Cracked Rear Viewer’s 2017 Year in Review

Once again, it’s time to step back and take a look at how far Cracked Rear Viewer has come, and where it’s going in 2018. When I started writing this blog in June of 2015, I didn’t know what I was getting into! It takes a lot of time and effort, and you Dear Readers have certainly rewarded me far beyond my expectations. As of this writing, 2017 has seen 24,456 visitors (doubling last year) view my musings a record 36,756 times. As Sally Field once said, “You like me! You really like me!”. I thank you, one and all.

I’ve tried out some new things this year, some successful, some not so much. The Cracked Rear Viewer Facebook page has given this blog a huge boost; if you haven’t subscribed, please do so! Book reviews on classic film subjects have proved popular, and I’ll continue those in the New Year, as well as my “Familiar Faces” posts. But its movies that are the cornerstone here, and without further ado, here are the Ten most popular posts of 2017:

1- A tie between two classic cowboys: Clint Eastwood in THE BEGUILED (originally published April 2016)  and John Wayne in THE SEARCHERS (Sept. 2017). The Clint post gained traction due to the recent Sofia Coppola remake, while The Duke reigns eternal in the hearts of film fans (including Yours Truly – expect more on Wayne as 2018 unfolds!)

2- THE VIOLENT YEARS (April 2017): I pulled out an old VHS copy of this Ed Wood-scripted movie when my DirecTV went down for a few days. The post took off like a comet, surprising and delighting me! This post is the one that got me thrown out of a certain Facebook page (no names, please) for this picture of the video’s hostess with the mostess, Mamie Van Doren:

Really? Really??

3- Top Ten Reasons CASABLANCA is The Greatest Movie Ever Made! (August 2015): Resurging interest in this post was due in large part to the film’s 75th anniversary. Like I’ve probably told you before (about a million times!), CASABLANCA will always be my favorite movie, and I did two other posts on it this year: a look at my experience viewing it on The Big Screen , and a review of Noah Isenberg’s book, WE’LL ALWAYS HAVE CASABLANCA .

4- Why I Think ERASERHEAD Sucks! (Nov. 2015) gained views because of David Lynch’s recent TWIN PEAKS: THE RETURN on Showtime. I like Lynch, but still think ERASERHEAD is overrated. To each his own.

5- John Ford’s FLESH (July 2017): An obscure Ford entry, part of my “Pre-Code Confidential” series, starring Wallace Beery as a German grappler. The post exceeded expectations when a Pro Wrestling site called F4WOnline picked it up. Thanks, Dave Meltzer and Bryan Alvarez!

6- Marilyn Chambers in David Cronenberg’s RABID (April 2017): I don’t know if it’s because of Cronenberg, porn icon Marilyn, or the fact it’s a great movie; all I know is RABID was one of this year’s most popular posts!

7- 1931’s THE MALTESE FALCON (May 2017): Another “Pre-Code Confidential” post, the original version of Dashiell Hammett’s pulp classic drew a lot of viewers. Most in the “Pre-Code” series do, so expect a lot more in 2018!

8- SEX IN THE CINEMA by Lou Sabini ( July 2017): My look at a book that covers over 100 Pre-Code films, written by film historian Lou Sabini, who also hosts a wonderful Facebook page titled MY “REEL” LIFE. Thanks for the autographed copy, Lou!

9- John Wayne in THE COWBOYS (Dec. 2017): Duke again, in one of his best 70’s Westerns. Like I said, John Wayne is eternal!

10- Mickey Spillane’s Mike Hammer (Nov. 2017): Number One in a new series spotlighting Pulp Fiction writers and their characters, featuring Spillane’s notorious gumshoe. I’m looking into more for 2018; stay tuned!!

As always, I thanks the crew at Through the Shattered Lens for letting me repost my ramblings on their fantastic site. And the biggest shout out of all goes to all you Dear Readers who make it worthwhile! Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got some writing and editing to do… see you Next Year!!

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Cleaning Out the DVR Pt 11: Five from the Fifties

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The 1950’s were a time of change in movies. Television was providing stiff competition, and studios were willing to do anything to fend it off. The bigger budgeted movies tried 3D, Cinerama, wide-screen, and other optical tricks, while smaller films chose to cover unusual subject matter. The following five films represent a cross-section of nifty 50’s cinema:

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BORDERLINE (Universal-International 1950; D: William A. Seiter)

BORDERLINE is a strange film, straddling the borderline (sorry) between romantic comedy and crime drama, resulting in a rather mediocre movie. Claire Trevor plays an LAPD cop assigned to Customs who’s sent to Mexico to get the goods on drug smuggler Pete Ritchey (Raymond Burr , being his usual malevolent self). She’s tripped up by Ritchey’s rival Johnny Macklin (Fred MacMurray , channeling his inner Walter Neff), and taken along as he tries to get the dope over the border. What she doesn’t know is he’s also an agent, and thinks she’s a smuggler! The movie usually gets shoehorned into the noir category, but besides the drug smuggling angle, it’s just an average ‘B’ flick. Fun Fact: Claire’s husband Milton Bren was the film’s producer.

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THE NARROW MARGIN (RKO 1952; D: Richard Fleischer)

Highly influential ‘B’ noir about a tough cop escorting a mobster’s widow from Chicago to Los Angeles via train to testify on corruption, with hired killers onboard out to stop her by any means possible. Gruff-voiced Charles McGraw and sexpot Marie Windsor deliver Earl Fenton’s hard-boiled dialog with gusto; the film was Oscar-nominated for Best Story, but lost to THE GREATEST SHOW ON EARTH (they were robbed!). Director Richard Fleischer and DP George Diskant create a textbook example on how to make a tense, exciting movie for under $250,000, with a big plot twist I won’t spoil for those of you who haven’t seen this gem. The ambient sounds of the train travelling take the place of the usual music score, making the violence even more ultra-realistic. A must-see! Fun Fact: Marie Windsor was once a gag writer for Jack Benny. When the comedian finally met her in the flesh, he was stunned by her good looks and helped her secure a Hollywood contract.

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THE BIGAMIST (The Filmakers 1953; D: Ida Lupino)

San Francisco couple Edmond O’Brien and Joan Fontaine want to adopt a child, but when the child welfare investigator (Edmund Gwenn) looks into the case, he discovers O’Brien has another wife (Ida Lupino) in LA. O’Brien gives a sympathetic performance as the man leading a double life, and Lupino handles the sensational material with depth and sincerity. Watch for the scene where O’Brien meets Lupino on a Hollywood tour bus for glimpses of the homes of stars Barbara Stanwyck, James Stewart, Jack Benny, and Gwenn himself! A quiet but powerful film that’s worth your time. Fun Fact: Producer/screenwriter Collier Young was married to Fontaine at the time; before that, he had been the husband of director/star Lupino! Ah, Hollywood!

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THE WILD ONE (Columbia 1953; D: Laszlo Benedict)

The granddaddy of all biker flicks! Marlon Brando is leather clad Johnny, leader of the Black Rebels MC, who terrorize a small California town. Brando’s existential, iconic performance dominates the film, but Mary Murphy is equally good as Kathie, the girl who falls for him. Lee Marvin also deserves a shout-out as Chino, leader of rival gang The Beetles. The scene where Murphy is chased down by the bikers, saved by Johnny, still retains its power. Jerry Paris, Alvy Moore , and that great oddball actor Timothy Carey are among the cyclists; Jay C. Flippen, Ray Teal, and Will Wright represent some of the “straight’ citizens. A bona fide cinema classic, not to be missed! Fun Fact: Brando’s Johnny was the basis for Harvey Lembeck’s goofball Eric Von Zipper character in all those “Beach Party ” movies.

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ROCK ROCK ROCK (DCA 1956; D: Will Price)

13 year old Tuesday Weld makes her film debut as a teenybopper trying to raise money to buy a strapless evening dress for the prom, but you can forget about the dumb plot and enjoy a veritable Rock’n’Roll/Doo Wop Hall of Fame lineup: LaVerne Baker, Chuck Berry (“You Can’t Catch Me”), Johnny Burnett Trio, The Flamingos, Frankie Lymon & The Teenagers (“I’m Not a Juvenile Delinquent”), The Moonglows, Big Al Sears, and others, hosted by pioneering rock DJ Alan Freed. Tuesday’s vocals are dubbed by Connie Francis, and co-star Teddy Randazzo was a minor singing star who later wrote the hits “Goin’ Out of My Head” and “Hurts So Bad”. Lots of energetic teenage dancing; just sit back and have a foot-wiggling good time! Fun Fact: This was the first film for the production team Max Rosenberg and Milton Subotsky, better known for their Amicus horror anthologies.

Pre Code Confidential #9: James Cagney in BLONDE CRAZY (Warner Brothers 1931)

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When James Cagney burst onto the screen like a machine gun barrage in 1931’s THE PUBLIC ENEMY, a star was immediately born. His rough-and-tumble personality was perfectly suited to films of the era, and he’s given a good showcase in BLONDE CRAZY, along with Pre-Code cutie Joan Blondell , who could dish it out with the best of them. Though it’s a little creaky in spots, BLONDE CRAZY is tons of fun, and Cagney gives everybody a lesson in what being a movie star is all about.

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Cagney plays Bert Harris, a bantamweight bellboy looking to make a fast buck during the Depression running crap games and selling bootleg hootch. When he first meets blonde Anne Roberts (our girl Joan) he ogles her body lecherously, and we know right from the get-go what his intentions are! But Anne’s no sucker, she a been-around-the-block kinda gal, and soon this dynamic duo are running the old “gotcha” game on square Mr. Johnson, setting him up for blackmail like a rat in a trap, with Anne as the cheese.

The pair take their ill-gotten gains and high-tail it to the big city, hooking up with slick con man Dapper Dan (Louis Calhern ) . Dan and his squeeze Helen end up conning Bert out of his loot, and Bert has to pull a jewelry store swindle to get his and Anne’s money back. Meanwhile, Anne meets up with a swell guy, earnest stockbroker Joe Reynolds, played by a VERY young (24 at the time) Ray Milland.

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Bert heads to the Big Apple to get even with Dan, and he and Anne stage an elaborate horse racing con to bilk the bilker. Bert finally pops the question, but Anne confesses she’s in love with Joe, and after she gets hitched, Bert takes a year off to live the high life in Europe. Upon his return, Anne asks for his help, as Joe’s done a little swindling of his own at the firm. Bert’s plan goes awry as Joe sets him up, winding up in a car chase with the law, getting tommy-gunned, and sent to stir for his troubles. Anne realizes Bert’s the guy for her after all and visits him in the prison infirmary,  promising to wait.

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Cagney’s magnetic personality carries the film, with his roguish charm and optimistic outlook. The way he calls Joan (and every skirt he lays an eye on) “huuuuuney” show his devil-may-care attitude toward life, and is reflected in his dialog, ripping off statements like “The world owes me a living” and “Not tough, just mercenary” with that trademark staccato Cagney delivery. The Depression’s robbed him of a shot for a decent life, so he makes his own the only way he knows how, by conning the suckers of the world. The film also gives us Jimmy’s famous line “That dirt, double-crossing rat!”, bastardized by scores of impressionists as “You dirty rat!”.

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Let’s not forget Joan Blondell, one of Pre-Code’s Queens, who’s on equal footing with Cagney here. Her hard-broad persona always comes with a soft heart, and her longevity in films is testament to her acting talents. I lost count of how many times she slaps Cagney’s face in this film, but it must’ve been pretty raw by the time filming ended! It wouldn’t be a Pre-Code without a little raciness, and Joan’s bathtub scene with Jimmy certainly fills the bill!

There’s a plethora of Familiar Faces in smaller roles, including Guy Kibbee , Noel Francis, Nat Pendleton , Maude Eburne, Ward Bond , a pre-Western ‘Wild’ Bill Elliott, Russell Hayden, and Charles Lane . An actress I’d never noticed before named Polly Waters turns up as Jimmy’s first girlfriend, and she’s a bundle of sexual joy to behold! Miss Waters was featured in a handful of Pre-Code films, mostly in smaller roles, and I’ll definitely be keeping my eyes peeled for her.

BLONDE CRAZY, Polly Walters, Joan Blondell, 1931
Battling Blondes: Polly vs Joan!

Director Roy Del Ruth guides the players through their paces with his usual deft hand, keeping things moving at a brisk speed. BLONDE CRAZY shows Cagney at his  Pre-Code best, and he and Joan take the movie and run away with it. A pair of aces for sure, huuuuuney!

 

Cracked Rear Viewer’s 2016 Year in Review

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It’s time to take a look back on the first full year of Cracked Rear Viewer. Begun in June 2015, CRV has certainly grown in readership. While not the biggest film and entertainment blog around, I’ve gained over 300 followers, with 19,912 views from 12,006 visitors. Can we crack the 20,000 mark before the New Year’s Ball drops?

The biggest month was October, when I do my annual “Halloween Havoc!” marathon, posting a horror film review a day (along with other terror-related tidbits). This is a labor of love for me, and I started working on it in August to keep up with the hectic pace. Still, by the end of the month I was scrambling to complete. The stats tell me it was worth it, and I thank all you Dear Readers for your support.

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What were the top posts this year? It was a virtual tie between two distinctively different movies: the John Ford/John Wayne classic STAGECOACH  and Bert I. Gordon’s no-budget ATTACK OF THE PUPPET PEOPLE  , proving you Dear Readers have as diverse tastes as I do! John Wayne showed up again in his final film THE SHOOTIST  , and I can assure you we haven’t seen the last of the Duke here! My running series CLEANING OUT THE DVR proved popular, as Part 7(Film Noir Festival ) and Part 4 (B-Movie Roundup! ) both made the top ten viewed posts. Newer posts like THE INCREDIBLE MR. LIMPET,  THE FRENCH CONNECTION, THE BEGUILED,  and PHILIP MARLOWE, TV Detective  made the list, as did a few favorites from 2015, CASABLANCA,  PENELOPE,  and THE KENTUCKY FRIED MOVIE.

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The good ol’ USA tops the list of viewers by country, followed by Germany, France, the UK, Canada, Brazil, Australia, Spain, Italy, and Norway. There have been views everywhere from Algiers to Zimbabwe, with many more all over the globe. I’ve received referrals from Facebook, Twitter, IMDb (and its German counterpart OFDb), and my good friends at THROUGH THE SHATTERED LENS  , where I gladly share my content with a staff of loaded with solid writers (follow that link and visit us!). I never dreamed I’d have so many readers across the globe, and I’m grateful to you all for making this project a success. I’m looking forward to new challenges in 2017, and hope you’ll all join me for “Fresh Takes On Retro Pop Culture” in the year to come. Have a Happy and Safe New Year, and my sincere thanks to you Dear Readers! You make my efforts worthwhile!

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2016 IN MEMORIAM (S through Z)

This is the final entry in our tribute to those artists, entertainers, and pop culture figures who passed away in 2016. Let’s all hope the 2017 list is much, much shorter.

Veteran CBS News journalist Morley Safer (“60 Minutes”)

Actress Theresa Saldana (“Raging Bull”, “The Commish”)

DC comic book letterist Gaspar Saladino

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Actor Joe Santos (“The Rockford Files”)

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Prolific character actor William Schallert

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Horror star Angus Scrimm (the “Phantasm” series)

Comedian/actor Garry Shandling

Grand Ole Opry star Jean Shepherd

Actress Madeleine Sherwood (“The Flying Nun”)

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Actor/singer/conductor Frank Sinatra Jr.

MMA fighter Kimbo Slice

Actor James Stacy (“Lancer”)

Singer Kay Starr (“Wheel of Fortune”)

Music & film producer Robert Stigwood

ruthGolden Age actress Ruth Terry

Actor/host Alan Thicke (“Growing Pains”, “Thicke of the Night”)

Television producer/executive Grant Tinker

Futurist writer Alvin Toffler (“Future Shock”)

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Mexican actress Lupita Tovar (1931’s Spanish language “Dracula”)

jtChild actor Jerry Tucker of Our Gang

vanitySinger/actress Vanity

pvBritish character actor Peter Vaughn (“Game of Thrones”)

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 Actor Robert Vaughn (“The Man from UNCLE”, “The Magnificent Seven”)

 Southern rocker Jimmie Van Zandt

Singer Bobby Vee (“Rubber Ball”, “Take Good Care of My Baby”)

Actor Abe Vigoda (“The Godfather”, “Barney Miller”, “Fish”)

Voice actress Janet Waldo (Judy of “The Jetsons”)

Author Bill Warren (the seminal “Keep Watching the Skies”)

Earth Wind & Fire Maurice White 1981 (Photo by Chris Walter/WireImage)

Maurice White of Earth, Wind, & Fire

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The fabulous Gene Wilder

Charlton Comic artist George Wildman (“Popeye”)

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Actor Van Williams (“The Green Hornet”)

Actor Douglas Wilmer (“The Golden Voyage of Sinbad”, “The Vampire Lovers”, British  TV’s “Sherlock Holmes”)

Musician Bernie Worrell (Parliament-Funkadelic, Talking Heads)

Porn star/heavy metal icon Tera Wray

Singer Glenn Yarbrough (“Baby, the Rain Must Fall”)

CAR & DRIVER editor/screenwriter Brock Yates (“The Cannonball Run”)

STAR TREK

Actor Anton Yelchin (“Star Trek”)

alanyActor Alan Young (“The Time Machine”,   TV’s “Mr. Ed”, voice of Scrooge McDuck)

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TV Horror Host Zacherley

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Cinematographer Vilmos Zsigmund

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Cajun music legend Buckwheat Zydeco

May The Force be with them all.

RIP The Unsinkable Debbie Reynolds

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One day after the tragic death of her daughter Carrie Fisher, the unsinkable Debbie Reynolds has passed at age 84. I’m not going to update my previous IN MEMORIAM  post; Miss Reynolds deserves a post of her own.

Full shot of illustration of Gene Kelly as Don Lockwood, Debbie Reynolds as Kathy Selden, and Donald O'Connor as Cosmo Brown walking together in rain, holding umbrellas during the opening musical number "Singin' In The Rain."

One of the last of the old studio contract players, Debbie got good notices in such musical films as THE DAUGHTER OF ROSIE O’GRADY, THREE LITTLE WORDS, and TWO WEEKS WITH LOVE, but it’s her role as Kathy Seldon in SINGIN’ IN THE RAIN that made her a star. This joyful ode to the transition from silent movies to sound isn’t just my favorite musical, it’s one of my favorite films ever! Debbie shines as the ingénue forced to lip-synch for catty star Lina Lamont (the wonderful Jean Hagen), and more than holds her own in the dancing and clowning departments with Gene Kelly and Donald O’Connor. Like CASABLANCA and CITIZEN KANE, SINGIN’ IN THE RAIN is a perfect movie, and 20  year old Debbie played a big part in making it a dream come true for film fans.

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More hits followed: THE AFFAIRS OF DOBIE GILLIS, SUSAN SLEPT HERE , THE TENDER TRAP, THE CATERED AFFAIR (a dramatic change-of-pace costarring Bette Davis), BUNDLE OF JOY. Another signature role was up next as Debbie portrayed backwoods tomgirl Tammy Tyree in the romantic comedy TAMMY AND THE BACHELOR, singing the hit title tune as well:

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1964’s THE UNSINKABLE MOLLY BROWN brought Debbie her first (and only) Oscar nomination in this adaptation of the award-winning Broadway musical. Her output slowed down as the decade wore on, and Debbie did more television and stage work, garnering a Tony nomination for the 1973 revival IRENE. She kept busy in Vegas, amassed a huge collection of Hollywood memorabilia, and was given the honorary Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Oscar in 2015 for her work in raising awareness on mental health issues (daughter Carrie suffered from bipolar disorder).

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Debbie Reynolds had her share of tragedies and scandals… first husband Eddie Fisher had a notorious affair with Elizabeth Taylor, resulting in divorce, and second husband Harry Karl’s gambling addiction almost bankrupted her. Her difficulties dealing with Carrie’s mental health and drug issues have been well documented. But through it all, Debbie Reynolds kept smiling and moving forward, a true star not only of show biz, but a star of life. This final tragedy of Carrie’s death was more than she could take, however. Bless you, Debbie Reynolds, I hope you find peace at long last.