Tough guys have centenaries. Robert Mitchum feted on his 100th

Dance · Film

Laemmle Theatres and the Anniversary Classics Series, curated and hosted by film critic Stephen Farber, celebrate the centennial of Hollywood icon Robert Mitchum (b. August 6, 1917) with two of his best roles. Out of the Past (1947, 70th anniversary) and Cape Fear (1962, 55th anniversary). 

The double bill is playing at Laemmle Theatres in North Hollywood, Pasadena and Beverly Hills. We’ll be in Bev Hills, because arts·meme friend, Barrie Chase, will introduce the 7:15 screening of Cape Fear.

Mitchum was a contract player at RKO when he starred in Out of the Past, directed by Jacques Tourneur with a script by Geoffrey Homes (Daniel Mainwaring), adapting his novel, “Build My Gallows High.” Mitchum plays an ex-private eye entangled in a web of double-dealings by former criminal associates (gangster Kirk Douglas and old flame Jane Greer). Mitchum, described in the New York Times review of the day as “magnificently cheeky and self-assured,” entrenched his cynical, antihero image in this film.

Out of the Past, as author Jeremy Arnold notes in TCM’s The Essentials: 52 Must-See Movies and Why They Matter, is the quintessential film noir. It has a tough hero, a supremely alluring femme fatale, hard-boiled dialogue, a commingling of sex and violence, expressionistic lighting…all set in an ominous world where death and double-cross are the norm.” 

Cape Fear came at the end of the classical black-and-white film noir period (1942-62), and stars Mitchum in his most memorable villainous role, Max Cady. In this adaptation by James R. Webb of James D. MacDonald’s novel, The Executioners,” an ex-con plots insidious revenge on the lawyer (Gregory Peck) whose testimony sent him to prison. Director J. Lee Thompson was an admirer of Alfred Hitchcock, to whom he paid homage with camera angles and the use of his frequent collaborator, composer Bernard Herrmann, who provided a superbly menacing score. Mitchum was so convincing in the role that co-star Polly Bergen (as Peck’s wife) said she was genuinely frightened in an improvised scene with him. The American Film Institute cited his portrayal of Cady as one of the top 30 “All-Time Screen Villains.” 

Cape Fear co-star Barrie Chase had other memorable roles in films of the 1960s, including Stanley Kramer’s It’s A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World and Robert Aldrich’s The Flight of the Phoenix. She was a dancer in many hit musical films of the 1950s and co-starred with Fred Astaire in several of his top-rated TV specials.

Robert Mitchum Centennial, Barrie Chase in-person | Stephen Farber’s Anniversary Classics | Laemmle Ahrya Fine Arts Theatre, Beverly Hills |  August 1

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Norman Bel Geddes interior-design sketch for Palais Royale

Architecture & Design · Dance

Norman Bel Geddes (American, 1893-1958)
Geddes’s design of a dancing couple for the Palais Royale Cabaret Theatre
Ca. 1922
Watercolor on paper
Courtesy Norman Bel Geddes online database, Harry Ransom Center, University of Texas at Austin

Jack Cole danced at the Palais Royale in December 1933. It was Cole’s first nightclub gig. The building, which subsequently housed, first the Cotton Club and then the Latin Quarter nightclub, was demolished in the early 1990s.

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REVIEW: Savion Glover sizzling at the Ford 2

Dance · Featured · Music · Reviews

It is a Dance Criticism 401 assignment describing Savion Glover in performance — savagely fit, in top form, at his most forthcoming. Words fall short. Yet that is what we had at Saturday’s festive season-opener of the John Anson Ford Amphitheatre. The refurbished Ford’s long commitment to dance, season after season presenting local and visiting troupes on its stage, made the Savion night that much more special.

Glover is the dance-world’s Mozart, so dazzling and nearly beyond comprehension is his brilliance. Motoring around his carefully miked tap-dance platform, he took to performing out of doors in a way that worked better than my many viewings of him in theaters. Insanely complex rhythms including doublets and triplets, pointe work, back slaps, and down-and-dirties blasted into the night air; you could watch him seize a rhythmic idea and dance it through. The first sound of his mighty tap shoes (they resemble a custom-built car) is so supremely confident it drills a hole in your ear, then in your head. Over time, it pierces your heart.

Glover perhaps compares better to Charlie Parker. He fits into the jazz tradition that seeks not aesthetic purity, rather the opposite. It can be a messy, often clashing, fit. It has jagged edges. But as a body-instrumentalist, he is part of an ensemble.

The show offered the fun visual of a live band, Dance Candy, tucked into the Ford’s hillside (rear) wall. Before these cool cats, Glover lay down swathes of his trademark lengthy improvisatory riffs. The music was mostly funk, but mixed in was a lighter swinging beat providing Glover air space to fill with sound. He taunted and teased the bass player, the keyboardist, the drummer, and surprisingly the show included a girl singer chiming in nothing less than “My Favorite Things.” That ditty, nearly untouchable as the anthem of Coltrane, was a fun choice. And Glover made it rock.

Then sharing the stage with his posse of three other tappers (Marshall Davis, Jr., Robyn Watson and Karissa Royster), Glover delivered a choreographed work to recorded music. Facing the audience, beaming smiles, and bringing the beat waaaay down, Glover, in this easy-peasy mode, melded with the group. He was one of the gang; not the genius Mozart, not the soloist Charlie Parker nor John Coltrane; he was just another hoofer, and it made him human. 

Fellow tap dancer Debbie Allen, whom Glover honored with a stage shout-out, shared her sentiment in an email to arts·meme. “He is pure genius. He is ‘the Truth.’ I felt so lucky to be there.”

photo credit: Timothy Norris courtesy of Ford Theatres

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