Monday, January 25, 2016

LIZ SMITH: "The Maltese Falcon" Flies Back

by Liz Smith

"The Maltese Falcon" Flies Back to Big Screens.  Also — The Ziegfeld Folly ... "Cats" Claws its Way Back ... Clive Davis Prepares Another Great Show ... Justin Bieber For Sale. 

"I HAVEN'T lived a good life. I've been bad, worse than you could know."

"That's good. Because if you were actually as innocent as you pretend to be, we'd never get anywhere."

So it goes between Mary Astor and Humphrey Bogart in one of the most perfect crime thrillers ever, 1941's "The Maltese Falcon."
On February 21 and 24, Turner Classic Movies will present "Falcon" on specially selected big screens around the country. This, in honor of the film's 75th anniversary.

"The Maltese Falcon" directed by John Huston is perfect for so many reasons — the original material by novelist Dashiell Hammett (he and Houston collaborated on the screenplay) ... Adolph Deutsch's score ... Arthur Edeson's cinematography. But most of all, the cast, each one so sublimely chosen you simply can't imagine any substitutions or tiresome remakes. (Except for the hilarious Peter Falk/Madeline Kahn/Eileen Brennan/Ann-Margret send-up, "The Cheap Detective")
Mary Astor and Humphrey Bogart in "The Maltese Falcon."
There's Bogart, of course, as hard-bitten Sam Spade, a kinda shady detective who is, as he tells Astor, "maybe not as crooked as you think." Peter Lorre, Sydney Greenstreet and Elisha Cook Jr., are the obvious villains, lusting after the "the stuff that dreams are made of." Lee Patrick as Sam's faithful secretary and Gladys George as the not-so-bereaved widow of Spade's partner make their every second onscreen count.
Humphrey Bogart and Mary Astor with Peter Lorre as Cairo and Sydney Greenstreet as the fat man, Kasper Gutman.
But it is Mary Astor who is the duplicitous center of the movie. She can't open her mouth without lying, and is caught in every lie she tells, much to Bogart's amusement. What makes Astor's Brigid O' Shaunghnessy (aka Miss Wonderly) so dangerous and fascinating, is that she does not look or sound like the typical noir bad girl. Claire Trevor would have been a more obvious choice — too obvious.

Astor, by 1941, had been in movies for over 20 years, she'd been a star in silents. And also a very great beauty with a lust for life. However, vanity was not one of her issues, and she allowed herself to thicken a bit. Her "Falcon" femme fatale is much more fatale than most.
With her enormous, pleading eyes, slightly boxy figure and a touch of fullness under her chin, she is still a beauty, but a bit worn. The bad life she admits to in our opening quote had begun to show. It's easy to imagine men being taken in by her, and stunned when she betrays them. The hardness under her apparent fragility comes out only when she is cornered, or when shocked. Few onscreen reactions are as realistic and genuine as when Sam Spade tells Brigid he's going to "send you over ... I hope they don't hang you by that sweet neck."

Astor, on the verge of terrified tears and nervous laughter says: "Oh, Sam, you can't mean that, you're joking." He is not.

I'm checking my local listings to find out where in Manhattan "The Maltese Falcon" will be showing late next month. Thank you TCM, for putting great movies back where they belong, on great big movie screens.
SPEAKING of great big movie screens, I had barely recovered from the shock of Swifty's restaurant suddenly closing, when word came that the magnificent Ziegfeld Theater on West 54th Street in NYC, is definitely done for, and will re-open in two years as a "ballroom."

The hours and hours and hours I spent at the Ziegfeld, for personal pleasure and professional duties cannot be calculated. Some of the most fabulous, glamorous movie premieres ever, happened there. The films themselves weren't always so great, but the atmosphere was invariably electric.

I don't think New York City requires another ballroom. Will people in Manhattan really feel much like dancing in 2017? The city needs a grand movie palace. I hope somebody reconsiders.
Andrew Lloyd Webber with Elaine Paige on the opening night of "Cats" in 1981.
WHILE WE are waiting for Bette Midler's "Hello, Dolly!" to arrive next year, we murmur "now and forever" as Andrew Lloyd Webber's "Cats" returns to Broadway this summer, at the Neil Simon Theater.

"Cats' ran for 18 years at the Winter Garden. It looked like we'd never cough up all those hairballs but finally the show purred out. When the musical returns, Sir Andrew will have — again! — three shows running simultaneously on Broadway: "Phantom of the Opera" ... "School of Rock — The Musical" and "Cats."

I was never much of a "Cats" fan, during its epic initial run — too fey. I giggled during the "emotional" moments. But, I'll give it another try this year. After all, I like cats in general. Too much, in fact. I keep rescuing and adopting. Yeah, I'm that guy — "the cat guy."
OH, speaking of Bette Midler's "Hello, Dolly!" we made an error here in remarking on Dolly Levi's big Harmonia Gardens number. We said it happened in Yonkers. Nope, a good deal of the show occurs in Yonkers, where matchmaker Dolly visits, but she's a city girl, and longs to return to "the lights of 14th Street." And she does, as waiters dash around, exclaiming, "It's so nice to have you back where you belong!"
Clive Davis with Whitney Houston at his 1999 Pre-Grammy Party.
ON FEBRUARY 14th, at the Beverly Hilton in Hollywood, Clive Davis throws his annual black-tie Pre-Grammy party. The Grammys happen the very next night. This is one of the most star-studded, exciting evenings in show-biz. (The Grammy show itself tends to be a let-down after the fun and frolic of Clive's entertainment — that is if you were lucky enough to be invited to Mr. Davis' fete, and have an opportunity to make comparisons.)

Clive always has surprises up his sleeve, and often, new stars are "introduced" at these galas. It is the 40th anniversary of the party, and you can be sure Clive is going to pull out all the stops.

For me, however, the shadow of Whitney Houston falls across this night. Whitney died on February 11th, 2012, only hours before she was scheduled to attend and perform at Clive's event — he was her mentor and discoverer. Clive felt he had no choice but to go on with the show, and as hundreds of guests arrived at the Hilton, they were met by the shocking news of Whitney's passing — indeed as the party progressed, Houston's body was still upstairs on the bathroom floor of her luxury suite.

It was Hollywood Gothic at its most extreme. It still gives me chills. (I've often thought that a great show biz roman a clef could center around that real-life tragic event. The body upstairs, the party down below. Harold Robbins, Jacqueline Susann, Jackie Collins — where are you when we need you? Ah, but Joan Collins continues the tradition of this sordidly entertaining literary vein. Joan — get to work!) 
Clive and Whitney at the signing of her contract with Arista Records in 1983.
ANOTHER MUSIC note: The T.J. Martell Foundation — the music industry's largest charitable endeavor providing medical research for diseases such as cancer, leukemia and AIDS — is auctioning off Justin Bieber. Yes, bid now at and you'll have a chance to meet and greet Justin at "a concert of your choice." Hurry, Justin's up for grabs until January 28th.

"A concert of your choice." Hmmmm ... I wonder if Justin likes cats?
ATTENTION READERS: Our fearless leader, Liz Smith, has had a slight mishap. She is fine, but will be hors de combat for a brief interval. Denis Ferrara will be pinch hitting for Liz.
Contact Liz Smith here.