Far-Flung Correspondent Gerardo Valero reflects on one of his favorite movies, The Poseidon Adventure.
• "The Rack" (1956) • "Until They Sail" (1957) • "The Prize" (1963) • "Tales of Tomorrow: Ice From Space" (1953)"The Rack," "Until They Sail" and "The Prize" are now available on made-to-order DVD from the Warner Archive Collection for $19.95 each. "Tales of Tomorrow" can be viewed on Hulu Plus and Amazon Instant Video.
by Jeff Shannon You would think that every film Paul Newman ever appeared in would be readily available on home video, right? Guess again. One of the best films from Newman's early career has managed to slip through the cracks of home-video distribution for decades, and unless you're old enough to have seen it in theaters or on TV over the years, it's possible you've never even heard of it. So when I heard that "The Rack" (1956) was available on home video for the very first time, I couldn't wait to break the news to Stewart Stern.
For anyone who's wondering "Stewart who?" there's a convenient shortcut you can use when discussing the impressive life and career of Stewart Stern. All you have to say is, "He wrote 'Rebel Without a Cause.'" Uh-huh, that one. With a credit like that, any screenwriter could legitimately claim a slice of movie immortality, like James Dean did as the now-iconic star of Nicholas Ray's 1955 teen-angst classic. But to say that Stern only wrote "Rebel" is a bit like saying Frank Lloyd Wright designed a house. In the course of his distinguished, decades-spanning career, Stern wrote rich, psychologically perceptive scripts that were magnets for great actors and great acting: His script for "The Ugly American" (1963) gave Brando plenty to chew on; his Oscar-nominated script for "Rachel, Rachel" (1968) gave Joanne Woodward what is arguably the best role of her career (under the direction of her husband, Paul Newman; they also earned Oscar nods); and Stern's Emmy and Peabody-winning teleplay for "Sybil" (1976) transformed cute TV actress Sally Field into an Emmy winner with a pair of Oscars in her future. A few years later, Stern left Hollywood, weary of the rat race and struggling with writer's block, the delayed effect of post-traumatic stress from service in World War II. In the mid-'80s, Stern relocated to Seattle and never looked back. And while Stern may have been a nephew of Paramount Pictures founder Adolph Zukor, with additional family ties to MGM moguls Arthur Loew Sr. and Jr., his closest Hollywood connection was more personal and more warmly indicative of the man's soul and spirit: For 55 years, Stewart Stern was one of Paul Newman's very best friends.
I grew up in a time (the 1960s and 1970s) when commercial, technological and artistic conventions accustomed us to listening to music on LPs and watching movies in theaters. For the most part, we listened to one side of an album at a time (eventually, CDs -- although more easily programmable -- would play 70+ minutes of uninterrupted music, which changed song-sequencing priorities). And we saw movies from start to finish. I'm too young to remember the original ad campaign for Alfred Hitchcock's "Psycho" in 1960, but later on (when I got my hands on some original lobby cards -- those were the 11"x14" images displayed with the posters at the entrances or in the lobbies of theaters) I noticed it was built around the apparently novel pitch that audiences had to see the movie from the start.
Now, if, like me, you were in college (or university, as they say back East) when Alvy Singer (Woody Allen) in "Annie Hall" announced that he had to see a picture "exactly from the start to the finish," and you thought that made perfect sense, it seemed bizarre to imagine a time when people had to be encouraged to show up before the feature started: "No one... BUT NO ONE... will be admitted to the theatre after the start of each performance..." (It turns out Paramount had done something similar with Hitchcock's "Vertigo" just two years earlier: "It's a Hitchcock thriller... You should see it from the beginning!") As the proprietor of the Opening Shot Project, which emphasizes the importance of the first shot in setting up and framing certain films, the idea that somebody would watch a movie without having seen the beginning is incomprehensible to me. Why cheat yourself of the joys of discovery and development? Or just knowing what's going on in the story?
LOS ANGELES (AP) -- Leslie Nielsen, who traded in his dramatic persona for inspired bumbling as a hapless doctor in "Airplane!" and the accident-prone detective Frank Drebin in "The Naked Gun" comedies, died on Sunday in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. He was 84.
The Canadian-born actor died from complications from pneumonia at a hospital near his home at 5:34 p.m., surrounded by his wife, Barbaree, and friends, his agent John S. Kelly said in a statement.
"We are saddened by the passing of beloved actor Leslie Nielsen, probably best remembered as Lt. Frank Drebin in 'The Naked Gun' series of pictures, but who enjoyed a more than 60-year career in motion pictures and television," said Kelly.
Nielsen came to Hollywood in the mid-1950s after performing in 150 live television dramas in New York. With a craggily handsome face, blond hair and 6-foot-2 height, he seemed ideal for a movie leading man.
Nielsen first performed as the king of France in the Paramount operetta "The Vagabond King" with Kathryn Grayson.
The film -- he called it "The Vagabond Turkey" -- flopped, but MGM signed him to a seven-year contract.
His first film for that studio was auspicious -- as the space ship commander in the science fiction classic "Forbidden Planet." He found his best dramatic role as the captain of an overturned ocean liner in the 1972 disaster movie, "The Poseidon Adventure."
He became known as a serious actor, although behind the camera he was a prankster. That was an aspect of his personality never exploited, however, until "Airplane!" was released in 1980 and became a huge hit.
As the doctor aboard a plane in which the pilots, and some of the passengers, become violently ill, Nielsen says they must get to a hospital right away.
"A hospital? What is it?" a flight attendant asks, inquiring about the illness.
"It's a big building with patients, but that's not important right now," Nielsen deadpans.
When he asks a passenger if he can fly the plane, the man replies, "Surely you can't be serious."
Nielsen responds: "I am serious, and don't call me Shirley."
Critics argued he was being cast against type, but Nielsen disagreed.
"I've always been cast against type before," he said, adding comedy was what he'd really always wanted to do.
It was what he would do for most of the rest of his career, appearing in such comedies as "Repossessed" (a takeoff on the demonic possession movies like "The Exorcist") and "Mr. Magoo," in which he played the title role of the good-natured bumbler.
Nielsen did play Debbie Reynolds' sweetheart in the popular "Tammy and the Bachelor," a loanout to Universal, and he became well known to baby boomers for his role as the Revolutionary War fighter Francis Marion in the Disney TV adventure series "The Swamp Fox."
Unhappy with his roles at MGM, he asked to be released from his contract. As a freelancer, he appeared in a series of undistinguished movies.
"I played a lot of leaders, autocratic sorts; perhaps it was my Canadian accent," he reasoned.
Meanwhile, he remained active in television in guest roles. He also starred in his own series, "The New Breed," ''The Protectors" and "Bracken's World," but all were short-lived.
Then "Airplane!" captivated audiences and changed everything.
Producers-directors-writers Jim Abrahams, David and Jerry Zucker had hired Robert Stack, Peter Graves, Lloyd Bridges and Nielsen to spoof their heroic TV images in a satire of flight-in-jeopardy movies.
After the movie's success, the filmmaking trio cast their newfound comic star as Detective Drebin in a TV series, "Police Squad," which trashed the cliches of "Dragnet" and other cop shows. Despite good reviews, NBC canceled it after only four episodes.
"It didn't belong on TV," Nielsen later commented. "It had the kind of humor you had to pay attention to."
The Zuckers and Abraham converted the series into a feature film, "The Naked Gun," with George Kennedy, O.J. Simpson and Priscilla Presley as Nielsen's co-stars. Its huge success led to sequels "The Naked Gun 2 1/2" and "The Naked Gun 33 1/3."
His later movies included "All I Want for Christmas," ''Dracula: Dead and Loving It" and "Spy Hard."
Between films he often turned serious, touring with his one-man show on the life of the great defense lawyer, Clarence Darrow.
Nielsen was born Feb. 11, 1926 in Regina, Saskatchewan.
He grew up 200 miles south of the Arctic Circle at Fort Norman, where his father was an officer of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.
The parents had three sons, and Nielsen once recalled, "There were 15 people in the village, including five of us. If my father arrested somebody in the winter, he'd have to wait until the thaw to turn him in."
The elder Nielsen was a troubled man who beat his wife and sons, and Leslie longed to escape. As soon as he graduated from high school at 17, he joined the Royal Canadian Air Force, even though he was legally deaf (he wore hearing aids most of his life.)
After the war, Nielsen worked as a disc jockey at a Calgary radio station, then studied at a Toronto radio school operated by Lorne Greene, who would go on to star on the hit TV series "Bonanza." A scholarship to the Neighborhood Playhouse brought him to New York, where he immersed himself in live television.
Nielsen also was married to: Monica Boyer, 1950-1955; Sandy Ullman, 1958-74; and Brooks Oliver, 1981-85.
Nielsen and his second wife had two daughters, Thea and Maura.
Copyright © 2010 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. The Sun-Times is a member of Associated Press.
Leslie Nielsen (February 11, 1926 - November 28, 2010) Marie writes: If ever an actor embodied what it means to "be" Canadian, it was Leslie Nielsen... and the pair of fart machines he always used to carry around; one built by himself using plans sent by a friend and another called the "Farter" - a commercial device complete with remote control. For with each perfectly timed "pfft" he invited everyone to laugh with him and see the humour in life. And it's for that laughter he is now best remembered.The much-beloved actor died in his sleep with his wife Barbaree at his side, this past Sunday at the age of 84 in a Florida hospital due to complications from pneumonia. Nielsen has stars on both Hollywood's and Canada's Walk of Fame and was named an Officer of the Order of Canada in 2002. Remembering Leslie Nielsen...and what's that strange noise? - Montreal GazetteLeslie Nielsen: a career in clips, Guardian UKLeslie Nielsen, RIP. "And don't call me Shirley" - Roger Ebert
"All the really good suicide bombers are gone," laments a trio of bumbling Afghan terrorists early on in "An American Carol," and that's about the high-water mark for humor in this jaw-droppingly awful political comedy from veteran spoofer David Zucker.
-- Steven Rea, Philadelphia Inquirer
After "An American Carol" opened in some cities last week, RogerEbert.com received a few insinuating inquiries from readers asking why we did not publish a review of the film , a biographical musical celebration of the beloved wide-mouthed Broadway star of "Hello, Dolly!". The comedy, directed and co-written by David Zucker ("Airplane!"), is a conservative re-telling of Dickens' "A Christmas Carol, with a fat, unscrupulous, bespectacled, baseball-capped, America-hating documentarian named Michael Malone (played by the late Chris Farley's brother Kevin) as the Scrooge figure. Our correspondents suggested that, because the movie's politics reportedly tilted to the right, perhaps the liberal falafel-loving media establishment was deliberately ignoring it. (Meanwhile, the conservative corporate media establishment was evidently off celebrating a lonely cinematic triumph in a quiet place.)
Oddly, we did not receive a single comment or e-mail asking why we did not carry a review of "Beverly Hills Chihuahua," the Number One Movie of last weekend, but the reasons are the same: neither "An American Carol" nor "BHC" were screened for critics. That is usually the studios' way of ensuring that reviews do not appear on opening day. If any critic-type person still wants to cover it, he or she can simply buy a ticket to a show on Friday or Saturday and file a notice over the weekend.
RottenTomatoes lists 65 reviews for "Beverly Hills Chihuahua" (27 positive), 119 for "Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist" (85 positive), and 28 for "An American Carol" (4 positive), all of which opened the same day.
To help fill in the critical information gap, are some excerpts from the few higher-profile "American Carol" reviews I could find, some of which are kind of funny. The first one is from a review RT.com categorizes as "fresh":
Q. In your review of the movie "Dead Man Walking" you turned a neat little phrase. You said of Susan Sarandon's character that she would not behave according to "the pieties of those for whom religion, good grooming, polite manners and prosperity are all more or less the same thing." I can think of several individuals and groups that might fit that description. To whom were you referring? (Joe Dempsey, Sr., Ridley Park, Pa.)