Joseph Kane

This is a boilermaker plot, Roy and the good guys saving the ranch from the bad guys.  But as run-of-the-mill as Song of Texas is, Roy Rogers’ acting is so outstanding that the film becomes a perfect example of his inability to make a wrong step before the camera.  Every moment, he is acting, listening and reacting.  He is in character  —  his character, his persona  —  in each frame.


The music:  The film opens in a children’s hospital where Rogers visits and performs for the patients.  While Mexicali Rose seems an odd and inappropriate choice, he delivers it in  a manner suitable for children.  But later when he sings Moonlight and Roses to his costar, it is definitely for adults only.


Rick’s Journal    —        MY FILM CAREER

Having written the mini review above, I next saw UNDER CALIFORNIA STARS

William Witney

Roy Rogers performed for half a century.  What I was not there for, I have researched and studied and retroactively reviewed.  In all the years and career that are Roy Rogers, UNDER CALIFORNIA STARS is my first disappointment.

My initial reaction was to blame it on color.  My gut told me that Roy Rogers does not belong in color.  But then I recalled that I discovered him in color, singing “Blue Shadows on the Trail” in Disney’s Melody Time. 

Could the fault be Trucolor?  Much fault, in general, can be found with Trucolor.  But can it explain some  —  only a handful  —  but some strange facial expressions which take him outside his persona?  —  for the FIRST TIME.  (And Trucolor cannot be blamed for a slight addition in weight, especially in the face.  Or can it?)

UNDER CALIFORNIA STARS has other problems.  A dog of a plot; lack of pace; a kid at its center who cannot act; and uninteresting songs for Roy.  Even Jane Frazee can’t be at her best when required to keep mugging for the camera.

And there must be the supposedly comic sidekick, and this time it’s the supposedly funny Andy Devine.

UNDER CALIFORNIA SKIES is of course worth seeing, but it is Roy’s first A-.

Roy — in color


You’ve heard of the fastest gun in the west, king of the west, etc.  I have always personally thought of Bob Nolan as ego of the west.  But he is restrained and effective in UNDER CALIFORNIA SKIES.  I may have been doing him an injustice.

Bob Nolan of the Sons of the Pioneers













Yet one further quotation from Italo Calvino:  As is evident from my previous citations, Calvino grew up in his small town in Italy learning and knowing the Hollywood film so well that he had all the themes, all the plots and all the players at his beck and call  —  succinctly and precisely.  Here he is on the personas of various supporting players:  “…for the comic parts (Everett Horton and Frank Morgan), or the ‘baddies’ (John Carradine and Joseph Calleia.)  It was a bit like in the pantomime, where all the roles are predictable, so that reading the cast list I would already know that Billie Burke must be the somewhat dotty lady, Aubrey Smith the crusty colonel, Mischa Auer the penniless scrounge, Eugene Pallette the millionaire [and] the actor who always played the touchy hotel porter [or waiter] (Franklin Pangborn).”

(“A Cinema-goer’s Autobiography” in The Road to San Giovanni by Italo Calvino.  New York,  Pantheon Books, 1993.)


Until then,
See you there,


Rick’s Journal    —    MY FILM CAREER

I earlier noted for my readers that my lists of best books  —  rather, favorite books  —  about film lacked a good title on animation and needed a history of the western.  Some of you may have noticed a further glaring gap.

What about documentary film?

John Grierson

I have in my own library on film a book from 1946 called Grierson on Documentary, edited by Forsyth Hardy.  From the publisher’s  jacket flap:  “In the early thirties a new word and a new name began to appear with some regularity in the comparatively new sphere of film criticism.  The new word was ‘documentary’ and the new name John Grierson.  Documentary had indeed made its first appearance some years earlier in a review written by Grierson for the New York Sun.  It was derived from documentaire a word applied by the French to their travel films.  Grierson used it to describe Flaherty’s ‘Moana,’ an account of the South Sea islanders.  In some fifteen or twenty years it has come to represent a vast, far-reaching use of the film for social analysis.”

Critic Forsyth Hardy has gathered here Grierson’s most important writings to that time in a readable collection with 92 illustrations.

This is as solid an introduction to documentary and its history, and significance, as one could wish for.  But think of how much has transpired in film and documentary film especially since 1946.

Can anyone suggest a good book for us?



The heading in the New York Times reads “National Film Registry Adds Three Standouts.”  The short article on the Arts, Briefly page reports the year’s inductions into the Library of Congress’ National Film Registry.  The three outstanding films, according to the Times, are the original Walt Disney Cinderella, Jurassic Park and My Fair Lady.  It gives one pause that the Times chooses My Fair Lady from a list that includes Hud, The Shining, Brokeback Mountain, and The Lady From Shanghai.  (New York Times, 12/12/18.)

NEXT FRIDAY POST April 12:  “The Best Cowboys Are From Ohio”

Until then,
See you at the movies,



There is nothing new or original under the sun of Dom Hemingway, a screenplay about a bitter man who serves someone else’s term and leaves prison hell-bent on revenge  —  revenge on his personal enemies and on the world.  What IS new is further excellence from Jude Law in the title role.  The bawdy soliloquies and dialogue give him film-long loose reign.  But there are three instances of nuance beyond subtlety in the mobile face and talking eyes of one of our most remarkable actors.

Hey Jude!

SPOILER ALERTS:  There is the scene outside the club where his daughter sings.  This is the scene in which she refuses to call him Dad, the moment when he grasps the depth of her rejection of him.  The expression of Law’s eyes is desperately human beyond description.

Then there is the farewell scene between him and this now slightly softening daughter Evie and his grandson, after their meeting at the cemetery where Evie’s mother lies buried.  Again the eyes:  hurt and hope.

But especially there is the earlier scene on the train as Dom and his friend Dickie    travel through the French countryside to visit Mr. Fontaine (Demián Bichir) for whom Dom went to prison and spent twelve years behind the bars.  Dickie (Richard E. Grant) tells a hungover and sexually exhausted Dom that he cannot make up for twelve years in three days.  Law’s miraculously expressive face as he replies:  “But I tried,”  registers bluster, pride, then self-amusement.

This is one of the best actors in movies.

Bear the barrage of obscenities and don’t miss Dom Hemingway.


written and directed by Richard Shepard



Readers will be interested in an interview with Jude Law by Kathryn Shattuck in The NEW YORK TIMES.  Shattuck begins rather strangely by appearing to wonder if, in playing Dumbledore in Fantastic Beasts, Law should be worried about taking on a part played by Richard Harris and Michael Gambon   These are both fine actors, but  —  I mean  —  Really?  Is she not familiar with the 25 years of remarkable performances by Jude Law?

But her questions to him are useful, especially one about his appearance.  Responding about what he himself calls the problem of being “the beautiful young thing,” he is interesting, amusing and profound.

(“Jude Law, on Dumbledore and Himself” by Kathryn Shattuck, New York Times, 11/18/18.)


George M. Thomas writes:  “Law is perfectly cast as the playfully charming Dumbledore.  It’s difficult to recall when any actor has dropped himself into a role played previously by someone else with such ease and made it his own.”  (“Fantastic Beasts Losing Charm” by George M. Thomas, Akron Beacon Journal, 11/17/18.)


Jude Law is currently on theater screens in Captain Marvel.






Until then,
See you at the movies.






Gary Cooper in HIGH NOON







Over the Rainbow

HIGH NOON by Glenn Frankel.  Riveting tale of the creation of a Hollywood masterpiece, the story of which includes the investigation of the film industry  by the House UnAmerican Activities Committee.  With a piquant glance at the career of Gary Cooper.  (See Rick’s Flicks 4/28/18.)

THE NAME ABOVE THE TITLE by Frank Capra.  As good a book as exists of a creator’s analysis of his own work  —  and an insider’s look at the Hollywood of the 30s.  But in a sad conclusion Capra unaccountably savages himself.   Copious stills and other photographs.

THE MAKING OF THE WIZARD OF OZ by Aljean Harmetz.  Thoroughly researched, this still reads like a novel.  It is especially good at revealing who was responsible for what on the committee that achieved this Hollywood masterpiece.

RAINBOW by Christopher Finch.  THE best of the more than forty books about Judy Garland.  Finch understands what was done to her and what she did to herself.  But he also understands and appreciates her work.

GODARD, A PORTRAIT OF THE ARTIST AT SEVENTY by Colin McCabe.  An outstanding study of the works of the man considered by most to be the greatest  —  certainly the most influential  — filmmaker living.  Filmography and “Select Bibliography” which actually is quite exhaustive.

THE MAKING OF GWTW by Gavin Lambert.  By the novelist, essayist and film critic.  An analytical look at Gone with the Wind especially useful in its attempt to assign certain scenes to certain of the film’s several directors.  Lambert makes a case that through her struggles with director Victor Fleming and her creation of her own Scarlett  —  subtly different from Fleming’s and even author Margaret Mitchell’s  —  Vivien Leigh became a creative force in the making of the film.

HITCHCOCK’S MUSIC by Jack Sullivan.  An intriguing, thorough study of the master’s use of music in all his films, from the beginning through FAMILY PLOT.  The book is at times detailed to the point that with it in hand, you can follow the music scene by scene in a given film.

THE GREAT MOVIES by William Bayer.  A personal but responsible selection by a perceptive critic.  Again, a coffee table format with outstanding illustrations but containing sophisticated analyses of films through Cabaret in 1972.

FIVE CAME BACK by Mark Harris.  An account of five Hollywood directors and the propaganda films they made during World War ll (Wyler, Ford, Capra, Huston, Stevens).  Thoroughly researched, it too reads like a novel.  (See Rick’s Flicks 9/29/17).


My readers will recognize that my second ten favorites list includes but nine entries.  I still need a good title in the field of animation and still welcome any followers’ recommendations.

In addition, the two titles I was considering as histories of the WESTERN turned out disappointing as I studied them again in preparation for my list.  So, I need suggestions in that rich category as well.

Let me hear from you.

Frank Capra







Jean-Luc Godard


Until then,
See you at the movies.



Reader Jane H. Three suggested that I blog about the best books on film.  I decided on the proverbial ten best but, unable to hold it to ten, I went for twenty  —  in two parts:  a blog on ten and a blog for a second ten.

Humility interferes:  As I surveyed my choices and noted the unevenness of the kinds of books and the frequent bent towards favorite films and favorite people of my own, I felt compelled to alter Jane’s suggestion and call this FAVORITE BOOKS ABOUT FILM.

The list includes surveys and histories and books of theory; titles treating genre; titles about individual performers and directors;  and books about particular films.

My original intent to include complete bibliographical information as clue to their availability has proven easier thought than accomplished.  If any reader is interested in the original publication data or current availability of a particular title, I will do my best to help.



THE FILM TILL NOW by Paul Rotha.  A personal favorite:  the first film history I read; the first film book I bought.  It surveys international film from its beginnings  —  and with a supplement by Richard Griffith, “The Film Since Then”  — and through 1948.  It is hard on Hollywood.

FILM FORM and THE FILM SENSE by S.M. Eisenstein.  Abstract and abstruse but essential.  The great director’s two volumes of theory and praxis are filled with examples from his own work and illustrated with unusual graphics plus stills from his films.

THE FILM AND THE PUBLIC by Roger Manvell.  A survey of all aspects of film and its history through 1955.  It includes analytical discussions of many of the author’s favorites:  Greed, L’Atalante; Brief Encounter; The Third Man and others.

THE STARS by Richard Schickel.  A serious critic’s views of all the famous stars in the Hollywood studio system from the beginnings through the 50s, ending with Elizabeth Taylor whom he dubs “the last star.”  The book includes the finest single paragraph ever written about Judy Garland.  (What would Schickel write today of Cruise, McQueen, Streep, Roberts?)

DAVID O. SELZNICK’S HOLLYWOOD by Ronald Haver.  Scholarly and fun.  A survey of the man, his studio and his era  —  in coffee table format with gorgeous color sections on Gone with the Wind and Duel in the Sun.

THE REEL LIST; a categorical companion to over 2,000 memorable films by Lynne Arany, Tom Dyia and Gary Goldsmith.  Appropriately subtitled “a categorical companion,” it contains 200 lists of 9 or 10 films on themes and subjects like films about killing your spouse, films on the checkered flag (auto racing), boys to men, gotta dance  —  and many more.  A great and unusual viewing guide.

DIARY OF A FILM by Jean Cocteau.  One of the earliest, and still one of the best, “making of” ‘s in personal, very honest form by French filmmaker Jean Cocteau about his Beauty and the Beast.  With evocative photographs.

VALENTINO by Irving Shulman.  There are more factual, reliable books about the screen’s legendary lover but Shulman captures the charisma of the man Jesse Lasky called “the greatest star of them all”  —   and the madness of his fans.

SEEING THROUGH MOVIES by Mark Crispin Miller.  A collection of several long essays by Crispin and others,highly readable but seriously thoughtful.  For example, there is one dealing with how and where we see films (tv at home, in a theater) and the difference that makes.  Another treats films about Vietnam.

One of Judy Garland’s greatest hits, directed by Vincente Minnelli





Valentino in BLOOD AND SAND







REQUEST FOR INPUT:  Readers and followers will note that the list lacks a book about animation.  Suggestions, anyone?



Found at our local library by my collaborator BKG

TARANTINO:  A RETROSPECTIVE by Tom Shone.  Insight Editions, 2017.

A comprehensive survey lavishly, but meaningfully, illustrated.


Until then,
See you at the movies,



The Screen Actors Guild Awards


Did you watch the presentation of the awards this past Sunday?  It may as well have been the Oscar show.  We began with a supposedly funny host concentrating on mean put-downs of the people present.  She did stop short of ridiculing the awards themselves, something in which the Oscar hosts and presenters now specialize.  But even CASABLANCA came in for knocks.  (A reassessment of this film’s hallowed niche as the greatest work of art in the history of humankind is long overdue, but  fifteen seconds on this show was neither the place nor the time.)

Returning to one presenter  —  the original Academy’s original way  — would help.  This would avoid the cutting up between the two presenters in which the award becomes the minor point (Alec Baldwin and Mullally especially egregious).   But Hugh Grant showed that you can make a fool of yourself as a single presenter. The Academy also used to allow no nominee on stage unless being awarded.  This was appropriate and gave some dignity to the occasion.  Today we have seen everything but someone presenting an Oscar to himself or herself, and this is probably just down the road.

The president of the Guild gave an impressive address in which she spoke of the “dignity and power” of the work of the actor.  There was little of the former in the evening’s shenanigans.  Exceptions were provided by Tom Hanks and Alan Alda and Patricia Arquette and Gary Oldman.

A low point was reached at the presentation of the concluding ensemble award as each ensemble cast cheered its movie when its name was called in nomination.



If to my mind the cinema consisted above all of actors and actresses, one should nevertheless remember that for me, as for all Italian moviegoers, only half of each actor and actress was truly present, in the sense that we got only their bodies and not their voices, which were substituted by the abstraction of the dubbing, by a conventional, alien, insipid diction, no less anonymous than the printed subtitles which in other countries (or at least in those where filmgoers are thought to be more agile) tell you what the mouths nevertheless continue to communicate with all the considerable charge of individual pronunciation, of a phonetic signature made up of lips, teeth, saliva, made up above all of the varying, geographically conditioned accents of the American melting pot, in a language that for those who understand it offers nuances of expression and for those who don’t brings with it an extra musical potency (such as one hears today in Japanese and Swedish films).  The conventionality of American cinema  was thus “dubbled” (you will excuse the almost pun) by the conventionality of the dubbing, which to our ears, however, became part and parcel of the film’s enchantment, something inseparable from the images, a sign that the power of the cinema was born silent, and that sound  —  at least for Italian cinema-goers  —  has always been felt as an appendage, a caption in block capitals.  (“A Cinema-goer’s Autobiography” in The Road to San Giovanni by Italo Calvino,   New York, Pantheon Books, 1993.)


Until then,
See you OUT AT the movies,


Recently I have been looking through a book I have neglected for years, John Kobal Presents the 100 Best Movies (New American Library, 1988).  Kobal gives one page to each of his choices, offering brief discussions and good illustrations.  But one of the most enjoyable features of his book is an appendix with the ten-best lists of many other critics.  Here are two interesting ones.


James Card

Bicycle Thieves
Miss Julie
The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari
The Passion of Joan of Arc
The Gold Rush
The Last Command
A Page Out of Order
City Girl

Andrew Sarris

The Earrings of Madame De…
The Rules of the Game
Ugetsu Monogatari
The Searchers
The Magnificent Ambersons
The Great Dictator
Steamboat Bill, Jr.


James Card founded the film library at the George Eastman House in Rochester, New York and was film curator there for many years.  He was active in the film preservation movement.  Andrew Sarris was one of the most widely known of America’s film critics, respected worldwide.  He was an expounder of the auteur theory of film creation.  As you peruse and reflect on the two lists, you will want to know that Card died in 2000, Sarris in 2012.

A Page Out of Order, on James Card’s list, is a 1925 Japanese silent which some critics describe as a fragment and others believe to be an experimental film, complete as we have it.  (Directed by Teinosuke Kinugasa from a story by Kawabata.)



Rick’s Flicks announces a new page on Vivien Leigh.  Click on Vivien Leigh above, then scroll down to SICK AND TIRED.


COMING SOON TO THIS SCREEN  –  “Best Books About Film.”


Until then,
See you at the movies,