Monday, December 16, 2013

Opportunity Knocked on a Door That Shouldn't Have Been There

Jack Torrance’s “Heeerrreee’s Johnny!” head-poke through an ax-split door in 1978's The Shining is one of the iconic images in modern cinema and certainly the most identifiable on-screen moment of Jack Nicholson’s long and lauded career. But this classic scene would have been even better had the doorway instead been covered by a multi-colored curtain just like the one that Johnny Carson pawed through every weeknight at the start of The Tonight Show.

Many homes in the 1970s featured doorways adorned with tapestry dividers or hanging beads instead of doors, and the psychotic Jack Torrance popping his head through a vertically striped curtain of orange, pink, brown, beige, gold, and two shades of blue would have truly added cinematic provenance to this frighteningly comic moment.

True, Nicholson ad-libbed this legendary line, but once such a great idea was out of the bag, there’s no reason that Stanley Kubrick—notorious in Hollywood for shooting excessive takes—couldn’t have had an intern run out to a local linen store, order a replica Tonight Show curtain, and instructed Nicholson to redo the scene with the proper prop.

Frankly, I’m more than a little surprised that Kubrick—one of the most visionary filmmakers ever to step behind a camera and a renowned obsessive for detail—overlooked this opportunity.

Then again, Kubrick did have the good sense to cast Shelley Duvall rather than Robert Duvall as Jack Torrance’s wife, Wendy...

(Image from The Shining copyright Warner Brothers; image from The Tonight Show copyright NBC.)

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Teddy Spoke Softly...But Carried a Bic Pen

Letters to Kermit, a collection of many dozens of handwritten and typed correspondences from the desk of Theodore Roosevelt between 1896 and 1918, was first published in 1946. It is a candid and revealing look into the heart and mind of the twenty-sixth President of the United States, both before, during, and after his nearly eight years in office. And I think this little-known literary gem authored by one of the dynamic figures of the twentieth century deserves an excerpt:

Monday, December 2, 2013

Not Winning the Oscar Must've Made Baldini a Grouch

It's well known that both Marlon Brando and Robert De Niro won the Academy Award for portraying Vito Corleone—the only instance of two actors winning an Oscar for the same role.

But what about Oreste Baldini, who played the nine-year-old Vito at the beginning of The Godfather II? I wonder if he’s bitter that he didn’t win an Oscar for his portrayal of Vito. Sure, Baldini was on-screen for only a few scenes...yet he showed fine range, shifting effortlessly from weak, dumb-witted native to weak, dumb-witted immigrant. And if that weren’t enough to convince Academy voters, Baldini was the only “Vito” to sing (while quarantined on Ellis Island)—something neither Brando nor De Niro dared do…or likely even possessed the acting chops to do.

My guess is that the now-51-year-old Baldini seethes in anger and jealousy every minute of his life since the evening Art Carney and De Niro walked off with the Best Actor and Best Supporting Actor honors, respectively, in April 1975. And although Baldini has enjoyed a busy career dubbing Hollywood dialogue into his native tongue for Italian cinema, television, animation, and even video games, it wouldn’t surprise me in the least if bilious ire occasionally flares into his on-screen translations.    

Had I been an Italian citizen taking in a film at the Nuovo Olimpia on the Via in Lucina in downtown Rome on a bygone Saturday evening, I would hardly be shocked if, right in the middle of Ed Wood, Johnny Depp ranted Art Carney può andare al diavalo, che non-talento hack!

Or even a purple-rhino'ed Edward Norton inexplicably yelling De Niro ha rubato la mia Oscar, che bastardi! Baldini ha la voce di un angelo! in the midst of singing ditties of support to methadone addicts in Death to Smoochy.

I might even have felt such sympathy for the slighted Baldini that I wouldn’t have demanded my money back from the theater manager… 

(Image from The Godfather II copyright Paramount Pictures.)