Rey's Movie Page

Most of my friends don't pay attention to my movie reviews. The reason is I seem to like every movie I've ever seen and so they don't think I'm very discriminating. They're right. I'll watch just about anything. Over the last few years, however, I'm not interested in movies with lots of explosions, crashes, gore or people being vaporized.

Science fiction or fantasy used to be my favorite kind of movie, but in recent times, the genre has become consumed with cosmic violence. Blowing up space ships and destroying planets is not my idea of science fiction. As a matter of fact that kind of violence is rooted in contemporary society, not in what could be possible.

Older Star Treks (the TV version) were my favorites because they would depict concepts, ideas, and thought twisters as central to the plot; violence was hardly present. Also I really liked the idea of these weird creatures from all over the universe having conversations with each other (like the bar scene in the first Star Wars). Those shows symbolized how the most different kinds of people could get along with each other in peaceful ways.

One of my favorite movies of all-time is 2001: A Space Odyssey. Premiering in 1968, this giant-screen, 156-minute film created such wonderings about the universe that even today I can still vividly recall different scenes, lines, and theme music. Written by Arthur Clarke and Stanley Kubrick and directed by Kubrick, the movie used the ship's computer, Hal 9000, as a primary evil force. The computer's soothing voice (played by Douglas Rain), would tell "Dave" (Captain Bowman played by Keir Dullea) the various rules and admonish him for thinking like a human.

Eerie, captivating, and thought-provoking, this film also had one of the best musical scores. It used well-known music such as The Blue Danube by Johann Strauss and Also Sprach Zarathustra by Richard Strauss. I loved the scene in space where one of my favorite actors, Gary Lockwood (who plays Dr. Frank Poole), just floats off into the void of the universe. This concept of being helpless and abandoned into nothingness is one of the most frightening themes in our lives.

I've seen this movie four times so far. The first time I saw it was in 1968 at the Golden Gate Theater on Market Street in San Francisco. My friends and I decided we would get loaded and bus downtown from near the Haight-Ashbury area where we lived. We stuffed ourselves with brownies, not knowing what quantity to eat in order to produce the best high. We sat near the front row, staring up at the biggest movie screen we had ever seen. The Monolith brought cheers of "far out" from the audience. Of course, I went straight a second time in order to see the movie from another perspective. The biggest difference the second time was that even more parts of the movie were described as "far out."

When I go to a movie, I usually like to get there early. I like to be able to select where I want to sit, not have it selected for me by a bunch of other people who got there first. My favorite spot is half-way down and right in the centre. And I usually like to work it out so that no one sits in front of me. My friend Arthur, who was the funniest person I ever met, and I used to go to movies together and we both liked to sit in the same area. He told me that one day he went to a movie and he was the only one there. He sat in his favorite seat. A few minutes later another person came in and despite a theater full of empty seats, the person sat down right next to him. He got nervous. Nobody else showed up. The movie started. Nothing happened. Can you imagine the nerve of a perfect stranger sitting next to you, violating the unspoken "empty seat between you" rule?

Another of my favorite movies is the 1989 Field of Dreams based on the book by W.P. Kinsella and the screenplay by Phil Alden Robinson and directed by Robinson. Kevin Costner plays Ray Kinsella, an Iowa farmer who builds a baseball diamond in his corn field. Although I played baseball most of my early life, this movie isn't my favorite because of its depiction of the game. It is one of my favorites because of the powerful emotional family connections that are depicted. This is another movie I've seen more than once and a scene near the end where the son (Costner) asks his dad (played by Dwier Brown) to play catch with him always gets my tears rolling.

I used to love to go to matinees. I think this comes from my early movie experience, when, as a pre-teen my friends and I would walk to the Coliseum Theater on Clement Street and see three movies, a newsreel, cartoons, previews, and usually some kind of intermission stage show like a yo-yo contest all for a quarter. I lost some of my matinee yearnings when I partnered with a woman whose parents had always chastised her for being inside "on a nice day like this." She had taken on this view herself and I always felt I was doing something wrong by suggesting a movie matinee. On the other hand, she didn't mind having a matinee at home.

I went to UCLA after high school graduation, so being associated with movies was a really common LA activity. However, as a male undergraduate, we were required to be enrolled for a minimum of two years in ROTC (Reserve Officer Training Corps), which mostly consisted of marching in uniform (you could choose Navy, Army, or Air Force ROTC) and theory classes. For many fellow students this was a great way to enter the armed forces with an officer commission and also legally harass other students on the way. The only good thing that came from this association was that when a Hollywood studio wanted to cast a group of men that could march, they often called on one of our instructors to supply the extras. I volunteered for one of these calls and it turned out that the casting was for the movie Spartacus. This movie has since become another one of my favorite movies not just because I was in it, but because of its triumph of the spirit theme. It was also directed by my soon to become best friend, Stanley Kubrick.

My role in the movie was as a member of the Pretorian Guard. I wore a brown tunic, metallic shield, sword, thongs (on the feet, that is) and a great helmet that had a brush down the center. Makeup assistants covered my exposed legs, arms, and face with a browning powder. Some of the extras asked the makeup assistants to return to reapply leg makeup a little too often. Maybe they were just enjoying the Roman spirit (or was that the Greek spirit?). I had a speaking part. I would march into the life-size Roman plaza and raise my sword and say, "Hail Crassus." Played by Laurence Olivier, Marcus Licinius Crassus, would then raise his arm in the Roman salute in return.

To vary the camera angles and to eliminate the times when Laurence Olivier or I forgot our lines, we had to play this scene about 12 times. Each time required marching into the Roman plaza which then meant marching all the way out, back into the countryside. Gee, did I mention that there were about 1000 others, playing the same part that I was? To march 1000 Pretorian Guard and another 500 soldiers in and out of that plaza space took a lot of time and a lot of marching. Then there was a lot of time spent standing around waiting for the next take. I learned that movies can be quite tiring and boring. Experienced extras had brought paperbacks (which they had stuffed in their tunics) and other diversions. Eagle-eyed viewers might be able to see bulges in areas where there should be none.

I've seen this movie many times and I love the anticipation of waiting for my scene. Sure Kirk Douglas is fantastic in this movie and Tony Curtis still makes me laugh with his accent, but watching the Guard march into the plaza with me loudly saying to anyone within earshot, "that's me; no, maybe that's me; wait, yeah, that's me for sure; or was I this guy here," is the highlight of the film for me. Another favorite scene in the movie is where Marcellus (played by Charles McGraw) tries to get a group of men to tell him which one of the group is Spartacus. Rather than reveal that Kirk Douglas (one of the group) is Spartacus, each of the dozens of slaves in the group, in turn, stands up and says, "I'm Spartacus." "No, I'm Spartacus." Because several of my university mates were in the movie, when we would be at a meal together, one of us would spontaneously stand up and say, "I'm Spartacus." Then the others would follow, and before your could say, Caius Julius Caesar (played by John Gavin in the movie) sometimes most of the people in the cafeteria were standing and saying, "I'm Spartacus." Then we'd all sit down laughing.

Both my brothers love movies, but my oldest brother is really good at naming obscure character actors. I've picked up on that trait but with an emphasis on the production staff. My middle brother is great at naming contemporary actors and the other movies they've been in. Whenever we watch movies together, we really enjoy playing "name that actor." Some of my favorite actors include Steve Buschemi, Candace Bergin, Woody Stroud, Sam Macey, Bela Lugosi, Robert DeNiro, Woody Allen, Albert Brooks, Johnny Depp, Burt Lancaster, Kirk Douglas, Geena Davis, Bette Midler, Elizabeth Taylor, and Judy Garland. If your name is missing from this list, it is probably because you didn't RSVP to last year's Oscar party.

My connection to naming production people came from two sources. First, I became fascinated with the fascist era in Hollywood when the US government tried to get tough on communism. My initial fascination actually came about through learning what role Richard Nixon played in Wisconsin Senator Joseph McCarthy's witch-hunt and the hearings of the US House Un-American Activities Committee. Researching that led me to read about the history of movie production, movie moguls, the biographies of producers and directors, and autobiographies of performers. Anecdotes about events that occurred during production gave me some insights into how things get done and also provided me party stories. I have probably seen every movie that deals with this horrid period in American history. Some excellent examples are Guilty by Suspicion, a 1991-movie with Robert DeNiro; Fellow Traveller, a 1989-movie with Ron Silver; Fear on Trial, a 1975-TV movie with George C. Scott; and The Way We Were, a 1973-movie with Robert Redford.

To support my university habit in Los Angeles (I was addicted to going to class in order to get my degree), I had a part-time job that brought me into contact with many people who were in the movie business. I worked as a driver for a famous drug store that had a delivery service. My job was to drive around Beverly Hills, Westwood, West Los Angeles, Hollywood, West Hollywood, and Bel Air bringing cosmetics, liquor, jewelry, prescriptions and over-the-counter medicines to some of the most well-known names in showbiz. I was privy to who drank how much and was hooked to which drugs or recovering from what type of surgery.

Sometimes I worked the night shift and would have to bring several cases of something like 30-year old scotch to an in-progress event. Of course, my instructions were always to use the servant's or delivery entrance of the estate, mansion, or palace that many of the big names inhabited. Consequently, I often would be dealing with staff at the back door or side entrance. Most of the time this was perfect for me. I would make my delivery, stack or store, if needed, and more often than not, be invited to stay for a cup of tea, a bite to eat and a bit of chat in the kitchen, pantry, or servant's quarters. These conversations often yielded little-known facts about the people who lived in the house. And on a daily basis I was gathering a variety of perspectives that would make a great screenplay. The house to house sessions that I would have each work day, put me in mind of another one of my favorite movies where Burt Lancaster in the The Swimmer, based on the book by John Cheever, swims through one sad life to the next.

From time to time I would actually deliver to the front door and often meet the person who lived in the house. Some were great tippers; some were very friendly; and some made sure that I kept in my slave role. One of my favorite people to deliver to was Vincent Price. He had a beautiful, yet modest house, and almost always answered the door himself. For a guy who was absolutely great at playing in horror movies, he was the friendliest and most gracious person. One day when I made a delivery to his house and he asked me how my classes were going. I told him about an art class that was troubling me. His eyes lit up (not the way they would in his movie persona like he was now going to take a bite out of me) and he asked me to come inside to the foyer. As soon as I did I knew what he had in mind. His house was filled with amazing works of art. He himself was a painter and artist. But rather than telling me about each piece and what is was worth and such, he told me about what the piece meant to him and why he had decided that he wanted to have it in his collection.

His enthusiasm and passion gave me a completely new perspective of the art that I was being examined on in my Art Appreciation class. Before my job ended with the drug store, I had occasion to make many deliveries to his house and when he was home, he would often invite me in to show me some new work he had acquired or was creating. While his tutoring had an important effect on my course grade, it had a life long effect on my relationship with art. It might have been just a coincidence that his 1953-movie, House of Wax, was also one of my all-time favorites. It was in 3-D, a technique I'm sorry to say, that didn't become as popular as I wanted it to be. I regret that I never did ask him about his movie work; I guess I thought talking to him about his movies might have interfered with the magic of our relationship. He died of lung cancer in 1973.

I wasn't the only delivery person for the drug store. Sometimes one of the bosses' (they were brothers) sons would be drivers (they were both great kids). Then there was the long-term driver, Benny, who was my favorite person there. He used to make sure I would get my share of the big tippers and tell me how to find the shortest route for a delivery. For a time there was another person driving, whose name I have unfortunately forgotten, but his girl-friend was Irish McCalla, who was starring in the 1955-TV series, Sheena, Queen of the Jungle. They were both living with and were proteges of another one of my favorite actors, Robert Ryan. Although I saw him mostly in westerns and military campaign movies, he actually won his best actor award for the 1973-movie, The Iceman Cometh, directed by John Frankenheimer. Ryan had cancer at the time and he played a character in the movie (Larry Slade) who was dying of cancer. Unfortunately, Robert Ryan died before the movie was released.

One final story about my delivery career. One early afternoon I was instructed to give top priority status to the delivery of a prescription to a well-known actress. As with all prescriptions we were not allowed to leave them at the door if no one answered. I rang the bell and didn't get a response. I knocked loudly, but no one came to the door. Because the package said "deliver immediately," I didn't want to continue my route and come back later. I tried the door handle. The door was unlocked. I had a strange feeling, but I opened the door and called her name. No answer. I went further into the house and called out again. Still no answer. I felt like an intruder, but started to go upstairs, calling out as I went. Silence. I thought this is as far as I ought to go, and then I saw her lying on the bed. I knocked hard on the door frame, but she didn't move. I went over to the bed and felt for her pulse (what part of her I used, I'll leave to your imagination): it was weak. I saw pills spilled out of several containers.

I used the phone at the side of the bed and called our chief pharmacist (there was no 911 at this time and besides I didn't know the number). He told me how to perform CPR and let me know he would be calling people who could come and help. Within a few minutes, a person arrived who turned out to be her agent. This was the first person the pharmacist called? I was expecting an ambulance crew. Then another guy arrived who was from the movie studio that was filming the picture she was starring in. Then a doctor arrived; from guess where? Where else: the studio. They all politely asked me to move away from the bed and they moved in more closely.

While I mumbled in the background about what I found and what I was doing there and that I was giving her CPR, they seemed oblivious to what I was saying and instead were already talking about shooting delays and contract terms. The doctor, at least, was giving her a shot. It turns out this wasn't the first time she had been in this condition. It wasn't a suicide gesture, it was an accidental poisoning caused by mixing pills that contradicted each other. About a year later I went to see the picture she was in when this happened. I didn't even get a screen credit. Showbiz!

Spartacus wasn't my only movie appearance. I was also in another movie, Elmer Gantry, released in 1960 with Burt Lancaster as the title character and directed by Richard Brooks. In this movie, which includes a great cast and powerful performances, but not on my all-time favorite list, I played the clarinet in a small marching band that comes into the revival tent where Sister Sharon Falconer (played by Jean Simmons) is about to give one of her evangelical sermons.

I've seen the movie several times, and always had trouble finding myself in the scene with the band marching into the tent. However, I finally rented the DVD from the library and was able to use the freeze feature to stop the movie at various points. Finally, I was able to see myself in the band.

Elmer Gantry was more interesting to be in because almost all the principal characters were in the same scene. I was able to see some of the finest acting and really get a better understanding of how all the people on the set work together to make the actors look good.

While I have been describing different movies, I think the main impact movies have had on me isn't any one specific movie or the people in them or the people who made them, so I'm not going to continue to detail my all-time greats list. Instead I think the main impact that movies had on me is a more intangible, almost spiritual experience. Movie theaters used to be built like mansions or palaces. Their marquees, ticket booths and neon exteriors were often architectural beacons. The lobby, bathrooms, and main viewing rooms were exquisitely decorated and richly draped. The seats were soft and plush. Personnel wore fancy, braided uniforms, gloves, neat caps, and carried flashlights. Originally many of these theaters were built for vaudeville or stage shows or were built to compete with that form of entertainment. Unfortunately many, if not most of these theaters, have been torn down and replaced with functional, drab, hose-em down buildings.

Drive-in movies must also be included in the spiritual experience category. Virtually all of them have disappeared. The drive-in was a great place to go and have fun with friends. In high school we could meet other cars filled with girls, drink some beer, flirt, make arrangements to spend some time in the back seat until the color blue was mentioned, and on occasion see if someone was willing to stay in the car trunk in order to get in free. Drive-in theaters were not only good for movies, but they were also a breeding ground for learning how to manage social relationships.

Finally there was the experience of attending the movie itself. As a pre-teen there was always cheering, clapping, throwing things, and general noise making. As a teenager the movies were a place to meet your date (inside) and make-out. As a young adult and later, the movie theater has that sense of excitement of coming in, buying your favorite treats, finding your perfect seat, waiting for the movie to start, feeling the sense of anticipation as the lights die down, and being dazzled by the screen suddenly filling with huge, brilliant images and the air filling with amplified sound. Whether it was the roar of the MGM lion, the searchlights of 20th Century Fox,the grandeur of the Columbia torch bearer, the pulses of the RKO beacon, or the Warner Bros logo, the movie was about to begin. Get ready for a full range of emotions. Get ready to grip the hand of the person you came with. Get ready to look through your buttonhole. Get ready to stay in your seat when the movie is over so no one waiting in the next line to get in can see that you have been crying.

Most of this is gone for me now. Movie theaters charge too much. The confection stands serve cheap popcorn. The movie screens are too small. The people sitting in front of me have heads that are too big. Parents should be more discriminating about letting their kids see this movie. Of course, most of these complaints seem to disappear after the movie starts. I prefer to watch movies at home. I miss what movies used to do for me in the theater, but I'm lucky: I have someone at home who I can hold hands with, who I can cry with, laugh with, and snuggle with even if I do have to watch that chick flick.

A Partial list of Movies I Liked (in addition to the ones mentioned above):

A Partial List of Movies I Can't Recommend (but listed here to make sure I don't seem them again by accident):

A Partial List of Movies I Want to See (and placed here so I'll remember them)


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