View from the Cheap Seats

On Oklahoma Location Scouting, John Wayne, New Classics on Disc & More!

May 30, 2014 - 11:46 am   |   By 

For a long time, I had the honor of serving the people of Oklahoma as their state film commissioner. I took the job only because we hadn’t created yet the position of “Lord High Minister of Culture.” To know the movie business was but a small component of the being the liaison with Hollywood – the job was for the most part about locations, locations, locations and I knew every bright golden haze on every Sooner state meadow and every field of corn as high as an elephant’s eye. [Read on here...]

Bud Elder and Dolly PartonI’m going to be honest – a chimp could be a film commissioner. It’s not that hard. While I made it part of my job to begin an educational program in the technical aspects of movie production and also to cultivate young filmmakers in hopes they would one day shoot in my area, thus bringing the ever welcomed outside dollars into the state’s economy, what film commissioners do mostly is sit around the office with their feet on their desks, waiting around for the studios or independent producers to send out an “all skate” request, asking for pictures of specific locations from every state in the country. If the production company likes what is presented, a location scout will visit the area, usually to see the particular house or field or lake or urban skyline you have submitted up close and personal while also collecting information regarding the hard facts of filmmaking (labor costs, housing, incentives, etc) to present to the producer or director of the particular film. This is great – because film commissions with absolutely no chance of landing a certain picture (one set in Hawaii would never be filmed in Oklahoma, for example) could report back to the taxpayers that he or she were secretly “scouting” for George Clooney’s new movie The Descendants, or whatever.

One day I’m going to write a sort of history of location filmmaking in the View from the Cheap Seats column, however, in the meantime, here’s a truism: producers can find or recreate locations anywhere – The Great and Powerful Oz was filmed on a soundstage in Michigan after all – but, as in business, show or not, it all comes down to money. If a producer feels location shooting will enhance him movie thus making the returns more plentiful, they will quickly pack their bags to get out of LA and head wherever.  

I’ve scouted for many pictures that were ultimately made and too many that were abandoned. Here’s probably the most famous abandoned movie that came my way and I remain convinced it would have shot in and around central Oklahoma had it not been thwarted.

Warner Brothers announced in the trades that Batman director Tim Burton would helm a Kevin Smith script for a Superman reboot starring Nicolas Cage. Yes, you read correctly. Pretty soon after the announcement, we got the word from Warner Brothers that the very hush hush Superman was looking for varied locations, including what anyone now would refer to as a “Tim Burton house,” stark white, all alone in a field with dead trees in the front yard. As we were publicly funded and taxpayers needed to see my budget was well spent, I let some of my friends in the local news media know that I was scouting for a “new big budget super hero film” from Warner Brothers and I was on every local station that night saying everything but “It’s a bird…” I didn’t think we would land Superman in a million years.

Nicholas Cage as Superman

However, I did find the house, on a lonely highway between Tuttle and Amber and quickly sent the pictures in. Some other pictures I took must have resonated, because a location scout called the next day and said he was coming to town to look at central Oklahoma. It was after the guy got here, however, that things became interesting. Oklahoma City’s downtown has two very cool looking structures, one, sadly, that is about to be smithereened. The first is our Botanical Gardens, built in the 70s which looks like a glass walled space station and the building we refer to now as the “former Stage Center” which is just nutso weird. The Warner Brothers rep went ga ga over both and sent word to Mr. Burton that “this you gotta see.”

Film locations in Oklahoma City

So here he came. And he was cool. And he ate a big steak and had to sleep in hotel where all the windows opened.

Then we were standing on a street corner in Oklahoma City when Mt. Burton’s assistant’s cell phone rang and the young man started looking sickly. He handed the phone to Mr. Burton and HE started looking sickly. And I knew we were screwed.

I guess I was among the first to hear that Warner Brothers cancelled Superman over both script and budget problems. The franchise wouldn’t be re born until Superman Returns several years later.

Which they filmed entirely in Australia, although Oklahoma was represented – our good friend, OKC native Jimmy Marsden, was one of the leads.

 

John Wayne: The Life and Legend

As I previewed last month, I had the honor of having what turned out to be an hour conversation with Scott Eyman, author of this stunning new book about the professional and personal life of John Wayne, an actor who has been woefully underrepresented in the form of a substantive biography.   

John Wayne: The Life and LegendMy first introduction to “Duke” (the name he truly answered to all his life) was True Grit in 1969. It was my first, at ten years old, “M” rated movie (it’s weird, I have seen posters that rated it “G”) and an impression was made. I started seeking out his older movies and sitting through his newer ones (Chisum and Rio Lobo) as many times as my parents would take me to the theater. I’ll never forget where I was when word came down he died and I wrote an amazingly amateur obit for the University of Oklahoma student newspaper. Eyman started his devotion to Wayne in a similar fashion – his starter, however, was The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance.

Then, over time, John Wayne diminished to me as leading men such as Lancaster and Mitchum and Holden and the like took his place. My issue was, aside from serious acting in his great pictures, Stagecoach, Red River, The Searchers, Rio Bravo, there were just too many incomprehensible duds like Big Jim McClain, Blood Alley, The Green Berets and The Legend of the Lost, And forgive me, some of his John Ford pictures, like The Quiet Man, Fort Apache and She Wore a Yellow Ribbon, were all sort of too full of malarkey for me.

However John Wayne: The Life and Legend gives us so much insight into the man’s character, passions and true love of the movie industry that one can’t help but look at the icon with a new appreciation.

Eyman was 21 when he happened onto a CBS soundstage for a 90 minute interview with John Wayne. To this day, Eyman describes him as informative, unpretentious and knowledgeable, and that’s the way Wayne is portrayed throughout the book. Eyman understands John Wayne and relates his countenance remarkably well – The Duke made so many movies because he loved making them, so what if the script or other elements weren’t up to par?  He was the first on every set and the last to leave. He worked privately with stunt men, the camera operators and the script supervisors because that’s what he knew how to do. He treated everyone with remarkable respect and there wasn’t a costar or crew member who didn’t love him to the bottom of his boots.

There is a great, highly exaggerated line from The Sunshine Boys that I’ve used for years, usually with regard to Sinatra – “As a performer, nobody could touch him, as a human being, nobody wanted to.” While of course this in no way specifically refers to Wayne and Sinatra (although they were improbable dear friends) you get the drift. Wayne’s personal life, what with his intractable political stances and his three disastrous marriages don’t easily mesh with his artistic accomplishments or his professional nature – that’s why I would rather not discuss here at all, although Eyman, as a wonderful biographer, does with gusto.

I must say something else about John Wayne: The Life and Legend – Scott Eyman knows his movies and writes about them passionately. He’s a Pauline Kael type movie reviewer and I’d love to get his opinions regarding every picture in theaters right now.

John Wayne: The Life and Legend will be discussed for years to come. It is perhaps my favorite biography ever, and I’ve read them all. And, while the book is a huge bestseller (Eyman told me it’s in its tenth printing) you still need to immediately get your copy. And what a Father’s Day gift!

Oh, and here’s a bonus – my favorite rare John Wayne movie? Trouble Along the Way from 1953. You’ll thank me later.

 

The Latest Classics on Disc

Thunderbirds Are Go (Blu-ray Disc)Just blink a second and our friends at Olive Films will be releasing important, and in some cases lost, Blu-rays of films you have either heard about your whole life yet hadn’t ever seen or all time favorites that haven’t played TV screens in years. First up is a dandy UFO/cold war/chase thriller called The Bamboo Saucer, (1968) which will, sadly, go down in history as the last film that ever starred the great Dan Duryea. A curio for sure, but very watchable.

Two film noirs are also included in Olive’s new slate – including Cry Danger, with Dick Powell, Rhonda Fleming and the late great William Conrad and director Douglas Sirk’s entry into the genre, Sleep My Love, with Claudette Colbert, Don Ameche and Robert Cummings. Danger was recently restored by the UCLA Film and Television Archive with funding provided by the Film Noir Foundation.

Also from Olive is the Blu-ray release of Frank Sinatra and Doris Day in Young at Heart; Bang Bang You’re Dead, a spy spoof from 1966 with Tony Randall (Oklahoma born!), Terry-Thomas and Wilfred Hyde White; Sidney Lumet’s powerful The Pawnbroker, starring an Oscar nominated Rod Steiger; a third volume in the Betty Boop Essential Collection; Anthony Mann’s Men in War, with Robert Ryan and Aldo Ray and a lost treasure from director Joseph Losey called Stranger on the Prowl, released, in 1952, with Losey using a pseudonym because of the then Hollywood black list. Go to olivefilms.com

From Synapse Films and Impulse Pictures comes a stunning blu ray release of Hammer Films’ Countess Dracula, starring horror babe Ingrid Pitt, made in 1971. Based on the true tale of Hungarian Countess Elizabeth Bothory, this movie was made in the later years of Hammer horror, the picture has been considered lost. Also from Impulse are drive in skin flicks The Chambermaid and Honeybuns. All titles available at synapse-films.com.

Oh boy, here they come again – the guys at Twilight Time are such joys to know – their knowledge of the industry and classic films is unending and their gifts to the world of film are gargantuan.

This month we start with the Blu-ray of Fate is the Hunter, a highly suspenseful and fulfilling plane crash drama from 1964 starring Glenn Ford, Rod Taylor, Suzanne Pleshette and Nancy Kwan. Also included in this fabulous package is To Whom it May Concern: Ka Shen’s Journey, a poetic feature documentary, directed by Twilight Time founder, the aforementioned Brian Jameson.

Also from Twilight Time is Two Rode Together, a terrific 1961 John Ford western with James Stewart and Richard Widmark; The Firm, a 2009 British picture from writer/director Nick Love and Rollerball, the sci-fi classic directed by Norman Jewison from 1975 and starring James Caan. Rollerball in particular is a keeper. To be honest, I wasn’t thrilled about it when the film was released to much fanfare in the day. As I have matured so has this picture. Man is it good.

The Bob Newhart Show: The Complete SeriesAlso out from Twilight Time is the Blu-ray debut of Thunderbirds Are Go and Thunderbirds 6 – the cinematic evolution of the hugely popular British TV series – a mix of puppetry, sci-fi futurism, action adventure and Sixties-era designs. My guess is that the 3,000 allotment of this title will be gone pronto! Order all Twilight Time titles through screenarchivesentertainment.com.

Holy cow… our friends at the Shout! Factory have very lovingly released the entire series of The Bob Newhart Show, which ran on Saturday nights on CBS throughout the 70s along with, of course, M*A*S*H, All in the Family, The Mary Tyler Moore Show and Carol Burnett. This is a 19 disc set with every episode of the series, which also starred Suzanne Pleshette (we’ve called her number already tonight) , Peter Bonerz, Jack Reilly and Bill Daily. Father’s Day? You bet!

Also from Shout! Is Wener Herzog’s Nosferatu the Vampyre, starring, of course, Klaus Kinski and Bruno Ganz. This was rushed through theaters in 1979, but I loved it then and love the new Blu-ray now. The commentary by Herzog will be worth the price of the disc. Visit shoutfactory.com

Jim Wynorski is a B movie legend and MVD entertainment is releasing two of his wonderful, offbeat pictures – The Lost Empire, a classic 80s sci-fi romp and Gila sort of a drive in version of Godzilla. Go to musicvideodistributors.com

From Star Vista comes the third season of China Beach, one of the most important television events of the 90s. Along with star Dana Delany this season features Vince Vaughan, Tom Sizemore and Thomas Hayden Church, among others. Visit timelife.com

Shop at Warner Archive & support The Bits!Oh, and from Warner Archive – westerns galore! There’s the fifth and final season of Maverick from the late 50s, then there’s a post Rockford Files 1980s version, which starred Oklahoma superstar James Garner then there’s Volume 8 in the company’s Monogram Westerns Collection.

About a year ago, I wrote about the first movie set I ever experienced – in San Antonio as they filmed Viva Max. Now that particular film has finally made it to DVD from Cheezy Flicks. We’re not talking about a Twilight Time type restoration here – the picture is fuzzy like an old VHS. But this movie means a lot to me because of the time and should matter to you because it stars Peter Ustinov (certainly underappreciated now, even though he’s a two time Oscar winner) John Astin and comedy legend Jonathan Winters. Go to cheezyflicks.com

 

Odd & Ends

deadcenterlogo1A few more bits of housekeeping – Oklahoma City’s Dead Center Film Festival, one of the hottest in the country, will be held in downtown OKC June 12-15. Go to deadcenterfilm.org for this year’s lineup, which is, I can tell you, stellar.

In little old Tulsa, Oklahoma, a miracle is happening. The Cherokee Tribe of Oklahoma, not too long ago, aligned their casino with the “Hard Rock” brand and built one of the best showrooms in the country. Seriously. And, while the facility is state of the art, Danny Finnerty, a man among boys, knows how to please every conceivable audience by booking acts unheard of in the Tulsa market even five years ago – this past month he brought in Paul Anka (playing his first show in the Sooner State since he toured with Buddy Holly!), Martin Short, Frank Sinatra Jr., Frank Caliendo and the arch angel herself, Dolly Parton, making her Oklahoma casino debut. Make a plan to stay a weekend and see a show. Go to hardrockcasinotulsa.com for more information.

For those of you with absolutely nothing else to do, here is the link to my reviews as given on radio in OKC. Listen very carefully and do exactly the opposite of what I say.

Bud's Movie Minute on KRXO radio

Until next time… see you at the flickers!

- Bud Elder

 

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