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Posts tagged “The Godfather

Frank Yablans R.I.P

Frank-Yablans_Movie-BannerFrank Yablans, the president of Paramount Pictures during the fertile early ’70s era that produced films including The Godfather and Chinatown, died of natural causes Thursday at his home in Los Angeles, according to his son, ICM Partners agent Eddy Yablans. He was 79.

Renowned for a hearty sense of humor and temperamental outbursts, Yablans was later COO of MGM/United Artists and co-wrote the screenplay for Mommie Dearest, which he also produced.

Born in Brooklyn, Frank Yablans was brother of producer Irwin Yablans. He got his start in showbiz working for Warner Bros., Disney and Filmways, and became exec VP of sales at Paramount in the late 1960s, where he worked on marketing the hit film Love Story.

The success of the tearjerker led to his being named president of the studio from 1971 to 1975. Yablans was a pioneer in advocating wide openings on films like The Godfather, which opened on 350 screens rather than just in New York and Los Angeles, which was the custom at the time.

During that time, the studio had a run of groundbreaking films including Rosemary’s Baby, Goodbye Columbus, True Grit, Serpico, Paper Moon and Death Wish.

As recounted in former Paramount head of production Robert Evans’ excellent book The Kid Stays in the Picture,  Yablans engaged in an intense fight over deal terms on Chinatown, one of the factors that led to his dismissal as president of Paramount. Evans had negotiated a piece of the gross of that film (while still being head of production) and Yablans wanted to share 50-50. He was replaced by Barry Diller.

Kirk Kerkorian brought him on as vice chairman and chief operating officer of MGM from 1983 to 1985, but despite Yablans’ efforts to reduce costs by combining the historic studio with United Artists, the studio continued to face financial trouble.

He produced numerous films independently, including Congo, The Fury, Silver Streak and The Other Side of Midnight. He also co-wrote North Dallas Forty.

He later founded Promenade Pictures to produce faith-based family entertainment such as the “Epic Stories of the Bible” series and was a producer on the Rome TV series.

He is survived by three children, four grandchildren and his longtime companion Nadia Pandolfo.


Dick Smith R.I.P.

The-Exorcist_Dick-SmithRenowned Makeup FX Wizard Dick Smith has passed. His contribution to the genre and the world of Makeup FX, so integral to horror and cinema at large, is impossible to overstate.

Born in 1922 in Larchmont, New York, Smith began his career in 1945 as the first staff makeup man at NBC. Until his official debut in feature films in 1962, Smith applied makeup on a host of television series, including two remarkable visages in episodes of the anthology series WAY OUT (“Soft Focus,” “False Face”).

Pioneering the use of foam latex for intricate, richly detailed designs, Smith’s work was perhaps most stunning (and best known) in William Friedkin’s 1973 classic The Exorcist. Smith also considered it his most accomplished work, and in a 2007 Washington Post profile, his former assistant and now FX legend Rick Baker helps illustrate why:

” ‘The Exorcist’ was really a turning point for makeup special effects,” Baker says. “Dick showed that makeup wasn’t just about making people look scary or old, but had many applications. He figured out a way to make the welts swell up on Linda’s stomach, to make her head spin around, and he created the vomit scenes.”

Of course, Smith’s filmography and influence extends farther than just The Exorcist. In 1965, Smith penned the essential DICK SMITH’S DO-IT-YOURSELF MONSTER MAKE-UP HANDBOOK and his entire career is an index of fantastic, otherworldly work including the likes of Dark Shadows, Little Big Man, The Godfather, Taxi Driver, Burnt Offerings, Altered States, The Fury, Ghost Story and Amadeus, for which he won an Oscar in 1984. Smith’s second Oscar came in 2011, when the technician of horror received an Academy Honorary Award for “for his unparalleled mastery of texture, shade, form and illusion.”


Eli Wallach – R.I.P.

eli-wallachEli Wallach will always be Tuco to me. For some actors who enjoyed a career as long and varied as Wallach, being persistently known for one role above all others would rankle. Judging by Wallach’s frequent interview conversations about his role in Sergio Leone’s The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly, he probably wouldn’t mind. Or he would understand, at least.

And Tuco is a hell of a performance, opposite Clint Eastwood and Lee Van Cleef, Wallach steals the show, he’s all bluster, willpower and charisma. In that respect, the role may actually be a good representation of the actor’s career. For Wallach was born to Polish Jewish parents, and grew up in an Italian neighborhood in Brooklyn. No one looking very closely would have mistaken him for an actual Mexican bandit, but Wallach’s cagey energy and sardonic wit allowed him to own the role. Those were only a couple of the qualities that made him a mainstay of stage and screen for nearly sixty years. Eli Wallach died Tuesday, at age 98.

If you want to play the game of exploring deeper cuts and more obscure roles, or if you just want a highlight reel that could run to feature length, Wallach’s incredible career can provide. His first big-screen role was in Baby Doll, an Elia Kazan-directed adaptation of a Tennessee Williams play, scripted by Williams himself.

Wallach played in westerns (The Magnificent Seven), literary adaptations (Lord Jim), contemporary dramas (The Misfits), total genre work (Circle of Iron), weird horror (The Sentinel), and even some high-profile sequels as in The Two Jakes, The Godfather Part III, and his final role, in Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps. He was even one of the Mr. Freeze actors in the ’60s Batman show, inheriting the role from Otto Preminger and George Sanders.

Wallach has 167 credits to his name on IMDB, which means you can peruse a list of his work that features almost twice as many film and TV roles as years in Wallach’s life. That doesn’t take into account his many stage roles, which were often performed opposite his wife, Anne Jackson. (They were married in 1948, raised three children, and remained together until his death.) In his prime, doing movie roles was often a way to finance work on stage — take a film gig, do a couple plays, repeat.

Wallach never won an Oscar, but was awarded an honorary Oscar in 2010, for being “the quintessential chameleon, effortlessly inhabiting a wide range of characters, while putting his inimitable stamp on every role.” (New York Times)


A Look Inside: The Godfather

Exceptional documentary on the making of The Godfather.


The Kid Stays In The Picture

michel_comte_robert_evansIconic Hollywood producer and former studio head Robert Evans has partnered with Television 360 to develop a pay cable TV series about Hollywood in the 1970’s. They’ve made a deal with Fox 21, and Evans is exec producing with Guymon Casady, Dean Schnider and Scott Lambert. They are out to writers right now. The vision of the series is much darker than the contemporary inside Hollywood depicted in Entourage. Set in the ’70s with a creative tone similar to Casino, it involves the last days before studios were taken over by conglomerates, when they were run by wily entrepreneurs, and where there was a mob influence, drugs, sex, excess, casting couches, and some of the best movies made in the 20th century. The protagonist is an outsider who against the odds rises to become a king in Hollywood in a tale of power, legacy, and the American dream.

The series isn’t based on Evans — real anecdotes will be used in a fictitious storyline — but everyone who either read or, better yet, heard him read the audio of The Kid Stays In The Picture knows that Evans started as an actor and rose to the top of Paramount Pictures when that studio was nearly out on its feet. He, with a scrappy team of execs that included my former Variety editor Peter Bart, saved the studio by making classics including The Godfather, Love Story, Rosemary’s Baby, Harold And Maude, The Odd Couple, The Conversation, Serpico and others. Evans has plenty of stories to tell about that era.


John Cazale

John Holland Cazale (August 12, 1935 – March 12, 1978) was an American actor. During his six-year film career, he appeared in five films, each of which was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Picture: The Godfather, The Conversation, The Godfather Part II, Dog Day Afternoon and The Deer Hunter. He is the only actor to have this multi-film distinction. From his start as an acclaimed theater actor, he became one of Hollywood’s premiere character actors, starting with his role as Fredo Corleone in Francis Ford Coppola’s film The Godfather.

Cazale was born in Revere, Massachusetts, the son of Cecilia and John Cazale. He studied drama at Oberlin College and Boston University, from which he graduated.

Cazale moved to New York City and worked as a messenger at Standard Oil, where he met Al Pacino, another aspiring actor. “When I first saw John, I instantly thought he was so interesting,” recalled Pacino. “Everybody was always around him because he had a very congenial way of expressing himself.” While living together in a communal house in Provincetown, Massachusetts, Cazale and Pacino were cast in a play by Israel Horovitz, The Indian Wants the Bronx, for which they both won Obie Awards in 1967-1968. He later won another Obie for the leading role in Horovitz’s Line, where he was noticed by Godfather casting director Fred Roos, who then suggested him to director Francis Ford Coppola.

Cazale made his feature film debut, alongside old friend Al Pacino, playing the role of Fredo Corleone in Coppola’s The Godfather. The film broke box office records and made Pacino, Cazale and several previously unknown co-stars famous, and earned Cazale a Golden Globe nomination.

Cazale reprised his role as Fredo Corleone in 1974 in The Godfather Part II. Bruce Fretts, in Entertainment Weekly, wrote, “Cazale’s devastatingly raw turn intensifies the impact of the drama’s emotional climax, in which Michael (Pacino) orders Fredo’s murder.” Also in 1974, he co-starred with Gene Hackman in Coppola’s classic, The Conversation. 

Twelve years after his death, Cazale appeared in a sixth feature film, The Godfather Part III (1990), in archive footage. The Godfather Part III was also nominated for Best Picture. This marks the unique achievement of John Cazale having every feature film in which he appeared be nominated for the Academy Award for Best Picture.

Cazale again starred alongside Pacino in Sidney Lumet’s 1975 film Dog Day Afternoon. The film’s screenwriter, Frank Pierson, said “the film had been cast with many of the actors that Al Pacino had worked with in New York, including John Cazale, who was a close friend and collaborator in The Godfather.” For his role as Sal, he was nominated for the Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actor.

“Cazale broke hearts on screen with portrayals of volatile, vulnerable, vacillating men, including Pacino’s tragic bank-robbing partner in Dog Day Afternoon,” wrote David Germain of the Associated Press. Cazale is described as an actor “whose intense face is known to just about any serious cinema fan but whose name often escapes them”.

Despite being diagnosed with terminal lung cancer, Cazale continued work with his lover, Meryl Streep, in The Deer Hunter. “I’ve hardly ever seen a person so devoted to someone who is falling away like John was,” said Pacino. “To see her in that act of love for this man was overwhelming.”

Director Michael Cimino “rearranged the shooting schedule,” wrote author Andy Dougan, “with Cazale and Streep’s consent, so that he could film all his scenes first.” He completed all his scenes, but died soon after, on March 12, 1978, before the film was finished. He was buried at Holy Cross Cemetery in Malden, Massachusetts. He was 42 years old.

Cazale was characterized as “an amazing intellect, an extraordinary person and a fine, dedicated artist” by Joseph Papp. A film documentary and tribute about Cazale, titled I Knew It Was You, was an entry at the 2009 Sundance Film Festival and featured interviews with Al Pacino, Meryl Streep, Robert De Niro, Gene Hackman, Richard Dreyfuss, Francis Ford Coppola, and Sidney Lumet; a heavyweight support crew.


Walter Murch

Walter Scott Murch (born July 12, 1943) is an American film editor and sound designer. He was born in New York City, New York, the son of Katharine (née Scott) and Walter Tandy Murch, a painter. He went to The Collegiate School, a private preparatory school in Manhattan, from 1949 to 1961. He then attended Johns Hopkins University from 1961 to 1965, graduating in Liberal Arts.

While at Hopkins, he met future director/screenwriter Matthew Robbins and cinematographer Caleb Deschanel. In 1965, Murch and Robbins enrolled in the graduate program of the University of Southern California film school, successfully encouraging Deschanel to follow them. There all three encountered, and became friends with fellow students such as George Lucas and John Milius.

Murch started editing and mixing sound with Francis Ford Coppola’s The Rain People (1969), before working on George Lucas’s THX 1138 (1971) and American Graffiti  (1973) and as a post-production consultant on Coppola’s The Godfather  before editing picture and mixing sound on Coppola’s The Conversation (1974), for which he received an Academy Award nomination in sound in 1974. Murch also mixed the sound for Coppola’s The Godfather Part II which was released in 1974, the same year as The Conversation. He is most famous for his editing and sound designing work on Apocalypse Now (1979), for which he won his first Academy Award.

He went on to edit and sound design on numerous features including: Dragonslayer (1981), The Unbearable Lightness of Being (1988), The Godfather Part III (1990), Crumb (1994), The Talented Mr. Ripley (1999), Jarhead (2005), Youth Without Youth (2007), and The Wolfman (2010). He was also responsible for the sound re-recording and re-edit of the Orson Welles classic Touch of Evil (1958), in 1998. In 1985 he directed his one film, Return to Oz.

Unlike most film editors today, Murch works standing up, comparing the process of film editing to “conducting, brain surgery and short-order cooking”, since all conductors, cooks and surgeons stand when they work. In contrast, when writing, he does so lying down. His reason for this is that where editing film is an editorial process, the creation process of writing is opposite that, and so he lies down rather than sit or stand up, to separate his editing mind from his creating mind.

While he was editing directly on film, Murch took notice of the crude splicing used for the daily rough-cuts. In response, he invented a modification which concealed the splice by using extremely narrow but strongly adhesive strips of special polyester-silicone tape. He called his invention “N-vis-o”.

Murch is widely acknowledged as the person who coined the term Sound Designer, and along with colleagues developed the current standard film sound format, the 5.1 channel array, helping to elevate the art and impact of film sound to a new level. Apocalypse Now was the first multi-channel film to be mixed using a computerized mixing board.

In 1996, Murch worked on Anthony Minghella’s The English Patient, based on Michael Ondaatje’s novel. Murch won Oscars both for his sound mixing and editing. Murch’s editing Oscar was the first to be awarded for an electronically edited film (using the Avid system), and he is the only person ever to win Oscars for both sound mixing and film editing.

In 2003, Murch edited another Minghella film, Cold Mountain on Apple’s sub-$1000 Final Cut Pro software using off the shelf Power Mac G4 computers. This was a leap for such a big-budget film, where expensive Avid systems were usually the standard non-linear editing system. He received an Academy Award nomination for this work; his efforts on the film were documented in Charles Koppelman’s 2004 book Behind the Seen.

Murch has written one book on film editing, In the Blink of an Eye (2001). He was also the subject of Michael Ondaatje’s book The Conversations (2002), which consists of several conversations between Ondaatje and Murch; the book emerged from Murch’s editing of The English Patient, which was based on Ondaatje’s novel of the same name.

In 2006, he was awarded an honorary Doctorate of Letters by the Emily Carr Institute of Art and Design in Vancouver, Canada.

In 2007 the documentary Murch premiered at the San Francisco International Film Festival, which centered on Walter Murch and his thoughts on film making.