Famous silent movie star Norma Desmond’s career has faded to oblivion. Eager to make a comeback she chooses young B-Movie screenwriter Joe Gillis to fix her script. But during the process, Norma starts to fancy him. Financially dependent on her, it becomes more and more difficult for Joe to refuse her.

This film noir was directed by Austrian immigrant Billy Wilder (1906-2002) who is considered to be one of the top directors and writers during Hollywood’s Golden Age. Among his credits are classics like “Double Idemnity” (1944), “The Lost Weekend” (1945), “Sabrina” (1954) and “Some Like It Hot” (1959).

Although not all Hollywood “insiders” – some older movie stars and in particular MGM studio boss Louis B. Meyer – were very fond of Sunset Boulevard, it managed to garner 11 Academy Award nominations and 3 Academy Awards (Best Script, Best Art Direction, Best Score). The critical reception was tremendous, and also financially the film had a moderate success (it did well in the metropolitan areas, but poor in the countryside). In 1998, Sunset Boulevard was selected to be number 12 of AFI’s 100 best American movies.

Director Billy Wilder gathered a great crew – eight time Academy Award winner Edith Head for the costumes, composer Franz Waxman, art director Hans Dreier, make-up artist Wally Westmore – and cast: Gloria Swanson, herself a faded star from the silent era, as Norma Desmond, the up-and-coming William Holden as the young writer, and legendary silent filmmaker and actor Erich von Stroheim as Norma’s servant Max. In special appearances one can see other greats of the silent era: Comedian/actor Buster Keaton, director Cecil B. DeMille, actress Anna Q. Nielsen and British actor H.B. Warner.

The film’s story is said to be inspired by the life of actress Norma Talmadge – a superstar of the silent screen that did not succeed in making the transition to the talkies, had an affair with actor Gilbert Roland (who was 12 years younger than herself) and spent her later days in wealthy retirement. Another reference is to the mysterious murder case of film director William Desmond Taylor.

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Screening #4: Jesse James (1939)


The ordinary farmer boys Jesse and Frank James turn into the country’s most notorious outlaws when ruthless railroad agents try to take away their property.

Based on real life characters, the James brothers became one of Hollywood’s idealized and  glorified symbols for righteous people that were forced to get on the wrong side of the law.

Jesse James was directed by Henry King (“David and Batsheba”, “The Snows of Kilimanjaro”, “Love Is a Many-Splendored Thing” a.o.). A very handsome Tyrone Power can be seen in the role of  the main character. He is supported by legendary character actor Henry Fonda as the older brother Frank, western star Randolph Scott as Marshall Will Wright, and horror legend John Carradine as Bob Ford.  Over the years this story was adapted many times for the big screen, and although recent portrayals have become more and more realistic, from this film on it stayed to be a Hollywood tradition to use some of their coolest and best looking guys for this part:

Roy Rogers (“Jesse James at Bay”, 1941), Audie Murphy (who actually played Jesse twice in “Kansas Riders”, 1950, and  “A Time For Dying”, 1969!), Robert Wagner (“The True Story of Jesse James”, 1957), Ray Stricklyn (“Young Jesse James”, 1960), James Keach (“The Long Riders“, 1980), Kris Kristofferson (“The Last Days of Frank and Jesse James”, 1986), Rob Lowe (“Frank and Jesse”, 1994), Colin Farrell (“American Outlaws“, 2001), and eventually Brad Pitt (“The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford“, 2007).

However, despite these idealizations of the American outlaw in film, Jesse and Frank James were tough gangsters who were merely caring for themselves and their families than others who were in need. So, what do you think was the reason for such a positive portrayal?


Screening #3: Angels With Dirty Faces (1938)

Angels with Dirty Faces (1938)

James Cagney, one of Hollywood’s greatest “tough guys”, plays opposite of Pat O’Brien in this classic gangster film about two former friends who had chosen different paths when growing adult.

Also starring the legendary Humphrey Bogart (who was selected by the AFI in 1999 for being US cinema’s greatest male star) and glamorous Ann Sheridan at the beginning of their careers.

The film is directed by Hungarian born director Michael Curtiz who won in 1942 an Academy Award as Best Director for the classic “Casablanca” (starring Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman).

Warner Bros. produced a number of other significant gangster films during the Thirties that have distinct themselves from the usual escapist entertainment of that period: Little Cesar (starring Edward G. Robinson, 1930), The Public Enemy (with James Cagney, 1931), Scarface (with Paul Muni, 1932), I Am a Fugitive From a Chain Gang (with Paul Muni, 1932), The Petrified Forest (with Humphrey Bogart, 1936) and The Roaring Twenties (with Cagney and Bogart, 1939). Ten years later, James Cagney returned one more time to the portrayal of a gangster for Warner Bros. in the classic film noir “White Heat” (1949).

Angels With Dirty Faces received three Academy Award nominations for Best Director (Curtiz), Best Writing Original Story (Rowland Brown) and Best Actor in a Leading Role (Cagney).

James Cagney about actors: “Without you, they have an empty screen. So, when you get on there, just do what you think is right and stick with it.” He was strongly admired as one of the greatest actors of all time by many famous film professionals, among them Orson Welles, Marlon Brando, Stanley Kubrick, Clint Eastwood and Malcolm McDowell.

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Screening #2: Gold Diggers of 1933


During the Great Depression four poor actresses and a Broadway show unexpectedly get financial support from a young and aspiring musician. But from where did he get that much money?

Joan Blondell and Dick Powell (who were married from 1936-1944), Ruby Keeler, Warren William and a young Ginger Rogers (famous for her later partnership with Fred Astaire) are starring in this highly entertaining musical film directed by Mervyn LeRoy. Filmed on a budget of estimated 433,000 US $, the movie features four gorgeous dance sequences by legendary choreography Busby Berkeley (1895-1974). All songs are composed by Harry Warren, who gained in his career three Oscars and eight nominations and wrote many standards like “Jeepers Creepers”, “Chattanooga Choo Choo” or “Lullaby of Broadway”.

Gold Diggers of 1933 gained great commercial success, but was actually one of the first American films being altered before distribution in order to avoid state censorship. In 2003, the film was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant”.

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2014/Screening #1: Sunrise (1927)


In this melodrama a farmer is forced to choose between a seductive it girl from the big city and his simple and innocent country wife.

Sunrise was German filmmaker F.W. Murnau’s (“Nosferatu”; “The Last Laugh”) first of four American films before his tragic death in a car accident in 1931.

Producer William Fox (founder of Fox Film that became a part of nowadays 20th Century Fox which presently is owned by Rupert Murdoch) granted Murnau maximum artistic freedom for this film that brought his studio a lot of prestige, but poor revenues.

The film received three Oscars at the first ceremony of the Academy Awards in 1929. The categories at that time were a bit different, but would nowadays approximately equal for Best Picture, Best Actress in a Leading Role (Janet Gaynor as the farmer’s wife) and Best Cinematography (Charles Rosher and Karl Struss). The film furthermore received one Oscar nomination for Best Art Direction (Rochus Gliese).

Murnau: “I think films of the future will use more and more of these ‘camera angles’, or, as I prefer to call them, these ‘dramatic angles’. They help photograph thought.”

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Welcome (Fall 2014)!

This is the official blog of TUJ’s (Temple University, Japan Campus) American Film course. Please feel free to post anything that you think is related to the screenings or topics of the course! Guests are also very welcome to add their comments, if they would respect this blog’s purpose. Have fun!!!!

The Warriors (1979)


At the end of the Seventies and the beginning of the Eighties significantly there exists a movie called “The Warriors”. It does include all of the achievements of the post “Golden Hollywood” style (shooting on real locations, counterculture, activation of minorities, the young and the poor, gritty violence, rock and soul music etc.) and gives a peak into some characteristics of the beginning “post modern era” (re-mix and homage of preexisting ideas and movies, high concept, domination of studio over the director, “hip” scoring techniques etc.).

Produced by Lawrence Gordon (of the “Predator”, “Die Hard” and  “Hellboy” series), this film about street gangs in NYC was directed by his frequent collaborator Walter Hill (“The Long Riders“, “48 Hrs.”, “Trespass”, “Bullet to the Head”, and producer of the “Alien” and “AVP” series). The film features Michael Beck,  James Remar (character appearance in “Django Unchained” and many TV series like “Sex and the City”, “Dexter” etc.) and Deborah Van Valkenburg plus introduced now famous actresses Mercedes Ruehl (as a police officer) and Debra Winger (yuppie girl on subway) in bit parts. Cinematography by Andrew Laszlo (“First Blood”) and electronic score by Barry de Vorzon.  Based on the novel of Sol Yurick (a former investigator for the NYC Department of Welfare who passed away this year) that was aimed to be a more realistic view on gangs against “West Side Story”. The film was shot in 60 nights, more than a 1000 extras and members of real street gangs were featured on original locations in Manhattan, Brooklyn, the Bronx and Coney Island. With a budget of estimated US $ 7 M the movie was a success on its initial release (22.4 M domestically), but could have done even better if it wouldn’t have been taken out from release because of its popularity with gang members (the trend to wear different, significant clothing styles to distinguish themselves from others was triggered by the film and not vice versa!) that unfortunately led to some violent incidents between rivaling gangs during or after the screenings. Before that, the studio already had opposed and altered parts of the film from its early stages until post production and promotion, like Hill’s having to cast white leads instead of originally wanting to have an all African-American and Hispanic gang… Screened today will be the film’s “Ultimate Director’s Cut” which adds a new intro and end credits to the original film.

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