Sunday, January 23, 2022

Making the News with The Muppets

 Some years ago my dear friend and fellow popular culture scholar Anissa Graham and I co-edited two books about the works of Jim Henson. They're essay anthologies featuring scholarly discussions by a wide variety of authors, including us, and they were a lot of fun to create. Both of the books were published by McFarland and are still in print today. The first is Kermit Culture and the second is The Wider Worlds of Jim Henson. You'll find them on Amazon in paperback and Kindle editions, and they can be purchased from other book retailers, as well.

As a result of our work on those books, we sometimes get to do cool Muppet related stuff, and this week brought an unexpected opportunity to talk about the Muppets with a journalist from CNN. I thought some of my blog readers might enjoy the article, so here's the link:

"The Muppets are having a moment - just when we need them most" (CNN, Jan 23, 2022)

I really enjoyed talking to CNN's Scottie Andrew about the Muppets, and I think the article is a great discussion of their current cultural importance. Luckily for Scottie, it's a print article, so she didn't have to worry about suffering the fate of the Muppet News Flash anchor on The Muppet Show!

If you're interested in more of my Muppet related shenanigans, you can listen to my 2013 interview with the BBC radio program, "Last Word," marking the death of Jane Henson. I also appear as a guest on a couple of episodes of "Movin' Right Along: A Muppet Movie Podcast," hosted by ToughPigs Muppet super fans Ryan Roe and Anthony Strand.

For more Muppet posts here on the blog, try these:

Classic Films in Focus: THE MUPPET MOVIE (1979)

The Lovers, the Dreamers, and Me: Reflections on The Muppets

Classic Movie Tourist: A Day in Hollywood 

Christmas Movie Blogathon: The Muppet Christmas Carol (1992)

Classic Movie Stars on The Muppet Show 

Thursday, January 20, 2022

Fantastic at 50: Classic Movie Actresses

Earlier this month I celebrated my 50th birthday, one of those milestone events that feels important even if the pandemic kept me from doing much to mark the occasion. Several years ago, when I was 42, I wrote a post about 42 year old classic movie actresses and the films they made at that age, so this seems like a good time to revisit the idea and think about stars who enjoyed significant moments in their careers when they were 50. Of course, being 50 in 2022 is quite a bit different from being 50 in 1952, and Hollywood actresses in the studio era faced tremendous age discrimination. The women who managed long careers did so through versatility, perseverance, talent, and sheer determination. Here are a few of my favorite classic movie actresses and the films they made in their 50th year.

Katharine Hepburn, born in 1907, made the great romantic comedy Desk Set in 1957, one of her many pictures with costar Spencer Tracy. It's a funny, sweet story that highlights middle aged romance and women with careers, and it's actually one of my favorite movies that the pair made together. Of course, Hepburn would go on to even more great roles and Oscar nominations after 50, including three Best Actress wins.

Hepburn's Desk Set costar, Joan Blondell, was a year older, but she also enjoyed a long career. In 1956 the 50 year old star appeared as part of the ensemble cast in The Opposite Sex, a remake of the 1939 hit, The Women. Although she's best remembered today for her dozens of Pre-Code and other 1930s films, Blondell went right on acting until her death in 1979.

Bette Davis, born in 1908, was mostly doing television work in 1958, with a couple of guest spots on different series over the course of her 50th year. Even top stars like Davis and Crawford found big film roles harder to come by as they aged, especially if they wanted to avoid playing supporting characters like mothers to younger leading ladies. Davis, however, would eventually lean into horror roles and make the most of her lifelong ability to transform herself into extreme characters. Like Blondell, she would continue acting right up until her death in 1989.

Gloria Swanson was 51 by the time Sunset Blvd. appeared in theaters in 1950, but the actress really was 50 years old when she played the 50 year old Norma Desmond. It's a role that digs into the crisis of aging for a Hollywood actress, and it's not exactly flattering. Still, Swanson is brilliant in the film, and it's a shame the movie didn't inspire a revival for the star. Her leading man, William Holden, was still enjoying big movie roles well into his 50s, but Swanson, who earned a Best Actress Oscar nomination for Sunset Blvd., moved on to television appearances and semi-retirement.

Of course, some actresses fared better after 50 than others, with comic character actresses being some of the best at maintaining their careers. Long-legged Charlotte Greenwood made Down Argentine Way (1940), Mary Wickes appeared in Cimmaron (1960), Marjorie Main made seven films in 1940, and her friend Spring Byington took on ten roles in her 50th year in 1936. They had never been famous for their glamorous youth and beauty, and they trooped along through the decades in supporting roles that allowed them to keep working long after the starlet types had been forced into retirement.

When I look at modern actresses who are turning 50 this year, I see Cameron Diaz, Rebecca Romijn, Toni Collette, Jennifer Garner, and Gwyneth Paltrow, all of whom are still working and even thriving with their careers. I doubt they'll have to resort to hagsploitation roles like Davis and Crawford, and it's encouraging to think that we see 50 differently now than we did during the classic movie era. Personally, I'm feeling pretty good about being 50, and I plan to celebrate with several special blog posts in the weeks ahead.

If you're turning 50 this year, too, happy birthday, and remember, Jessica Tandy won an Oscar at 80, so you're definitely not too old to accomplish something big!

Monday, January 10, 2022

2021 Movie Log in Review

It's that time again, when I post my my movie log in review for the previous year and reflect on another year's worth of movie watching. 2021 continued to be dominated by the pandemic, which affected my movie viewing in several ways. I saw exactly one new release in an actual theater in 2021, and that was the disappointing Marvel offering, The Eternals. Alabama has done almost nothing to curb Covid cases, and theaters just haven't felt safe or worth the risk. Vaccinations did allow me to return to my lifetime learners and retirement community residents for film programs in the summer and fall, and I really enjoyed being with them again. With my family still at home for much of the year, newer movies remained a more popular group choice in the evenings, and I had less time to squeeze in classics that I hadn't seen before. We also watched a lot of British murder mysteries and Disney+ TV series.

Here's the list for 2021 - let's hope that we'll eventually see some normalcy again in 2022!

January (15)

The Return of the King (2003)

The Enchanted Cottage (1945)

Valley Girl (2020)

Dragonslayer (1981)

The Blind Swordsman: Zatoichi (2003)

The New Mutants (2020)

Fisherman's Friends (2019)

Judy (2019)

Never Too Late (2020)

Peggy Sue Got Married (1986)

Max Reload and the Nether Blasters (2020)

Evil Under the Sun (1981)

The Mirror Crack'd (1980)

House (1977)

The History of Future Folk (2012)


Yojimbo (1961)

The Mark of Zorro (1940)

The Flesh and the Fiends (1960)

Space Sweepers (2020)

Rogers and Hammerstein's Cinderella (1997)

The Scarlet Pimpernel (1934)

Cast a Deadly Spell (1991)

Gotham by Gaslight (2018)

Justice League Dark: Apokalips War (2020)


March (2)

Legally Blonde (2001)

Stagecoach (1939)


April (6)

Godzilla vs. Kong (2021)

The Gay Divorcee (1934)

So I Married an Axe Murderer (1993)

Mystery Men (1999)

Dark Shadows (2012)

The Reluctant Debutante (1958)


May (7)

Scooby Doo (2002)

In the Good Old Summertime (1949)

Summer Stock (1950)

The Harvey Girls (1946)

Separate Tables (1958)

Rachel and the Stranger (1948)

Bathing Beauty (1944)


June (11)

Streets of Fire (1984)

Raya and the Last Dragon (2021)

42nd Street (1933)

The Personal History of David Copperfield (2019)

Dangerous When Wet (1953)

Gold Diggers of 1933 (1933)

In the Heights (2021)

Luca (2021)

Suicide Squad (2018)

Roxanne (1987)

Hidalgo (2004)


July (16)

Demolition Man (1993)

The Mummy (1999)

Black Widow (2021)

The Avengers (2012)

Pygmalion (1938)

My Fair Lady (1964)

Earth Girls Are Easy (1988)

She's All That (1999)

Victor/Victoria (1982)

The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938)

The Opposite Sex (1956)

Miss Congeniality (2000)

Ocean's 8 (2018)

The Witches of Eastwick (1987)

Jungle Cruise (2021)

The Truman Show (1994)


August (7)

Ivanhoe (1954)

The Birdcage (1996)

The Map of Tiny Perfect Things (2020)

The Green Knight (2021)

Jurassic Park (1993)

Jurassic Park II: The Lost World (1997)

Cruella (2021)


September (4)

Cinderella (2021)

House on Haunted Hill (1959)

The 39 Steps (1935)

The Haunting (1963)


October (11)

They Drive by Night (1940)

Mystery of the Wax Museum (1933)

The Duff (2015)

The Haunted Hotel (2021)

Death on the Nile (2004)

Good News (1947)

House on Haunted Hill (1959) - Again!

Carnival of Souls (1963)

The Brain That Wouldn't Die (1962)

Monster House (2006)

Horror of Dracula (1958)


November (7)

The Sparks Brothers (2020)

To Have and Have Not (1944)

Free Guy (2021)

The Harder They Fall (2021)

The Eternals (2021)

Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings (2021) - 2x this month

December (16)

Love Hard (2021)

The Big Sleep (1946)

Single All the Way (2021)

Mixtape (2021)

My Man Godfrey (1936)

A Castle for Christmas (2021)

Christmas in Connecticut (1945)

The Man Who Came to Dinner (1942)

Matrix Resurrections (2021)

Encanto (2021)

Scrooged (1988)

The Muppet Christmas Carol (1992)

Gremlins (1984)

Gremlins II (1990)

Love and Monsters (2020)

White Christmas (1954) 

Total film count for 2021: 111