to the changes happening around her. Based on The Berlin Stories of Christopher Isherwood.

Three Comrades (1938) is a poignant story of the love between fragile Margaret Sullavan and Robert Taylor. Taylor’s other two comrades are Franchot Tone and Robert Young.  Young, politically active, runs into trouble with the pro-Nazi marchers in the streets.

Mephisto (1981) is a German language movie with Klaus Maria Brandauer, as an actor who sells his soul to the devil in order to keep working in Nazi-era Germany.

The Harmonists (1997) is based on the true story of a successful German singing group that was forced to disband in 1934 because three of its members were Jewish.

Spotlight: 1956

Spotlight: 1956Almost two years ago I wrote about 1939 being the most celebrated year in American film history. After seeing that Jubal did not receive any academy award nominations, I did a little research on 1956.

1956 was a most spectacular year as well. The Searchers – one of best American films of all time, Bergman's classic The Seventh Seal, Invasion of the Body Snatchers – one of the best sci-fi movies of all time, the classic Moby Dick – all came out in 1956 and none of them received an academy award nomination.

What were some of the films that did receive awards and/or nominations in 1956? Around the World in Eighty Days, Friendly Persuasion, The King and I, Giant, The Ten Commandments, Anastasia, Lust for Life, Richard III, The Rainmaker, The Bad Seed, The Man Who Knew Too Much, and Forbidden Planet.

That's quite a list. With one exception, Indian Prairie has all of these fine films in its collection.

Spotlight: Ann Sheridan

Spotlight: Ann SheridanAnn Sheridan was making movies in the days when Hollywood marketed movie stars by giving starlets names like “the Oomph Girl.” Ann Sheridan was a glamour girl, but she specialized in playing the hard-boiled type. Although she never really made the top rank of great stars, she always made the movie better because of her warmth and intelligence.

The 1940s was Sheridan’s most fertile movie-making decade when she made Angels with Dirty Faces (with Humphrey Bogart), Torrid Zone (with James Cagney and Pat O'Brien), Castle on the Hudson (with John Garfield), City for Conquest (with James Cagney), The Man Who Came to Dinner (with Monty Woolley and Bette Davis), and I was a Male War Bride (with Cary Grant). All of these and more are available at Indian Prairie.

Her work in King's Row (1942) demonstrated her acting ability and opened the door to a wider variety of parts. The film, which also features Ronald Reagan, is the story of a group young people growing up in a small American town in 1890. The social pressure, challenges and tragedies of their lives make for an emotional, albeit melodramatic movie.

Spotlight: Stieg Larsson Films

Spotlight: Stieg Larsson FilmsGet your money's worth with The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, The Girl Who Played with Fire, and The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest. These must-see foreign movies capture the essence of Stieg Larsson’s “best of the bestselling books.” After thoroughly enjoying the Millennium Trilogy, I thoroughly enjoyed the movies. If you have read the books, the subtitles highlight the dialogue making it easier to follow. My only regret is there will not be another book/movie in this series.

Did you know? An American version of the film is in the works starring Daniel Craig and Rooney Mara.

Spotlight: Magic Tree House Series by Mary Pope Osborne

Spotlight: Magic Tree House Series by Mary Pope OsborneIn Frog Creek, Pennsylvania, siblings Jack and Annie travel in a tree house. An enchantress from Camelot, Morgan, cast a spell on the tree house. Jack and Annie travel to places in time, space, and fantasy. They are fun books – I can’t stop reading them!

Start with Dinosaurs before Dark and The Knight at Dawn.

Visit the author's website and learn more about the series.

Spotlight: The Mighty Ducks Trilogy

Spotlight: The Mighty Ducks Trilogy (1992, 1994, 1996) PG
I have to admit that my childhood hockey memories aren’t of the Chicago Blackhawks; instead, I remember the Mighty Ducks. Disney’s trilogy follows a ragtag group of kids from a Minnesota peewee league (The Mighty Ducks) to the international junior goodwill games (D2) to a stuffy prep school (D3). Starring Emilio Estevez and Joshua Jackson, the Mighty Ducks movies are fun for the whole family.

Wondering what happened to the actors from the original movie? Check out this slideshow. And if you're wondering if the Blackhawks will repeat as Stanley Cup Champions, stay tuned...the season starts Thursday!

Spotlight: Graham Greene

Spotlight: Graham GreeneGraham Greene was one of the most important and popular English writers of the mid-twentieth century and his works are defined by that century. The Blitz (The End of the Affair - 1951), the Vietnam issues (The Quiet American - 1955), and British colonialism (The Heart of the Matter - 1948) —all these things are fading fast from living memory but are the basis for his very engaging stories. There is in his writing a lasting relevance; he reported on the human condition and drew searing insights into it. His novels are still to be enjoyed as are the movies that were produced based on many of them.

Listen to NPR's Scott Simon reflect on Greene's books, learn more about the author from the website Greeneland: the world of Graham Greene and explore the New York Times topics on Graham Greene.