David Bruce: Movies Anecdotes

Often, geniuses are not satisfied even with works of genius. Frank Capra once visited a film class taught by Professor Jeanine Basinger of Wesleyan College. In the class she showed Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, which of course starred Jimmy Stewart and which was directed by Mr. Capra. He strolled the college grounds for most of the film but returned in time to see the end, including the scene in which Mr. Stewart’s character breaks down. Although this scene (and the entire film) is a classic, Mr. Capra became upset. Ms. Basinger asked him what was wrong, and Mr. Capra explained, “I shouldn’t have done it that way. It could have been better.”

At the end of The Graduate, Dustin Hoffman’s character bangs on a church window with his arms wide apart and his fingers spread open. Some critics think that they see a Christ figure in this pose, but actually when Mr. Hoffman banged on the glass with his fists, the glass seemed about to break. The pastor of the church threatened to stop the filming if Mr. Hoffman continued to bang on the glass like that, so Mr. Hoffman spread his arms wide apart and didn’t use his fists to lessen the impact of the pounding on the glass.

Opera singer Helen Traubel provided popular entertainment in addition to her better-known high-brow entertainment. She enjoyed both. For example, while making the film Deep in My Heart, she had the pleasure of working with the very funny Jim Backus, who was the voice of Mr. Magoo and a storyteller of renown. During a break, she laughed so hard that tears streamed down her face — a scene she filmed immediately afterwards had to be reshot because her mascara had also streamed down her face.

The Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah, has become a great big deal, and every year this town of 7,500 is flooded with visitors, many of whom are VIPs — or think they are. Every year, a couple of scenes can be witnessed in which one of these VIPs yells, “DON’T YOU KNOW WHO I AM?” For 2005, a popular Sundance T-shirt bore the legend, “No, I don’t know who you are, and I don’t f—ing care.”

A popular low-brow comedy series in Great Britain was the Carry On series of films. Between 1958 and 1992, 31 movies were made in the series, beginning with Carry On Sergeant and ending with Carry On Columbus. Carry On creators and creative team Peter Rogers and Gerald Thomas were sometimes asked what project they were working on — they always replied, “Same film, different title.”

Robert Mitchum’s last movie was Dead Man (1995), directed by Jim Jarmusch. In it, Mr. Mitchum’s character carried a big shotgun, so Mr. Jarmusch gathered together a bunch of antique shotguns, took them to Mr. Mitchum’s house, and asked him to pick the shotgun he wanted to carry in the movie. Mr. Mitchum looked at the antique shotguns, then asked, “Which one is the lightest?”

Director William Wyler once tried to explain a movie scene to MGM honcho Sam Goldwyn, but Mr. Goldwyn would not or could not understand him. Eventually, Mr. Wyler asked Mr. Goldwyn’s 15-year-old son, “Do you understand it?” “Sure, it’s perfectly clear to me,” the boy said. Mr. Goldwyn was not impressed. He asked, “Since when are we making pictures for kids?”

When the original movie version of The Producers starring Zero Mostel and Gene Wilder was showing in theaters, a woman recognized creator Mel Brooks in an elevator. She told him, “Sir, I have seen your film and it is vulgar!” Mr. Brooks replied, “Madame, my film rises below vulgarity.” (Film critic Roger Ebert, who was present, calls this his favorite Mel Brooks story.)

Columbia Studios chief Harry Cohn was always on the lookout for good stories to make into films. After hearing about Homer’s Iliad, he decided to ask his writers to prepare a one-page summary of the story for him to read. Unfortunately, when he read the one-page summary, he unenthusiastically noted, “There are an awful lot of Greeks in it!”

In one scene of Spider-Man, Tobey Mcguire allows a black widow spider to crawl over his hand. Because the bite of a black widow spider can make a person very ill, some people think that Mr. Mcguire was very brave to do the scene. However, Mr. Mcguire disagrees — no one told him how dangerous the scene was until after it had been filmed.

One day, Orson Welles and Peter Bogdanovich were talking about movies—as usual—and they began to discuss the actress Greta Garbo, whom Mr. Welles adored. Mr. Bogdanovich lamented that she had made only two really good movies—Camille and Ninotchka. Mr. Welles was silent for a moment, and then he said, “You only need one.”

When the mother of children’s book author/illustrator Tomie dePaola was a little girl, she and her father went every week for 14 weeks to a movie theater to watch a serial adventure movie. Unfortunately, before they were able to watch the end of the serial, the movie theater was torn down, so they never did learn how it ended.

Ron Howard, of course, was only five years old when he started co-starring in The Andy Griffith Show. Later, he became a renowned Hollywood director. Comedian George Lindsey, who played Goober, was once asked what he thought of his little co-star Ronny’s work as a director. He replied, “We call him Mr. Howard now.”

B-movie director Roger Corman directed dozens of films very cheaply and very quickly. Once, his friend the screenwriter Bob Towne told him, “You must remember making a film is not like a track meet. It’s not a question of how fast you go.” Mr. Corman replied, “You’re right, Bob. I’ll never make a movie in two days again!”

When Kevin Bacon accepted a role playing a pedophile in The Woodsman, he was not worried that he would be directed by recent New York University film school graduate Nicole Kassell. He pointed out, “She’d never directed a movie before, but also she’d never directed a bad movie.”

Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved

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