This is only 19 seconds, but it may be my favorite exchange in all movies. It's a famous clip, so I'm sure many, if not most people here have seen it. But it's so wonderful that sometimes you just want post brilliance for the pure joy of it. Such things make life seem better.
The movie in question is Dinner at Eight, made all the way back in 1933. But in the 89 years since, through all the following years, the exchange remains a gem.
It's not just great for it's famous payoff -- both the line and delivery -- but the pure physicality of Marie Dressler's double-take at the beginning, in response to nothing more than a simple comment, is in competition as the best-ever in movies and for my taste if the scene ended right there, after just four seconds, this still might be my favorite movie exchange. That it has a topper to even that great joke makes it legendary. And Jean Harlow's matter-of-fact performance allows the scene to transcend from just a dumb blonde joke.
And then, yes, there's that classic payoff punchline, set up with comic timing from Dressler that is a Master Class. All beautifully written with a screenplay by Frances Marion and Herman J. Mankiewicz, based on the play by George S. Kaufman and Edna Ferber. Directed by George Cukor.
I know that one shouldn't overpraise things because it's hard to live up to. I'm okay with heavy praise for the scene. This is 19 seconds of filmmaking that shows the joy and majesty of simplicity and wit.
Mary Badham is not a name most moviegoers recognize – even many who have seen and adore To Kill a Mockingbird. But she was the 10-year-old girl who played ‘Scout’ and got a supporting actress Oscar nomination for it.
She actually had a bit of a career as a young actress after making the movie in 1962 – including This Property Was Condemned with Robert Redford and Natalie Wood, and even was in the last-ever episode of The Twilight Zone. But acting was never her driving interest, and she’s been largely retired for 56 years, other than a small cameo role in a small, reasonably-charming independent movie Our Very Own in 2005 (which I’ve seen) after the filmmakers actively pursued her, and (to my surprise) a TV movie thriller, Erasing His Past in 2019. But that’s it. And she’s never done theater.
And is it ever a theatrical debut.
Opening just the other day, she’s now appearing at the Kennedy Center in Aaron Sorkin’s stage adaptation of To Kill a Mockingbird. As the expression goes – boy, howdy. That’s a stage debut.
Sorkin’s play opened on Broadway in late 2018 with Jeff Daniels starring as ‘Atticus Finch.’ It was a big success but had to shut down because of COVID, though he returned to the role when the play re-opened on Broadway. It also started a national tour with Richard Thomas in the lead.
Badham had seen the play on Broadway and loved it, but had no thought of actually being in it. However, the producer went all-out to get her involved. And finally she agreed, She’ll be playing the role of ‘Mrs. Dubose,’ who is the Finch family’s strong-willed, racist neighbor.
It’s not a major role, but an important one, most especially because of the character’s interactions with an often-confrontational ‘Scout.’ A Washington Post article on the production describes how “mind-bending” it is for actress Melanie Moore who plays ‘Scout’ in the play and shares scenes with Ms. Badham who originated the role 54 years earlier. (Unlike the 10-years-old that Badham was in the film, Moore plays the character over a range of ages and is 30.)
“In rehearsals, I would do things and make her laugh,” Moore says, “and she would come up to me and say, ‘Oh, that was so Scout when you did that.’ Moments like that brought me so much joy. I felt like I was really bringing something to the character that she felt like she recognized and also surprised her. But I can’t think too hard about yelling things at the original movie Scout as Scout myself.”
If you don’t remember the character of ‘Mrs. Dubose’ well, here’s a scene from the movie --
I haven’t seen any reviews yet of the production at the Kennedy Center, though have come across a couple of articles about her being in the show. This one here in the Washington Post is a pretty good, detailed one.
There’s also a long podcast interview with her by the entertainment reporter for local Washington, D.C. station, WTOP which I’ll link to below. But this is a brief, 40-second preview that’s highly-worth checking out because of a moment at the very end which will melt the hearts of fans of the movie. Presuming you have a heart
One of the things that stands out in her WTOP interview were her glowing words about Gregory Peck, who played her noble father ‘Atticus Finch’ in the film – but also of Brock Peters, who played ‘Tom Robinson,’ the man her father was defending.
“What you saw on screen is what we got at home,” Badham said. “I would go home with the Pecks on the weekend. We became very close and stayed friends right up until he passed. He was an Atticus. He really was. He was so kind, generous, intelligent, well-read and just a very good role model for me because I lost my parents very early in my life.”
In fact, since Badham lost her parents young, Peck became almost a real-life father figure to her.
“My mother died three weeks after I graduated high school and Daddy died two years after I got married,” Badham said. “He [Peck] would take the time to pick up the phone and call: ‘How are you doing, kiddo?’ … Whenever I was in Los Angeles, I’d go to their house. It was a very close relationship. He and Bernice picked up where Mother and Daddy left off.”
It turns out, too, that she stayed in touch with Brock Peters over the years and was sort of mentored by him.
“Brock and I did a symphony program together … in Kansas where they played some pieces of music [from the movie], then between the music we would tell little behind-the-scenes stories … things that happened off-camera,” Badham said. “I had my daddy, I had Gregory Peck and I had Brock Peters. Those three guys were my male role models.”
By the way, if one does know the name “Badham” in relation to movies, it’s more likely her older brother, John Badham. He became a director and a very successful one, making such movies as Saturday Night Fever, WarGames, and Blue Thunder. In fact, he’s still directing, mostly TV these days. She tells a funny story on the podcast about his reacting to her making To Kill a Mockingbird.
“All he ever wanted to do was be in film and theater, that was his goal, he studied at Yale, working hard, beating his brains out to make it,” she said. “He gets a call from my mother, ‘Baby sister is going to be in a movie.’ He’s like, ‘What?’ Fast forward, ‘Baby sister has been nominated for an Academy Award,’ and I don’t think he’s ever forgiven me!”
As a bit of a sidenote, I was intrigued for an odd personal reason by Mary Badham talking on the podcast about the film’s famous Halloween ham costume.
“It was made out of chicken wire and paper machete,” she said. “Our set manager made it [and] wanted to try it on me to make sure it would fit OK. When he did, it went right down and I couldn’t see out of the eye port, so he had to rig up a harness in there. It was so wide, it was a little difficult to maneuver around in it very easily, but we managed.”
Why this stood out for me is that many years ago, I was a tourguide at Universal Studios. And on Halloween, the tourguides were all encouraged to wear costumes. Now, one of the tour controllers, who sent out guides when a tram was ready, was a young woman named Spanky, and everyone there knew that her very favorite movie in the entire world was To Kill a Mockingbird, which was a Universal movie. (We guides would always point out the Boo Radley house when the tram passed by – Boo Radley played by a young Robert Duvall). And as it happened and fate intervened, Spanky herself was very small, less than five-feet. So, what several tourguides did was go to the studio’s massive property warehouse where props from Universal movies over the decades were still stored. And they asked if by any remote chance the warehouse still had the ham costume?? And…it did! The guides explained why they wanted to borrow it for a few hours – and the warehouse manager had a heart and love of movies, and actually gave permission. So, they sneaked the ham costume up to the tour center, and in a joyous ceremony presented it to Spanky to wear on Halloween. She not only was overcome with bowled-over emotion – but even better, she fit in it! And for the rest of the day, this overjoyed young woman went around for Halloween wearing Scout’s real ham costume.
But this is all about Mary Badham, who wore the ham costume for the first time when she was 10 years old. And is now making her stage debut at age 69 in the stage version of To Kill a Mockingbird at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. What a stage debut.
No word yet if she’ll continue on the national tour with the show. But if she is when it comes to Los Angeles in October, I will do everything I can to make the show my second to attend during the pandemic.
Here's the full podcast interview with her for Jason Fraley of WTOP.
I’ve always liked the 1988 movie Crossing Delancey, with a smart screenplay by Susan Sandler based on her play, and richly directed by Joan Micklin Silver. It starred Amy Irving, with a co-starring performance by Peter Riegert. The film did very well for a small movie, though being small it wasn’t a blockbuster, and so is largely overlooked these days.
As good as Amy Irving is – and she’s terrific and got a Golden Globe nomination for Best Actress – Peter Riegert is the joy here for me. In fairness, he’s one of my favorite actors, especially in the underrated category. He’s best known to people as ‘Boon’ from Animal House, and was great in Bill Forsyth’s whimsical, offbeat independent movie Local Hero. (He also had a two-episode role in HBO’s Succession, playing James Cromwell’s longtime lawyer. And a recurring role in Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt.) I don’t tend to quote YouTube User Comments, but one nailed his performance in Crossing Delancey, writing that “Riegert's performance was Master Class level on a par with Spencer Tracy.” That’s exaggeration, but it’s in the ballpark and gets the sensibility – and it brought a spate of further replies in agreement. His performance just overwhelms with low-key charm.
And okay, wonderful as Peter Reigert is, the movie may be stolen by Reizl Bozyk, who plays Amy Irving’s bubbie, her grandmother. She had a long career in the New York Yiddish theatre for over 30 years and in her native Poland, where she began acting at the age of 5. For all intents, this was her first and only movie, after almost 70 years acting. (She appeared in a small role in a small movie about the Catskills 38 years earlier.) She was only in one other production on film, but it was an episode of Law & Order. If you know the series, it’s the episode where an old Jewish Holocaust survivor begins to think her husband might be wanted for collaborating with the Nazis, and he’s later tried for killing her. She played the wife.
Crossing Delancey was on TCM the other day, and I was reminded yet again how good it is, but I especially have always dearly loved the final scene. I particularly like it for one moment, which should be clear when you see it, but it’s all so smart, gentle, graceful, amusing and lovely. As such, I wanted to try something a bit odd – I thought I’d post the end of that final scene with absolutely no explanation. (And this isn’t even the full scene, but only the last 3-1/2 minutes.) If you haven’t seen the movie, and don’t mind seeing how it ends, I think the scene should be clear enough without any set-up. You’ll miss the specifics and precise relationships that gives the scene even more richness. But what’s going on here and the charm of it all should come through clearly. And a long explanation will just get in the way. And best of all, you get to see all three principles -- Amy Irving, Peter Riegert and Reizl Bozyk. And you get to see what I'm talking about with all of them.
If you do want to see the movie first, though, then skip the clip and get the DVD on Netflix (it doesn’t stream) or wait until TCM shows it again. Amazon Prime has it for streaming, though it costs $3.99.
However, if you decide you want to know more about the film and have more of an idea what’s going on before watching the clip, I’m also including the introduction (and closing comments) that were made when the Crossing Delancey previously played on TCM in 2016 and for some reason somebody happily posted it on YouTube. Ron Perlman does the introduction and fills things in nicely. Keep in mind that if you want to see if my "no introduction" test here works, you can watch the scene first and go back to watch the explanation afterwards.
And one of the things that adds to the ingratiating texture of this scene at the end of the movie is the closing credits music, the sweet and moody song “Lucky” by The Roches – who did all the music in the film. The final scene clip unfortunately (but understandably) ends before the credits roll, but I’ve embedded the song that you should click to right away.
But now, on with the show.
Here’s the TCM introduction for those who’d like to watch it first. Otherwise, jump below to the final scene (with my favorite moment I'm sure you'll catch) and then closing song.
And this is the last 3-1/2 minutes of the final scene.
And finally, click here right away for the closing end-credits music, “Lucky” by The Roches.
A few weeks back, I had a few posts about Mike Nichols and Elaine May, so this is sort of an addendum to that. It's a hour-long appearance from 2006 that's mainly him interviewing her, but there's a great deal of cross-talk between them, so it almost more a conversation.
What's so enjoyable about this is seeing them together, and their clear affection for each other from a very long friendship. What's less enjoyable is that there is a huge amount whining about What’s Wrong with Movies Today and Society. She does at least acknowledge being dark compared to Nichols (though he has his share of complaining.
At its best, though, the biggest pleasure is the last 15-20 minutes talking about her films Mikey and Nicky and A New Leaf. The beginning is enjoyable, as well, before they get into heavy complaining, but this final section was the best for me.
By the way, I had never seen Mikey and Nicky, which stars John Cassavetes and Peter Falk. It was made in 1976, wasn't successful, didn't interest me at the time, and it pretty much fell through the cracks. But I finally got around to checking it out just before getting to their discussion here about it.
It's brilliant. Tremendous. I guess I can see why it flopped -- it's not anything even close to what you expect from Elaine May. If you didn't know who wrote and directed the movie and were given 25 guesses, I don't think that most anyone would have put "Elaine May" among those guesses, as either writer or director. The expectation, of course, is that it's a comedy -- since pretty much everything she did in her career was a comedy. And was a wonderful comedy. This...is...not...a...comedy. Not at all. The problem is that the first few scenes are maniacally frenetic, neurotic, and so, given that it's Elaine May, can seem sort of funny, which prepares to audience into thinking it's a comedy -- in fact, she says in the interview that at the early screenings of the film, people were laughing through it, thinking it's a comedy.
Make no mistake, if you check out the movie (and you should), this is not my personal interpretation of it being "dark" under the funny surface. It's not a comedy, not intended to be a comedy. It's a dark, serious, fascinating story about two lifelong friends who are low-level mobsters, one of whom (Cassevetes) is caught in a serious problem and calls his friend for help. It has a few light moments (very few), but is not funny. It's just wonderful.
Anyway, back to the main topic at hand, here's the interview between Nichols and May.
I've always liked Edith Piaf -- I don't know her work as an aficionado, though have listened to her on and off since a kid and do at least have one CD. This is one of her great signature songs, "Non, Je ne Regrette Rien," (No, I regret nothing) which she sings here in concert in 1960, helped here by having English lyric translation.
As a fun bonus, here is Marion Cotillard on The Graham Norton Show, asked about winning the Oscar as Best Actress for playing Piaf in La Vie en Rose. The host brings up her impeccable lip-syncing and asks if she can do some of it again, and against her better wishes she dives in -- with "Non, Je Ne Regrette Rien."
For those who like to look at the calendar for such things, today is the 78th anniversary of D-Day, June 6, 1944. I thought it would therefore be especially appropriate to post this video. It's the wonderful theme to the movie, The Longest Day, sung and performed most appropriately by the Cadet Glee Club of West Point, along with military band.
I first posted this video seven years ago in 2017. It’s my favorite one on the subject – not just for the performance, but for how movingly the video is edited. It's particularly well-done, beginning with a minute of General Dwight Eisenhower's message to the troops before the invasion began, and interspersed with some excellent photos and archival film from the day, amid the soaring music.
By the way, the timpani you hear before the song begins is not only recognizable as the beginning of Beethoven's Fifth Symphony, but more to the point, it's the Morse Code for “V” for Victory.
Also, in case you weren't aware, the main theme for The Longest Day, used throughout the film not just in the end titles, was written by pop-star heartthrob at the time, Paul Anka.
Robert J. Elisberg is a political commentator, screenwriter, novelist, tech writer and also some other things that I just tend to keep forgetting.
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