Today marks the Burt Lancaster’s birthday! You may know it or not, but he has always been one of my very favourite actors since in discovered him in The Unforgiven (John Huston, 1960). The one we also call “Mr. Muscles & Teeth” or “Big Teeth” if you are my mother starred in some movies that marked cinema’s history and always delivered top-notch performances. In order to honour him on this very special day, I thought it would be fun to do a top list presenting my 15 most favourite films of his.
Before we continue…
I insist you respect my choices. This is a list of MY own favourite Lancaster’s films. I’m not claiming that these ones are the best, but only the ones I personally like the most. It’s not objective at all. It’s very subjective.
Also, if a movie is not on the list, it doesn’t mean that I don’t like it. I have seen a total of 22 of his films. So, obviously, some won’t be on the list (not to mention the ones I haven’t seen yet).
Notice: If you should fail to respect this simple request, your comment will be deleted.
Of course, you are invited to share your personal favourites in the comments section!
I remember my grandfather talking to me about this film. It was the second film to reunite Burt Lancaster and Tony Curtis (well, don’t you remember, Tony was playing an extra in Criss Cross. Haha!). Pretty enjoyable, but not a masterpiece like Sweet Smell of Success either!
I’m normally not too much into political films but I had to include it on the list as it’s unique in its own way and has an impressive modern touch.
10. Kiss the Blood Off My Hands (Norman Foster, 1948)
9. Sweet Smell of Success (Alexander Mackendrick)
” Match me, Sidney!” (Couldn’t resist). Brilliant film, but Burt sort of scares me in it!
8. The Rainmaker (Joseph Anthony, 1956)
This is one of Burt’s most underrated films. I personally love it and his performance in it is one of my most favourites. That monologue at the beginning totally captivates me! When Earl Holliman sent me these autographed pictures, he wrote that this was indeed the favourite film he made (his performance in it was brilliant as well) and that he loved working with Burt and Kate. 🙂
7. Elmer Gantry (Richard Brooks, 1960)
Not a film everyone “gets”, but I personally love it. Burt won a well-deserved Oscar for his performance!
6. Airport (George Seaton, 1970)
Is it a guilty pleasure? It’s not a bad movie, of course. It’s pretty good in fact, but disaster movies always seem to be a synonym of “guilty pleasure”! Anyway, I know many will have a different opinion on that.
5. Separate Table (Delbert Mann, 1958)
That cast! Oh, my! I didn’t like the film so much the first time I saw it but loved it the second time. I’m weird like that.
Oh that it seems far away, that time when Judy Garland was gambolling on the yellow bricks road and singing “We’re Off to See the Wizard” when you look at her years later in John Cassavetes’s A Child Is Waiting (1963)! If this film was among her lasts before her premature death in 1969, it was one of Cassavetes’s first. But the two managed to mix their respective talents for a worthy result. To that was added a glimpse of always-great-on-screen Burst Lancaster and a beautiful supporting cast composed by Elizabeth Wilson, Gena Rowlands (John Cassavetes’s wife from 1954 to his death in 1989), Bruce Ritchey, Steven Hill, Lawrence Tierney, Barbara Pepper, John Marley and Paul Stewart. The film was produced by Stanley Kramer. Even if Cassavetes lost power as a director under the production of Kramer and wasn’t satisfied with the final product, A Child Is Waiting remains, on many levels, a masterpiece, but, a forgotten one. Indeed, when one thinks of its two main stars, Garland and Lancaster, this is rarely the first film that we think about.
I must admit, as odd as it seems, I’ve only seen two Judy Garland’s films: The Wizard of Oz (obviously) and this one (I also saw some parts of Meet Me in St. Louis). As a matter of fact, when Crystal from In the Good Old Days of Classic Hollywood announced that she’ll be hosting the Judy Garland Blogathon in honour of this musical entertainer’s birthday, I thought that it would be a good occasion for me to finally watch this film who was on my to-watch list for quite some time. This was due to the presence of Burt Lancaster, and actor I adore, but also to this review written by Crystal herself and the simply good occasion to discover another Garland’s film.
Yesterday, the lovely Judy would have been 95 and a blogathon is, of course, the best way for us, bloggers, to honour her memory.
From the first minute of A Child Is Waiting, I knew this would be a film I would like. I hope I’m not too weird by saying that, but I’ve always liked psychological movies or movies that take place in a psychiatric institution, a mental hospital, etc. I simply find these fascinating, especially for what concerns the way the patients evolve in this environment.
A Child Is Waiting takes place at the Crawthorne State Mental Hospital. Judy Garland plays Jean Hansen, a newcomer among the staff of the hospital. Due to her musical background, she is hired as a music therapist. The psychologist, Dr. Matthew Clark, is played by Burt Lancaster. Jean becomes fond of a little boy named Reuben Widdicome who suffers from a mental retardation. The child, who hasn’t seen his mother since two years, easily finds a friend in Jean who has a real maternal instinct. She and Dr. Clark are put in opposition in what concerns their ideal for the child’s development. If she believes he will improve his condition by seeing his mother, the doctor believes he should not and that he must learn to live with different people.
The film is a special one as its extras include real mentally-challenged children from Pacific State Hospital in Pomona, California, just like Milos Forman would use real mentally hill patients in his highly acclaimed One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. This creates a sense of authenticity and realism. Concerning these children, I particularly appreciated the inclusion of Burt Lancaster in this film as I don’t remember having seen him interact often with kids on screen. He is presented as a man with a calm temperament. He can get angry, but he’ll never scream at someone. As always, Mr. Lancaster loves to show his teeth when he talks, but that’s how we love him! His acting is well calculated, without unnecessary extravagances. The child, who is for him (the doctor) a hopeless case, is played by Bruce Ritchey, who certainly breaks our hearts with his sad eyes. If A Child Is Waiting is credited as his only major film role, and the child actor is quite forgotten today, it goes without saying that his performance is one that we don’t easily forget. Playing people mentally ill never seems to be an easy task for the simple reason that it would be “dangerous” to be too cliché. But Ritchey keeps it simple and his acting full of sensibility almost makes us forget the film’s two big stars, Burt Lancaster and Judy Garland.
Talking about Judy, if this one was particularly known for her musicals, this film allows us to discover her talent as a dramatic actress. We become easily fond of her as she gives to her character a beautiful aura of kindness and chooses a type of acting that fits perfectly the mood of the film. Even if A Child Is Waiting isn’t a musical, we even have the occasion to hear Mrs. Garland’s beautiful voice in a brief moment of the film. Sadly, if she delivers a thoughtful performance, Mrs. Garland had important personal problems at the time and this can be felt in her acting. There is the impression of a certain discomfort, but, luckily, this one is easily forgotten. Anyway, let’s not talk too much about Judy Garland’s life problems on her celebration! Judy Garland and Burt Lancaster were reunited before in Stanley Kramer’s Judgement at Nuremberg (1961).
Interestingly, A Child Is Waiting marks the first cinematographic collaboration between John Cassavetes and his beautiful wife actress Gena Rowlands. She plays Reuben’s sad mother and her supportive presence is nothing but a strong addition to the film.
As always, I’m always talking too much about the actors, so I will stop here. Nothing bad to say about the rest of the cast, they were all good.
Another thing that particularly struck me about this film is the music. First, in the opening titles embellished with naive children’s drawings, we hear an a capella chorus of children (which can make us think of the famous school scene in Hitchcock’s The Birds) which indicates us the importance of these children in the film. The rest of the score was composed by Ernest Gold (who was not at his first, nor last collaboration with Stanley Kramer) and there’s something about it that represents quite perfectly the mood of the film, but also Reuben’s psychological states. One one side, there’s something somehow disquieting about it, but on the other one, it’s always a calm melody.
If John Cassavetes was fired from the production when editing time came (…), there’s nothing really bad to say about this editing, but we feel it’s not a John Cassavetes’ one. I’m not a Cassavetes expert, but from what I know of his methods, we feel that his editing would have been more creative. Here, no particular liberties are taken nor creativity shown. Of course, this doesn’t necessarily affect the quality of the film, but maybe Cassavetes’ editing would have accentuated the psychological side of the film and give it a different meaning. Just an idea…
What disappointed me about the film is the development of the characters. We actually don’t really feel there is one. If that was the intention, then ok, but I think more efforts could have been put on this level. This doesn’t only concern Reuben, who, unfortunately, never really seem to change as a patient (this doesn’t necessarily have to be a positive change. It can be a bad one too), but also for the doctor and Jean. We always feel Jean is about to tell us something crucial about her past life, but no… This constant impression could have been avoided as, here, it is only annoying. Also, at the end, we don’t really know what will happen with each of the characters. I’m all for open endings, but here it doesn’t seem that necessary.
But, apart from that, I highly enjoyed the film!
On its released, A Child Is Waiting sadly was a commercial failure. On another side, it received some good reviews.
It is difficult to know why the film is forgotten nowadays at it reunites a masterful team. So, if you haven’t seen it, I highly recommend it. It is the perfect film for those who like thoughtful, but not too mentally extravagant films (even if this one takes place in a mental hospital, it remains quite sober on that level). Fans of Garland, I’m sure, will appreciate it as it shows a different facet of her acting.
Before leaving you, I want to thank Crystal for hosting this lovely event and, of course, wish a happy (belated) heavenly birthday to the celebrated star. Happy birthday Judy, wherever you are!
Don’t forget to take a look at the other entries, here!
My! This is the first article I was writing since mid-April (blogathon announcements don’t count). I hope I haven’t lost my touch!
It all started with Strauss’s The Beautiful Blue Danube… and a fatal plunge…
Trapeze is one of those movies made to hold your breath, to be at the edge of your seat and contempt the colourful world of the impressive circus. I’m writing on this film today for the At the Circus Blogathon hosted by Letícia from Crítica Retrô and Summer from Serendipitous Anachronism.
I don’t do this often, but, as I haven’t seen many circus movies, I chose to review one I had never seen. But I knew Trapeze could only be a winner for me because:
1- It stars Burt Lancaster, my 5th favourite actor.
2- It stars Tony Curtis, an actor I’m appreciating more and more.
3- Seeing more Gina Lollobrigida movies is ok for me! Same for Katy Jurado (who is part of the last movie I reviewed: High Noon. I like the coincidence)
4- When I realized it was directed by Carol Reed, it grabbed my attention even more. Actually, if I’m not wrong, I think it’s the first American movie directed by Carol Reed that I see.
My verdict: not disappointed. Not one minute!
A 1956’s Cinemascope film, Trapeze is an adaptation of the novel The Killing Frost by Max Catto. It won the Silver Bear for Best Actor (Burt Lancaster) and the Public Prize at the 6th Berlin International Film Festival, and Carol Reed received a nomination for Best Director at the Directors Guild of America.
The action takes place at the Bouglione Circus in Paris, trapeze artist Tino Orsini (Tony Curtis) has just arrived in town to meet the great Mike Ribble (Burt Lancaster), whom, he believes, is the only one who can teach him how to do a dangerous triple somersault. Ribble is first not interested in working with him. Years before, he got badly injured precisely doing a triple somersault that failed. He since has to walk with a stick. But Riddle admits to his friend Rosa (Katy Jurado) that Orsini has talent. He finally accepts to create an act with him and to teach him the triple. Things go fine and the two men work well together until Lola (Gina Lollobrigida) imposes herself to be part of the act. Bouglione ( Thomas Gomez) put pressures on all of them, believing the important thing for his circus is the money and the public, not so much the quality of the acts. Then starts a series of manipulations and the formation of an inevitable love triangle.
I remember I was once having a conversation with my grandfather about old actors and he asked me if I liked Burt Lancaster. Of course! And then he wanted to know if I had seen Trapeze. But I had not. I think it’s not long after that Summer and Letícia announced their blogathon, so I thought it was the perfect occasion to see it!
Burt Lancaster couldn’t have been better cast as Mike Riddle. You might know that, before breaking into movies, Mr. Lancaster first worked as an acrobat in the circus world. That’s where he met his longtime friend Nick Cravat. Unfortunately, after having been badly injured, Lancaster had to renounce to the circus life. After having served in the army, he became a movie star. His first movie was The Killers.
Burt the acrobat!
Burt Lancaster has always been athletic. Except for performing acrobatics in a circus, he also practiced Basket Ball, athletics, and gymnastic. Lancaster didn’t hesitate to use his skills and what he had learned from the circus in movies such as The Flame and the Arrow, The Crimson Pirate and, of course, Trapeze. Lancaster was a performer on many levels.
Interestingly enough, I even read that Lancaster used to ask for a high bar set up on sets and locations so he could perform acrobatics and stay in shape. (IMDB) Well, we all have noticed what a great body he had!
So, Burt was meant to play in Trapeze. Because of his experience, the actor could perform all his trapeze stunts by himself. The only part that is not performed by Lancaster himself is this famous triple somersault. Lancaster first wanted to do it, but technical adviser Eddie Ward thought it would be best for him to double him for the dangerous stunts. Ward was eventually replaced by Nick Cravat for the final stunt. Well, even if we don’t see Burt doing the famous triple somersault, we still can see him performing as an acrobat and that’s a delight.
Burt doesn’t only impress with his athleticism, but also for his performance. As always, he is full of charisma and dynamism. He transmits his intention in many ways. On that trapeze, but also on the ground when, with his majestical face and his impressive manners.
Trapeze certainly was Burt’s film (he also produced it), but Tony Curtis is a revelation too. Unlike Burt Lancaster, this one hadn’t worked in a circus before, but he had the stature to be convincing in the role. We also have to remember that this is not only a circus show, but also a movie with a story. Curtis was believable and I have to say I much enjoyed his performance.
Gina Lollobrigida didn’t impress me much. She was beautiful, of course. She was ok, but I was more mesmerized by Katy Jurado’s acting. If Lollobrigida is a bit plain, Jurado gives a touching performance and can easily be a favourite. Yes, she has the beautiful role, but that’s not the point. The fact that Lollobrigida’s acting wasn’t wonderful enough created a sort of ambiguity and, to be honest, I can really say what I think of her character, precisely because of that. Sadly, the stunt woman for Gina Lollobrigida died after an accident on the set.
We also have to give credit to Johnny Puleo, who plays Max. He is one of those supporting actors that is just so fun to watch. He adds a little something to the film and is nothing but appreciable.
Trapeze is a movie I liked, not necessarily for the story. On this subject, I really enjoyed the first part involving Burt Lancaster and Tony Curtis preparing their duo. But as soon as Gina Lollobrigida gets involved, things were a bit spoiled. That love triangle surely adds a plot element to the story. But it’s not what we like most about the movie. It’s this kind of love triangle that is here for no real reasons except entertain us a bit. That creates another problem for the film, a little hic. We can’t deny that Trapeze is a bit misogynist. I mean, all the problems seem to be created by the women. Why? Are they so dangerous? Even Rosa (Katy Jurado), a good and humble person, is accused of being the cause of a horse’s death. Luckily, Lollobrigida’s character evolves for the best and she sorts of become a more sensible person at the end.
No, Trapeze, except for Burt Lancaster and Tony Curtis’s brilliant performances, impresses for its visual dimension. I mean, a circus movie has to be that way. First, it’s so colourful. I think that seeing this movie on the big screen would be an unforgettable experience. It’s a majestic rainbow that simply makes you want to go to the circus. To this colour is added the traditional circus music and we became part of the public. The camera angles were also brilliantly chosen and allowed us to have different views on the trapeze artists. The wide shot and the great wide shots allow us to have a great ensemble view on the performers, see their pirouettes and their teamwork. While the closer shots allow us to see important details such as Burt Lancaster and Gina Lollobirgida’s kiss in the hair or Burt Lancaster’s hands dropping the hands of his partner and causing his fatal plunge. The mix of low and high angles is also well welcomed and adds even more dynamism to the film. I have to see, the editing and the cinematography are among the most brilliant elements of Trapeze.
Trapeze remains a very authentic film for the reason that it was shot on location. Well, somehow. It takes place in Paris and it was filmed in Paris. We don’t see the Eiffel Tower or the Arch of Triumph, but the artistic life of the city, the more underground part of it. But one thing is sure, Paris is lovely everywhere. The exterior scenes were filmed at the Cirque d’Hiver, which real life proprietor was Joseph Bouglione. The interior scenes were filmed at the Studios de Billancourt (Hauts-de-Seine). The studios are not at the center of Paris, but not so far from it.
Finally, what makes this film a perfect circus movie is the fact that the world of the circus is omnipresent. I mean, people are performing all the time! I love this moment when Tony Curtis follows Burt Lancaster (who is not one bit interested in him) and wants to show him what he can do. He starts doing acrobatics around him in the street and that makes him just so lovable. Then, when Lancaster finally agrees to speak to him, he starts walking on his hands. Lancaster joins him and then, there those two men discussing business while walking on their hands as if it was something perfectly normal! Of course, we all do that in real life hahaha! But this adds a very appreciable comic side to the movie.
Trapeze is one of those movies that makes you want to go to the circus. Just like when I go to the real life circus, I was very stressed for the performers when I was watching the film and hoped for nothing bad to happen to them. It might not be perfect on the narrative level, but for its main composition, it’s a film that remains highly entertaining. Anyway, I greatly enjoyed it and it fulfilled my expectations in a good way.
I want to thank Critica Retrô and Serendipitous Anachronism for hosting this colourful blogathon! Talking about circus movie certainly was something I’m sure not many people had thought of and it was a most rewarding experience! It even gave me an idea for next’s year subject, if the blogathon is hosted again!