Happy New Year! And the new Mad Max movie confirmed! – with a picture!

There hasn’t been much to talk about this week but two very interesting (autographed) photos appeared online and quietly unleashed a whirlwind of fan speculation that was apparently recently confirmed by Warner Brothers as authentic. It has been known for over a year that Tom Hardy has been cast to play Max Rockitansky in George Miller’s 4th movie in his post-apocalyptic Mad Max series. Production began on Fury Road back in 2011 in Broken Hill, Australia where the previous installments were shot. Sadly terrible weather and bad flooding made it necessary for director Miller to move the production to Namibia in Africa to complete the film. What I can tell you about Mad Max: Fury Road is that filming began in Africa in July of 2012 and wrapped officially on December 17th, just a couple of weeks ago. Miller also confirmed that very early in 2013 the crew would be returning to Africa to do some “pick up” scenes and the greater part of 2013 will involve CGI and special effects work with the current plan to have the film released in theaters for a Holiday 2013 release. I know that’s an awful long way off but I love a rousing end of the world story…Sure I’ve mentioned that before. Mad Max is a legendary series with 1981’s The Road Warrior one of my favorite action films of all time. Plot details are even more scarce than details about the new Star Trek film. Speculation runs from one camp suggesting its complete reboot of the franchise while another claims this is a sequel to 1985’s Beyond Thunderdome. One scooper suggests that the movie is a sequel of sorts yet combines elements from Mad Max and The Road Warrior revamped for a modern audience. Regardless of what happens on screen I can tell you I am more than ready for a new Max adventure. The cast is mainly unknowns but I can tell you Charlize Theron stars in a major role, (it has been suggested she is the villain) and Australian actor Hugh Keays-Byrne, who played the evil gang leader “The Toe Cutter” in the original Mad Max, appears as someone called – Immortan Joe, whatever that means. The film has a budget believed to be in the $100 million range and the lengthy shooting schedule suggests complicated action and stunt sequences which are a hallmark of the Mad Max films. Hopefully they won’t over indulge in too much CGI.

Tom Hardy is Mad Max in Warner Brothers:  Fury Road

Tom Hardy is Mad Max in Warner Brothers: Fury Road

In any case, with a year to wait all I can show you as we welcome 2013 into our lives is one photograph of Tom Hardy and Warners does confirm, This is a shot of Mad Max from the new film. I think this counts as a scoop! Enjoy!

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RIP – Charles Durning….another one of ….THOSE guys.

I am very sad to learn that on Christsmas Eve, Noted character actor Charles Durning passed away at the age of 89. Durning is most certainly one of “those” special actors I have been talking about lately. Durning is also what I consider a “true” star, not a celebrity. His life and the lives of film stars who rose up in that generation are so different from what we have today that the comparisons are impossible to make.

Charles Durning grew up in abject poverty, in Hudson Falls, Yew York. One of 10 children he watched five of his sisters die from small pox or other deadly diseases in his younger years. Durning’s mother was a laundress at West Point Military Academy and as a young man he left the family home hoping they could get by better with one less mouth to feed. Durning took work as a farm hand, and menial laborer until he managed to stow away enough money to move to Buffalo where the opportunity for better work could be found.
Durning’s career as an actor/comedian actually began unexpectedly as so many great things often do. Charlie was working as an usher in a Buffalo burlesque joint when the house comedian showed up too drunk to take the stage. In a moment of boldness, He convinced the joint owner to let him go on instead Charlie got big laughs, made a little money and something of a reputation for humor in Buffalo and at that point he was hooked on show business. World War II would side-track him for a while.
Another reason Durning and his fellows are so better than what we have today. When the war started he immediately volunteered for the army and was one of the very first combat troops to land on Normandy during D Day. On the 6h of June, shortly after landing on Omaha beach, Durning’s unit was ambushed by German machine gunners and he was the only survivor. Later, during the horrors of the battle of the bulge, Durning was separated from his unit in the snow and was forced to engage in hand to hand combat with a German soldier whom he reportedly killed with a rock. What is most extraordinary about this man however is that he along with other survivors from his company were captured by Germans near the end of the Bulge and were marched through the snow toward Malmedy, the site of the massacre of over 90 U.S. soldiers by the Germans. Durning through bravery and stealth was one of the few G.I.’s to escape and survive. By the war’s end, he had collected a Silver Star for Valor and 3 Purple Hearts. His experiences in Europe during the war so traumatized Durning that upon his return to the States, he remained a virtual recluse for nearly a decade, barely eking out a living.
Durning’s big break didn’t come until 1962, many years after the war when a chance encounter with Joe Papp, a theater owner/ promoter invited him to audition to participate in the New York Shakespeare Festival. His career took off like a snowball down a mountain from that point. Charlie starred in more than 35 plays with Papp’s company and garnered critical and audience praise for his charm and talent. Work in television movies followed with a string of critical hits in the 1970’s into the 80’s including the prison drama, Attica, and a critical turn as Willy Loman’s (Dustin Hoffman’s) friendly neighbor in Death of A Salesman. Durning really became a house hold name though in 1982 when he starred opposite Dustin Hoffman in Tootsie, playing a lonely, overweight widower who “fell in love” with Hoffman’s cross-dressing news anchor. Tootsie was a huge hit and set the stage for some outstanding drama and comedy roles in both film and television.

Like Henry Silva, Durning also appeared opposite Warren Beatty in Dick Tracy, playing police chief Brandon. In more contemporary times, Durning was a favorite of Joel and Ethan coen who cast him in important roles in both The Hudsucker Proxy and O, Brother Where Ar’t Thou? Many comedy fans will remember him for his Oscar nominated portrayal of a (comically) corrupt governer in Burt Reynold’s film, Best Little Whorehouse in Texas. Durning didn’t win the Oscar nor did he win any of the nine emmy awards he was nominated for but in 2008 The Screen Actor’s Guild (SAG) presented the actor with their Lifetime Achievement Award, something he truly deserved. Durning and Burt Reynolds became very good friends following several film appearances together and to many fans, Durning will ever be remembered for his role on the 4 seasons of the Burt Reynold’s football sitcom, Evening Shade. On that show he played small country doctor, Harlan Eldridge. If you don’t remember this show you should check it out. It was very good and boasted a great cast including: Reynolds, Ossie Davis, Hal Hollbrook and Marilu Henner. The show went off the air in 1994.

In his prolific career that included over 200 film appearances, Durning can also be seen In such great films as: The Sting, To Be Or Not To Be – the Mel Brooks remake (for which he was also nominated for an Oscar) & the football comedy North Dallas Forty.

The world is a sadder place for Mr. Durning’s passing.

Reynolds and Durning shortly after Burt presented him the SAG Lifetime Achievement Award

Reynolds and Durning shortly after Burt presented him the SAG Lifetime Achievement Award

 

 

Durning as a comic Colonel in To Be or Not To Be (1983)

Durning as a comic Colonel in To Be or Not To Be (1983)

Slow week. Meet another old friend of mine….

I spent a bit of my free time this holiday reviewing about 30 different lists of “best movies of 2012” and I’m sure I’m not alone in thinking this….but most of them suck. Two of the websites who formulated lists had reviewed the current big screen version of Les Mis as barely one step above bird droppings yet both of them later listed it on their top ten list. Seeing the films that have been cranked out of the International film-factory has made me pine not for the smaller, independent films, but rather films that have been populated by personality….not cookie-cutter arch-types with negligible on screen presence. I get bored and angry and realize finally that today we have “Celebrities” and back then we had, “MOVIE STARS”. Don’t see many of those around these days….*sigh*

As I mentioned in the last post, sometimes mediocre films become great and great films become unforgettable because of the participation of “the little people”, the side players that so often bring great personality to films and make the “big stars” look huge. I have a soft spot for those guys, especially if they have charm, personality and presence. My last post was on Vic McGlaglen. An actor who had all of the above. Today I want to re-acquaint you with another such actor. Meet:

Henry Silva –

Name not familiar? Well it should be because there is a genre connection to Henry as well as a classical one. Henry was born in Brooklyn in November of 1928. As of this writing he is still with us today and in good health. (Such as that is at a butt-crack below 85.) Like so many of his generation, what Mr. Brokow called “the greatest generation”, Henry dropped out of school early. He was 13. He took up work as a dish-washer and later as a waiter to earn a living. In 1955 Henry auditioned for the prestigious Actor’s Studio and was accepted. In 1955 there were more than 2500 actors making application to attend and only five were selected. Henry was among them. Like so many others, Henry graduated the prestigious school and went on to appear in all manner of plays with peers that would go on to find their own measure of fame. some of the early performers Henry worked and rose with include: Ben Gazzara, Harry Guardino and Shelly Winters. If you’ll recall, Harry G starred opposite Clint Eastwood in the first Dirty Harry film…I digress.
Early on in his career, Henry’s presence and exceptional voice made him a popular choice to play the heavy in mob pictures, westerns and other “action” dramas. Being part Sicilian and part Spanish would also play a major role in Henry’s film career but more on that in just a moment. In the mid 1950’s shortly after a certain blue-eyed, oscar winning crooner met him and befriended him, Henry’s career truly blossomed. In 1960, Henry was cast as Roger Corneal, former member of the 82d airborne in Lewis Milestone’s original ( and still BEST) Ocean’s 11 opposite Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin and Sammy Davis. The amount of fun the cast and crew had making this picture often outshines the picture itself and Henry soon became a lifelong friend of both Sinatra and Dean Martin. After E-O 11, Henry again co-starred with Sinatra in the brilliant Manchurian Candidate. In another film role he had during those years he starred as one of Jerry Lewis’s evil step brothers in “Cinderfella” – one of Jerry’s first film roles after splitting with long time business partner Dean Martin. Cinderfella garnered good reviews and good box office further helping to seal Henry’s position as supporting player.
As the 60’s rolled on, Henry discovered television as a way to enhance his presence and he appeared on many genre television programs in some very memorable roles including: Voyage To The Bottom of the Sea, Alfred Hitchcock Presents and what many consider to be the bastard step-child of The Twilight Zone – Rod Serling’s Night Gallery. What really changed Henry’s “hollywood” fortunes though was very similar to what happened to Clint Eastwood.
In 1965, an Italian film producer who had been impressed by Henry’s looks and voice, offered him his first major lead role in a western they were filming in Spain. (Sound familiar?) The Hills Run Red was an amazing box office hit in Europe, particularly Spain, Italy, Germany and France. Oddly, the film was not as widely regarded here as Eastwood’s A Fistful of Dollars.
In any case, between 1966 and 1977 Henry starred in upwards of 25 major European films in leading or very prominent roles and he secured for himself wealth, fame and a very loyal following. He returned to America in 1977 because an old friend asked him to appear in one of his last films. Yes, It was Frank Sinatra who enticed Henry to come back and appear with him in the film, Contract on Cherry Street, a crime drama made for NBC and shown on TV. The film and re-connecting with old friends convinced Henry to give the States another shot. Genre fans might be glad he did because after Cherry street wrapped, Henry was offered the role of “Killer Kane” (later just Kane) in a new movie adaptation of Buck Rogers in the 25th Century. When the pilot movie was picked up as an actual series, Henry wasn’t available to take the role on permanantly so another “old friend” took the role in the series. That actor was Michael Ansara who some would know as the one time husband of actress Barbara (I Dream of Jeannie) Eden.

In the early 80’s Henry hit his “peak” of big American films starring opposite Burt Reynolds in Sharkey’s Machine, and a “villainous” CIA agent opposite Steven Seagal in Above The Law. and most lavishly as a mob hitman opposite Warren Beatty in Dick Tracy. One of Henry’s most enjoyable films was something of a box office blunder that like the original Ocean’s 11, was more fun to make than to actually watch. Henry played a mobster out to get Charles Nelson Reilly in Hal Needham’s 1984 Opus, Cannonball Run II. This film, like Ocean’s had a huge ensemble cast including Burt Reynolds, Dom DeLuise, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis, Charles Nelson Reilly and a hundred other stars including: Jackie Chan, Don Knotts, Tony Danza, Tim Conway…..ad infinitem.

Henry is essentially retired today but he is still with us and his film legacy lives on, bringing fond memories to me every time I see him. In fact, I recently saw an old “Rat Pack” film entitled Sergeant’s 3 where Silva played a marauding Indian giving Frank, Dean and Sammy all sorts of fits. Check out some of Henry’s films and when you do, say hello to my old friend.

 

Henry Silva1

Henry C. 1973

henry-silva-sergeants3-2

Henry Silva and Dean Martin in Sergeant’s 3 – c. 1962

Henry Silva Kane

Henry Silva as Kane in Buck Rogers c. 1979

Say Hello To An Old Friend…

I thought it would be a nice addition to this site to casually, once every now and again, re-acquaint folks with old friends. You might or might not know them by name but as film and television actors they entered our lives and often left memorable impressions that for some, like me, have remained for my entire life. These are the character actors who made the leading men and ladies look good by their very presence. They gave movies their unique flavor and became famous, even though quite a few remained “nameless” to the millions of moviegoers who watched their antics. Well here now, I will reintroduce you to some of my favorite character actors of days gone by. Say hello to an old friend…..

Victor Mclaglen –

Name not familiar? Guarantee you the face and certainly the voice are! If you love the golden age of western films, or any of the legendary films by John Ford then you have certainly seen Vic.

Vic has often been mistaken for being an Irishman but that is not the case. He was born in Kent, a proper Englishman, in 1886. As a young man, Vic was a professional boxer and by all accounts a very successful one even winning an exhibition bout against the then heavyweight champion of the world, Jack Johnson. After World War I where Vic served the English army as an “acting captain” of infantry he returned home and was bitten by the acting bug.

In the 1920’s he took his new found love of acting and moved to Hollywood where he found a steady stream of work in notable films of the 20’s including: What Price Glory?, Beau Geste & Hot For Paris. Vic was so talented and so in demand that he never lacked for work in films. You might not know this but in 1935 he was nominated for and won the Academy Award for Best Actor for his role as “Gypo” Nolan in The Informer, a film about the Irish Revolution of 1922. (A much later film called Michael Collins starring Liam Neeson explored the same events.)

Following his win at the Oscars, Vic was set for life yet few other great, leading roles came his way. He continued to work and found strong appeal as a sidekick or lesser character to other, big name stars. This continued until the post world war II years and Vic met up with John Ford. The rest was history.

Ford’s “Cavalry Trilogy” is widely regarded by western film buffs to be among the best ever made. I certainly agree. Vic became legendary for his portrayals of heavy drinking cavalry sergeants Festus Mulcahy (Ft. Apache) and later Top Sergeant Timothy Quincannon (She Wore A Yellow Ribbon & Rio Grande). It was because of these films and his hilariously brilliant performances that most Americans believed he was an Irishman. Following the trilogy, Mclaglen was once again cast by director Ford as the “heavy” in what is arguably Ford’s best film, The Quiet Man. Once again pairing up with his good friend John Wayne, McGlaglen played yes, another Irishman, only this time one of wealth who hampers the Duke’s budding romance with Maureen O’Hara. The film was a critical hit and again Vic was nominated for the academy award for best supporting actor. In his later years, Vic did a number of appearances on American television including Have Gun Will Travel and Rawhide opposite a very young Clint Eastwood. As an aside, Vic’s son Andrew V. McLaglen became a well known and highly respected film and television director who’s credits included Perry Mason, Gunsmoke and Have Gun Will Travel. HIs film credits include Bandolero! starring Jimmy Stewart and Dean Martin and the movie McLintock which reunited John Wayne and Maureen O’Hara in 1963.

Late in his life, Vic very proudly became a naturalized U.S. Citizen. Very unexpectedly, Victor Mclaglen died of a heart attack in November of 1959. He was 73. Get to know Vic once again movie fans. I recommend John Ford’s Rio Grande and The Quiet Man and if you have netflix, check out The Informer for which he won an Oscar. Vic was a great character actor who brought an abundance of charm and personality to any role he undertook and his films still resonate today even with the “golden age” sensibilities and dialogue.

Vic and Duke

John Wayne and Victor Mclaglen in She Wore A Yellow Ribbon 1949