To mark this year’s 10th anniversary since the release of Focus Features’ Brokeback Mountain (2005), I’ve added three articles I wrote about the movie.
The first, a column on the tragic 2008 death of leading actor Heath Ledger, was written before the release of The Dark Knight (read the review—my first blog post on July 20, 2008—here). I have nothing to add to the commentary, which I wrote for a movie Web site and titled Heath Ledger Dies. The second is an interview I conducted in 2006 with an executive at the movie studio which I called Selling Brokeback Mountain. I think this freewheeling exchange is interesting for several reasons. The piece is a frank discussion about how to market a motion picture. I decided to seek the interview with Jack Foley after seeing the film. I sensed that director Ang Lee’s movie was a seminal film with potential to make money, however, I knew from my experience and observation attending the press screening that persuading theaters and moviegoers to schedule and see the film would be a challenge. Foley gave me a short, whirlwind interview which I think captures the unique enthusiasm surrounding the movie. Third, I’ve included my original movie review of Brokeback Mountain with added home video notes on two separate editions.
I have seen it a few times—I asked the studio for two separate pre-release screenings before I wrote my review and published it, which was the first time I’d done that, as a safeguard against predisposition or bias given the unprecedented hype and ridicule in advance of the December 9, 2005 release—and I will probably watch it again. I’ve also read the original magazine short story by Annie Proulx, which, like True Grit, Shane and Red River, is a short work of psychologically tense Western-themed fiction that elicits a distinctive movie adaptation. Much will probably be said and written this year. Readers and viewers will judge Brokeback Mountain and should. I think of it now as a tale of a loner born too soon, similar to how I regard American Sniper. Like that fine movie, I remember Brokeback Mountain as the year’s best picture, a tragic and haunting movie about the cost of living for others and the lonely, modern struggle to live for oneself.
Tomorrow is Katharine Hepburn’s birthday, so I’ve added a couple of articles about the late actress to the site archives to commemorate this great movie star, whom I called a woman for all seasons when I wrote about her upon her death in 2003. Read my commentary on why I liked her here.
I’ve also included an interview I did with Turner Classic Movies host and film historian Robert Osborne about Katharine Hepburn in 2007 for the centenary of her birth. Besides her extraordinary motion picture career across over five decades, we talked about her appeal, her television appearances and her relationship with Spencer Tracy. Though I haven’t seen all of her movies, I regard Miss Hepburn as among the screen’s greatest actresses and I think of her as the ideal actress to play my favorite literary heroine, Dagny Taggart in Atlas Shrugged. Read an edited transcript of my conversation with Mr. Osborne about Katharine Hepburn here.
Turning to author, Turner Classic Movies host and Hollywood historian Robert Osborne (whom I interviewed about Robert Redford last month), I asked about the late actress Lizabeth Scott, whose 22 motion pictures made an indelible impression on moviegoers.
This is an edited transcript of our short interview.
Robert Osborne: I’m not sure that we have enough of her flims unfortunately. Most of her films were for Paramount and Hal Wallis and we have to lease those. We have The Company She Keeps (1951 with Jane Greer), The Racket (1951, with Robert Mitchum and Robert Ryan) and Pulp (1972, with Michael Caine and Mickey Rooney). There may be some United Artists pictures that we have. I think we have The Strange Love of Martha Ivers (1946, with Van Heflin and Barbara Stanwyck) which is kind of in the public domain. We also have Dead Reckoning (1947 with Humphrey Bogart). You can’t do a proper salute without the right movies. For years, we didn’t have Psycho (1960) and we wanted to do a salute to Janet Leigh. You can’t do a salute to Janet Leigh without Psycho.
Scott Holleran: Did you meet her?
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Robert Osborne: Yes, I did. She came to a couple of Academy events. I hosted a tribute to Barbara Stanwyck and Lizabeth Scott came. She was lovely. I used to see her at parties. She looked terrific, she was very chatty and she always fascinated me. There was a point when I saw her [as Ivy Hotchkiss] in You Came Along (1945) and she was my favorite actress. I pinned up pictures of her. But then she went into the film noir movies and she got into the Lauren Bacall and Veronica Lake mode. I wonder if Hal Wallis, who saw something in her and wanted her under contract, hadn’t pushed her into the film noir mode—it would have been interesting to see what she would have become. [Pauses] You Came Along (1945 with Robert Cummings) is really a lovely movie. Have you seen that?
Scott Holleran: Yes.
Robert Osborne: She was such a charming leading lady in that movie.
Robert Osborne: I think she was good. She was perfect for a movie star. She had the hair and the Bacall demeanor—I don’t think she was in any way a copy of Bacall—and she held her own with Humphrey Bogart and Burt Lancaster and other overwhelming personalities. I always had the feeling that she wasn’t that gung ho about acting—kind of by her own choice; she kind of pulled out of it. If she’d wanted to do more, she would have. She was a smart cookie. I think she realized that what she had to sell was timeless—she was smart enough to know that. Bacall had a limited shelf life, too, but she went from the vamp in [Howard Hawks’] To Have and Have Not to becoming a character actress, which she did in The Shootist with John Wayne. In that sense, I think Lizabeth Scott knew she had a limited shelf life.
Scott Holleran: Did the smearing in Confidential help push her out of Hollywood?
Robert Osborne: I don’t think so. It was nasty. Of course, everyone believed it but, because she ran with a tony group of people, I don’t think it affected her. She was better known for being Hal Wallis’ girlfriend, which was never confirmed. But it got to the point where nothing that Confidential [the publication that printed the smear against Lizabeth Scott] published was believed.
Scott Holleran: Is she a wronged woman?
Robert Osborne: Is she wronged? [Pauses] She was certainly damaged by rumors.
Scott Holleran: Was there an out of court settlement?
Robert Osborne: I don’t know. You do bring up an interesting point. She was very chic and she had a lot of money. I had a feeling that her motivation [to act] had more to do with money than with the satisfaction of acting. You might say that Sally Field had to be an actress. With Lizabeth Scott, I think that having a nice bank account and living well was important to her. She knew it wouldn’t go on forever and she was smart enough to make as much money as she could while she could.
Scott Holleran: What are Miss Scott’s three most essential pictures for one who’s never seen her?
Robert Osborne: Dead Reckoning, which shows that she could hold her own with big name stars. Certainly, You Came Along. And I think that I Walk Alone (1948, with Burt Lancaster) is a terrific movie. She’s also very good in The Company She Keeps, with Jane Greer, which is about these two women—a woman who goes to prison and a parole officer—and you kinda think Lizabeth Scott would play the ex-convict and Jane Greer the parole officer but it’s the other way around. But I would say those first three.
Scott Holleran: Is it fair to describe her as a film noir actress?
Robert Osborne: I think so, because film noir is so loved—it’s probably the most loved genre of movies—it kind of describes her properly. She’s so adorable in Loving You(1957) with Elvis Presley and other things. I don’t think Lizabeth Scott felt like she had to be an actress. But she was certainly qualified to do so much more.
Leonard Maltin: I met her twice, ever so briefly. Many years ago, we met at a reception honoring Hal Wallis—Bette Davis and Earl Holliman were there—and then again at the Golden Boot awards years later.
Scott Holleran: What do you think of her?
Leonard Maltin: On screen for me she defined the word sultry, which I realize brings me nearly into cliché territory, and most recently I saw the Film Noir Foundation’s restoration of Too Late for Tears (1949). I think I’ve underrated the film in the movie guide—she was good. Whether she had more range than we realize or she was perfectly suited to those femme fatale roles we’ll never know. But she certainly filled them very well.
Scott Holleran: Is she a good actress?
Leonard Maltin: Yes, I think so.
Scott Holleran: What are three essential Lizabeth Scott pictures?
Leonard Maltin: Dead Reckoning because it’s one of her more significant films. It teamed her with Bogart at the peak of his career and it’s a good movie. Then I would add Too Late for Tears because I think it is a prototypical film noir with a great part for her because she’s so persuasive as the femme fatale, and I suppose Pitfall (1948).
Scott Holleran: What’s at the root of her cinematic appeal?
Leonard Maltin: She had a unique look—her looks were unusual. They were not conventional Hollywood looks and she had a certain bearing and attitude that seemed particularly suited to that film noir genre. She didn’t look like a sunny ingénue. So she’s always convincing.
Scott Holleran: Is it fair to describe Lizabeth Scott as a film noir actress?
Leonard Maltin: I don’t think it’s unfair because that’s what we really remember her for—but it is limiting because it implies that that’s all she could do.
Lizabeth Scott is gone. She was 92. The actress, who reportedly died in Los Angeles on January 31, was striking, talented and unjustly undervalued and underemployed in Hollywood—where she was viciously smeared. But she was both luminous and, in a way, premature for a world that matched her ability. Having briefly met her, I think she probably knew it.
Many, possibly most, readers probably haven’t heard of her and there’s no reason why they should. The Scranton, Pennsylvania, native was raised as a Catholic, quit college to start working in New York City, and was discovered by legendary producer Hal Wallis (Casablanca, True Grit, Anne of the Thousand Days, Love Letters, The Furies, Now, Voyager, Sergeant York) who put her as the female lead opposite Robert Cummings in You Came Along (1945), directed by John Farrow and written by Ayn Rand. But she never truly got what she deserves.
Miss Scott was usually better than her parts and films. She possessed all the qualities being written about her in and throughout today’s media—the coastal Times newspapers predictably peg her as a ‘film noir’ actress—including the sexual intensity, the intelligence, the voice, the slightly androgynous air and the unaffected, tough exterior embedded with the will to submit at her discretion. She wore Edith Head’s glamorous costumes well and she was radiant, though she was rarely given the role in which to shine. From her early pictures, such as You Came Along, which she told me when we met was her first and favorite of her 22 movies, and The Strange Love of Martha Ivers (1946) to Loving You (1957) with Elvis Presley and Pulp (1972) with Mickey Rooney, she almost always added depth and at least brightness to the screen. She makes her films, which are mostly mediocre, worth seeing.
Miss Scott lived alone in the Hollywood Hills, evoking one of Scott’s heroines, screen legend Greta Garbo, and, throughout her career, she was an individualist, which left her open to ridicule and innuendo. Having once expressed that she wore men’s cologne and pajamas and confessed that she hated frilly dresses, she was smeared by a hack (and former Communist) who insinuated that Lizabeth Scott was a lesbian. This nearly destroyed her career. Citing damages, Scott sued for $2.5 million in 1955. The New York Times reports in Scott’s obituary that the lawsuit is “believed” to have been settled out of court for an undisclosed sum. As a leading lady in film noir and noirish pictures such as Desert Fury (1948) and Too Late for Tears (1949), Lizabeth Scott—who had co-starred with Burt Lancaster, Humphrey Bogart, Alan Ladd, Robert Mitchum, Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis, Michael Caine and with Charlton Heston in his film debut—was finished. She withdrew from movies, focusing on occasional television appearances, a musical recording career and auditing philosophy courses at the University of Southern California (USC).
When I met the actress briefly during an event at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AMPAS) honoring her late co-star Barbara Stanwyck several years ago, she was still the would-be movie star, not so much moving through as glowing throughout the room and taking everyone’s breath away while leaving them bewildered as to why. I told her that I had enjoyed her performances and I expressed an interest in interviewing her, which she at first waved off. Then I mentioned her first film, You Came Along, the Ayn Rand-penned picture in which she portrayed a government worker who falls in love with a troubled soldier on a bond tour. At the mere mention of this movie, she paused, moving closer. Her eyes grew wide and she gripped my hand and said: “I loved Ayn Rand.” She explained her reasons and we talked about my favorite writer, whom she said was one of the few in Hollywood whom she felt understood her ability. Then, Lizabeth Scott turned to her escort and asked him to give me the contact information to schedule an interview. I later proposed to interview Miss Scott as part of a series for the Ayn Rand Archives, which had just produced the long-awaited 100 Voices. But, while I would have treasured the opportunity to interview Miss Scott, I remember my moments with her fondly and I am confident that her proper place in motion pictures will be recognized in time. As she once said:
I don’t want to be classed as a ‘personality,’ something to stare at. I want to have my talents respected, not only by the public but by myself.”
Miss Scott was constantly compared to the late Lauren Bacall, another sultry, smoky-voiced actress from the same era in movies. But I think Miss Scott might have been the better actress, with wider range and a more compelling presence on screen (I mean no disrespect to Bacall, whom I appreciate in pictures such as Howard Hawks’ To Have and Have Not and The Shootist with John Wayne). It is too bad that Miss Scott is remembered as an early film noir prototype and not much else. The term femme fatale does not do her justice. Sadly, it is too late for that now. I think that it is probably still too soon for Lizabeth Scott and that the world is possibly not yet ready for the actress she might have become. But I experienced firsthand that Lizabeth Scott was ready for the world and on her own terms—and this is a grand lifetime achievement.
Three new interviews focusing on music and movies are posted. Robert Osborne, host of Turner Classic Movies, talked about TCM’s Star of the Month, Robert Redford (who’s in Utah kicking off the Sundance Film Festival) in a candid exchange about the elusive movie star (read the interview here).
Melissa Manchester sat down with me to discuss her early years with music industry mogul Clive Davis, the challenges of maintaining a 40-year career in show business and writing, recording and crowdfunding her first new album (You Gotta Love the Life) in 10 years, which debuts next month (read the interview here).
And writer and director Mike Binder (Reign Over Me, The Upside of Anger) gave me an exclusive, in-depth interview about his controversial racially-themed picture, Black or White, starring Academy Award winners Octavia Spencer and Kevin Costner, which opens this Friday, January 30 (read the interview here).