Mickey Rooney

Pulp (1972)

Pulp 1972

Mickey King (Michael Caine) is an author who specializes in writing sleazy pulp novels under dirty pseudonyms. When meeting with his publisher one day, Mickey is given the chance to ghostwrite the memoir of a legendary Hollywood actor. The book would be a guaranteed best seller and Mickey would be quite handsomely for the job, so he accepts, despite the fact that he has no idea who the mystery celebrity is.

Before finding out who his employer is, Mickey has to travel to Malta and wait to be met by a contact. Along the way, he meets a man who he thinks is his contact, but Mickey finds the man dead in a hotel room, it isn’t long before Mickey begins to suspect someone might have been trying to kill him instead. Eventually, Mickey meets his contact and finds out he’ll be working on the memoir of Preston Gilbert (Mickey Rooney), a retired actor famous for playing tough gangsters on film and hanging around with them in real life.

Preston has recently been diagnosed with cancer and wants to be sure his wild life story will be immortalized. Preston is also a notorious prankster so when a person appears to shoot Preston during a party, his guests think it’s just another one of his jokes. But Preston really is dead and Mickey has reason to think he also may have been a target. After all, Preston was friends with many criminals who may not want Mickey to make their stories known to the public. But it’s up to Mickey to find out who might be trying to kill him.

When I started watching Pulp, it seemed like the type of movie that would be right up my alley. I have a bit of a dark sense of humor and Pulp has dark, offbeat humor in spades and Michael Caine was perfect at delivering those dry lines. The story sounds like a murder mystery, but Pulp is really more of a dark satire of detective films. Although I really appreciated the movie’s style of comedy and liked seeing all the beautiful scenery (the movie was filmed on location in Malta), but the pacing was a little slow for my liking. It felt like it was a longer movie than it really was and the dark humor wasn’t enough to keep me interested in it. Perhaps I’m biased because I was tired when I watched it; I might be willing to give it another shot just because I really want to like this movie.

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Manhattan Melodrama (1934)

Manhattan Melodrama

Childhood friends Blackie Gallagher (Clark Gable as an adult, Mickey Rooney as a child) and Jim Wade (William Powell as an adult, Jimmy Butler as a child) grow up together facing a great deal of adversity. But even from an early age, it’s pretty obvious that these kids are on completely different paths in life. Blackie and Jim stay close over the years, but their lives head in completely different directions. While Jim studies hard and grows up to be District Attorney, Blackie ends up running his own gambling club.

Even though they’re on different sides of the law, Blackie has the utmost respect for Jim and when Jim is named District Attorney, Blackie wants to go out with him to celebrate. Unfortunately, Blackie can’t make it to the celebration at the last minute, but he sends his girlfriend Eleanor (Myrna Loy) in his place. Eleanor and Jim have a lovely night together and it leaves Eleanor wishing Blackie could be more like Jim. Realizing that Blackie will never change, Eleanor leaves him. A few months pass and Jim runs into Eleanor again at a party. This time, it turns into a real romance and it isn’t long before they’re married. Although Blackie wishes them well, one of his cohorts unwittingly puts Jim in a compromising position that could cost Jim everything he’s worked so hard for.

Manhattan Melodrama is rather notorious for being the movie John Dillinger had seen before being killed while leaving a movie theater. But classic movie fans may best remember it for being the first on-screen pairing of Myrna Loy and William Powell. Of the non-Thin Man movies Myrna Loy and William Powell made together, Manhattan Melodrama may be my favorite. It may not be a comedy like The Thin Man, but Loy and Powell still positively sparkle together and I just adore the scene where their characters meet for the first time when she jumps into his taxi cab. It’s absolutely no wonder they went on to make so many more movies together.

The great thing about Manhattan Melodrama is that Myrna Loy doesn’t get just one of her best co-stars, she gets two of them. As phenomenal as Loy and Powell always were together, Loy and Clark Gable are pretty delightful together,too. All three stars deliver very strong performances. When you take a cast like that, add tight direction from W.S. Van Dyke and a story that delivers on the melodrama, but has enough grit to be anything but ordinary, and you’ve got a really effective yet complex little drama. Usually, I tend to find MGM’s attempts at gangster films to be pretty weak attempts to latch on to the popularity of Warner Brothers’ gangster movies, but Manhattan Melodrama is definitely an exception.

Remembering Mickey Rooney at TCMFF 2014

Photo courtesy Getty Images.  That's me in the second row with the flower in my hair.  Jessica of Comet Over Hollywood is to my left, Carley of The Kitty Packard Pictorial is on my right.

Photo courtesy Getty Images. That’s me in the second row with a flower in my hair. Jessica of Comet Over Hollywood is to my left, Carley of The Kitty Packard Pictorial is on my right.

Just a few days before the Turner Classic Movie Classic Film Festival kicked off, the film world lost one of its biggest legends — Mickey Rooney. Rooney had attended the festival in previous years and although he wasn’t there physically this year, his presence could still be felt very strongly.

During a press conference on the first day of the festival, Ben Mankiewicz was asked about his experiences working with Rooney and he spoke about the last time Rooney was a guest on the TCM Cruise. During that trip, Rooney had been scheduled to do four Q&A sessions. After doing three of the sessions, he was taken ill. Although it was nothing too serious, considering his age, doctors and TCM staff agreed it was best to cancel the final Q&A session. Not being able to do that Q&A session devastated Rooney. Rooney asked Mankiewicz to visit him in his room and Mankiewicz arrived to find Rooney with tears in his eyes. This was shortly after news had broken about Rooney having been a victim of elder abuse and he had testified before a US Senate committee about it. After having been through all that, for him to be able to go on the TCM Cruise and be among people who appreciated him meant everything to him.

National Velvet Mickey Rooney Elizabeth Taylor

The festival’s main salute to Mickey Rooney came Sunday morning with a screening of National Velvet with Rooney’s long-time friend Margaret O’Brien in attendance. Everything about the tribute was very thoughtful, heartfelt, and moving. National Velvet was selected as the movie to show because in his autobiography, Rooney said the line, “What’s the meaning of goodness if there isn’t a little badness to overcome?” resonated so strongly with him, he wouldn’t mind it being his epitaph.

Margaret O'Brien Eddie Muller TCMFF 2014

Margaret O’Brien wore a beautiful green outfit, which she had recently worn when she had dinner with Mickey on St. Patrick’s Day. Mickey really liked that outfit so she decided to wear it again for this tribute. One thing O’Brien really emphasized is that for the last two years of his life, Rooney was being cared for by people who truly had his best interests at heart. She also spoke of his love of animals and how he enjoyed painting, writing poetry and limericks, and watching the news and Turner Classic Movies. Rooney and O’Brien were working on a movie together, an adaptation of “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde,” just before he passed away and he was still as passionate about acting as he ever was.

Margaret O'Brien Joey Luft TCMFF 2014

Eddie Muller of the Film Noir Foundation was on hand to lead the discussion with O’Brien. Joey Luft, son of Judy Garland, made a guest appearance to escort O’Brien into the theater. After O’Brien was seated, Luft stepped aside and let O’Brien and Muller do most of the talking, but there was one moment when he couldn’t resist joining the conversation. Since Rooney enjoyed writing poetry, Muller wanted to read a poem Rooney had written called “Flesh and Bones” while a picture of Rooney was displayed on the screen behind him. When the picture failed to come on the screen as planned, Luft came back out to tell the story of how there was a similar problem with a projector at his father Sid Luft’s memorial. Rooney, being the consummate professional that he was, kept things going at that moment by getting up and talking about Sid Luft’s relationship with Judy Garland.

The poem “Flesh and Bones” was lovely. It was a really poignant and honest look back on his life and how even though he wasn’t perfect and with all the ups and downs he encountered in his life, he did the best he could.

Mickey Rooney TCMFF Tribute

The picture of Mickey came up on the screen as we were leaving the theater.

TCMFF 2014, Day 4 — Another Good Thing Comes to an End

Sunday, April 13, 2014:

I went into the final day of the festival with very few plans in mind.  A large part of Sunday’s schedule wasn’t announced until Saturday afternoon, so I didn’t want to get make a bunch of plans, only to end up having to make even more hard decisions once the “To Be Announced” slots were announced.

The Sunday “To Be Announced” slots are typically given to movies that were more popular than expected and deserve a second run.  However, this year, the first “To Be Announced” spot was decided before the festival even started. Since Mickey Rooney had passed away just a few days before the festival, a screening of National Velvet was added to the schedule with Mickey’s long-time friend Margaret O’Brien in attendance to share her memories.

Margaret O'Brien Eddie Muller TCMFF 2014

Photo courtesy TCM

Stay tuned for a post specifically dedicated to this event.  TCM always does an excellent job with memorials and this was no exception.  It was extremely heartfelt and touching; I don’t think there was a dry eye in the house. A very fitting way to remember one of cinema’s most enduring stars.

After a lunch break, Jessica (Comet Over Hollywood), Carley (The Kitty Packard Pictorial/The Black Maria) got in line to see Gone With the Wind at the Chinese Theater.  After the amazing experience of seeing A Hard Day’s Night there the day before, I absolutely loved the idea of seeing Gone With the Wind in that theater.  We only stayed for the first half of the movie, but that was enough to blow me away.  I had seen Gone With the Wind in a theater once before, but this was a totally different experience.  Before, I had sat pretty far back in the balcony.  This time, I was much closer to the screen and the impact of being so close was pretty intense.  The print we saw was the new 75th anniversary print, which looked divine.

Gone With the Wind Intermission TCMFF 2014

As fabulous as it would have been to stay for all of Gone With the Wind, Carley, Jessica and I were really eager to check out The Heart is a Lonely Hunter introduced by Alan Arkin.  Earlier that afternoon, Arkin had recorded a “Live from the TCM Film Festival” interview with Robert Osborne at the Montalban theater.  If the discussion before Heart is a Lonely Hunter was a taste of what’s to come in the Robert Osborne interview, I can’t wait to see that interview; it should be fascinating.

Alan Arkin Ben Mankiewicz TCMFF 2014

Photo courtesy Getty Images

The Heart is a Lonely Hunter was one of my few new-to-me movies of the festival and it was a good one.  Alan Arkin gave an amazing performance in it and even though I could tell from the very beginning that it was going to be a tearjerker of a movie, I wasn’t prepared for just how devastating the ending would be.

After a short break, it was already time for my final movie of the festival — Alfred Hitchcock’s The Lodger.  The Lodger has long been on my list of movies to see, so getting to see it in a stunning digital print with live music by the Mont Alto Orchestra was an incredible way to get to see it for the first time.  And I had the added bonus of watching it with my friend Trevor (A Modern Musketeer). Since Trevor and I became friends because we both love silent films, watching one together in person was a really good way to end the festival.

Killer McCoy (1947)

Killer McCoy PosterTommy McCoy (Mickey Rooney) is a hard working, albeit hot tempered, kid who supports his family by selling newspapers and playing pool while his father Brian (James Dunn) looks for work in the theater.  When Brian is approached about performing at a local boxing match, he convinces Tommy to join him.  After their performance, Tommy challenges one of the boxers to a fight on the spur of the moment and wins.  Lightweight boxing champion Johnny Martin (Mickey Knox) watches the match and is not only impressed by Tommy and Brian’s act, he sees Tommy as a potential boxer.

Johnny hires Brian and Tommy to perform during his shows and while they’re on the road, Johnny takes Tommy under his wing and teaches him all about boxing.  When Johnny retires from boxing, Tommy quickly takes Johnny’s place in the boxing world and Brian becomes his manager.  But after a while, Johnny decides to make a comeback and his big return to boxing is set to be in a fight against Tommy.  Tommy doesn’t want to fight Johnny, but Brian has started drinking and gambling heavily and owes money to notorious gambler Jim Caighn (Brian Donlevy), so Tommy agrees to fight Johnny just for the money.  But Johnny is so out of practice that a light punch from Tommy is enough to kill him.

Tommy is devastated by Johnny’s death and wants to quit boxing, but his father has sold Tommy’s contract to Jim Caighn.  Jim works out a deal with Tommy where he throws his matches so that Jim can make a lot of money and they share the profits.  While training at one of Jim’s houses, Tommy meets Jim’s daughter Sheila (Ann Blyth) and starts dating her, despite Jim’s disapproval.  Just before a big fight, Brian gets drunk and tells some of Jim’s rivals that Jim has been fixing Tommy’s fights.  In retaliation, they hold Brian and Sheila hostage, threatening to hurt them unless Tommy takes a fall in the last round.

Mickey Rooney movies tend to be pretty hit-or-miss with me, but Killer McCoy was a definite hit.  It’s easily one of the best performances of his I’ve ever seen. James Dunn and Brian Donlevy both played very well against Rooney and made for an excellent supporting cast.

Even though I really enjoyed Killer McCoy, it isn’t perfect.  After Johnny’s accidental death, Tommy earns the nickname of Killer McCoy, which he eventually starts to adopt for himself.  I just didn’t find it believable that a person who was so upset about accidentally killing his friend would ever wear a robe with “Killer McCoy” embroidered on the back of it.  The ending felt very forced and was also not very believable.  I also felt Ann Blyth was a little underutilized.

But on the whole, Killer McCoy is a pretty enjoyable boxing flick that deserves more recognition than it gets.  The cast alone is enough to make it worth seeing at least once.

Girl Crazy (1943)

Girl Crazy PosterDanny Chuchill, Jr. (Mickey Rooney) has been living the high life as the son of a wealthy newspaper publisher.  But when his father gets tired of Danny’s scandalous behavior making headlines, he decides to send Danny out west to Cody College to teach him a thing or two about hard work.  And, most importantly, Cody is an all-male college so there won’t be any women to distract him.

But when Danny gets to Cody, he discovers there is one woman around — Ginger Gray (Judy Garland), the dean’s granddaughter.  It’s love at first sight for Danny, but Ginger isn’t as impressed with him.  Danny doesn’t fit in with the other students, he has a hard time adjusting to Cody’s strict schedule and rugged activities and would like to go home, but the prospect of getting together with Ginger motivates him to stay.  After Ginger turns down a marriage proposal from one of the other students at Cody, Ginger starts to warm to Danny.

Cody College suddenly faces a crisis when the Governor announces plans to close the school due to low enrollment.  Ginger is devastated by the news, but Danny comes up with a plan to attract new students by hosting an annual rodeo with a beauty contest.  Ginger loves the idea so the two of them go directly to the Governor to get him on board.  The Governor gives them thirty days to turn the school around, so Danny and Ginger get to work making it happen.  For Danny, that means flirting with a bunch of debutantes to get them to enter the beauty contest, which makes Ginger jealous, especially when he names another girl as Queen of the Rodeo.  But just as Ginger is about to leave, Danny goes to see her and convinces her that she’s the only one he loves. Ginger and Danny get back together, Cody College sees a big increase in student applications, and the college is saved.

Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland movies are often accused of all being the same and, well, there’s no denying that Girl Crazy has a pretty familiar plot.  But Girl Crazy is by far my favorite out of all the movies Mickey and Judy made together.  Mickey and Judy always had very good chemistry together, but there’s something about them in this movie, I can’t quite put my finger on what it is exactly, that just makes them shine brighter than they did in their other movies.

Girl Crazy also features the strongest bunch of songs featured in any of their movies.  Judy’s rendition of “Embraceable You” is one of my all-time favorite songs and the big “I Got Rhythm” finale is very memorable. Plus, be sure to watch for Tommy Dorsey and June Allyson who both make appearances in some of the musical numbers.  The jokes may be silly and corny, but they always make me laugh.  This is MGM doing what it did best — making wholesome, lighthearted entertainment the whole family could enjoy.  Girl Crazy is simply one of those movies that I can’t help but be happy after watching

Requiem for a Heavyweight (1962)

After seventeen years in the ring, Louis “Mountain” Rivera’s (Anthony Quinn) career as a boxer comes to an end after being knocked out by Cassius Clay.  Rivera has reached a point where he could go blind if he continues to fight so he’s left with no other option but to find a new job.  But finding a job is easier said than done.  Rivera has a sixth grade education and has no skills other than boxing.  The years of fighting have taken a toll on his appearance and speech and many places won’t hire him because he’s too big to fit into their standard size uniforms.  He heads off to an employment agency, where he meets Grace Miller (Julie Harris).  She’s moved by his story arranges an interview for him to be an athletic director at a summer camp.

When Rivera retired from boxing, he wasn’t the only one out of a job.  His trainer Army (Mickey Rooney) and manager Maish Rennick (Jackie Gleason) also found themselves jobless.  Army is supportive of Rivera’s retirement, but Maish is in desperate need of some money to pay off some gamblers.  Before Rivera’s last fight, he had told notorious gambler Ma Greeny (Madame Spivy) that Rivera would go down early.  So when he lasted longer than expected, she lost a lot of money and she wants it back.  Maish knows a promoter who wants Rivera to get into wrestling and Maish sees this as a way to get the money he needs.  He talks to Rivera about it, but Rivera is ready to move on and work at that camp.

Just before Rivera is supposed to interview for the camp job, Maish takes him out to a bar and gets him completely drunk so he won’t be hired and will have to take the wrestling gig.  The plan works, but when Rivera sees himself in the humiliating wrestling outfit he’s supposed to wear, he doesn’t want to go out like that.  But then the truth about Maish comes out.  Even though Rivera and Army want nothing to do with Maish anymore, Rivera knows Maish could be killed if he doesn’t do the match.  So Rivera lets go of his last shred of dignity and does the match while Army stands off to the side, unable to watch his friend humiliate himself.

I absolutely loved Requiem for a Heavyweight. This is a movie that really grabs your attention right off the bat and doesn’t let it go until the very last frame.  Requiem opens with a tracking shot of bar patrons listening to the fight, then it cuts to a shot from Rivera’s point of view during the match.  We see Cassius Clay (who plays himself) as he knocks Rivera out.  We see what he sees as he is helped out of the ring and led back to his dressing room, his vision blurring all the way.  It all leads up to the big moment when Rivera catches a glimpse of his battered face in the mirror.  It’s hard to do point-of-view shots and not have it come off as gimmicky, but the way it’s used here is really powerful and totally unforgettable.  In fact, this may be one of my absolute favorite movie opening sequences.

There are plenty of movies out there about boxers, but it was interesting to see one that really focused on what it’s like to be a boxer who can’t box anymore.  There’s Raging Bull, which focused on both the rise and the fall of Jake LaMotta, but Requiem is just about the fall.  It’s such a raw, honest and completely heartbreaking movie with an incredible cast.  Anthony Quinn was absolutely perfect as Rivera and Mickey Rooney was excellent as Army.  Since I know Jackie Gleason primarily from comedies, it was very interesting to see him playing such an awful person.  And with the first-rate direction by Ralph Nelson, Requiem for a Heavyweight is easily one of the best boxing films out there.