Dawn Pisturino's Blog

My Writing Journey

The Clown School

(Red Skelton and Lucille Ball)

When my daughter told me she was going to go to clown school, I thought, Okay, what new adventure is this? Is she going to join the circus? The rodeo? What’s up with this?

After a few chuckles, she explained to me what clown school is — a school for performing artists to learn the intriguing history of clowns, a variety of new acting skills, and a way to incorporate playfulness and fun into theatrical acting.

The Clown School, located in Eagle Rock, Los Angeles, California, is one of the top clown schools in America. People from TV and film attend the school in order to further their careers. My daughter, who is a professional singer and performer, has been taking their online classes, and she loves it.

One famous TV clown was Red Skelton, but Lucille Ball was also considered a clown. Her comedy routines, playfulness, and ability to make people love her and laugh, are legendary. I Love Lucy re-runs are still on traditional TV and streaming.

Clowns have been around for thousands of years. In 2400 B.C., Ancient Egypt’s Fifth Dynasty saw priests assuming the role of clowns in order to promote social and religious concepts. Jesters were common in China as early as 300 B.C. They were used in India as interpreters in 100 A.D.

Greek and Roman theater featured clowns and mimes. During the Middle Ages and Renaissance period, fools and jesters entertained members of the public and the royal courts alike. They were often used to promote religious concepts for the Church. In the 14th century, clowns began to appear on tarot cards.

The Aztecs were employing court jesters for entertainment when the Spanish arrived in 1520 A.D. The Commedia del Arte established the tradition of the three Zannis in 16th century Italy, which included the character of Harlequin.

Among Native Americans, clowns were used to make social and religious statements. Their antics made people laugh and think about the message the clowns were trying to deliver.

The first circus clowns were brought to England by Philip Astley in 1768. And Joseph Grimaldi (1778-1837), a British entertainer, expanded the role of the clown and earned the title “Father of Modern Clowning.”

For more information about The Clown School, click here: http://www.theclownschool.com.

Have a fun-filled, happy day!

Dawn Pisturino

September 28, 2022

Copyright 2022 Dawn Pisturino. All Rights Reserved.

19 Comments »

Bela Lugosi: From Jesus Christ to Dracula

(Bela Lugosi as Jesus Christ)

Before he became indelibly inked with the image of Dracula, Bela Lugosi worked as a theater actor in Hungary. He performed with various repertory companies from 1902 until 1913, when he was accepted into the National Theater in Budapest. He stayed with the company until 1919.

According to Lugosi, one of his most memorable and important roles was portraying Jesus Christ in the 1916 production of The Passion Play in Debrecen, Hungary. He was so taken with his resemblance to the traditional image of Christ that he had several photographs taken which still survive today.

In 1927, Lugosi appeared as Count Dracula in the Broadway production of Dracula. His performance and interpretation of the character were so captivating that he was hired to reprise the role in the 1931 Universal movie a few years later. The movie made him a star, and he was forever typecast as a horror icon, even though he would have preferred to move on to other roles.

Bela Lugosi died of a heart attack on August 16, 1956 in Los Angeles, California and was buried in Holy Cross Cemetery in Culver City. His iconic portrayal of Count Dracula lives on in the minds and hearts of all of his fans. Visit his official website: http://www.belalugosi.com.

Dawn Pisturino

April 11, 2022

Copyright 2022 Dawn Pisturino. All Rights Reserved.

19 Comments »

Rebel Without a Cause: Juvenile Delinquency

ATTENTION: SPOILER ALERT!

       After World War II, Hollywood struggled to re-define itself.  Box office revenues stagnated, and Hollywood needed new markets to keep going.  The teenage market was an obvious choice.

       Post-war prosperity in the 1950s made it possible for the middle-class to own houses, cars, and the latest work-saving appliances on a widespread scale.  After the fear and deprivation of the war years, Americans wanted to enjoy their new-found prosperity.  Television invaded American homes, bringing new entertainment and exposure to the latest products.  The consumer economy had begun.

       Teenagers had unprecedented pocket money and leisure time.  While their parents climbed the social ladder and hung out with friends at the country club, teenagers necked in the back seats of cars and danced to the latest rock and roll tunes. Hollywood targeted teens to become the new movie-going generation (Lewis, 250, 255).

       The upbeat world of the 1950s cringed under the shadow of nuclear war and an increasingly aggressive Soviet Union.  Beatniks mourned the impending death of humanity in coffee houses and cafes.  The McCarthy years dragged on, and the fear of Communism ran rampant throughout the country.  At the same time, a new kind of socially-conscious movie was being made to highlight problems in American society (Lewis, 228).  Juvenile delinquency became a hot topic.

       Nicholas Ray’s 1955 movie, Rebel Without a Cause, explores the alienation and delinquency of “upper-middle-class white suburban teenagers” (Lewis, 253).  The movie was filmed using Cinemascope widescreen technology and Warnercolor.  Starring James Dean, Sal Mineo, and Natalie Wood, this tense melodrama was meant to serve as a wake-up call to parents: take care of your children, or they will go down the wrong path (Lewis, 253).

       When the movie opens, it is Easter in Los Angeles, California, 1955.  Jim Stark (James Dean) is lying on the pavement, drunk, playing with a mechanical monkey.  It is a poignant scene that shows a lost character who is torn between childhood and adulthood.

       Jim Stark is hauled off to jail and becomes aware of John/Plato (Sal Mineo) and Judy (Natalie Wood).  The three troubled teens are required to speak to the juvenile officer, who tries to understand them.

       Judy cries about her father, who pushed her away when she reached puberty, and complains that she feels unloved by him.  She craves his attention, runs out of the house, and wanders around alone after dark when they get into a conflict over wearing make-up and grown up clothes.  Judy is trying to grow up, but growing up means losing closeness with her father (fear of incest).  She cannot understand why he is pushing her away because nobody has talked to her about it.  Her anger and despair lead her to hang out with the tough high school gang, The Wheels, and the gang’s leader, Buzz.

       John/Plato is an abandoned and neglected rich boy whose black maid is paid to raise him.  It is his birthday, and he is angry because his parents are divorced, his father is not involved in his life, and his mother stays away on vacation.  He has been picked up for shooting some puppies, a deviant behavior that is considered nowadays to be a precursor for sociopathic/psychopathic serial killers (Siegel, 353).  Although his black maid appears to sincerely care for him, calling him “her boy,” she is powerless to help him.  John/Plato appears to be emotionally unstable, starved for love, rejected by his peers, vulnerable and gullible, and physically and emotionally immature. 

       While waiting to see the juvenile officer, Jim Stark annoys the other police officers by wailing like a police siren, making obnoxious comments, and exhibiting a negative, sarcastic attitude.  In one scene, a deep-focus camera shot captures the three troubled teens through windows: Judy sitting in the office with the juvenile officer; John/Plato waiting in the office next door; and Jim sitting on a chair in the background.  The viewer understands that these three troubled teens will eventually get together, connected by their common suffering and antisocial behavior.

       Jim’s mother and father show up at the police station wearing a mink coat and a tuxedo.  They have been at a party at the country club.  Jim’s father laughs and minimizes his son’s drinking.  After all, the family has just moved to Los Angeles, and Jim has not made any friends yet.  The parents bicker, blaming one another; and Jim’s father says to him, “Don’t I buy you everything you want?”  Jim covers his ears and cries at his parents, “You’re tearing me apart!”

       Jim loses control, punches the juvenile officer, and bangs on the desk.  He is in danger of going to juvenile hall.  His parents admit that they have been moving frequently because of Jim’s behavior in order to protect him and their own reputations.  It becomes clear that Jim’s father is weak and cowardly.  His mother is a nag.

       On the first day of school, Jim is bullied for being the new kid.  He tries to befriend Judy, but she smokes cigarettes and hangs out with the tough crowd.  John/Plato looks up to Jim and tags along behind him, calling him “my best friend.”  During the field trip at the Griffith Observatory, the teens are exposed to a presentation about the universe and a nihilistic commentary about the insignificance of earth and human beings.  Jim and John/Plato can both identify with this.

       Jim gets into a knife fight with Buzz, the leader of The Wheels.  At the end of the fight, they agree to compete in a “chickie run.”  Jim doesn’t know what this is, but he agrees to do it as a matter of honor.  When he consults his father, his father cannot give him any worthwhile advice.    Later that night, Buzz is killed when his jacket gets caught on the door, and he is unable to escape from the car.  His car goes over a cliff, and all the members of the gang take off.  Jim confesses to his parents what happened.  His mother wants to move.  His father tells him to keep quiet.

       Jim wants to do the right thing and confess to the police.  The police ignore him and tell him to go home.  Gang members think he has squealed and go after him.  A live chicken is hung up over the door of Jim’s house, scaring his parents.  Jim and Judy hide out in an abandoned mansion.  Parallel to this, the gang attacks John/Plato, and his black maid chases them off.  In his mother’s room, he finds a child support check from his father, gets angry, grabs his mother’s gun, and takes off for the abandoned mansion.

       At the mansion, the three teens pretend that they are a nuclear family, bemoan the presence of troublesome children (they should be drowned), and isolate themselves from reality.  After John/Plato falls asleep, Judy and Jim go off by themselves.  The gang shows up, and John/Plato goes nuts when he finds out that Jim and Judy have left him alone.  He shoots one of the gang members.  The police show up.  John/Plato runs off to the nearby Griffith Observatory, and he shoots at the police.  Jim and Judy get into the Observatory, take the bullets out of the gun, and escort John/Plato out of the Observatory.  John/Plato does not realize the gun is empty and points it at the police.  The police shoot and kill him.

       At the end, Jim breaks down and cries “Help me!”  His father finds renewed strength and courage and promises to be there for him, no matter what happens.  Jim’s mother finds new respect for her husband.  The family is saved.

       The importance of a strong family and good communication are highlighted throughout the movie.  No matter how much wealth a family has, wealth cannot give a child what it needs to be happy, secure, and well-grounded.  Parents are responsible for raising good citizens who contribute to society.  Nicholas Ray sent this message loud and clear when he made Rebel Without a Cause. 

Dawn Pisturino

Thomas Edison State University

February 13, 2018

Copyright 2018-2022 Dawn Pisturino. All Rights Reserved.

Works Cited

Lewis, Jon. American Cinema: A History. New York: Norton, 2008.

Ray, Nicholas, Dir. Rebel Without a Cause. Perf. James Dean. Warner Bros., 1955.

Siegel, Larry J. Criminology. Belmont: Wadsworth, 2012.

9 Comments »

Film Noir: The Maltese Falcon

ATTENTION: SPOILER ALERT!

John Huston’s 1941 movie, The Maltese Falcon, is a film noir that borders on dark comedy. The opening music is melodramatic, dark, and foreboding. The story takes place in San Francisco, a romantic city with a wild and shady past. The movie is appropriately filmed in black and white, using chiaroscuro contrasts of deep shadows and bright light.

An attractive and distraught woman, Miss Wanderly (Mary Astor), seeks the help of hard-boiled and pessimistic Sam Spade (Humphrey Bogart) and his partner, Miles Archer, in finding her sister. This sister allegedly ran away from New York with a sinister man named Floyd Thursby.

Spade and Archer agree to help, and not long after, Archer is gunned down in the fog and the dark.

(Archer gets gunned down)

Two detectives visit Spade and question him.  In this scene, the lighting causes the brims of their hats to cast shadows over their eyes, making the detectives appear dark, tough, suspicious, and corrupt. They imply that Spade (his name reflects darkness and corruption) has a shady past and they want to put him away. (“Spade” could also symbolize digging up the truth.) Spade’s face is in bright light as he defends his innocence.

(Spade and the two detectives)

Spade does not show any emotion over his partner’s death, and this makes him appear unfeeling, cold, and possibly, guilty. Soon after, Thursby is also shot down. This reinforces the detectives’ suspicions that Spade has something to do with the two murders. It would be natural for him to avenge his partner’s death, and the two detectives empathize with him.

We soon discover that Spade has been having an affair with Archer’s wife. She is far more glamorous than Miss Wanderly. Spade rejects her, especially when she accuses him of murdering her husband. This puts even more doubt in the mind of the viewer. Did Spade do it?

(Photo of Spade and Mrs. Archer)

Spade forces Miss Wanderly (Mary Astor) to confess her real name – which is Bridget – and the real story. (Who knows what’s real and not real or who’s lying and not lying?) She uses her sex appeal and plays the helpless victim, saying, “Can’t you shield me so I don’t have to answer their questions?”

(Spade and Bridget Wanderly)

Throughout the movie, Sam Spade keeps his back to the wall, implying paranoia and danger. He stays alert and pays attention. He is familiar with crooks and the underworld of crime. He expects people to lie and cheat.

Mr. Cairo (Peter Lorre), a short, well-dressed dandy with an exotic accent, approaches Spade and asks for his help in recovering a statuette of a black bird. He claims to know about Archer and Thursby and offers Spade $5,000.00. Spade knocks him out and searches him after Cairo pulls a gun on him. Cairo gets back his gun and holds Spade at gunpoint while he searches his office.

Spade laughs at Cairo (as he does at everyone throughout the movie). When he is free again, he discovers that he is being followed by “the boy.” He dodges him and goes to Bridget’s apartment. There, he tells her to knock off “the school girl manner.” She admits that she’s a very bad girl who’s done a lot of very bad things. Spade kisses her, playing along with her, and finds out that she knows Cairo. But she claims to be afraid of him and needs Spade’s help. They go to Spade’s apartment, and Archer’s wife sees them outside. They wait for Cairo, knowing that “the boy” is watching the apartment. The tension builds.

Throughout the movie, Spade laughs at all of them and tries to stay one step ahead of everybody. He is always bluffing, like an expert poker player, and taking chances. He plays one side against the other in order to dig up the truth and protect himself. Everybody is guilty of something, and nobody can be trusted. Every character – including Spade – is shady, pessimistic, comical, and greedy.

When Cairo comes to Spade’s apartment, it comes out that Floyd Thursby was working for the “Fat Man” (Sydney Greenstreet). A fight ensues. Bridget slaps Cairo (exerting her dominance) and Cairo pulls out his gun. Spade intervenes, saying, “When you’re slapped, you’ll take it and like it.” (Cairo looks weak and defenseless in comparison to Bridget and Spade). The detectives show up and accuse Spade of killing Archer over his wife.

(Bridget slaps Mr. Cairo)

Bridget and Cairo continue to fight, and Cairo cries for help (the emasculated man). Bridget kicks him in front of the cops, and they get hauled off for questioning. 

Throughout the movie, Bridget flirts with Spade, trying to manipulate and distract him. He plays along with her, even letting her tell him she loves him. He finds out that Bridget and Floyd were paid to help Cairo and the “Fat Man,” but Floyd betrayed her. Spade later discovers that “the boy” is also working for the “Fat Man.”

When Spade finally meets the “Fat Man,” he discovers the history behind the black bird (stirring up greed and fantasies of great wealth). The “Fat Man” knows what it is (the Maltese Falcon), and Spade claims to know where it is. It is a cat-and-mouse game. The “Fat Man” and Cairo are not professional criminals, but they are driven by greed. The “Fat Man” slips Spade a Mickey Finn (to knock him out). Cairo searches Spade’s apartment. When Spade wakes up, he searches the “Fat Man’s” apartment.

Later on, Spade tells his loyal and adoring secretary about the black bird. A man stumbles into his office with a package and drops dead. He is Captain Jacoby, Master of the ship, La Paloma, which has just arrived from Hong Kong (in keeping with San Francisco history and the romantic history of the bird). Spade hides the bird and drives down to Burlingame after dark. (I used to live in Burlingame, which is on the San Francisco Peninsula, so I always get tickled by this part of the movie). He meets with the “Fat Man,” Cairo, Bridget, and “the boy.”

Spade’s secretary brings him the bird. Spade laughs maniacally and watches, transfixed, as the bird is unwrapped and the “Fat Man” tries to scrape off the black coating from the statue. The bird is a fake. Cairo turns on the “Fat Man”, but the “Fat Man” laughs like a little boy and persuades him to go to Istanbul with him.

(Spade, Mr. Cairo, Bridget Wanderly, the Fat Man)

Spade calls the police about the crooks and confronts Bridget. She is the one who shot Archer. Spade gives her up to the police, saying, “You’re taking the fall.” She cries and accuses him of not caring for her. He tells her that when your partner is killed, you’re supposed to do something about it. With a maniacal look on his face, he says, “I’m as crooked as I’m supposed to be.”

Spade kisses Bridget and turns her over to the cops. They get onto the elevator with her. When the elevator gate closes, it looks just like prison bars.

(Bridget Wanderly going to jail)

In the end, Spade picks up the Maltese Falcon, calling it “the stuff that dreams are made of.” He got his revenge for his partner’s death, who died over a lead bird—a stupid, worthless piece of junk.

Dawn Pisturino

Thomas Edison State University

January 15, 2018

Copyright 2018-2022 Dawn Pisturino. All Rights Reserved.

Works Cited

Huston, John, Dir. The Maltese Falcon. Perf. Humphrey Bogart. Warner Bros., 1941.

Lewis, Jon. American Cinema: A History. New York: Norton, 2008.

28 Comments »

A Tribute to Actor Michael York

Michael York as Pip in Great Expectations (1974)

Last night, I was thinking about the 1974 movie, Great Expectations, and wondering whatever happened to British actor Michael York. Was he still alive? An Internet search showed that he is 79 years old, living in West Hollywood, and still very much alive.

In 2011, my daughter, lyric soprano Ariel Pisturino, was a member of the cast in the Long Beach Opera production of Cherubini’s Medea. She had a singing role as one of Dirce’s handmaidens. One night, after the performance, an average looking elderly couple came up to her and expressed their admiration for her performance. The man was so sickly looking, he looked like he was in the last stages of cirrhosis of the liver, pancreatitis, or cancer. His skin was yellow and dry, his hair limp and straw-like. He seemed very familiar to me, but I could not immediately place him. But the man had a very distinctive theatrical voice, and there it was — Michael York!

(Lyric soprano Ariel Pisturino in 2011 at the furniture warehouse converted to a theater for the LBO production, Medea. Photo by Dawn Pisturino. The production garnered a lot of media coverage because former director, Andreas Mitisek, had a reputation for staging innovative opera productions in unusual locations.)

Michael York and his long-time wife, American photographer Patricia McCallum, were so kind and gracious to my daughter! He encouraged her talent and career and wished her the best for all of her future endeavors. He did not come off as arrogant or condescending, but just a real, down-to-earth person. In other words, he is not one of those Hollywood snobs who thinks he’s better than everybody else. He is not an angry, loud, foul-mouthed creep like Alec Baldwin, who was forced to go to anger management therapy. He and his wife showed up in ordinary clothes. In fact, they were under-dressed. With his obvious health problems, it looked like he had fallen on hard times. But the reality is a little different.

In 2012, York was diagnosed with amyloidosis, a rare disease in which insoluble proteins invade parts of the body and internal organs, eventually causing the organs to shut down. It took three years to get the right diagnosis. He underwent autologous stem cell transplant therapy and has been doing well since. A classically trained Shakespearean actor, York now writes books, does voiceovers, and promotes fundraising and public awareness of amyloidosis.

It just goes to show that no matter how talented you are, how important you think you are, or how rich you are, bad things happen. And it’s how you handle those challenges which determines the kind of person you are.

(Ariel Pisturino [facing front] as one of Dirce’s handmaidens in the LBO production of Medea.)

I will always have the greatest respect for Michael York for encouraging my daughter in her career. His humility and graciousness touched both our hearts. And I wish him and his wife all the best. We never know how our lives are going to end up, but we can never go wrong with being kind to others, supporting others with positive affirmations, and encouraging their hopes and dreams.

Michael York’s website: http://www.michaelyork.net

Long Beach Opera website: http://www.longbeachopera.org

Ariel Pisturino website: http://www.arielpisturino.com

Dawn Pisturino

November 4, 2021

Copyright 2011-2021 Dawn Pisturino. All Rights Reserved.

10 Comments »

Hollywood Forever Cemetery

Hollywood Forever Cemetery, 6000 Santa Monica Blvd, Los Angeles, CA, (866) 706-4826.

All photos by Dawn Pisturino.

The owners of the Hollywood Forever Cemetery had a vision to turn a sad, quiet place of rest into a thriving cultural and visitor center. Built in 1899, the cemetery is home to numerous Hollywood stars, directors, and other dignitaries. Visitors flock to the site to view the final resting places of famous people and walk among the beautiful gardens. At the south end of the cemetery can be seen the historic Paramount Studios on the other side of the wall.

During the summer, the cemetery features classic film screenings in association with Cinespia. People bring picnics and lawn chairs and hang out on the Fairbanks Lawn after sunset to enjoy the warm California weather. There’s usually a long line to purchase tickets and to get in.

The cemetery also hosts one of the largest Dia de Los Muertos festivals in America.

Every time I have been to Hollywood Forever Cemetery, I have enjoyed myself immensely. And walking among the headstones and mingling with the crowds is a fun experience and not scary at all – even after dark.

Did you notice the lipstick on Rudolph Valentino’s crypt? He still has a big following of swooning female fans!

Dawn Pisturino

October 6, 2021

Copyright 2008-2021 Dawn Pisturino. All Rights Reserved.

Leave a comment »

For James Dean

Rest in Peace
September 30, 2021 marks the 66th anniversary of his death


For James Dean 
Welcome me, if you will,
as the ambassador of a hatred
who knows its cause
and does not envy you your whim
of ending him.
 
For a young actor I am begging
peace, gods. Alone
in the empty streets of New York
I am its dirty feet and head
and he is dead.
 
He has banged into your wail
of air, your hubris, racing
towards your heights and you
have cut him from your table
which is built, how unfairly
for us l not on trees, but on clouds.
 
I speak as one whose filth
is like his own, of pride
and speed and your terrible
example nearer than the siren’s speech,
a spirit eager for the punishment
which is your only recognition.
 
Peace! to be true to a city
of rats and to loved the envy
of the dreary, smudged mouthers
of an arcane dejection
smoldering quietly in the perception
of hopelessness and scandal
at unnatural vigor. Their dreams
are their own, as are the toilets
of a great railway terminal
and the sequins of a very small,
very fat eyelid.
                       I take this
for myself, and you take up
the thread of my life between your teeth
tin thread and tarnished with abuse.
you still shall hear
as long as the beast in me maintains
its taciturn power to close my lids
in tears, and my loins move yet
in the ennobling pursuit of all the worlds
you have left me alone in, and would be
the dolorous distraction from,
while you summon your army of anguishes
which is a million hooting blood vessels
on the eyes and in the ears
at the instant before death.
                                         And
the menus who surrounded him critically,
languorously waiting for a
final impertinence to rebel
and enslave him, starlets and other
glittering things in the hog-wallow,
lunging mireward in their inane
moth-like adoration of niggardly
cares and stagnant respects
paid themselves, you spared,
as a hospital preserves its orderlies.
Are these your latter-day saints
these unctuous starers, muscular
somnambulists, these stages for which
no word’s been written hollow
enough, these exhibitionists in
well veiled booths, these navel-suckers?
 
Is it true that you high ones, celebrated
among amorous flies, hated the
prodigy and invention of his nerves?
To withhold your light
from painstaking paths!
your love
should be difficult; as his was hard.
 
Nostrils of pain dawn avenues
of luminous spit-globes breathe in
the fragrance of his innocent flesh
like smoke, the temporary lift,
the post-cancer excitement
of vile manners and veal-thin lips,
obscure in the carelessness of your scissors,
 
Men cry from the grave while they still live
and now I am this dead man’s voice,
stammering, a little in the earth.
I take up
the nourishment of his pale green eyes,
out of which I shall prevent
flowers from growing, your flowers.
~ Frank O’Hara ~


BIO: James Dean died in a car crash on September 30, 1955. A coroner’s jury determined that he had been speeding at the time of the crash. His death shocked the nation because he had become a familiar face on the Big Screen. His most famous movie, Rebel Without a Cause, made him a Hollywood legend. He is still remembered as the troubled Bad Boy who just couldn’t get a break. Dean started his career in television, then got his big break in the movies. He also enjoyed playing on stage in Broadway and Off Broadway productions. He openly admitted to being bisexual and often used his sexuality to get special favors. He was only 24 years old when he died. 

9 Comments »

London After Midnight (1927)

London After Midnight (known also as The Hypnotist) was a 1927 silent film starring the master of disguise, Lon Chaney, as Professor Edward C. Burke. The last known print was destroyed in the MGM vault fire of 1967. Consequently, it is a highly-sought film that would command a high price if a precious copy were found. Many people believe a private collector secretly harbors the last print in a secure vault somewhere in the world. Wishful thinking?

Rick Shmidlin reconstructed the film from stills for Turner Classic Movies. It premiered on Halloween, 2002.

Synopsis (Spoiler Alert):

Five years after Roger Balfour’s death is ruled a suicide, his abandoned estate is usurped by a gruesome duo: an older man with scraggly hair and wicked sharp teeth, and a sinister-looking young woman in a funereal long gown. Professor Burke, who investigated Balfour’s death, is re-engaged to investigate the couple by Sir James Hamlin, Balfour’s neighbor. Coincidentally, all the people living at the Hamlin estate were suspects in Balfour’s death.

When bizarre and unusual things begin to happen, however, suspicion turns on the ghoulish occupants of the Balfour estate. The neighbors whisper that they are the living dead and murdered Roger Balfour.

Professor Burke hypnotizes Sir James Hamlin and uncovers the truth: Hamlin murdered Balfour and made it look like a suicide after Balfour forbade Hamlin from marrying his daughter. The ghoulish couple turn out to be Professor Burke and a stage actress in disguise. Mystery solved!

Courtesy of Monster Madness 78 on YouTube. Length: 46:40 minutes.

Lon Chaney as the vampire.

Dawn Pisturino

September 20, 2021

Copyright 2021 Dawn Pisturino. All Rights Reserved.

10 Comments »

Marilyn Monroe in “Niagara”

** Spoiler Alert **

The 1953 film Niagara, directed by Henry Hathaway, stars Marilyn Monroe, Joseph Cotten, and Jean Peters. The traditional honeymoon site, Niagara Falls, provides the backdrop for murder.

The music accompanying the opening titles is dark, foreboding, and powerful. The first scene of the movie is a wide camera shot that captures the powerful and majestic Niagara Falls, sporting a rainbow (a symbol of hope). The camera shifts to the right, revealing Joseph Cotton walking along the bank of the river. Compared to the falls, he looks small and impotent. He seems unhappy, lost, and alienated. Indeed, he delivers a monologue to the falls, extolling their strength and power, and decrying his own weakness and failure. It’s a strange scene that gives the viewer the impression that his character is mentally unstable and may be contemplating suicide.

This is an example of how the setting, music, character, camera angles, contrasts, and symbols act together to create impressions in the mind of the viewer. Indeed, Niagara is almost Hitchcock-like in its overall design and presentation.

The viewer soon realizes through her actions and body language that Cotten’s wife, Marilyn Monroe, does not love him. She, too, is unhappy. She deliberately does things to rile him up and explode into small episodes of violence. She implies to another honeymooning couple that her husband is mentally unstable and capable of violence and self-harm. She pretends to worry about him whenever he has gone somewhere alone. But this is all a ruse, because she has a lover, and the lover is planning to kill him.

In the colorized version, Marilyn Monroe stands out from the crowd by wearing stylish, colorful clothing. She carries herself as if she is looking for a good time. She is described by her husband as a bar tramp. Although he loves her, he blames her for the loss of everything he ever had. He strongly suspects she has a lover. In fact, he sees her as out-of-control—just like Niagara Falls. But he is too weak and impotent to leave her.

It is hard for the viewer to feel sympathy for either of these characters. Marilyn Monroe is too scheming and conniving. Joseph Cotten is too weak and unstable.

When Joseph Cotten disappears and a body is found in the river, it looks like the two adulterous lovers got away with murder. When the detective takes Marilyn Monroe to the morgue building to identify the corpse, they walk through a dark and forbidding corridor before they come to the body, lying on a gurney in a cold, sterile room. When the detective turns on the light above the body, the truth is revealed. Marilyn Monroe cries out, faints, and ends up in the hospital. The viewer believes the enormity of her crime has struck home. The viewer soon finds out, however, that her husband is still alive and it is the lover who is dead.

In a remarkable and dramatic scene, Joseph Cotten confronts his wife in a bell tower. This bell tower is a solid building that plays music by request. It represents the strength and solidity of marriage. But the bells are silent now. The room is shadowy and filled with contrasts. The camera looks down from between the bells, making the characters look small and insignificant. The scene tightens as Joseph Cotten struggles with his wife and murders her. He leaves her lying on the black-and-white parquet floor and runs off. The camera lingers on the body for a few seconds, then cuts away, showing Joseph Cotten trying to get out of the locked building. He finally comes back to the body and picks up his wife’s lipstick, a symbolic act that he still loves her.

The police also know that Joseph Cotten is still alive and murdered his wife. He steals a boat, kidnapping Jean Peters. The boat falters and begins drifting toward the falls. Waves wash over the boat, throwing Peters and Cotten around. No matter how hard they try, they are powerless against the waves. The acting here is so realistic, it feels like it is actually happening.

Joseph Cotten tries to sink the boat. He allows Jean Peters to climb onto a wet rock in the middle of the river. She struggles and uses all of her strength to climb onto the slippery rock. The camera cuts back to the boat then back to Jean Peters. She watches, horrified, as the boat goes over the falls. The camera uses a wide shot to show the boat falling down Niagara Falls. Compared to the falls, it looks like a wooden toy.

A helicopter appears to rescue Peters. The camera juxtaposes between Jean Peters and the helicopter. The scenes become shorter and the juxtaposition quicker. She struggles to get into the chair that is sent down from the helicopter. Will she make it or fall into the river? She makes it into the chair. She is rescued.

The final scene of the movie is a wide shot of Niagara Falls. Acting as judge, jury, and executioner, justice has been done.

Dawn Pisturino

Thomas Edison State University

December 11, 2017

Copyright 2017-2021 Dawn Pisturino. All Rights Reserved.

Barsam, Richard, and Dave Monahan. Looking at Movies, 5th ed. New York: Norton, 2016.

4 Comments »

How the Paramount Decision and the Hollywood Blacklist Changed Hollywood

Rapid post-war changes in American society put downward pressure on studio revenues and profits.  But the Paramount decision and the Hollywood blacklist led to permanent changes that determined how Hollywood studios would conduct business from then on.

Once the Justice Department set its site on the Hollywood filmmaking industry, there was no turning back.  The first antitrust challenge by the Department of Justice came in 1938.  The Hollywood studios operated as trusts, and the Department of Justice was determined to break them up (Lewis 194).

Operating as trusts, the studios held almost complete control over the industry from film development to exhibition.  Studios released new films via a two-tier system.  Most first-tier theaters were owned by the studios.  Second-tier theaters, owned mainly by independents, were pressured by the studios into accepting certain terms if they wanted to screen first-run movies.  The studios used other scams to keep the theaters under their thumbs, such as “blind bidding (the licensing of films sight unseen) [and] block booking (the licensing of an entire slate of films in order to get access to one or two hit titles)” (Lewis 194-195).

After much legal wrangling, the Big Five – MGM, Warner Bros., Paramount, 20th Century-Fox, and RKO – signed an “interim consent decree” (Lewis 195) with the Department of Justice on October 29, 1940.  This decree allowed a system of arbitration to be set up that could resolve conflicts between theater owners and the studios.  But the decree did nothing to break up studio monopolies and end their monopolistic practices.  This led to the studios and the theater owners arbitrating a new consent decree in 1941 called the United Motion Picture Industry (Unity) plan.  The plan gave theater owners more leverage but did not go far enough to limit the power of the studios (Lewis 195).

The Supreme Court agreed to hear the Paramount case in 1948 (which also included RKO, Warner Bros., 20th Century-Fox, Loew’s-MGM, Columbia, Universal, and United Artists.)  On May 3, 1948, the Supreme Court ruled that the studios must divest themselves of studio-owned theaters across the country.  The Court reasoned that the studios had colluded to “restrain free and fair trade and to monopolize the distribution and exhibition of films” (Lewis 195).

On the plus side, the Court found the fines imposed on theater owners by the MPAA [Motion Picture Association of America] for screening films without a PCA [Production Code Administration] seal, unconstitutional (Lewis 196-197).

While domestic revenues and studio profits declined after the Paramount decision, “foreign demand for American films after the war” (Lewis 197) grew steadily.  The Cold War was in full swing.  “The Office of War Information . . . cooperated with the MPAA to establish for the studios an ideological and industrial presence abroad” (Lewis 197) which would ensure that American filmmakers would depict America in a positive light.

Within this climate of anti-Communism and competition with the Soviet Union, the Hollywood blacklist was born.  Fearing Communist propaganda and influence in Hollywood, nineteen studio employees were subpoenaed in 1947 by the House Committee on Un-American Activities.  Only ten were required to show up for questioning (called the Hollywood Ten.)  Noted playwright, Bertolt Brecht, testified in a closed session and later emigrated to East Germany (Lewis 197-198).

Members of the Hollywood Ten were generally uncooperative with the House Committee on Un-American Activities and were ultimately indicted and imprisoned for contempt of Congress.  At first, the MPAA publicly supported the Hollywood Ten.  Its president, Eric Johnston, declared, “There’ll never be a blacklist” (Lewis 200).  But shortly after he backtracked, saying, “We did not defend them” (Lewis 200).  After the Hollywood Ten were indicted and sentenced, the MPAA helped to institute “an industry-wide blacklist” (Lewis 200).

The blacklist benefited the studios financially because the contract system was slowly being replaced by “the union-guild movement” (Lewis 200).  The blacklist allowed studios to exert a certain amount of control over actors, guilds, agents, and lawyers.  At the same time, financiers in New York supported the MPAA and gave them more control over the Hollywood studios (Lewis 200).

As a result of the indictments and subsequent blacklist, the studios cancelled contracts and refused to pay members of the Hollywood Ten.  Civil suits dragged on for years.  Hundreds of “writers, directors, producers, and actors were blacklisted between 1947 and 1957” (Lewis 200), resulting in bitter feelings against the Hollywood studios.

Although the Hollywood studios lost financially when divestiture was ordered by the Supreme Court, they gained more power and control as a result of the Hollywood blacklist when the union-guild movement eventually replaced the contract system.

Dawn Pisturino

Thomas Edison State University

January 9, 2018

Copyright 2018-2021 Dawn Pisturino. All Rights Reserved.

Works Cited

Lewis, Jon. American Cinema: A History. New York: Norton, 2008.

7 Comments »

%d bloggers like this: