It’s a Wonderful Case (1946)

There’s no doubting it, folks, the holidays are here! And with this season comes the return of certain movies. Of course, it’s just not Christmas if Ralphie doesn’t put on the pink bunny suit in a Christmas Story, or if we miss Kevin McAlister setting the traps in his Chicago home. Over time, these films have come to define the Christmas season so well, it’s already hard to imagine what Christmas was like without them. Today, we’re talking about one such movie. It’s a story about a man that believes he’s lived a worthless life until he’s given an incredible gift; a chance to see what the world would be like without him. 

It’s a Wonderful Life is so classic, we’ll bet you even know the story even if you haven’t seen it. Countless TV shows have spoofed the famous plot, from Buffy the Vampire Slayer to The Fairly Odd Parents. But, this popular Christmas gem didn’t start out as wonderfully as you would think. In fact, the film underperformed initially, landing its fledgling production studio about $500,000 worth of debt. So, how did this dud find its place as a bonafide Christmas Classic? Grab a glass of Flaming Rum Punch (or whatever you prefer) and settle in as we discover the story behind It’s a Wonderful Life!

SYNOPSIS

  • George Bailey is about to give up on his life. As far as he’s concerned, he’s a complete failure who has never amounted to anything. When the angel Gabriel hears the prayers of George’s concerned family and friends, he sends a novice angel named Clarence to intervene. Clarence doesn’t know exactly how to help this man until George proclaims that he wishes he’d never been born, and Clarence decides to make that wish a reality. 

MAKING OF

  • It’s a Wonderful Life began, as so many Hollywood films do, with a short story. In the winter of 1938, Phillip Van Doren Stern wrote a story called, “The Greatest Gift,” about a banker on the brink of suicide until an angel shows him what the world would be like without him. Stern was unable to get the story published, so he made it into a pamphlet and mailed it out to two-hundred people as a Christmas card in 1943 (OMG 200 Christmas cards?!). According to the New York Times, one of the recipients of the story was Stern’s agent, who was able to sell the story to RKO Pictures, one of the biggest studios during the Golden Age of Hollywood, for $10,000. Due to inflation, this would be about $157,925 today. 
    • RKO had three scriptwriters adapt the story into three screenplays, with a plan for Carey Grant to star in the eventual film adaptation. 
      • Screenwriter Marc Connelly’s script included a scene where George Bailey sees a world with a “bad” version of himself. Clifford Odets took this idea and had the two Georges fight on the bridge, with the evil George dying in the end. The third uncredited scriptwriter was Dalton Trumbo, the famous writer known for scripting Roman Holiday
      • None of the scripts seemed to work. So, the project lost steam until Frank Capra came along and purchased the rights for $10,000, the same amount that RKO had paid. However, RKO also tossed in the three scripts. Capra combined the scripts and added some of his own ideas. For example, he created the character of Mr. Potter, the villain portrayed by legendary actor Lionel Barrymore (Drew Barrymore’s Great Uncle). He also reimagined Bedford Falls as a more believable place, so audiences could connect to the characters. 
    • It’s believed that during this time, Capra visited the town of Seneca Falls to get inspiration for Bedford Falls. According to the Seneca Falls It’s a Wonderful Life Museum, a barber named Tom Bellissima recalled cutting Capra’s hair during a visit. 
      • Seneca Falls and Bedford Falls have a few similarities. For example, they are both located in western New York. The architecture and layout of the town both look similar as well. Not only that, a resident of Seneca Falls once set up affordable housing named after his family. George Bailey does the same thing in the film. 
      • But, the biggest similarity was the story of Antonio Varacalli. In April of 1917, a woman attempted suicide by jumping from the Seneca Falls Bridge. Antonio Varacalli jumped in after her, saving her life, but losing his own in the process. In response to this, he was posthumously awarded the Carnegie Hero Medal. Seneca Falls then came together to raise enough money for Varacalli’s family to come live in the United States, a dream he had been working toward. 
      • In the film, George walks down to the Bedford Falls Bridge and heavily considers jumping into the icy water. Clarence, George’s angel, saves his life by jumping into the water just before George could do it himself. George then saves the angel and forgets about his own thoughts of suicide. The events of Antonio Varacalli could have inspired this part of the film. 
    • After buying The Greatest Gift from RKO Pictures, Frank Capra changed the name of the movie to It’s a Wonderful Life. He hired two screenwriters to help with the new conglomerate script. Their names were Albert Hackett and Frances Goodrich. 
      • The screenwriters were thrilled to work with someone as creative as Capra, but the relationship between them and the director soured over time. For one thing, Capra was taking their work and re-writing portions of it with another screenwriter behind their backs–something that’s against the rules according to The Writers Guild. The couple also felt Capra was condescending, and they didn’t like that he referred to Frances as, “My Dear Woman.” 
      • They turned in their version of the script regardless, and Capra hired another two more writers to polish it off. The Writer’s Guild stepped in and made sure that Goodrich and Hackett got top credit for their work, with Capra and other writers listed below. 
  • It’s a Wonderful Life opens with a shot of a bell, very much like the famed liberty bell, ringing. This was the calling card for Liberty Films, an independent film studio founded by Frank Capra, Sam Briskin, William Wyler, and George Stevens.  
    • In the 1930s, Frank Capra was quite possibly the most well-known director in Hollywood. While the country toiled through the Great Depression, audiences could look to his films for a dose of optimism. In fact, some critics would even refer to his work as “Capra-corn” because of its perceived cheesiness. Capra didn’t mind, because he believed it was important to spread positive messages. 
    • During the 1930s, he directed award-winning classics like It Happened One Night and Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. While serving in the Signal Corps during WWII, he directed seven documentaries that were meant to increase public support for the war effort. 
    • After returning from the war, Capra started the Liberty Films, and It’s a Wonderful Life would be their first and only production before they would be forced to sell their assets to Paramount in 1948. 
  • Some would describe Capra as a true independent, a filmmaker that never adhered to conventional standards. His philosophy was that there was one man behind every film, meaning he was involved in most of the decision-making on each production. 
    • Because of this, Capra was responsible for many of the key details of It’s a Wonderful Life, including the casting. 
      • James Stewart was Capra’s first choice for George Bailey from the beginning. He had already starred in other Capra projects like Mr. Smith Goes to Washington and You Can’t Take it With You. Stewart’s on-screen characters were often honest and friendly, and audiences recognized his unique and unassuming style of speech. Capra was convinced that Stewart could handle the darker scenes of this movie, and he was right. 
        • There’s a scene where George and Mary kiss passionately after speaking on the phone. Stewart was reluctant to do the scene, saying he was rusty. Capra insisted and changed the scene so that George and Mary would share the same phone, making the kiss afterward feel more natural. The couple shot it in one take, apparently leaving out a whole page of dialogue. When the script supervisor brought this up, Capra reportedly replied, “With technique like that, who needs dialogue?”
      • Capra’s first choice for Mary was Jean Arthur because she had experience playing opposite Stewart in two of his films. Arthur declined, and Capra looked at several other actresses (including Ginger Rogers) until deciding on Donna Reed. 
        • In one scene, Reed’s character was supposed to throw a rock at an abandoned house. Capra hired someone to throw the rock for Reed, but it turned out she was a terrific shot and threw rocks better than anyone on set.
      • From the start, Frank Capra was determined to have actor Henry Travers in the film. Travers was a veteran stage actor that had made a name for himself in famous film productions like, “The Bells of Saint Mary’s.” 
        • Ultimately, Capra decided that Travers would be perfect as Clarence Oddbody, George’s guardian angel. Travers retired from acting in 1949 and lived to be 91. Clarence would always be his most well-known role. 
      • Several different men were considered for the part of the conniving Mr. Potter, like Charles Coburn and Vincent Price. But, the role went to Lionel Barrymore, a legendary actor that had previously appeared in Capra’s film You Can’t Take it With You. 
        • When It’s a Wonderful Life premiered, the Hayes Code was still in effect. One of the stipulations of the code was that villains should always be punished for their misdeeds. However, the film was able to get away with not punishing the evil Mr. Potter! Capra said that he received more mail about this than anything else. 
  • It’s a Wonderful Life started production in the summer of 1946. 
    • Bedford Falls was a set built on the Encino Ranch owned by RKO Pictures in California. Even though it was a Liberty Films production, RKO Pictures would still distribute the film. 
      • This was one of the longest sets built for a movie at the time. The main street was 300 yards long, with a tree-lined center parkway. Bedford Falls included 75 stores and buildings, including a bank with a marble front. 
        • The set had been constructed in 3 separate sections. But when it had all been pieced together, it covered about four acres of land!
        • Twenty full-grown Oak trees were transplanted to the set as well
      • One of the most famous scenes in the movie takes place during a high school dance. As the main characters take part in a Charleston contest, a disgruntled teenager decides to open the floor to reveal a swimming pool! George and Mary then fall in, prompting other dancers to jump in as well. 
        • Critics felt that the scene was “fakery at its worst,” but the school and the gym floor really do exist in Beverly Hills.  
    • The special effects team developed a groundbreaking way to make fake snow. 
      • You can’t have a film take place during a New York December and NOT have snow, right? However, It’s a Wonderful Life was filmed during a record-breaking heatwave, meaning that there was no snow to be found. In fact, the heat was so intense, they had to take a day off of production so everyone could rest. 
      • Up until this point, movie snow was often bleached cornflakes, which as you can imagine, makes it difficult to record audio. The Special Effects crew used 3000 tons of ice, 300 tons of gypsum, 300 tons of plaster, and 6000 gallons of a special mixture of foamite, soap, and water. 
  • It’s a Wonderful Life was the final collaboration between Frank Capra and composer Dimitri Tiomkin. Tiomkin had worked with Capra on previous films like Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. 
    • Frank Capra never saw this movie as a Christmas movie, although it takes place at Christmas. Originally, it was scheduled to release in the Spring of 1947, but RKO pushed up the release to December of 1946, rushing parts of the production. The greatest casualty of this was Tiomkin’s score. 
      • Tiomkin was famous for adding in popular songs or familiar melodies in his film scores, which definitely shows with the “Buffalo Girls” melody appearing throughout the film. 
      • But, the score that the audience hears while watching the final cut of the movie is drastically different than what Tiomkin composed. His music had a darker tone, emphasizing the more serious themes in the film; themes like financial ruin, death, and suicide. 
      • To make the film feel lighter, much of Tiomkin’s music was cut and replaced with pre-written music. Because of the rushed deadline, there wasn’t enough time for re-writes, and most of Tiomkin’s music ended up on the cutting room floor. He referred to it as, “a real scissors job.” 
    • For decades audiences didn’t have a chance to hear the original music, but the Sundance Institute was able to recover much of it. The reconstructed version of what Tiomkin had planned can be found on a recent episode of Saturday Cinema with Lynn Warfel, performed with David Newman and the Philharmonic Orchestra. We will link to it in the blog! https://www.yourclassical.org/story/2021/12/04/im-your-guardian-angel?fbclid=IwAR3sqg2VPAeI4ed9GLuXZnTCXBFGSpC5QrgxakBRyMnMOAU7CmcWeuA-yd8 

ALSO STARRING

  • Thomas Mitchell as Uncle Billy
    • Mitchell was a character actor, and another recognizable role for him was Gerald O’Hara in Gone with the Wind. 
  • H.B. Warner as Mr. Gower
    • During this time Warner had been typecast after appearing as Jesus in the 1927 silent film The King of Kings. Although it was controversial to have him play a troubled alcoholic, Capra took the chance. Warner was thrilled to play such a different character and show that he was not a one-note actor. 
  • Beulah Bondi as Ma Bailey
    • She was also a character actor that ended up being typecast as mothers and grandmothers. She played Jimmy Stewart’s mother about 4 times.
  • The children
    • Larry Simms as Pete Bailey
    • Carol Coombs as Janie Bailey
    • Karolyn Grimes as Zuzu Bailey
      • When George calls her his little gingersnap it is cute but also relevant because Zuzu was actually a Gingersnap brand at the time.
      • Grimes said about the movie, “I absolutely love it. There are so many messages. Capra was trying to make people realize that life is worth living, and that you can make a difference. We lose sight of that every once in a while. That’s why I think people love to watch it.”
    • Jimmy Hawkins as Tommy Bailey
  • Lillian Randolph as Annie
    • Randolph was a prolific actress that appeared in several films and TV shows throughout her career, all the way until her death in 1980.
  • A little cameo appears in the scene where the gym floor opens at the high school dance. You can see that the young man that is jealous of George and opens the floor is Carl “Alfalfa” Switzer!

FUN FACTS

  • When leaving George’s house after the wedding festivities, Uncle Billy is clearly drunk. He is not able to realize that his “missing hat” is sitting upon his head. When filming this scene, as the character of Uncle Billy exits the camera’s frame, a loud crash can be heard. As intentional as it sounds, it is actually the accidental dropping of props by a technician. Thomas Mitchell just rolled with the sound, calling out from off-screen that he’s okay. Although the technician feared for his job, Capra instead gave him a raise for improving the sound of the film as the audience imagines the crash being Uncle Billy colliding into trash cans. 
  • During a run on the bank when customers fear that they will lose their money, George uses his own personal Honeymoon funds to calm his bank customers. All of the requests for money were scripted except for the last one made by Mrs. Davis. Her request was for only $17.50. Capra had told her to surprise Stewart, and so his reaction was genuine when he kissed her on the cheek for such a low money request!

RECEPTION/LEGACY

  • There are a few reasons why audiences didn’t go see It’s a Wonderful Life. For one, the East Coast of the United States was experiencing record lows in temperatures, prompting a lot of people to stay home. But, the main issue was that audiences felt it wasn’t cheery enough to be a Christmas movie. 
    • This is a fair sentiment. The film explores a lot of dark themes and might be a tough watch for some. Frank Capra never saw this as a failure. In fact, he often said It’s a Wonderful Life was his favorite among his films. He liked that it explored the pain of normal life as well as the joy. 
    • Capra didn’t want to make a film about the war, especially since it was fresh on the minds of audiences across the globe. But even though this film expressed a heart-warming message, it may not have been the uplifting escapism that post-war movie-goers were looking for. 
    • There is some debate about whether the film technically flopped, but it certainly didn’t do well and foreshadowed the end of Liberty Films, and in some peoples’ opinion, Frank Capra’s career. 
  • And this could have been the end of It’s a Wonderful Life’s legacy. But, in 1974, the copyright owner of the film made a clerical error and failed to renew the film’s copyright. It fell into the public domain, where TV studios jumped at the free content and played it freely for about 19 years. In terms of the film’s popularity, this was the miracle the movie needed. It’s a Wonderful Life had somehow become a Christmas staple, a movie that people of all ages would enjoy, gathered by their loved ones every holiday season. 
  • Although the film was nominated for five different Academy Awards it did not win any. However, Capra did win Best Director for the Golden Globes and the New York Film Critics Circle Awards. 
  • Several television shows have their own episode version of this movie.
  • A sequel was in the works called It’s a Wonderful Life: The Rest of the Story but it has now been canceled. 
  • Seneca Falls has a museum dedicated to the movie.  

It’s a Wonderful Life had all the makings of a Hollywood classic; a famed director, a well-known and likable lead, and a heartwarming, yet relatable story. But then, the unexpected happened: audiences didn’t see it. For nearly thirty years, the film fell into relative obscurity, generally only remembered by those that saw it when it first premiered. But just when it seemed like the world was better off without it, it resurfaced to bring joy to audiences everywhere.  

As a Christmas movie, It’s a Wonderful Life might get a little too real. The main character is a regular man with extraordinary ambition that eventually gives up his dreams to live, what he considers to be, an ordinary life. He has no understanding of the incredible impact he’s had on so many lives until someone shows him. 

This film holds a message that nearly everyone on this planet longs to believe: that each and every one of us, just through the simple acts of life, has made a remarkable difference. And if we were to learn anything from this movie, it’s that we should all stop and remind the ones around us just how wonderful they are. 


SOURCES:

The Case of Our Five Favorite Santas

First, let’s talk a little bit about the origin of Santa Claus! 

Santa Claus is known around the world by many names. Some of the most well-known are; Saint Nicholas, Kris Kringle, Sinterklaas, Father Christmas, and Papa Noel. These names and origins should not be confused with the Belsnickel and Krampus. St Nicholas is known to be the patron saint of many things including children, sailors, ships, merchants, pawnbrokers, and some cities like Moscow.

One of the most well-known stories tells of Saint Nicholas gifting three girls dowries in order that they may get married. Due to his generosity and good deeds towards children in life, he became their patron saint and a popular bringer of gifts on his celebrated day of December 6th. 

As people traveled and immigrated to the United States the celebrations followed and the legends of Saint Nicholas and the scary and shaggy Belsnickel became mixed to eventually become what we know as Santa Claus. Santa Claus, like the Christmas holiday, is an amalgamation of traditions and practices, and hopefully one day we will go further into detail about Santa’s history. 

Much of the details that we have accepted about Santa Claus came from a Clement Clarke Moore poem called, A Visit From Saint Nicholas. But, two years before that story, there was “The Children’s Friend.” It was notable for removing the religious aspects of St. Nick and associating him with the Christmas holiday. Here are a couple of stanzas: 

“Old Santeclaus with much delight

His reindeer drives this frosty night.

O’er chimney tops, and tracks of snow,

To bring his yearly gifts to you.

The steady friend of virtuous youth,

The friend of duty, and of truth,

Each Christmas eve he joys to come

Where love and peace have made their home”

NUMBER 5

  • “Sandy Claws” (The Nightmare Before Christmas, 1993)*
    • If you need a refresher, The Nightmare Before Christmas was directed by Henry Selick and produced by Tim Burton. It follows Jack Skellington, the pumpkin king of Halloweentown, as he faces issues with burnout and his own identity. Jack’s purpose in life becomes reinvigorated when he discovers Christmastown and attempts to give Christmas a try instead. 
    • Santa’s voice can be heard at the beginning of the movie during the initial narration. Since the narration doesn’t return, it makes sense that it turns out to be a character in the movie, though this is not immediately obvious to the audience
    • Santa Claus (or Sandy Claws) appears in this film after Jack Skellington visits Christmastown for the first time. However, the audience doesn’t get a great look at the character until much later, when three trick-or-treaters kidnap Santa Claus and deliver him to the evil Oogie Boogie Man.
      • Lock, Stock, and Barrell kidnap Santa so that Jack can take his place. 
  • Voiced by Edward Ivory, this is a pretty classic take on Santa Claus. Although Santa is generally depicted as a kind being that only wants to spread joy, The Nightmare Before Christmas gave some more depth to the character by showing how he would react to being kidnapped. Although this version of Santa becomes more and more frustrated (and possibly scared for his life), he never seems to really lose his cool and still recovers in time to save Christmas! 
    • Ivory was not in very many movies but he was also in the film Nine Months (1995), Rampage (1987), and Blood Red (1989.)
  • The Nightmare Before Christmas is such a well-known and beloved classic, it’s safe to say the film made a major impact on a lot of people. Although the debate about whether it’s a Halloween or Christmas movie will never be settled, you’ll find fans enjoying it during any season. 
    • It won the Saturn Award for Best Fantasy Film and Best Music
    • It earned Annies for Best Individual Achievement for Creative Supervision in the Field of Animation and Best Individual Achievement for Artistic Excellence in the Field of Animation.
    • It also won the Blimp Award at the Kid’s Choice Awards for Favorite Movie!
  • So why did this Santa make it into our top five?
    • We LOVE the style of this film, and seeing a Tim-Burton-style Santa is an automatic win. Although he has the classic characteristics of many western depictions of Santa Claus (red suit, white beard, black boots) he still has the same unmistakable charm as other Burton creations. Before this film came out, you wouldn’t find a Santa that looks like this anywhere else. 
    • This Santa is inherently good-natured. He withstands being carried around in a sack and is essentially tortured by Oogie Boogie. But, when he realizes it was a misunderstanding and that Jack never intended for him to be hurt, he seems to forgive him almost immediately. He never hesitates to fix all the damage that the Halloweentown residents had done, and makes time to visit them after delivering all of his presents!
  • We asked our Twitter followers for their suggestions on some favorite Santas! Jacob (@DemChops) suggested Santa Claus from Nightmare Before Christmas, saying, “He was so fed up with the Halloween people but he still gave them some Christmas magic in the end. A true Santa.”

NUMBER 4

  • North (Rise of the Guardians, 2012)*
  • Rise of the Guardians is based on a book series by William Joyce called, “Guardians of Childhood.” Every year the holidays arrive and with them the protection of the immortal Guardians. The Guardians, known as Nicholas St. North, E. Aster Bunnymund, Toothiana, and Sandman, spread light to protect children everywhere from darkness and despair. An evil spirit called Pitch Black plots to overthrow them by destroying the source of their power, which is the faith of children everywhere. Saving the Guardians is left up to a new young immortal by the name of Jack Frost. 
    • This film was directed by Peter Ramsey for Dreamworks Animation
  • Voiced by Alec Baldwin, North is the leader of the guardians and this universe’s more-secular take on Santa Claus. Although he is far from the traditional depiction of Santa Claus, he is still dedicated to spreading love and cheer across the world and protecting the innocence of children. 
  • Though this isn’t the most popular Dreamworks film, we consider it to be one of their best works. The story is heartwarming and imaginative and encourages children to believe in magic–not just supernatural magic, but the magic within themselves.
    • Rise of the Guardians received the Vanity Fair International Award for Cinematic Excellence and the Hollywood Animation Award at the 16th Annual Hollywood Film Festival. The film also won two Annie Awards for Effects in Animation and Storyboarding. 
  • So why did North make it into our top five?
    • Out of all the entries on this list, North is the most unique version of Santa Claus. Generally, we see an older and less active version of the character in cinema, but here we see a buff Santa with tattoos and a Russian accent (which makes sense because St. Nicholas is the patron saint of Moscow). This Santa is much more active and unafraid to use weapons to protect the things he loves. It’s important to see a different take on a character because it shows that even though someone is unconventional, it doesn’t mean they are any less than someone who is traditional. This Santa thwarts tradition and conventional standards. 
    • Every story that includes a Santa storyline begs the question: how does he keep track of all the children and bring them toys in one night? The universe in Rise of the Guardians answers this question with a combination of advanced technology and magic. The approach feels rooted in our universe, so audiences find it easier to comprehend. 
    • Rise of the Guardians provides a completely different perspective on Santa. We’re used to seeing him as he delivers gifts and interacts with children. In this film, we see him amongst his peers (the other holiday guardians) which adds another layer to his character. There are even some comedic moments when he clashes with the Easter Bunny or gets frustrated with his bumbling elves. 
  • This was another Twitter suggestion! You guys really know how to pick your Santas. Mics and Beers (@micsandbeers) said, “Got to go with the Santa with swords.”

NUMBER 3

  • Santa Claus (Year Without a Santa Claus, 1974)
  • Based on a book by Phylis McGinley, The Year Without a Santa Claus follows the story of a sick Santa Claus (played by Mickey Rooney) who may not be well enough to deliver presents this year. His doctor even tells him that he should stay in bed because children don’t really believe in Santa anymore. Mrs. Claus takes action into her own hands and sends two elves with a reindeer out into the world to find Christmas cheer. When they run into some trouble, Santa heads out after them and discovers that the world still cares about Christmas. 
    • Of all the Rankin and Bass stop-motion specials, this is one of the most beloved. It included songs by Jules Bass and Maury Laws, most notably the heat and snow miser songs!
    • The special was written by William J Keenan and animated in Japan, like the other Rankin and Bass specials. 
  • This is a special that returns every year during the holiday season, and inspired a sequel special starring the heat and snow misers! You’ll also find their merchandise in stores at Christmas time. 
  • Mickey Rooney during his lifetime was in over 300 films from silent films from Breakfast at Tiffany’s to Phantom of the Megaplex. He also voiced Santa Claus in three other animagic specials, including Santa Claus is Coming to Town. So, it’s probably OK to say that this version of Santa is the same one that appears in the other specials of the Rankin and Bass universe. However, we chose the Santa from this particular special because we liked seeing this side of him. Usually, Christmas movies are about children losing their faith in Santa, but this special was more about Santa losing faith in the world. 
    • This Santa Claus is relatable and hard-working. He seems more mortal than other depictions because he has fallen ill. More often than not, Santa is depicted as a supernatural being, capable of looking in on children at any given time to see if they are behaving. This version of Santa, however, doesn’t seem as powerful. 
    • No matter how awful this Santa feels, he’s never angry or upset with anyone. Sure, he feels unappreciated, but that makes him sad more than anything else. And who could blame him for wanting to cancel Christmas? None of us want to go to work when we’re feeling sick. 
    • This version of Santa also really seems to enjoy his job. Sometimes we get the sense from other versions of the character that he feels like he’s doing the world a huge favor, but here it seems that he gets as much out of Christmas as anyone else. 

NUMBER 2

  • Klaus (Klaus, 2019)*
    • Klaus is the most recent entry on our list! Directed by Sergio Pablos and Carlos Martinez Lopez, Klaus is a Netflix original that follows the origin story of Santa Claus, known in this universe as Klaus. 
    • The story initially follows Jesper, the privileged son of the postmaster general, as he’s banished to a cold and freezing island called Smeerensburg. While there, he meets a toymaker named Klaus. Because he needs to meet a quota of 6000 letters mailed, Jesper convinces the children to mail Klaus letters so that he will deliver toys to their houses. Because one act of kindness always sparks another, Jesper and Klaus end up changing the lives of everyone on the island. 
      • Actor J.K. Simmons provides the voice of the stoic and kind Klaus, a toymaker isolated in the woods. This version of Santa is more unwitting than others and is somewhat of a reluctant hero. Early in the film, it’s clear that he wants to make children happy, but Jesper pushes him to start making new toys again.
      • Simmons is famous for several character roles, like Tenzin in The Legend of Korra and Jay Jonah Jamison in the Spider-Man films.  
    • Impact 
      • Klaus won the 2020 BAFTA for Best Animated Feature
      • It also received several Annie Awards for Best Animated Feature, Character Animation, Character Design, Directing, Production Design, Storyboarding, and Editorial.
      • It was also nominated for the Oscar for Best Animated Feature. It, unfortunately, lost Toy Story 4.
    • Number two on our list is pretty high, especially for a character that might not be as well-known or established as some of the other entries. But, we chose Klaus because we love how human his story is, and his immense generosity. 
      • When Klaus first delivers a gift, he does it solely because he saw the sad drawing of a child and wanted to cheer them up. He stays back to watch the child open the gift, and we can see how much it means to him that the child was happy. 
      • One of the most appealing aspects of Klaus is that he’s a regular man and not a supernatural being (to begin with, anyway). He uses his craft to bring joy to other people, inspiring others to do the same. 
      • Klaus is reclusive and uninterested in making friends, but throughout the film we see the character open up and grow, and it’s because others are willing to help that he becomes Santa Claus. 
      • Near the end of his mortal life, Klaus embodies the spirit of Christmas so much that he becomes father Christmas. It’s seemingly a reward for a life well-lived that he can continue to spark kindness across the world. 
    • This was another Twitter suggestion from our friend and listener, JD Gravatte! 

NUMBER 1

  • Kris Kringle (Miracle on 34th Street, 1947)
  • This Christmas classic follows Doris Walker, a no-nonsense single mother with a young daughter named Susan. While Doris performs her job as the manager of the famous Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, a kind old man approaches her and points out that the Santa Claus hired for the event is intoxicated. Doris invites the kind older man to fill in as Santa not only in the parade but during the holiday as the Macy’s store Santa. Kris Kringle, as he calls himself, is not only a hit with the children but also with adult customers. He truly embodies the spirit of Christmas by helping them buy gifts, sending them to other stores to find them. Soon, it captures the attention of the store that Kris believes that he himself is the real Santa Claus. This issue gets overlooked until Kris assaults the resident psychologist with his umbrella, causing him to get sent to an institution. All this leads to a public hearing, where Kris’s lawyer, Fred Gayley, must defend him by proving that he is indeed the real Santa Claus.
    • Doris’s daughter, Susan, has never believed in magic before, but Kris convinces her that magic is real, saving Christmas for at least one child. 
  • While this version of the character was played by Edmund Gwenn, there was a 1994 remake starring Richard Attenborough. Since it’s the same character, we felt it was worth mentioning! 
    • Gwenn won the Oscar for Best Actor in a Supporting Role! He also won the Golden Globe for Best Supporting Actor!
  • Miracle on 34th Street is a tradition for many families during the holiday season. It’s heartfelt and engaging, a warm Christmas classic that’s also a legal drama? Count us in! 
    • The film won the Oscar and Golden Globe for Best Supporting Actor
    • It also won Oscars for Best Original Story, and Best Screenplay. Finally, it also won the Golden Globe for Best Screenplay.
  • When we set out to make this list, we knew from the beginning that Kris Kringle was our number one. Throughout the entire film, all the way until the end, the audience doesn’t actually see any proof that Kris is Santa Claus. We don’t see him perform magic or visit the north pole, we only see what the other characters see. And yet, we’re on board the entire time. Why? Because this character is so pure and believable as Santa Claus that it almost seems impossible not to believe him. 
    • This Santa is one of the most wholesome we have ever seen. He has a genuine personality and a great sense of humor and doesn’t get frustrated or upset when people don’t believe him. Sure, he’s got some old-school ideas for punishing naughty people (the umbrella might’ve been out of line) But in 1947, parents were spanking their kids harder than Kris hits that man with his umbrella. 
    • Kris’s interactions with others are heartwarming and memorable. He helps many different characters, from Alvin the janitor to little Susan Walker. 
    • He is able to change those around him for the better with simple acts of kindness, like listening to people and gently guiding customers to where they can find toys so that their children can have a happy holiday. 
    • Whether or not people believe he’s the real Santa isn’t important to Kris. Instead, he just wants to help those around him and only tells them that he is Santa because he’s just an honest person. 

HONORABLE MENTIONS

Since there are hundreds of movie Santas, we had some honorable mentions: 

Santa Claus (The Polar Express, 2004)

  • Our first honorable mention is the Santa from the Polar Express. Of course, we don’t see very much of this version, but the audience gets enough of him to know that he is a very classic version of the character. This Santa appears at the end of the film when the main character is finding his faith in Santa again. 
  • Tom Hanks voiced this Santa Claus (as he voiced many characters throughout the film). 

Scott Calvin (The Santa Clause, 1994)

  • Played by Tim Allen
  • While watching his son, Charlie, for Christmas, Scott hears a noise on the roof and goes to investigate while his son follows. After scaring a red-suited man off the roof, the man disappears in the snow but his red suit remains. Scott dons the suit and he and his son are taken to the North Pole where he discovers he will be Santa for the foreseeable future. Problems arise, however, when Charlie’s mother and Step-Father believe that Scott is endangering Charlie’s well-being.

Father Christmas (The Snowman, 1982 & Father Christmas, 1991)

  • Voiced by Mel Smith
  • Father Christmas follows Santa on his adventures as he decides to take a vacation in France, Scotland, and Las Vegas. When he returns from his travels to begin preparations for Christmas he finds that he has forgotten something during his trip.

Willie T Stokes (Bad Santa 2003)*

  • Played by Billy Bob Thorton
  • Willie T. Stokes only works one season a year. He drinks constantly and is an embarrassment to himself and others. He works as Santa at the malls. On Christmas Eve he and his accomplice Marcus take all the information they have gathered while working during the season to rob the entire shopping mall.
Noelle (2019)

Noelle (Noelle, 2019)

  • Played by Anna Kendrick
  • Noelle has always loved Christmas, especially the presents. The holiday is made even more special to her as her father is Santa Claus!  At a young age, her brother Nick is given a Santa hat and revealed to officially be the successor to their father as Santa Claus. Noelle wants to be a part of the magic and is tasked by her father to guide Nick and help how she can. Years later after their father passes away, the pressure becomes too much and Nick runs away. Noelle must save Christmas by finding not only her brother but the meaning of Christmas beyond the presents. 

Nick (Fred Claus, 2007)

  • Played by Paul Giamatti
  • Santa Claus’s older brother, Fred, is jealous of him.

Fred ends up needing help and must live with his brother for financial reasons.

Santa Claus (Elf, 2003)

  • Played by Ed Asner 
  • Buddy the elf finds his human father and helps him see the spirit of Christmas.

Santa Claus (A Christmas Story, 1983)

  • Played by Jeff Gillen
  • You’ll shoot your eye out!

Maybe you believe in Santa Claus, and maybe you don’t. Maybe you call him by a different name. Maybe you think he’s a person, and maybe you think he’s the spirit of Christmas. No matter how you feel about the character, these Santas can all teach us something about humanity. You don’t need magic or a sleigh or millions of helpers to be Santa Claus for someone. As long as humans continue to use their abilities to make others happy, the spirit of Santa Claus will always endure. And that’s what Christmas is all about, Charlies Brown–wait.


SOURCES:

The (Brief) Case of The Snowman (1982)

Happy Thanksgiving, Cassettes!

This month, we talked all about movies that were based on books. Since it’s still November, we’re continuing that theme with a British TV special from 1982. 

In September of 1978, children’s author Raymond Briggs published “The Snowman,” a wordless picture book that detailed the story of a young boy embarking on a wondrous adventure with the snowman he built that day. Before that, Briggs had repulsed critics with a picture book called, “Fungus the Boogeyman,” and before that, he published a bestseller about a grumpy old man that didn’t even want to work one day a year. That book was called, “Father Christmas,” and detailed the life of Santa Claus. 

But when Briggs set out to write “The Snowman,” he wanted a story that was so quiet, he didn’t include any words. The book begins with comic-strip-like illustrations, panels that increase in size as the story unfolds, leading up to beautiful double-page spreads. The illustrations guide the reader through a nostalgic tale, filled with the magic of childhood. 

“The Snowman” is one of Brigg’s best-known books, returning to collective memory every holiday season. It wasn’t long after its release that a half-hour animated special based on the book premiered on Channel 4 in Great Britain in December of 1982. 

The short film received commercial and critical acclaim, and according to “The Snowman” official website, it has aired on Channel 4 in Great Britain every year since 1982. So, come join us from wherever you are, in whatever weather, to talk about this classic that has touched the hearts of millions of people. 

MAKING OF

  • Raymond Briggs went to art school to become a cartoonist but eventually found himself writing his own stories. By the time he published “The Snowman,” he had a successful career as an illustrator for at least twenty years. 
  • Because “The Snowman” relies only on imagery, it was more important than ever for the illustrations to make the viewer feel the action of the story. Briggs said, “That’s the essence of good illustrating I think, where the drawer really feels a feeling that a figure in the picture is feeling. You’ve got to feel what it’s like to fly, feel what it’s like to slow down as you land. And yet you’ve got to be outside observing it. Very difficult! I’m thinking of giving it up.” 
  • Producer John Coates of the animation studio TVC became interested in optioning the story for a short film. TVC was a well-established studio that had created the animated film “Yellow Submarine” in the late 1960s. 
    • Coates had two assistant animators, Hillary Audus and Joanna Harrison, buy a dozen copies of the book and start cutting it up to make a mock-up animation. 
  • John Coates brought the idea to Sir Jeremy Isaacs, the Chief Executive of Channel 4 at the time. The channel was brand new, and The Snowman was actually one of the first things they ever did. Isaacs felt it would be a stark contrast from the other programming they had planned for the channel, but it was so delightful that he gave it the green light. 
    • According to the Animation World Network, Coates mortgaged his own house to help pay for the project. 
  • Director Dianne Jackson, who had worked on TV commercials for several years, took over the project and created the storyboard “bible.” This “bible” was not to be changed by anyone except for the director or producer. The animators and the composer, Howard Blake, timed the storyboard and used it as their guide to finishing the final product.
  • They were a small team of about 8 animators and they were all given their own sequence to animate. 
    • The animators started by creating keyframes of movement, filling in more drawings based on the timing of the scene. Each drawing was sent to a coloring artist that used colored pencils to fill in the detail. Each image takes about 45 minutes to an hour to color. 
    • One of the most unique visual elements of “The Snowman” is the look and texture of the backgrounds. A background artist would layer every scene with pencil shading, resulting in no solid colors. Because of this, the texture of the paper shows through, giving the feel of a picture book. 
    • “The Snowman” used cell animation, meaning that artists would draw the moving elements of the short film on cells, which would then be placed on a static background and photographed one by one. 
  • The animators have said that they feel like the snowman wouldn’t look right if it wasn’t hand-drawn. In 2012, Briggs signed off on an animated sequel to the short film which was also hand-drawn. 
  • When the short film made it to the US in 1984, the American broadcasters wanted a new introduction with a famous person. So, they chose David Bowie. 
    • Bowie had already gotten in touch with the studio to work on an upcoming film, and even though the producers were nervous to ask him, he happily recorded a new intro. 
  • For the 20th anniversary of the short, the original animators created an opening sequence introducing the story with Father Christmas. This was done in the traditional hand-drawn style so it would match the animation.

THE SHORT FILM

  • The short begins with the little boy waking up to a snowy day, and he’s so excited that he forgets to put on his underpants before his trousers. Roger Mainwood, the man that animated the sequence, said that the number one question he got from children was, “why didn’t he put on his pants?” Mainwood said it was simply because there wasn’t enough time in the scene for it. 
  • In Brigg’s book, the boy and the snowman sit in the family car and play with the lights. One of the assistant animators, Hillary Audus, was a motorcyclist at the time and came up with the idea that they go for a ride. This way, the story could interact with the countryside and location of the story. 
    • The number on the motorcycle plate was the animator’s house number.
  • Joanna Harrison animated the scene in the bedroom when the snowman tries on false teeth. Harrison actually asked her grandmother to take out her false teeth so she could draw them.
  • Near the end of the short, the boy and the snowman travel to the North Pole and meet Father Christmas. Harrison and Audus were the ones that came up with the idea to incorporate the character, simply because he was a subject from another of Briggs’ books. 
    • Briggs thought it was a corny idea but later said that he was wrong and that it worked out just fine. 
    • The boy also receives a Christmas present in the film with a tag that says “James.” Joanna Harrison wrote the name on the tag because she was dating a man with that name, and it just stuck. The gift is a blue scarf with the snowman on it. Two props of the scarf were eventually made, one given to David Bowie.  
  • The most iconic part of the short, and possibly what made it stick in the minds of viewers, is the scene where James, the boy, takes off with the snowman. The pair fly across the world to a hauntingly beautiful song by composer Howard Blake. 
    • Blake had originally written the tune over 10 years earlier while walking on a beach. He felt the music held the sensation of innocence. Blake was visiting a friend at the studio when John Coates asked him if he would consider writing a song for the film. Blake reportedly said, “I think I may have something.” 
      • Blake scored the entire short film, using music to convey every moment of animation. Blake could play the music and tell you exactly what is happening with each sound. 
    • Peter Auty was a 13-year-old choir boy when he recorded the song for the special. Coates later blamed his lack of agent on the fact that the production forgot to credit him, so audiences weren’t aware that it was him. He went on to be an operatic tenor. 
    • Many people believe that singer Aled Jones recorded the original version because his cover of the song topped the charts a couple of years later. 
  • Of course, all great things must come to an end. When James wakes up the next morning, the score reminds us of the excitement from the day before as he runs downstairs to find his friend has melted. The scene is incredibly poignant, especially as the music shifts quickly to a minor sound. 
    • But, as James mourns the loss of the snowman, he reaches into his pocket to discover that the scarf that the snowman had given to him was real. 
    • Composer Howard Blake remarked, “I think why it touches so many people is, the friend melts, and it’s something we all experience. We lose somebody we’re really very fond of, and he’s absolutely heartbroken. But then he has the memory, and the memory is symbolized by the scarf.” 
  • Briggs has said that it didn’t occur to him at the time that the snowman is like a friend, and children see him as a real person. He received many letters asking him to bring the snowman back to which he replied, “ghastly idea.” 

RECEPTION

  • When “The Snowman” first hit shelves, it sold fairly well. It wasn’t until the animated film debuted that the book started flying off the shelves. 
  • The short was nominated for an Oscar, which it did not win. However, it did win the BAFTA for best children’s program! 
  • “The Snowman” has been adapted into a stage show and ballet! 
  • This classic will be 40 years old next year, and it continues to delight audiences to this day. 

From the moment that “The Snowman” begins, it evokes a special kind of nostalgia. There are elements to the story and imagery that we all can relate to in some way. The film is a perfect marriage of visuals and music, and it poignantly portrays the magical, beautiful, and fleeting nature of life. 

Thank you for joining us from wherever and whenever you are, this is another *brief* case closed! 


SOURCES: 

https://www.thesnowman.com/about/

https://www.awn.com/mag/issue1.4/articles/mcgreal1.4.html

https://www.theguardian.com/music/2016/dec/22/how-the-snowman-melted-david-bowies-heart-raymond-briggs

The Case of The Shawshank Redemption

In honor of National Novel Writing Month, we spent last week talking about the 2003 classic family film, Holes. This week, we’re continuing our theme with one of the most beloved films of all time. 

There’s no doubt that Stephen King is a master of horror. In fact, when you suggest one of his books to someone who isn’t a horror fan, they might give you a funny look. But the truth is, King has contributed to several genres, and it’s quite possible that his source material is responsible for one of your favorite films as well. For example, popular movies like Stand By Me and The Green Mile were both based on his work. However, of all of the films adapted from King’s writing, one of the most lauded is The Shawshank Redemption. 

Based on a novella by King, this 1994 film was a slow-burning success. Although it didn’t catch the attention of audiences immediately, it soon made up for it with several Oscar nominations. Today, it’s achieved cult classic status, and currently holds the number one rated film on IMDB. 

So come join us as we learn all about this low-budget box office flop and how it crawled its way to cinematic glory!

SUMMARY

  • After being wrongly convicted of murdering his wife and her lover, Andy Dufresne is sentenced to two life sentences back to back at Shawshank Prison. Andy makes friends with Red, another prisoner and the man with connections to the outside. For nearly two decades they navigate the violent and psychological horrors of Shawshank together, while holding onto the hope that one day they will be free men again.

IT STARTED WITH A STORY

  • The Shawshank Redemption is based on a Stephen King novella called, Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption, published in a collection of stories in 1982. The collection is called Different Seasons and has three other stories, including The Body, which was made into another fan-favorite film, Stand By Me.
  • Only eight years earlier had King launched his writing career with his breakout horror novel, Carrie. Since then, he had penned classics like The Shining and The Stand. But, Different Seasons focused more on dramatic stories, and strayed from the horror fiction that fans expected. 
  • In 1983 Frank Darabont made his first Stephen King adaptation. At the time he was in his early twenties. Buying the rights to an author’s story can vary in price but Stephen King has a program that has given many young filmmakers a unique opportunity. It’s called the “Dollar Baby” program, and he offers certain titles to be bought for the low price of $1. The short film Darabont created was The Woman in the Room(1984). You can find it here in this link.
    • King still has this program open to young filmmakers looking to adapt works! The link of selected works that you can request for contract can be here: https://stephenking.com/dollar-baby/ 
  • Darabont felt he needed a little more experience under his belt before he approached Stephen King for the story he truly had his eyes on. After 1987, and his first screenplay credit under A Nightmare on Elm Street 3, he felt he was ready to request Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption. He signed a check to the amount of $5000 to Stephen King. 
    • The story was written from the perspective of a prisoner serving a life sentence. Much of the text was a stream of consciousness, and King himself was unsure how the story could be made into a movie. But, since he enjoyed Darabont’s take on The Woman in the Room, he gave his blessing.  Though Darabont got the rights, it took him 5 years before he sat down to begin the screenplay. Once he did, it took a mere eight weeks. He wanted to keep the spirit and core of the source material, lifting lines directly from the story. Because the character Red’s voice is present throughout the story, Darabont decided that this character would also narrate the film. 
  • After directing the 1986 film Stand By Me, Rob Reiner co-founded Castle Rock Entertainment, named for the fictional town in which Stand By Me takes place. After Darabont completed the script, it ended up in the hands of Liz Glotzer, who became so enthralled with the story that she didn’t even want to finish the script before seeing the movie. Glotzer fought hard for Shawshank, even threatening to quit if the company didn’t produce the film. When Rob Reiner heard about the project, he reportedly offered Darabont a “shitload” of money to direct the film, AND Castle Rock would finance any other film Darabont would want to direct. But, Darabont stuck to his guns. If he hadn’t, this would have been a different movie. 
    • Reiner later joked to Liz Glotzer that, “‘[Different Seasons] is on my desk for years. You would have thought we’d have read the next story! But we didn’t.”
  • Darabont added his own flair to the story, creating storylines that drove the message home and adding some violence. 
    • In the book, the two main characters Andy and Red look very different. Andy is described as short with small clever hands and gold-rimmed glasses. Red is a white Irish man, which they joke about in the movie.
    • Brooks is a major character within the movie and a key emotional storyline. Within the book, however, he dies uneventfully in a home for the elderly.
    • Tommy, who has information that could free Andy, was dealt with in a different way in the book versus the movie. In the movie, he is shot to death but in the book he trades his silence on the matter to be switched to a lower security prison. 
    • Darabont also condenses the part of three wardens into that of the one Warden Norton. 
    • The ending of the movie is different because Liz Glotzer fought for us to be able to see the two friends reunite in Mexico. Darabont had wanted the film to end as the book does, with Red on his way to Andy but with no payoff. Glotzer was adamant that if the intention was for the two to get together, then the audience should have the satisfaction of seeing it. 

MAKING OF

  • Director Frank Darabont and the rest of the cast and crew started filming The Shawshank Redemption in the summer of 1993. The film had a budget of $25 million dollars, which isn’t very high. In comparison, The Flintstones, which also came out in 1994, had a budget of $46 million. 
  • While Darabont and Production Designer Terence Marsh were location scouting for the film, they found the Ohio State Reformatory, a prison on the brink of demolition in Mansfield, OH. The buildings of the reformatory had been abandoned for several years, with piles of paint chips in almost every room.
    • The production was set up in Mansfield, and the crew would use other Ohio locations for the rest of the film. Many of the guards used in the movie were actually residents of Mansfield that were guards at the prison when it was in operation. 
  • The opening scene of the movie shows us two scenes at once. We see our main character Andy Dufresne sitting in his car while his wife has an affair inside. This was shot at Malabar Farms in Ohio. The other scene takes place in a courtroom in Upper Sandusky! 
    • According to Darabont, the two scenes were written separately but had to be cut together because they could only shoot at the farms for one night. The scene works very well cut together, as we see Andy pull out his gun, cut together with a prosecutor laying out the crime that had been committed. 
  • When Shawshank is first introduced in the film, we see a beautiful aerial shot of the building and 500 extras in the yard. Marsh also had the idea for that shot as well! 
    • This shot was pretty tricky to get. It had been raining off and on all day, and because of budget issues, production had to let go of most of their extras by the end of the day. This meant they only had a small window of time to get it right, coordinating the extras as the helicopter pilot glided over the prison yard.
  • Terence Marsh had the difficult task of taking the interior of the prison and making it look like it was still in operation. Locations like the offices, the mess hall, and the courtyard were all at the reformatory. But, the cell block itself was an elaborate hand-built set.
    • On the upper level of the cell blocks, it got to be almost 100 degrees during an Ohio summer, especially with all the production lights. 
    • Production had to build their own sets because the actual cells were only 6ft by 9ft, making them impossible to light. They were also meant for two men to share, creating a virtually unlivable situation. 
    • Andy Dufresne’s cell is covered in magazines and newspaper clippings that had been brought in by the production designers and hand-selected by Tim Robbins to make the set feel more like his space. 
  • When it came time to cast the film, it became quite clear that the film could not be called: Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption. The original title seemed to be confusing, leading people to believe that the film was a biopic. Agents were calling Darabont and his team, saying that their clients would be perfect to play Rita Hayworth. 
    • To help work Rita Hayworth into the story, there’s a scene where the prisoners are watching one of her movies in the reformatory theater. In the original story, they are watching a different movie that would have been too expensive for the studio to use. So, Darabont found one of Rita Hayworth’s films on a list of movies that Castle Rock already had the rights to and they were able to use that. 
  • The cast is one of the many reasons why this film works so well. The two main actors don’t match the descriptions of their book counterparts, but they still fit their roles perfectly. 
    • When Rob Reiner tried to direct the film, he actually had Tom Cruise in mind to play Andy Dufresne. According to Morgan Freeman, he was the one that suggested Tim Robbins for the role. Despite the fact that Tom Hanks and Kevin Costner were both offered the role, it went to Robbins. Robbins delivered a stoic performance that perfectly captured the soul of an innocent man who has landed in an impossible situation. Robbins went on to win an Oscar ten years later for Mystic River
      • When Tim Robbins was asked why he thought the film has continued to resonate with audiences he said, “One is that there are very, very few films that are about the relationship, the friendship between two men that doesn’t involve car chases or being charming with the ladies and those kinds of buddy movies. This one is about a true, deep friendship that lasts. And part of me thinks that people want or need that kind of story to be told.”
    • Morgan Freeman embodied the character of Ellis Boyd (Red) Redding so well, it’s impossible to imagine the character being played by anyone else. Because the book counterpart is a white Irishman, Freeman wasn’t even initially considered for the role. 
      • After looking at several names like Harrison Ford and Gene Hackman, Liz Glotzer stepped in once again with a movie-saving suggestion. She advocated for throwing out the look of the character in the book and going with Morgan Freeman, an actor that Darabont did like for the part. 
        • Freeman was shocked when he was offered the part of Red, the character that sets the tone of the entire film with his voice. 
      • Usually, voiceover narration is completed after a production wraps, but because the pace of the film was so reliant on Morgan Freeman’s delivery, Darabont had Freeman record the narration first. Then, they played the narration on set while acting out certain scenes so that they could time action and dialogue with his words. 
        • However, there was a problem with the original recording’s audio, meaning that it would have to be completely re-recorded. Freeman completed the first version in only 45 minutes. The re-record, however, took three weeks. 
      • In the audio commentary, Frank Darabont praised Morgan Freeman for his patience throughout filming. In one scene, the actor is playing catch while talking to Andy (Tim Robbins). The shot took 9 hours to get, meaning Freeman had to throw the ball for that entire period of time. According to Darabont, he never complained. 
    • One storyline that added depth to the film was the story of a fellow inmate named Brooks. Possibly one of the most loved characters in the movie, Brooks Hatlen was played by James Whitmore. 
      • While much of Shawshank focuses on the horrors that occur inside prison, Brooks’ story highlights what can happen after a longtime inmate is released. 
      • Darabont had been a fan of Whitmore for a very long time, and was absolutely thrilled to work with him. You’ll notice that he got the “and” credit during the opening of the movie. 
      • Whitmore was a veteran TV and film actor that captured Darabont’s attention in the 1954 film Them!
      • Whitmore carried a live crow around throughout filming, as his character cared for the animal. Production had a woman from the ASPCA on set to ensure that the animal was treated humanely. During one scene, Whitmore was supposed to feed a live wax worm to the crow, and the ASPCA representative objected. She told Darabont that not only could he only feed a dead worm to the crow, but it also had to be a worm that “died of natural causes.” 
    • When Frank Darabont wrote the character of Warden Samuel Norton, he was concerned that religious audiences would take offense to the character, as he’s the only overtly religious person in the film and is absolutely despicable. His intention was to call out people like the warden that hide behind doctrine to justify their horrific acts. 
      • In the audio commentary, he mentions that he’s gotten more positive feedback from religious viewers, as many of them have interpreted Shawshank to be a religious allegory. 
    • The warden is a conglomerate of several characters in the original novella. Bob Gunton brought a foreboding presence to the character and was Darabont’s first choice to play the role. However, according to a screen rant article, Gunton almost didn’t get the part because his head was shaved for another film. He wore a wig while filming until his hair grew out.  
  • The Shawshank Redemption is a perfect storm of great writing, directing, acting, music, and cinematography. Roger Deakins was the director of photography and crafted the perfect visual aesthetic to match the tone of the movie. Deakins is a veteran cinematographer that has painted the light for many major films, like 1917 (2019) and The Big Lebowski (1998). 
  • One of the most important elements of this film is the soundtrack. Thomas Newman composed a score that is both foreboding and deeply hopeful. The music as Andy crawls his way to freedom is (in our opinion) one of the most uplifting pieces of cinematic music ever written. The scene would be completely different without it. 
    • Newman has scored classics like Wall-E and Finding Nemo. 

STARRING

  • As we mentioned before, this film stars Tim Robbins and Morgan Freeman. 
  • Bob Gunton as Warden Norton
    • Bob was Dr. Walcott in “Patch Adams”
  • Clancy Brown as Captain Hadley
    • Clancy is a fantastic voice actor, you may know him as Mr. Krabs in Spongebob! 
    • There is a popular fan theory that Andy Dufresne was actually guilty of the double homicide and that Captain Hadley was not a bad guy. Evidence for this theory is seen when Hadley protects Andy from “The Sisters” and beats up Bogs.
  • Mark Rolston as Bogs Diamond
    • Bogs is the leader of “The Sisters” and is the main attacker and sexual assaulter to Andy. 
    • Darabont saw Mark in the movie Aliens and wanted him for the movie.
  • Gil Bellows as Tommy
    • Tommy’s character helps to show Andy how greedy and heartless the Warden is. The Warden has him shot by Hadley on purpose in order to keep Tommy from testifying on behalf of Andy.
    • Gil is also well known as Billy Thomas in Ally McBeal.
  • William Sadler as Heywood
    • William is known also to be in Tales of the Crypt which is what prompted Darabont to choose him for this movie.
  • James Whitmore as Brooks Hatlen

TWITTER THOUGHTS

AWARDS/RECEPTION

  • Unfortunately Shawshank was not appreciated immediately. To illustrate this, in one 1994 review by David Hiltbrand from People Magazine he says, “Shawshank runs nearly 2 1/2 hours and sometimes gives audiences the sense of doing a 20-year stretch. Ultimately the rewards aren’t commensurate with the outlay of time. The movie’s message about the triumph of the human spirit and its exhortation to “Get busy living or get busy dying” seem rather paltry payoffs.” 
  • It was nominated for 7 Oscars but sadly did not win one. 
  • It actually won “Best Foreign Film” at the Awards of the Japanese Academy.

FUN FACTS

  • You might remember that Frank Darabont paid Stephen King $5000 for the rights to the story. However, King never cashed the check. Years after the film was released, King sent back the $5000 unendorsed check to Darabont with a note that said, “In case you ever need bail money. Love, Steve.”
  • Morgan Freeman’s son appears in the movie. He is the mugshot of young Red and also shows up as an extra in the prison yard.
  • In 2018, Hulu premiered the horror anthology show Castle Rock, a series based in the Stephen King universe.
    • The entire first season is set in Shawshank prison.
    • There are several references to the movie in the first episode, including the song that Andy Dufresne played on the record player over the speakers for the prisoners.
    • Tim Robbins plays “Pop” Merrill in season 2 of the Castle Rock Series.
    • A nod to the film may also be felt because the main title of Castle Rock and the score for the first two episodes was composed by Thomas Newman. 

CONCLUSION

The Shawshank Redemption is a cinematic journey. It’s two and a half hours of a carefully crafted tale that reminds audiences of the endurance of the human spirit. It’s a movie that takes its time but wastes none of it. Shawshank is a story about hope and friendship, set on a backdrop of a seemingly hopeless situation. 

This is a movie with a history as fascinating as the story itself. It started as a lower-budget flop, and was deemed a financial failure. But just like geology, filmmaking is the study of pressure and time. Eventually, The Shawshank Redemption lived up to its name, and this prison movie that couldn’t find an audience is now thought to be one of the greatest films ever made. 

Before we go, we’d like to thank our Patrons! Joel, John, Jacob, Jacklyn, JD, Anthony, Shelli, Linda, Bob, Carlos, and Jaren!

You can now buy us a Popcorn! @  buymeacoffee.com/blackcasediary   

Thank you to all that support us whether it be through listening, telling a friend, or donating!


SOURCES:

Little Case of Horrors

On the 23rd day of the month of September, in an early year of this decade of our own, the human race not-so-suddenly encountered an informative film podcast hosted by three old friends. 

And this (hopefully) educational episode surfaced, as such indie podcasts often do, in the seemingly most common and likely of places…

The Black Case Diaries!

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Well, it’s that time of year again. The temperature outside is dropping, Spirit Halloween stores are taking over vacant retail spaces, and the evening air is starting to smell like woodsmoke. Summer’s end has come, and Autumn is here! 

And since the end of September is fast approaching, we thought it was the perfect time to talk about something a little…horrifying. In December of 1986, a strange and mysterious plant appeared on theatre screens across America. Cared for by a soft-spoken man named Seymour, the botanical oddity quickly seized the attention of audiences throughout the country. The only problem was that this plant didn’t feed on sunshine and water, but instead craved human blood! 

Little Shop of Horrors is not your average Hollywood musical film. It’s darkly funny, with the gritty texture of the off-Broadway production on which it was based. While musicals like The Wizard of Oz and The Sound of Music featured brightly colored locations and sweeping cinematography, Little Shop of Horrors takes place on the bleak and infamous street called  “Skid Row,” and follows a protagonist that feeds people to an evil plant from outer space.

This wonderfully odd film appeals to the strangeness in all of us and gives a biting commentary (pun intended) on human nature. Not to mention, it’s absolutely packed with hilarious comedic performances, incredible songs, and mind-blowing special effects! 

So, let’s head back to an early year in a decade not too long before our own to explore the seemingly innocent and unlikely origin of the greatest threat to human existence, in…Little Shop of Horrors

Before Little Shop of Horrors became a movie musical, it was a stage musical. And before it was a stage musical, it was a movie! So, let’s talk about the origins of this odd story, and how it went from movie to musical to movie musical! 

  • In the late 1950s, director Roger Corman started experimenting with horror-comedy films. A studio manager that was friends with Corman told him that a film was about to wrap with no projects on deck. This gave Corman a funny idea, and he decided to give himself a unique challenge. He asked the manager to leave up the sets from the previous movie so he could come in and shoot another film in only two days. 
  • Corman and screenwriter Charles B. Griffith brainstormed for a day and developed the general plot of a horror/comedy B-movie about a man-eating plant. Griffith then spent about two weeks writing the screenplay before the film began production with a budget between $15,000 and $22,500.
  • For years, rumors circulated that Corman shot the film on the infamous 2-day deadline because of a bet. Others speculated that he wanted to throw together one last low-budget film before a new rule went into effect, which would require filmmakers to pay actors residuals for their performances after films had been released. Corman has never confirmed this and says it was more of a joke–he did it to see if it was possible.
  • The movie turned out to be a joke in more ways than one. First of all, audiences found the film to be hilarious, including a cameo appearance from rising star Jack Nicholson as a masochist. Second, the two-day filming schedule cemented the film in B-movie history, and it was widely regarded as one of Hollywood’s most notorious jokes. 
  • But, as you might’ve guessed, the influence of the film didn’t stop there. For years, the film was replayed on late-night TV shows, which is how a young teenager named Howard Ashman first saw it. 
  • In 1979, Ashman wrote and directed a musical called, “God Bless you, Mr. Rosewater,” with musician Alan Menken (it was their first collaboration). The musical was a hit at the WPA theatre where it premiered but hadn’t done well outside of those productions. 
  • Ashman wanted their next project to be fun and remembered the off-beat silliness of Little Shop of Horrors. The next time the film aired on TV, Ashman taped it, and Menken immediately saw the musical potential for the story. 
  • According to Kyle Renick, then-producing director of the WPA theatre where Little Shop of Horrors would eventually premiere, it took the theatre a year to secure the rights to the film, and 8 months for Ashman and Menken to write the musical. 
    • Ashman wrote the book and lyrics, while Menken composed the music. Menken said, “I decided that I wanted the musical approach to come from some early 1960s music—the girl group sound. It has a very dark, menacing ring. You can almost hear whips and chains in the background. There were two ponytailed teenagers in the movie and we decided to turn them into a black trio that functions as a Greek chorus, commenting on the action.” 
    • Although the plot was similar, Ashman made major changes to the story. He cut out characters and changed the ending. Every death in the original movie was accidental, while Ashman’s version showed the protagonist, Seymour, killing people and feeding them to the plant. 
    • The subject matter may seem gruesome, but because of the humor in the show, audiences didn’t seem to mind. 
  •  For Audrey II, the theatre hired Martin Robinson, a Muppet performer known for portraying Snuffleupagus on Sesame Street. Apparently, Little Shop of Horrors was Robinson’s favorite film, and he had been dreaming of developing the plant for years. He would finally get his chance.
  • In May of 1982, Little Shop of Horrors opened at the WPA theatre to rave reviews. It quickly became a crowd favorite, selling out almost every show. After a couple of months, the WPA was approached by at least 26 different producers that wanted to move the show to Broadway. Eventually, it opened at the Orpheum Theatre on Broadway, where it ran for 2,209 performances. 
  • As the musical’s popularity continued, talks of a major motion picture began to emerge. Producer David Geffen, who helped bring the show to Broadway, signed on to produce a film adaptation of the play. 

1986 FILM SYNOPSIS

  • Seymour Krelbourne is a young assistant at a struggling flower shop in Manhattan. He pines after his beautiful coworker, Audrey, as they both dream of one day breaking free of their financial burdens and escaping Skid Row. One day, Seymour witnesses a total eclipse of the sun and discovers a very strange and unusual plant that he names Audrey II. Just when Seymour’s boss is about the close the shop for good, the exotic plant attracts a great deal of attention to the store, allowing it to stay open. As Seymour cares for the plant, he soon discovers that the only way to make it grow is to feed it human flesh! Although he doesn’t initially want to hurt anyone, Seymour must choose between his morals and his only chance at finding a way out of Skid Row and starting a new life. 

MAKING OF THE MOVIE

  • Years after producing the Broadway musical and the feature film, David Geffen admitted that he initially thought that a musical version of the 1960 film Little Shop of Horrors was possibly the worst idea he had ever heard. Of course, audiences disagreed, as the show was an undeniable commercial and critical success. 
  • Geffen’s original plan for the film was to not surpass a 6 million dollar budget, and have Stephen Spielberg as a producer, with Martin Scorsese as the film’s director. This plan never came to pass.
  • The film would eventually reach an estimated budget of about 25 million dollars. Instead of Martin Scorsese as a director, Geffen approached puppet master Frank Oz. Oz had previously co-directed The Dark Crystal with Jim Henson, and just recently finished directing his first muppet film, Muppets Take Manhattan. Initially, Oz wanted to turn down the project, as he was unsure how to make it work. It was actually the concept of the three women that acted as a Greek chorus, narrating the story on stage, that convinced him to take the job. He felt like they were the key to making the story flow, and they added a certain magic and style to the production. 
    • Frank Oz started the directing process by storyboarding almost every scene, especially musical numbers with Audrey II. This way, he could figure out exactly how big the sets needed to be, and how to work around the limitations of the plant. Each scene averages about 30 takes, and sometimes the takes would last only a few seconds. 
    • Oz wanted the film to flow seamlessly between scenes. One way he achieved this was by planning out each scene’s transition. If you watch the movie carefully, you will notice how well the transitions fit together. 
    • In many scenes, Oz utilized tight angles and close-ups to help the audience connect with the main characters. He refrained from using wide shots, because he felt like they made the setting look grand and very “Hollywood.” 
  • Howard Ashman stayed with the project to write the screenplay for the film, and also penned additional lyrics. When Frank Oz was planning scenes for the film, Ashman was there to help him through the process. Ashman told Oz that it wasn’t just the music that had rhythm, but that there was a rhythm to his dialogue as well. Oz said that advice was incredibly helpful. 
    • Ashman also made sure that Oz understood that the musical wasn’t meant to be subtle. Ashman and Menken’s songs don’t ease the audience into the music, the music just starts and the viewer either accepts it or they don’t. The film is unapologetic in every aspect. 
  • The entire film was shot over 6 months at Pinewood Studios in the UK, on the 007 stage. Oz wanted the movie to be a strange hybrid of stage musical and film, so he knew they would have to create their own universe and environment for the story to take place. Many films are concerned with realism, making their environments look as close as possible to real-world situations. In Little Shop of Horrors, everything is real to the characters, and whether or not the sets and backdrops look realistic to the audience is immaterial. That being said, Audrey II is as real as it gets! 
    • Roy Walker was the production designer for Little Shop and is also known for The Shining as well. It took him and his team three months to build a Skid Row replica. Walker created three different sets for the flower shop in the film. One set was for people to act alone. Another set was for people to act with the plant, and the third set was specifically for the finale, when Audrey II destroys the store. 
    • In order to make the set look as American as possible, Walker gathered up huge containers with trash cans to place on the street corners of skid row. 
  • The key to Little Shop of Horrors was Audrey II, and having a director with puppet experience was vital for production. Oz had previous experience working with designer Lyle Conway in Jim Henson’s creature shop. Lyle was the mastermind behind Audrey II.
    • According to Frank Oz, it took Conway and his team 9 months to prepare the plants for the shoot, and they continued to work on them even during production. 
    • Oz said that Lyle researched extensively about plants in order to create the beautiful textures and colors within Audrey II. At the end of production he and his team had created 15,000 handmade leaves, 20,000 feet of vine, and 11.5 miles of cable for all the plants combined!
    • Conway created 7 different sizes of Audrey II, and some that performed different actions for the movie. With each size, more people had to operate the plant. When the plant was small, only two or three people needed to operate it. But by the end of the film, about sixty people stood in a tank underneath the massive plant, looking at monitors as they operated its movement. One person even stood inside the plant’s mouth to make it move, while Brian Henson was camouflaged in a suit of vines and leaves as he helped operate the head. 
    • In order to make vines that would bend seamlessly without wearing down, the filmmakers had to approach the Atomic Energy Institute to research the best metal core to use. 

THE MUSIC

As we mentioned before, Little Shop of Horrors features music by Alan Menken with lyrics by Howard Ashman. Composer Miles Goodman wrote the score for the feature film. Goodman was a prolific composer who wrote music for films like A Muppet Christmas Carol and Sister Act 2: Back in the Habit. In this film, he used the foreboding sounds of organ music in his theme for Audrey II. 

PROLOGUE (LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS) 

  • Little Shop of Horrors opens with a drumroll that leads into the prologue music, followed by an iconic narration, setting up the story. This opening gives off the vibes of a classic horror B movie, much like the one on which it was based. The style of music shifts into a 1960s era number, and as the camera takes us through 16 different cues, we hear the voices of the greek chorus that will lead us through the story. 
  • As we mentioned before, Frank Oz almost turned down this movie. In a 1986 LA Times article he says “I didn’t think I could get my hands around it. There were too many elements. It was a period piece, it was horror, it was comedy, there were 14 songs and a puppet that was going to weigh a ton.” He was finally able to bury these worries and take a chance on the film, and one of the reasons he did so was because of the three muses.
    • The singers bring the camera around the set, introducing the location and characters to the audience as they manage to stay dry during a rainstorm. They provide a type of visual exposition, ending with our main character Seymour. 

SKID ROW (DOWNTOWN)

  • Skid Row is the first ensemble song, and further introduces the setting and intentions of the characters. We hear the two leads, Seymour and Audrey, sing for the first time, and learn more about their characters. 
  • Frank Oz planned “Skid Row” a year before shooting, and the actors knew exactly how many steps they needed to take during the song. 
    • The chorus walks in an off-beat way on purpose, to further drive home the uneasiness and discomfort of their lives. 
  • The song ends with a medium shot of all the actors singing out toward the camera, in a unifying moment. Frank Oz purposely kept the shot tight because he didn’t want the number to feel grandiose. 

DA-DOO

  • Seymour introduces his boss, Mr. Mushnik, to a strange and interesting plant that he named after his coworker and love-interest, Audrey. Immediately after placing the small plant in the window, a man steps into the office to inquire about it. 
    • According to Frank Oz, Christopher Guest (who played the customer in this scene) would play the scene much too seriously. Finally, he gave a over-the-top performance that made it into the final cut. 
  • In the song, Da-doo, Seymour explains that he discovered the plant during a total eclipse of the sun. The song features one of the only optical effects in the film, as a light shines around Audrey II. 

GROW FOR ME

  • After just one day, Audrey II’s presence has boosted business for Mr. Mushnik’s flower shop. However, the plant seems to be wilting, and Seymour stays late to care for it. It’s in this song that he discovers the plant’s lust for blood. 
  • For this scene, only a couple people needed to operate the plant. When Seymour leaves the room, Audrey II breaks through its coffee can and grows. The special effects team achieved this effect by placing the plant behind the coffee can, and just moving it closer to the camera to create the illusion that it was growing. 

SOMEWHERE THAT’S GREEN

  • In this song, Audrey reveals to the audience her true dreams of marrying Seymour and moving into a suburban home with a chain link fence. She highlights the “luxurious” lifestyle she pines for, taken straight from 1950s sitcoms. 
  • For this scene Ellen Greene wanted to make sure that she really felt at home before shooting, and spent time in her on-screen bedroom. 
  • The scenery for this song is an excellent example of how Frank Oz leaned into the theatre and pushed the boundaries. 
  • The scene is packed with visual jokes that, according to Frank Oz, test audiences reacted to even more than they had hoped. One such visual is an animated bird that lands on Audrey’s hand, akin to Cinderella. The scene took immense planning, especially for that effect to work well. 
    • In order to get a real magazine that they liked for the shot, Frank Oz flipped through dozens of old magazines until he found a Better Homes and Garden magazine that had the perfect imagery of homes and appliances that he was looking for. They used the magazine with permission from Better Homes and Gardens.
  • When Howard Ashman wrote the screenplay, he expressed that he wanted a continuous shot from Audrey’s room to the rooftop, leading seamlessly into the next song. To make that happen, Frank Oz needed to put two cranes on top of each other, as there didn’t exist a crane tall enough to film the sequence. 

SOME FUN NOW

  • “Somewhere That’s Green” transitions to this next song, where the greek chorus sings about the “fun” Seymour is having taking care of Audrey II. 
  • Since the muses are up at the top of the buildings, they are surrounded by billboard space. Oz hates product placement, so an art director suggested that they use a product from the 50s that no longer existed for the billboard, hence the Chooz billboard.
  • The scene originally showed more footage of Seymour feeding Audrey II, but test audiences were squeamish, so Oz cut out much of it. 

DENTIST

  • In this song, we meet Audrey’s sadistic boyfriend, a dentist played by Steve Martin. The song opens with Martin riding a motorcycle in front of a 3-foot model, composited onto a blue screen behind him. 
  • Before Roy Walker built the set, Oz had counted out how many steps Martin needed to take while filming the number. The steps needed to match up perfectly with the music. 
  • Although he has one of the biggest roles of the celebrity cameos in the film, Martin was only on set for 6 weeks of shooting. Martin brought a lot of hilarious ideas to the role, and worked hard to avoid comparisons with characters like Fonzie.
  • For one shot in this song, Lyle Conway created a gigantic human mouth for Steve to sing into, while holding a huge dental tool to scale. 

FEED ME (GIT IT) 

  • After Seymour sees Audrey ride off with her abusive boyfriend, Audrey II speaks for the first time. It tries to convince Seymour to kill people for plant food, offering him anything he could possibly want. This is the moment when he decides to make a deal with the devil. 
  • Because the plant couldn’t move fast enough to sing along with Seymour (Rick Moranis), Rick was forced to film sequences in slow motion, so they could be later sped-up. When he’s singing alone on screen, he’s singing at a normal speed and the film was 24 frames per second. When he’s singing on screen with the plant, he’s moving slowly and the speed is 16 frames per second! It was like this for every scene filmed with a talking/singing Audrey II. 

SUDDENLY SEYMOUR

  • After Audrey’s boyfriend disappears (because Seymour fed him to Audrey II), Audrey is free to pursue a romantic relationship with Seymour. Suddenly Seymour toes the fine line between funny and sweet, as Howard Ashman meant for the song to be very tongue-in-cheek, yet the characters are taking it very seriously. 
  • The imagery for the scene references Romeo and Juliet, which foreshadows a not-so-happy end for the two protagonists. 
  • At the end of the scene, the actors run up a fire escape and embrace with the sun behind them. The scene took about 36 takes, and they used the final take. Rick Moranis and Ellen Greene both got lip burns from kissing. 

SUPPERTIME

  • When Seymour cut up Orin, Audrey’s boyfriend, he was spotted by his boss, Mr. Mushnik. In “Supertime,” Mushnik confronts Seymour, threatening him with a gun. Seymour has the option of leaving town, letting Mushnik take over the plant. But instead, he lets Audrey II eat his boss. 
  • The scene is incredibly dark, but is offset by the quick transition into the next song. 

MEEK SHALL INHERIT

  • After feeding two people to the plant, Seymour has found immense fame and success. But, the plant wants more. Some of the song’s imagery was inspired by “How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying.”

MEAN GREEN MOTHER FROM OUTER SPACE

  • In the theatrical release of the film, Seymour confronts Audrey II just after the plant attempts to eat Audrey. The scene escalates as Audrey II reveals that it is being from outer space, here to take over the human race. It’s clear that the plant is too powerful for Seymour to control, and he must destroy it. 
  • This scene was shot in bits and pieces, but pieced together to create a cohesive musical number. At this point, the plant had sixty people operating it, with giant levers and machinery. On set, the music was slowed down so the operators could mouth the words correctly with the song. 
  • The end of this scene is different in the original version of the film, but in the theatrical release, we see Seymour rise from the rubble of the flower shop and electrocute Audrey II. 

After Seymour defeats the plant, we see him and Audrey start their fairytale life…with another Audrey II not far away. 

STARRING

  • Rick Moranis as Seymour Krelborn
    • We all know him from movies like Spaceballs, Ghostbusters, and Honey, I Shrunk the Kids.
    • Rick was cast before they even knew he could sing! Geffen had Rick in mind for the role the entire time. He even saw Rick at a concert and told him that he would star in his movie someday. 
  • Ellen Greene as Audrey
    • She has been in films like The Cooler, and Talk Radio.
    • She had performed Audrey on the Off-Off Broadway for 4 years and David Geffen wanted her for the part because he knew she would be perfect. Warner Bros had actually wanted Barabara Streisand for the role.
  • The three young girls that act as a Greek Chorus or muses that lead us through the movie were:
    •  Tisha Campbell as Chiffon
      • She was most notably also in Martin and My Wife and Kids.
    • Tichina Arnold as Crystal 
      • She has been in The Main Event and The Lena Baker Story.
    • Michelle Weeks as Ronette
      • She has not been in much but a TV movie called Norman’s Corner.
  • Vincent Gardenia as Mr. Mushnik
    • Known for parts in Moonstruck, Death Wish and more.
  • Levi Stubbs as the voice of Audrey II
    • Most well known for his role as Audry II, as well as Captain N: The Game Master.
  • Steve Martin as Orin Scrivello (the dentist) 
    • A very popular comedian known for roles in Roxanne and Cheaper by the Dozen.
  • Jim Belushi as Patrick Martin
    • Known for many movies including Red Heat and K-9.
  • John Candy as Wink Wilkinson
    • A comedian who we just talked about in our John Hughes episode! 
    • Frank Oz didn’t want any ad-libbing but he made exceptions for some of the comedic actors in the film, like John Candy, who was known to be one of the best ad libbers in the business. 
  • Bill Murray as Arthur Denton (the masochist)
    • Well known for many roles such as Ghostbusters.
    • When Bill Murray came in to do his role, he wasn’t sure about the dialogue. So, even though Steve Martin’s lines are completely scripted, Bill Murray’s weren’t. Every take was different, and the men decided how to end the scene together. 
  • Stanley Jones as the Narrator
    • He is a voice actor most known for his roles as Scourge in the Transformers animated series, and Lex Luthor in the Justice League animated series. 

ALTERNATE ENDING

  • When the test audience saw Little Shop of Horrors, the screening went very well. That was, until the end of the film. In the stage musical Little Shop of Horrors, Seymour and Audrey do not end up somewhere that’s green. Instead, Seymour suffers greatly for his deeds, when his true love dies at the hands of Audrey II. Seymour then feeds Audrey to Audrey II, and gets eaten himself. 
    • Then, the muses sing the finale, “Don’t Feed the Plants,” which describes how Audrey II and its clippings spread across the country, eventually taking over. 
  • When he was adapting the screenplay, Howard Ashman felt it was important to keep the original ending. First of all, it drives home the message of the story. Secondly, fans of the musical might be disappointed if the film ends differently. Frank Oz was on Ashman’s side, and convinced David Geffen to let them shoot the ending that Ashman had written. Geffen told them from the beginning that it wouldn’t work, and that they would eventually need to change it. They went ahead anyway, hoping Geffen was wrong. 
  • Frank Oz said in an Entertainment Weekly article in 2017 that, “We [screened] the film the way Howard and I wanted it. The audience was clapping after every number. Then, when Seymour and Audrey died, they turned like an icebox. The reaction was so bad, Warner Bros. wasn’t going to release it. When one dies in the theater, one dies and comes back for a curtain call, but in the movie you don’t come back for a curtain call. The audience was very angry.” 
    • Special effects artist Richard Conway developed a fantastic sequence of the plants, taking over the US. It was dark, yet comical, with groundbreaking visuals and incredible sound design. It was essentially a mini monster movie, ending with a comically large, “THE END?!?” as a plant covered the statue of liberty. 
    • Only 13% of the test audience said they would recommend the film, so Oz and Ashman worked on a new ending and called back the actors for re-shoots. Unfortunately, this also meant that Conway’s effects wouldn’t be seen by most audiences, which Frank Oz felt was the real tragedy. 
  • Oz has said that he learned a very valuable lesson from the experience. While he prefers the original ending (and he knew Ashman did too) he understood that he wasn’t making a movie for him, he was making it for millions of people. 

RECEPTION

  • The film grossed $39 million at the box office which, from the viewpoint of the studio, was considered an underperformer. However, it became a smash hit upon its home video release in 1987 on home video.
  • Roger Ebert said in his review: “All of the wonders of Little Shop of Horrors are accomplished with an offhand, casual charm. This is the kind of movie that cults are made of, and after Little Shop finishes its first run, I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see it develop as one of those movies that fans want to include in their lives.”
  • The film was nominated for two Academy Awards: one for Best Visual Effects and one for Best Original Song for “Mean Green Mother from Outer Space”. The song was the first Oscar-nominated song to contain profanity in the lyrics and also the first to be sung by a villain. The film was also nominated for Best Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy and Best Original Score at the 44th Golden Globe Awards. 

FUN FACTS

  • Heather Henson plays the distraught young dental patient with the headgear on. 
  • Pieces of Orin the dentist’s body were created for Seymour to toss into Audrey II’s mouth, including Steve Martin’s severed head, dripping with blood. This was deemed too graphic, and the pieces were used, but they are covered in newspapers so the audience wouldn’t see them. 
  • The film was originally going to be gorier. For example, there was supposed to be blood on the walls of the dentist office. 
  • If you watch the original ending, there is a scene where Seymour tries to commit suicide after Audrey dies. The scene has no musical score because it became clear that they would not use it in the final cut. 

When Ashman first had the idea to turn a B horror film into a musical, it was because he wanted to make something fun. And boy, was he successful. Little Shop of Horrors is weird and wonderful, with a solid story and killer musical numbers. Its lyrics are heartfelt and hilarious, and its performances are to die for. 

It’s been forty years and yet, this film seems to get better every time we watch it. So if you’re hungry for a good time, turn on this treat of a film. It’s suppertime!

Before we go, we’d like to thank our Patrons! Joel, John, Jacob, Jacklyn, JD, Anthony, Shelli, Linda, Bob, Carlos, and Jaren!

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The Case of John Hughes

Good morning/afternoon/evening, class! Thank you for joining us once again for Back-to-School September. Last week, we gave you a crash course in three of our favorite school-themed films. This week, we’re talking about a man that revolutionized the teen comedy genre, connecting with an entire generation of high-schoolers in a way no filmmaker had ever done before or since.

In the 1980’s, up-and-coming filmmakers weren’t jumping at the chance to make teen comedies. Along came John Hughes, a man that saw the current youth films as a means of entertaining adults much more than children. This was a man that never forgot what it was like to be a kid, to be treated as if your opinions are invalid. He remembered the complex social structure of high school, and what it meant to be an outsider. Hughes applied all of this to his films, becoming one of the most successful filmmakers in Hollywood. Of course, Hughes wouldn’t focus solely on the teen comedy, but it was this part of his career for which he would be most remembered. 

John Hughes is known as the king of the coming-of-age comedy. Even still today you will find teenagers watching his films. No matter how dated the movies become, there still exists a sense of timelessness to these films about teen life. 

Hughes was an autobiographical writer, imbuing his own life experiences into every story brought to the screen. Because of this, each one of his films was deeply human in a way that audiences everywhere could understand. So, come learn with us as we explore the life of this man that brought us so many wonderful movie memories!

FAMILY/YOUNG LIFE

  • John Hughes was born on February 18, 1950 in Lansing, Michigan. He was the second oldest child and the only son. His father was a salesman, and would sometimes struggle to support the family. The Hughes family often found themselves to be a lower-class family among wealthy suburban communities. As a result, class issues would one day be prominent plot points in his films. 
  • The Hughes family moved around often throughout John’s childhood, but stayed most prominently in Grosse Pointe, a suburb of Detroit. Hughes was a constant observer of his suburban life. He would carry around a notebook and fill it with notes on the people he met, places he saw, and jokes that popped into his mind. He was rarely found without a notebook on his person, and he would use his childhood experiences to help him craft some of his most iconic stories. When John was 13, the family moved to Northbrook, a suburb of Chicago. This and Grosse Pointe would become the basis for Shermer, Illinois, the fictional town in which many of his films were based. John Hughes’ films had their own universe, with characters that John had imagined, but never even put in his films. He knew who lived where, who were friends, and who were related. 
    • In the beginning of The Breakfast Club, one character recites the zip code as 60062. This is the actual zip code for Northbrook, IL. However, as explained in Kirk Honeycutt’s book John Hughes: A Life in Film, the town was originally known as Shermerville, and one of its most prominent roads is named Shermer Road. 
    • Producers began to notice after working with John Hughes that most of the homes in his films had the same layout. Michelle Manning, who produced 16 Candles and The Breakfast Club, has said that they were very similar to the home Hughes lived in as a teen. 
  • Hughes was an unpopular teenager, who was considered a problem student and reportedly had a rocky relationship with his parents. He found escape in film, and solace in music. When he got into making movies, he was determined to get the music right. Music was a big part of his writing process, as he often blasted British rock music while crafting his stories. Tarquin Gotch, a frequent music supervisor for Hughes’ films, referred to him as a “modern Frank Capra.” Hughes’ films examined American life, and he wanted the actors to feel involved in the process.
  • After high school, John Hughes attended the University of Arizona but dropped out before graduating. He moved back home and married the love of his life, a woman named Nancy that he had met while in high school. He was only 20-years-old at the time, and the couple ended up living in his parents’ basement until Hughes began a career in advertising. Eventually, he would become the creative director at the Leo Burnett Company, but he never lost his ambition to become a writer. John started ghostwriting for a comic strip called, The Berrys. He started submitting jokes to comedians like Rodney Dangerfield and Joan Rivers. John also became a freelance writer for Playboy Magazine. On business trips to New York, Hughes would visit the offices of The National Lampoon for assignments. 
    • The National Lampoon seemed to be the perfect place for a young comedic writer. They allowed their contributors to have their own unique voices, and although the magazine was raunchy and hip, it relied on nostalgia to connect with its audience. John became a contributing editor until he was offered a full-time job. John accepted, but kept his other job in advertising. This meant he had to work nonstop, even sometimes catching flights to New York during the workweek. 
  • John kept up both careers until the famed blizzard of 1978 grounded him in his Chicago-area home with his wife and son. John spent those days writing and reflecting on his career. He had seen his fellow writers in advertising become frustrated with their work, losing track of what they wanted to be. When John later spoke of this time, he said, “What if I’m sixty-five and retired with all my stock, my profit-sharing, my money, and I’m sitting on the porch thinking I should have been a writer–I wonder if I could have done it?” So, Hughes quit his advertising job and took a big pay cut to work at The National Lampoon. He continued to write parodies, including issues about family holidays and vacations; stories that would eventually make it to the big screen. 

FIRST PROJECTS

  • Over the course of his career, John Hughes wrote 37 films, produced 23, and directed eight. The first film project he worked on was a Jaws parody called, Jaws 3, People 0. The project was eventually pulled by a Universal Studios executive. Hughes then worked on a screenplay for National Lampoon’s Joy of Sex, but its star, John Belushi, passed away suddenly just days before filming was set to begin. Hughes’ script was thrown out and the film was made by another studio. After that, there was Delta House, a TV spinoff of Animal House, but it only lasted one season. 
  • After attending a high school reunion, John Hughes penned a script that would become his first screen credit. It was a horror/sex comedy called, National Lampoon’s Class Reunion. The film holds a lot of the notes and character archetypes that would become familiar in his later films, but ultimately it was a box office failure. 
  • John continued to write, and struck up a friendship with a young producer named Lauren Shuler (who would one day be Lauren Shuler Donner, as she married Richard Donner!) Lauren had called John to pitch a story, and their friendship led to him presenting her with the pages of an unfinished screenplay based on his days as a househusband when his wife went out of town. Lauren loved the pages and wanted to make the film. Learning from his early experiences in film, John decided to complete the script before bringing it to a studio. He realized that if someone paid him before the script was done, he had less creative freedom. This was how he preferred to work for the rest of his career.
  • This film would become Mr. Mom, a fairly successful comedy starring Michael Keaton. However, John Hughes was fired as a screenwriter during the production process, and two uncredited writers polished the screenplay. The film was not what John Hughes and Lauren Shuler Donner wanted to make, and the experience might have planted the seeds for John Hughes’ famous distaste for Hollywood in the years to come. 
  • While writing for The National Lampoon, John Hughes published a story called Vacation ‘58, based on his childhood family vacations. It followed The Griswold Family and their ill-fated trip from Grosse Pointe, Michigan to Walt Disneyland in California. Marty Simmons, the owner of the Lampoon eventually shared the story with an executive from Warner Brothers, and soon the project was underway with John Hughes as the screenwriter. Because the studio wanted to draw in Saturday Night Live fans, they cast Caddyshack star Chevy Chase as the lead. Harold Ramis signed on to direct, and John adapted his screenplay to match Chase’s comedic delivery. The story stayed generally the same, but Hughes built on his younger characters, giving them more personality. The original ending didn’t do well with audiences, and Hughes was forced to do a rewrite where the family actually did arrive at their destination: Wally World. Because of the rewrite, comedian John Candy was added to the cast, playing a hilarious guard at the vacant park. Candy would become synonymous with John Hughes in later years, and the two were very close friends. The new ending did well, and Vacation was a hit. It essentially created a new genre of film, the family road trip. 
  • Now that Hughes had two major successes under his belt, it wasn’t hard for him to find screenwriting jobs. He quit his job at the Lampoon and was on his way to directing his first feature film. 

A FEW OF HIS MOST INFLUENTIAL MOVIES

  • John Hughes was a rare man in his field. He was a midwestern conservative, working amongst Hollywood liberals. He held a disdain for authority (something he picked up from his youth) and a distrust of Hollywood bigwigs. Instead of filming in Los Angeles like many other filmmakers, John liked to film in Chicago, away from the big studios. He hated studio notes and wanted freedom. A few of his films were filmed in the New Trier Township High School, an abandoned school! Ferris Bueler’s Day Off, Uncle Buck, and Home Alone were all shot here. Filming in the midwest also meant taking young actors away from their friends and the partying scene in California. But most of all, John Hughes was an autobiographical filmmaker. His stories took place in the midwest because that’s where he was from, and so that’s where they would be filmed. 

So let’s talk about some of John Hughes’ most influential films. We won’t have a chance to talk about all of them. So let us know if we missed your favorite or if you’d like us to cover any of these in a future episode!

  • SIXTEEN CANDLES (1984)
    • In the early 1980’s, one of Hollywood’s biggest agents was circulating a script for a teen comedy. Many studios were interested, but the major hang-up was that the screenwriter, John Hughes, wanted to direct the film as well. Producer Michelle Manning mentioned the screenplay while in a job interview with filmmaker Ted Tanen. Tanen liked giving first-time directors a chance, and was interested in the idea. Manning contacted Hughes, and they were able to strike a deal for Sixteen Candles. 
    • When the agency ICM first agreed to represent John Hughes, they gave him a batch of headshots for potential actors in his films. Hughes fixated on one photo in particular, and placed the photo over his workspace as he wrote Sixteen Candles. The photo was of Molly Ringwald, and in John’s mind, she had already been cast in the leading role. Hughes also decided that Anthony Michael Hall, who had appeared in Vacation should play the film’s famous geek character. 
    • Sixteen Candles relies heavily on high school tropes like the jock, the geek, the prom queen, and the wallflower. But, it unexpectedly turned the unspoken rule of the teen comedy on its head. Audiences were shocked and delighted when the quiet girl got the surprisingly sensitive jock at the end, instead of learning some kind of hard lesson. One of the film’s biggest surprises was Samantha’s (Molly Ringwald) touching conversation with her father, and the empathy that he shows his teenage daughter. 
    • This was Hughes’ breakout as a director and started his meteoric rise as the king of teen comedy. Of course, there are components in the film that do not pass the test of time. Featured prominently is a foreign exchange student that plays into hurtful stereotypes. It’s also hard for modern audiences to brush aside the casual attitude toward date rape, which seems to be prominent throughout the film.
  • THE BREAKFAST CLUB (1985)
    • True to his style, he filmed this as well in small-town high schools, this time in Illinois. This forced the cast to become closer as there were not many entertainment options in town. The most common things they would do were to go to the Hughes home for dinner or go to see a blues band together.
    • Judd Nelson would stay in character as Bender, even after scenes were shot. This almost cost him the role as Hughes noticed that he would continue to treat Molly Ringwold terribly. Hughes felt responsible for her and therefore wanted Michelle Manning to fire him. It was worked out however when Manning discussed the issue with his manager/live-in girlfriend, Laurie Rodkin. After that it was never an issue again.
    • In order for Judd Nelson and Emilio Estevez to understand the divisions between jocks and the outcasts, Hughes sent them back to high school. Nobody seemed to recognize Judd, but unfortunately for the experiment, Emilio was recognized almost immediately. 
    • As the set was being built, the cast began getting ready for rehearsals. John had a few different drafts of the script. After Emilio asked to see them, John brought all of them in for the cast to look through. Each actor read through them and picked out the pieces from each script that they felt connected with their characters. Hughes spent that night cutting and pasting those pieces together and presented a new script the very next morning. 
    • The film was actually shot in continuity, and the Principal was based on a real gym teacher of Hughes’s that did not like his attitude!
    • This film is what brought about the term “Brat Pack.” The term refers to teens that often appeared in multiple movies together in the 80’s. For example, Hughes knew after Sixteen Candles that he wanted Anthony Michael Hall and Molly Ringwald to be in this movie as well. The ensemble group of talented kids did not take kindly to the term and even stopped hanging out all the time because of it.
  • WEIRD SCIENCE (1985)
    • Directed and wrote
  • FERRIS BUELLER’S DAY OFF (1986)
    • Directed by and wrote
    • The screenplay was written in just seven days, though Hughes claimed he did it in four. Hughes was famous for writing his stories in short, manic bursts. 
    • The name Ferris Bueller came from Hughes’s long term friend Bert Bueller and the character of Sloane was based on his wife.
    • To help immerse the actors Hughes drove them around the Chicago town, showing them the sights and talking about his life as a high schooler. As he did this he put cassettes into the player with the songs that he intended to run throughout the movie.
    • When Broderick first met with Hughes Pretty in Pink was going to be released soon. As the pair walked and talked Hughes plastered Pretty in Pink stickers on every lamp post. He was brilliant at advertising. Hughes would pen a newsletter, and it would be mailed out to many fans of which he had a database from all the fan mail Hughes Entertainment received.
  • PRETTY IN PINK (1986)
    • Written by
    • John Hughes continued his reign as the teen comedy king with Pretty in Pink, another classic starring Molly Ringwald. It was named after a 1981 Psychedelic Furs song that Hughes liked, and even included in the film. In fact, Hughes selected about 90% of the film’s soundtrack. 
    • This movie continued to explore the difficulties of living in a working class family, surrounded by upper class peers. It also featured one of Hughes’ most iconic ‘80s characters, Duckie, played by Jon Cryer. 
    • Duckie was a classic Hughes geek, a guy that has everything going for him but doesn’t know it. According to Jon Cryer, Molly Ringwald was uncertain of his taking the role, she reportedly wanted Robert Downey Junior to play the character. 
    • In the original ending, Ringwald’s character, Andie, ends up with Duckie. But, test audiences didn’t like this ending. So, the crew reshot the ending to have her character end up with Blane, the rich boy played by the dreamy Andrew McCarthy. There were many challenges to the reshoot, including the fact that Andrew McCarthy had shaved his head and had to wear a wig.  
  • PLANES, TRAINS, AND AUTOMOBILES (1987)
    • Directed and wrote
    • This movie has become the perfect model for future buddy comedies. The two characters are forced together into situations where they must walk in the other’s shoes.
    • When Steve Martin read the screenplay and accepted the part, he noticed that it was a hefty 145 pages. The typical for a comedy would be about 90. When Martin asked what would be cut, Hughes looked at him quizzically and Martin realized that Hughes did not plan to cut a thing!
    • The movie, while only modestly successful at the time, became treasured by Hughes and many others. Roger Ebert even said in a tribute article that it is in his “Great Movie Collection.”
  • SOME KIND OF WONDERFUL (1987)
    • Written by
  • NATIONAL LAMPOON’S CHRISTMAS VACATION (1989)
    • In 1988, John Hughes wrote and directed She’s Having a Baby, a deeply personal film and probably his most autobiographical. However, the film didn’t do very well, despite the star power of Kevin Bacon and Alec Baldwin. Some theorize that because this film didn’t find the same success as his other projects, John began moving away from personal stories for films. 
    • In 1989, two of Hughes’ films premiered. They were Uncle Buck and National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation. Both did fairly well at the box office, with Christmas Vacation eventually becoming a holiday staple in many American households. Critics felt that the film lacked the magic of the original, as it had less of a cohesive plot and more of a string of hilarious holiday mishaps jumbled together in a film. This would be the final Vacation film written by John Hughes, though two more would be made–one in 1997 and 2015. 
  • HOME ALONE (1990)
    • After working with Macaulay Culkin in Uncle Buck, John Hughes thought it would be interesting to have a movie centered around a 9 year old. He had thoroughly enjoyed working with Macaulay after never having worked with that age group before.
    • Chris Columbus, who directed the film, expressed that he was afraid that nobody would give him another shot at directing after his recent flop Heartbreak Hotel. John Hughes, however, had faith in him and liked his style. Chris was originally supposed to direct the previous Christmas movie we just talked about but had difficulties with Chevy Chase. Chevy refused to take direction from him because he saw Chris as too new to know anything about directing properly. Hughes therefore brought Chris on to direct Home Alone! Since Chris was also a writer, the script went back and forth between the two until they felt it was ready. It was then pitched to Warner Brothers, who said that they would make it for the low budget of 10 million dollars. When they inevitably surpassed that budget (though not by much to 14.7 million), Warner Brothers shut down the project. We almost didn’t have this Christmas joy.
      • Luckily Hughes was behind the project as its writer and had secretly met with his friend Tom Jacobson at 20th Century Fox. When Tom and chairman Joe Roth heard the storyline, the 14.7 million dollar budget, and that Hughes was fighting with WB they said they would make it! All they had to do was wait for WB to officially pull the plug because legally they weren’t really supposed to know about the project while another studio owned it. Once the phone call came, those that knew about the switch had to feign sadness and fear before calling up 20th Century Fox to seamlessly continue the picture.
    • Chris Columbus said that John Hughes was a director’s dream, essentially staying offset except when John Candy arrived for his scenes. He was receptive to ideas, and allowed Columbus to add his own touch to the story, giving it more heart to balance out the slapstick humor.     
    • All the sets for the insides of the house were built in New Trier Township High School, including the scene when the house is flooding. The crew knew that the set would leak due to all the water, so they built it right in the school’s empty swimming pool!
    • Hughes’ close friend and colleague John Candy made an extended cameo in the film, appearing on set for 23 hours of shooting. He appeared in the film as a favor to Hughes, and was paid even less than the pizza delivery boy that appears in the early scenes of the film.  
    • Some believe this was John Hughes last greatest film, and in later years he would move away from autobiographical works and films focused on midwestern families. 
  • HONORABLE MENTIONS
    • Baby’s Day Out (1994)
    • Beethoven
    • Flubber
    • 101 Dalmatians

AWARDS

  • John Hughes was the epitome of a cult classic. He wasn’t universally loved in Hollywood, and held grudges that, as Molly Ringwald would later put it, “were almost supernatural things.” But, the man certainly had a following, and still does to this day. Despite connecting with and influencing generations, he didn’t win very many awards. 
  • In 2020, Hughes was posthumously inducted into the OFTA Hall of Fame. In 1991, he won the Showest award for Producer of the Year
  • On a more negative note, Hughes won two “Stinkers Bad Movie Awards.” One was “Worst Resurrection of a TV show” for Dennis the Menace. The other was “Worst screenplay for a film grossing more than 100 million” for Flubber

DEATH AND LEGACY

In August of 2009, John Hughes died suddenly of a heart attack while visiting family in New York. He was 59. The news of his sudden death shocked and saddened his collaborators, including the young actors that started their careers with Hughes. Hughes had continued to write until his death, with his last credit being Drillbit Taylor. At the 82nd Oscars, Molly Ringwald, Anthony Michael Hall, Judd Nelson, Ally Sheedy, Matthew Broderick, John Cryer, and Macaulay Culkin all paid tribute to John Hughes. This included a montage of his most well-known films, ending with a classic moment from Ferris Bueller’s Day Off: “Life moves pretty fast; If you don’t stop to look around once in a while, you might miss it.”

John Hughes was one of a kind. He didn’t do things the normal way, the popular way. In reality, Hughes was the outsider that he put on screen. He was a man that never forgot how it felt to be a teenager, with all the anxieties of life, but none of the respect of adulthood. He talked to his actors, young and old, as if they were his collaborators and not his employees. And because of this, he created art that resonated with millions of people.  

Not only did John Hughes give voice to the younger generations in his movies, he helped to launch the careers of so many others around him. John Hughes was funny and strange, intelligent and to some, frustrating. But, he made meaningful connections to audiences and his fellow filmmakers that would last a lifetime. In a foreword for Kurt Honeycutt’s book John Hughes a Life in Film, Chris Columbus wrote, “John’s films have inspired a few generations and they will continue to do so for many, many more decades. His work has profoundly changed millions of lives. I know that he profoundly changed mine. Without John, I may not still be directing today. I owe everything that’s happened in my cinematic life over the past twenty-five years to John Hughes.”

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This Case Never Says Die

Summertime is all about adventure, so this August, we’re bringing you three episodes filled with pirates, treasures, and some serious swashbuckling! It’s Adventure August!

We decided to start our month off strong with an episode on Robin’s favorite movie. Now, we’ve been doing this show for almost three years. Why have we waited so long to cover something that we clearly love? Honestly, it’s because this movie is so special that we were a little nervous that we wouldn’t do it justice. Originally, the first episode of this month was going to be something totally different! But, with the passing of Richard Donner, we decided it was finally time to visit Astoria and hunt for gold with The Goonies!

Back in the 1980’s, Steven Spielberg was the unofficial king of Hollywood. After directing and/or producing classics like Jaws, ET, and Raiders of the Lost Ark, it was clear that the man had a good mind for stories. Legend has it that Spielberg came up with the idea for the film from one very simple question: what kind of adventure could a group of bored kids get into on a rainy day? He brought the concept to Chris Columbus, the screenwriter responsible for Gremlins. Columbus devised a story about a lovable group of misfits, best friends that are about to lose their homes and be separated. All hope is seemingly lost until they discover a treasure map and embark on a dangerous quest to find the legendary gold of famed pirate, One-eyed Willie, and save their neighborhood. 

There is no doubt that The Goonies has a lasting appeal. It’s one of the most popular films of the 1980’s, garnering an intense cult following that only grows with each generation. It was a story with everything: action, romance, comedy, the mob(?), friendship, pirates, a sweeping score, and motivational speeches. Every kid knows the feeling of being stuck inside on a rainy day, longing for adventure. This film defined so many childhoods because it flawlessly captures what it means to be a kid and allowed children everywhere to live out the fantasy of going on the adventure of a lifetime, all while out-witting the bad guys and having the power to solve their own problems. 

So, let’s follow the map to the history of this 1980’s treasure and unlock the gold that is The Goonies! 

SUMMARY

  • It’s a rainy Saturday in the Goondocks, a neighborhood in Astoria, Oregon. A group of friends that call themselves “The Goonies” gather at their friends Mikey and Brand’s house. It’s the last weekend they will spend together, as their houses will soon be foreclosed on and demolished to make way for a country club. Desperate for something to do, the kids explore the attic, filled with treasures from the local museum where Mikey’s father worked as a curator. Among other treasures, the kids stumble upon a treasure map and decide to follow it to the famed treasure of One-eyed Willie!
  • On the way, the Goonies come across bullies, booby traps, and a notorious crime family named The Fratellis, who also have their eyes on the treasure!

THE MAKING OF THE MOVIE

  • After Steven Spielberg and Chris Columbus pitched the idea for The Goonies, the film was greenlit with a budget of 19 million dollars. Like we said already, Steven Spielberg had some serious pull, so the talent behind the film was enough to earn a sizable budget. 
  • Chris Columbus already had a hit with “Gremlins,” which is referenced in The Goonies! He would go on to write and direct many more successful films in the years to come. Even though Columbus credits Spielberg with the original concept for The Goonies, it was his imagination that birthed iconic lines like, “Goonies never say die,” which undoubtedly helped make the film a classic. Columbus originally planned to set the film in Ohio, where he grew up. He lived in a small factory town where there was not a lot to do. All he wanted to do was get out of that town. He and his friends would go into the abandoned coal mines to search for treasure. 
  • Richard Donner, the man responsible for the hit Superman films of the 1970s, was chosen to direct. 
    • Starting in the fall of 1984, Donner generally shot the film in order of continuity. Of course, it would be impossible to do the film this way in its entirety because of the combination of shots done on-location and in-studio.
      • If you remember from our ET episode, Spielberg also shot that film this way. It’s a great way to shoot with kids because it helps them understand the story, and it builds genuine relationships that they can build off of in ending scenes. 
    • Because Steven Spielberg was passionate about the film, he was a hands-on producer, often appearing on set. Some felt that he should have been named co-director, but others say that Donner was in charge. The two men had known each other for a long time, Donner being an older director. Some have speculated that Donner didn’t enjoy having Spielberg on the set as often as he did, but Donner himself said in the making of documentary that he “happened to love it because [Spielberg] is the biggest kid of them all.” 
      •  There were two scenes that were reportedly directed by Spielberg. They were the scenes in the wishing well when Mikey makes his iconic speech and the scene where the kids bang on the pipes beneath the country club. 
    • Along with the influences from Columbus and Spielberg, Richard Donner certainly left his mark on the film as well. He is credited with taking a wild storyline that uniquely navigates several movie genres and making it a cohesive film. He also added classic influences, like the Rube-Goldberg-style traps and machines that frequently appear in the film. 
      • Among Donner’s greatest achievements was his ability to direct a mischievous band of young actors, who were consistently playing pranks and falling into laughing fits on set. Although he was frequently frustrated with the kids fumbling their scenes, they were always able to make him laugh, and he found ways to bring out the best in their performances.
      • For example, Sean Astin has said that during the scene where he first tells the story of One-eyed Willie, he wasn’t given lines to memorize. Instead, Donner told him the story and had Astin repeat it back as best as he could. The result was a much more kid-like retelling of the story that any adult may not have been able to write. 
        • In the making-of documentary on the DVD, Donner says, “It is the most difficult thing I ever thought I was going to get into. I never anticipated what it was going to be like. Because individually they are wonderful, they’re nuts, they’re the warmest, craziest things that have ever come into my life, but in a composite form, you get them all together, and it’s mind-blowing.”  Later on he said,  “I’ve never had kids, but at that moment, they were mine.” 
      • By the end of the five months, the kids were a grumpy, squabbling bunch. Donner was thankful to finally take his vacation after the film had wrapped, getting a much-needed break from the kids. According to Steven Spielberg, Donner frequently mentioned during his last weeks of shooting that he couldn’t wait to head to Hawaii and get a break. So, Spielberg thought it would be funny to put all the kids on a flight to Hawaii, arriving before Donner. By the time the director arrived at his vacation home, they were all standing in his living room! Martha Plimpton, who played Stef in the film, said that Donner fell to his knees when he saw the kids. 
  • Some of The Goonies was shot in the same location where the film takes place: Astoria, Oregon. In a 2019 interview with the YouTube Channel, “Beyond the Backlot,” Donner recalled scouting out the location for the movie. When they first saw Astoria, they knew that they wouldn’t find anything better. The house used in the film is a real home, perfectly placed at the top of a hill, giving the audience a clear view of the small town. The house is privately owned and off-limits to fans, as any regular person would not want strangers constantly standing in their yard. 
  • Other parts of the film were filmed on location along the coast on Cannon Beach, Bodega Bay Ecola State Park. But, the majority of the movie was filmed on soundstages at Warner Brothers Studios (then it was called Burbank Studios). It was there on stage 16, the largest stage on the lot, that production designer J Michael Riva and the rest of the production crew built a full-scale pirate ship. Originally, the plan was to build portions of the ship and film the scenes in segments. But, Riva’s vision brought One-Eyed-Willie’s ship, The Inferno, to life. The set-piece was remarkably big and completely real, complete with several levels and full-scale masts. 
    • Richard Donner wanted to capture the true reactions of the kids when they saw the ship for the first time. So, the set was off-limits until it was time to shoot the scenes with The Inferno. In the scene, the kids are seeing the ship for the first time. It’s real movie magic. 
  • Special effects in the 1980’s were very different from the effects of today. The Goonies is filled with marvelous practical effects. For example, the bats in the film were a combination of animatronics and paper mache. The gasoline and fire at the very beginning of the film were real! The blender that the Fratellis threaten to put Chunk’s hand in was a real blender, but with a rubber blade. During the scene where Andy must play the correct chords on the piano, the kids were all cabled to a platform 10 feet in the air. On the DVD commentary, they swore it was more like 30 feet!
  • Some of the most complicated effects had to do with the character Sloth and the moving prosthetics under his make-up. The make-up took several hours to apply and had to be re-applied many times during the final battle scenes. 
  • In one scene, the kids all find the ship after riding through a series of water-filled tunnels. The slides were so much fun; the crew even took turns riding them after the film wrapped! 
  • The original cut of the film was 7 hours long, and there were a couple of major scenes cut from the film that were left in some televised versions of The Goonies. Some of the material cut was referenced later in the movie, causing some continuity issues. 
    • As the Goonies follow the treasure map, they find themselves at a restaurant with the Fratellis. At the beginning of this scene, the map that Mikey is holding now has burnt edges for seemingly no reason! This is because there was a deleted scene where Mikey and the rest of the Goonies run into the bully Troy at a gas station. In this scene, Mikey finds a map of Oregon and compares it to the map found in his attic. This map leads the gang to the restaurant. Troy then steals the treasure map from Mikey and lights it on fire! This scene also explained why the two girls Andy and Stef, suddenly appear at the restaurant as well. They were at the gas station with Troy and decided to ditch him after he was so cruel to the Goonies. 
    • In one famous deleted scene, Stef and Mouth are attacked by a gigantic octopus. In order to save them, Data puts his walkman into the animal’s beak while playing the song Eight Arms to Hold You by The Goon Squad. The Octopus then moonwalks away. (The music video for the song has a stop motion octopus!)
    • One even more forgotten scene involved two apes escaping from the zoo because the goonies had messed with the underground pipes. This footage is not available or is said to be lost.

THE MUSIC

  • The Goonies has an absolute killer soundtrack. Dave Grusin, the composer responsible for scoring films like “Tootsie,” “The Graduate,” and “Selena” delivered a score that was equal parts exciting and nostalgic. If you ever find yourself in need of an adventurous spirit, listen to the Fratelli Chase music from the beginning of the movie. 
  • Beyond the orchestral score, The Goonies soundtrack is filled with hidden treasures. First, there’s the Cyndi Lauper single, “The Goonies R Good Enough,” which is used in the film. The cast even did a separate shoot for the music video that took place on The Inferno, with pro wrestlers appearing in the video, like Andre, the Giant. 
  • The soundtrack also featured “eight arms to hold you” by The Goon Squad and songs by The Bangles, REO Speedwagon, and Joseph Williams (of the band Toto.)

CAST

  • One of the things that made The Goonies so special was its perfect casting. Richard Donner remarked that the whole cast was fantastic at improv. While the actors had lines, he could also throw anything at them, a line, an action, practically anything, and the kids and adults would roll with it because they were so in tune with how their characters would react. 

– The main characters are referred to by their nicknames within the movie but we will also mention their “full names.”

  • Sean Astin as Mikey (Michael Walsh)
    • He is also known for Lord of the Rings and Stranger Things.
    • Sean thought he completely botched his audition, forgetting lines and even saying, “shit,” when he made a mistake. Steven Spielberg reportedly walked out of the audition, leaving Astin with Richard Donner, who then consoled him. Astin got the part anyway, and it was his acting debut. He was incredibly nervous, and in one scene, actually calls Brand by his real name, Josh! It’s in the final cut of the movie. 
    • His mom, unfortunately, threw out the original map that was painstakingly made by the production designer J. Michael Riva. She thought it was just a crumpled piece of paper.
  • Corey Feldman as Mouth (Clark Devereaux)
    • We also know him well for Stand by Me.
    • In a People Magazine article, he said that “not a day passes that someone doesn’t bring up Goonies.” and that he still feels like a big Goonie.
    • Corey Feldman was a huge star in the 1980’s and appeared in Stand By Me about the same time as The Goonies. He was a huge fan of Michael Jackson, and for one scene in the film, Steven Spielberg told Feldman that Jackson was coming to visit the set in order to elicit an animated response from him for the scene. 
  • Jeff Cohen as Chunk (Lawrence Cohen)
    • He appeared on Family Ties a few times and is now a lawyer.
    • Some parts of The Goonies have not aged well, including the scene with the iconic “Truffle Shuffle.” Cohen says that he actually got chickenpox just before filming the movie but didn’t tell producers because he was afraid of getting fired. He claims that you can see some spots when he lifts up his shirt. Cohen was self-conscious about doing the shuffle, so Richard Donner cleared the set to make him feel more comfortable. Chunk is always eating during the movie, and because of this, Cohen actually got sick from eating too much whipped cream.
    • In one scene, Chunk cries while the Fratellis threaten to put his hand in a blender. He rattles off a string of confessions to past misdeeds as tears roll down his cheeks. These lines were largely improvised, and Cohen added names of people that he knew, giving them a little shout-out.  
  • Ke Huy Quan as Data (Richard Wang)
    • Also well known for his role in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, Ke has since retired from acting. 
    • In one scene, as rocks begin to fall on the goonies, Data shouts, “Holy S-H-I-T.” Apparently, his mother told him that he could never cuss, not even in a movie, so he spelled the word instead. 
    • A couple of times in the movie, Mikey and Data have a funny exchange about “Booty/Booby traps.” According to Astin, he and Ke came up with that joke themselves!
    • In one scene, the kids are watching The Fratellis carry a dead body out of their restaurant. Data says, “I am wondering, what is in the bag?” The line made the entire cast break into laughter during the DVD commentary, and Martha Plimpton says it is her favorite line in the film. 
  • Kerri Green as Andy (Andrea Theresa Carmichael) 
    • She was also in Summer Rental, but Green has retired from acting as well. 
    • Green was incredibly nervous about filming her kissing scenes, especially a scene with Sean Astin, who was about four years her junior. Green was 18 at the time and felt wrong kissing a young teenage boy. 
  • Martha Plimpton as Stef (Stephanie Steinbrenner) 
    • One of her most recent roles was in the tv series Raising Hope.
    • Plimpton jokes about her role in the film, noting that as the film progresses, she’s in fewer scenes. While filming the movie, Richard Donner reportedly told her that he would give her 100$ if she stopped biting her nails. On the DVD commentary, she brings this up, and Donner rewards her with 100$ from his pocket!
  • John Matuszak as Sloth (Lotney Fratelli)
    • Matuszak was a 6’7″ defensive end for The Oakland Raiders, which explains why he wears a Raiders jersey in the film! Later, he wears a superman shirt in honor of Donner’s earlier films, Superman and Superman II. 
    • He was having back pain and wasn’t supposed to pick up Jeff Cohen playing Chunk, but much to Cohen’s surprise, he picked him up anyway! 
    • He was not able to eat with the prosthesis on. He had to have smoothies through a straw. The other Fratelli brothers would tease him as they were able to eat hamburgers and other fun foods.
    • Although Sloth’s scenes are some of the most troubling in the film, as he is a man that has endured abuse at the hands of his family, the character is beloved by millions of fans. His iconic line, “Hey You Guys,” is synonymous with The Goonies. Matuszak passed away almost exactly four years after the film was released. 
  • Josh Brolin as Brand (Brandon Walsh)
    • This film was Josh Brolin’s acting debut! He has since appeared in No Country for Old Men, Men in Black III, and of course, The MCU as Thanos. 
    • Brolin, son of James Brolin, wanted to be a serious actor. For one scene in the tunnels, he got really into the scene and wanted to start climbing the walls. When he told Richard Donner about the idea, Donner reportedly said, “You could do that…or you could just read the lines.” 
  • Robert Davi as Jake Fratelli
  • Joe Pantoliano as Francis Fratelli
  • Anne Ramsey as Mama Fratelli 
  • Lupe Ontiveros as Rosalita
  • Mary Ellen Trainer as Mrs. Walsh 
  • Keith Walker as Mr. Walsh 

AWARDS/ RECEPTION

  • The Goonies truly gained its popularity after its initial release, but that doesn’t mean that it was initially a flop. The movie was in the top 10 highest-grossing films of 1985, a year that boasted Back to the Future and Beverly Hills Cop. Roger Ebert gave the movie three stars saying, “More things happen in this movie than in six ordinary action films. There’s not just a thrill a minute; there’s a thrill, a laugh, a shock, and a special effect. The screenplay has all the kids talking all at once, all the time, and there were times, especially in the first reel, when I couldn’t understand much of what they were saying. The movie needs to be played loud and with extra treble.”
  • In December of 2020, the cast and Richard Donner reunited via the internet (with some special guests) and performed a live read of The Goonies for charity. Here is the link if you would like to watch it!
    • At the end of the reading, the group invited the audience to recite the goonie pledge, making everyone present an honorary Goonie. 
    • “I will never betray my goon dock friends/ We will stick together until the whole world ends/ Through heaven and hell, and nuclear war/ Good pals like us, will stick like tar/ In the city, or the country, or the forest, or the boonies/ I am proudly declared a fellow Goonie.
  • Throughout the years, there have been talks of a Goonies sequel. 
    • It’s been 36 years since the release of this fantastic movie. It has been almost as long that rumors have swirled about a sequel. In 1987 when The Goonies II video game was released, it followed a new story where the children were kidnapped by the Fratellis. This led to speculation of a new movie. Unfortunately, Spielberg did not find a storyline that he felt would justify a sequel. Jeff Cohen, according to Film School Rejects, has said that Warner Brothers has not been willing to let the property go. This has resulted in budget problems and made it even harder to push for a sequel.
    • Many other projects such as comic books and animated series were planned, but they also did not come to fruition.
    • Corey Feldman said of Richard Donner, “He’s the driving force behind it. He says it’s still alive. But as we all know…When you get to that age, things slow down quite a bit. There is a big possibility that he might not want to keep driving it. So, I think without him, it doesn’t happen. And every day that passes, that he doesn’t do it, there is less and less chance that it is ever going to happen at all.”
      • Unfortunately, with this in mind, there may never be a Goonies sequel as the entire cast, it seems, is too loyal to continue without Donner.
      • The year 2020 hit hard for a Goonies-inspired television series by Sarah Watson for Fox. Even though Spielberg and Donner had greenlit it, we found out in May that it is not meant to be.

FUN FACTS

  • There is a Gremlins reference when the officer is talking on the phone. He mentions little creatures that multiply when you get them wet.
  • The jailhouse that the Fratelli brothers break out of has since been turned into the Oregon Film Museum, where they have memorabilia from movies that were filmed in the area.
  • Richard Donner plays a cameo role at the end of the film as one of the officers that discovers the kids on the beach. The entire scene was filled with cameos, as the kids were permitted to have their real family members appear on the beach. 
  • The film is filled with close-ups of the kids holding items. In every single one, the hands are not the kids’ hands. They would have adult doubles hold the items instead. 
  • In 2010, the mayor of Astoria named June 4th as the official day to celebrate The Goonies! 

To us, The Goonies is the quintessential adventure film. It tapped into the sense of adventure that sits within all of us. This movie runs rampant with the untamed energy of childhood, something that every kid can relate to and that every adult can remember. It’s funny, strange, awkward, exciting, and sometimes even scary. The Goonies feels like a story we might’ve imagined with our figurines as kids or a play we might’ve acted out in our living rooms for our polite and exhausted parents. This film was made with uninhibited excitement and love and has been enjoyed by audiences with that same enthusiasm for over 35 years. 

We don’t love The Goonies because it’s perfect, because, well, it’s NOT perfect. But, this film gives us the chance to stop and imagine a world where the bad guys lose, the outcasts win, and where the greatest adventures are right under our noses. So, I guess what we’re trying to say is, The Goonies R Good Enough, and thank you, Richard Donner, for sharing your treasure with us. 

Before we go, we’d like to thank our Patrons! Joel, John, Jacob, Jacklyn, JD, Anthony, Shelli, Linda, Bob, and Carlos!

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The Case of Jim Henson’s Labyrinth

When Jim Henson got the green light for The Muppet Movie, he started quietly working on another film. It was a groundbreaking movie that ambitiously used only puppets as its main actors. He collaborated with artist Brian Froud, and together they developed an entire fantasy world. After six years of work, that film, The Dark Crystal, made it to the big screen. After it premiered, Jim Henson, being the workaholic that he was, already wanted to jump back in to make another film. He contacted Brian Froud, who came up with the idea of goblins. 

Jim Henson loved the idea, and he told Froud that he wanted there to be humans in this film. Suddenly, Froud imagined a baby surrounded by goblins. He painted some concept art, and the idea for Labyrinth was born. 

The Labyrinth was a seamless combination of The Muppets and the deep fantasy of The Dark Crystal. For Jim Henson, it was a deeply personal story of which he was immensely proud. It followed the journey of Sarah, an adolescent girl that has lost her baby brother to Jareth, the Goblin King. It’s also a story of self-discovery, of leaving childhood behind and heading into the wild and winding world of the unfamiliar. With beautiful sets peppered with other-worldly creations, Labyrinth created a unique physical world that still enchants audiences to this day. 

So, as we continue Jim Henson June, let’s follow the Goblin King into the Labyrinth.  

WHAT INFLUENCED THE LABYRINTH

  • In 1939, three-year-old Jim Henson saw what would become one of his favorite movies: The Wizard of Oz. Of course, the only thing he really remembered from the experience was the terrifying MGM Lion. But the story impacted Jim Henson’s imagination, and elements of L. Frank Baum’s fantasy world would influence his own fantasy stories for years to come. 
  • As Brian Froud and Jim Henson laid out the story for the film, they intentionally pulled from several different established stories. The idea wasn’t to make something that felt completely original, but instead something that the audience would recognize. This was shown, in part, in the beginning of the film, when we see Sarah’s bedroom. There are pieces that inspired several parts of the story placed all around the room. This also plants the seed of ambiguity in the audience’s mind. Is this all in Sarah’s imagination, or is the Labyrinth real? This is a callback to The Wizard of Oz and another big influence, Alice in Wonderland. 
  • Sarah falls down several “rabbit holes” of sorts all through the movie. Her trip through the Labyrinth is very reminiscent of Alice’s adventures. Some of the set designs and characters were created to specifically call back to Alice in Wonderland, for example the guards that were shaped as playing cards that asked Sarah riddles. 
  • But beyond those two stories, the Labyrinth is filled with nods to classic fairytales and many different kinds of mythology. For instance, the concept of the labyrinth came from the Greek myth of Theseus and the Minotaur. Jim Henson said, “Traditionally, the labyrinth is thought of as the voyage through life–the journey through it is Life and the ultimate center is Death. And re-birth is coming back out again.” 
  • Initially, Brian Froud suggested that there be a labyrinth in the film. He felt that it would not only be an interesting place for her character to be, but also could mirror the convolutions of her own thoughts. Jim Henson added, “After all, life is a kind of labyrinth, with all its twists and turns, its straight paths and its occasional dead ends.” 

SUMMARY

  • Sarah Williams is an imaginative teenage girl. She feels life is unfair because she has to watch her baby stepbrother, Toby, when her father and stepmother go out on the weekends. Once wishing the goblins would take him away she realizes she really does not want to lose him. In order to bring him home she must solve the Labyrinth and reach The Goblin King’s Castle. It is a journey she must take, but not alone. Along the way she finds friends like Hoggle, Ludo, and Didymus that help her navigate through the labyrinth.   

MAKING OF

  • The story goes like this: Jim Henson and Brian Froud rode in silence as their limousine left a showing of The Dark Crystal. They stared at each other until Henson started to laugh and said, “The next one will be so much better!”
    • Jim Henson’s daughter was studying mythology at the time, and often telling her father about the folktales she learned. He wanted to do a film inspired by these myths, but since Goblins were more of Brian Froud’s style, they shifted their focus to a story about goblins stealing a child. 
    • Of course, Henson would eventually make something inspired by his daughter’s education in folklore, a TV series called, “The Storyteller.”                                                                                                                                                
  • After the rigorous 5 years spent on creating “The Dark Crystal,” Brian Froud would have loved to take a break. Instead, he and Jim Henson started working on “Labyrinth.”  Although Froud’s title as Concept Director would mean a lot of work, this second film only took 3 years to create. So, Froud still considered it to be a vacation. 
  • The Labyrinth’s story went through many stages. As Jim Henson continued to promote his current film, he filled a notebook with ideas for his next one. One draft featured a king and a jester, and a twisted maze filled with monsters. There were concepts too dark to end up in the film, and some ideas that made their way to the final cut. For example, Jim Henson always wanted an Escher-inspired staircase sequence. 
    • Many critics felt that “The Dark Crystal” lacked the humor that audiences expected from Henson projects. So, Jim Henson made it a priority for there to be humorous scenes in “Labyrinth.” 
    • Brian Froud and Jim Henson met up with writer Dennis Lee, a songwriter for the series, “Fraggle Rock.” They pieced together a story from Henson’s notes, and Froud created some art to capture the look and essence of the film. One of these paintings was called, “Toby and The Goblins,” a beautiful image of a happy child among a crowd of monsters. Lee gathered the notes and drawings, and pieced together a first draft of the story. This novella would be worked into the final draft of the screenplay. 
      • As Lee worked on his draft, Jim Henson searched for a screenwriter. He wanted a comedian, and decided to go with Terry Jones, one of the frontmen of the famed troupe, “Monty Python.” Jones wasn’t just a comedian, he was also a fan of mythology and co-wrote the famous film, “Monty Python and The Holy Grail.” Jim Henson wrote to Jones, telling him that his contributions would make the script, “jump to life.” 
        • Dennis Lee provided Jones with a poetic treatment about 90 pages long, and Brian Froud handed him notebooks of concept art. Jones used these references to write his script, but was mostly inspired by Froud’s art. Jones said, “Every time I came to a new scene…I looked through Brian’s drawings and found a character who was kind of speaking to me already and suddenly there was a scene.” 
        • Jones was absolutely taken with Froud’s art and Henson’s ability to make these creatures come to life. While filming, he would not call the creatures puppets. He referred to them as some other form of magic.
      • Jone’s first draft went to another writer for revisions, and then another after that. The script went through almost 25 revisions over a two-year period. One of these writers was Elaine May, who was brought on to polish the script in 1985. Her revisions humanized the characters, especially the lead role of Sarah. Jim Henson loved May’s contributions so much, he decided to start shooting after her edits had been made. 
  • As the concept designer, Brian Froud was responsible for the overall look of the film and its characters. Each puppet was built from his designs, but Froud did not fully develop the characters because he felt that it would dampen the creative process. He wanted the creatures to develop beyond the page, and for the designers to have happy accidents in their creation. 
    • Froud also helped design the costumes in the film. He worked closely with costume designer Ellis Flyte to further develop a complex fantasy world. 
      • They decided to dress the baby Toby in a white and red striped onesie so that he would stand out in every scene. They had to invent a slimmed-down version of his diaper to make the costume look right, but this new version couldn’t hold in a lot of “mess” when he had an accident. 
      • Sarah’s costume was designed to be timeless. The top is modeled after old-fashioned peasant tops, paired with contemporary jeans. The costumes were all meant to reflect several different eras and types of folklore, so the audience could apply the story to any time. 
      • Jareth, the Goblin King, has several costume changes. His look changes as the film progresses, showing the feelings of the character in each scene. He is meant to look almost like a medieval knight, and a romantic lead. His hair was designed to be wolf-like, as wolves are often villains in many fairy tales. But, there were also influences from Japanese theater in his design. At one point in the film, he wears some armor. In another, he wears all white, to signify that he had lost his power. Jareth also carried around a “swagger stick” that also acted as a microphone!
  • In this film, the labyrinth itself is a character. Elliot Scott was the set designer tasked with creating both the complex world of The Goblin King, to Sarah’s American bedroom. The film needed to feel like a true voyage, and had to include several different unique spaces. Scott’s design really helped convey that. 
    • Scott was a gifted production designer that also created the worlds of Indiana Jones and “Who Framed Roger Rabbit?” 
  • Choreographers
    • Cheryl McFadden
    • Charles Augins
      • They got Charles Augins to help choreograph scenes such as Dance Magic Dance. They wanted the energetic movements that Charles choreographed so well. 
  • The Labyrinth was another groundbreaking film with several complex characters and sequences. Let’s talk about some of the most impressive accomplishments of the film. 
    • Hoggle is an incredibly important character in the film, as he acts as Sarah’s reluctant friend and guide through the labyrinth. 
      • The Hoggle puppet was considered to be the most complicated puppet ever created. He was performed by a total of five people, operating 18 different motors! One person was inside a suit (Shari Weiser) and four people on the outside controlling the mechanical head. The performers were together all the time during filming because it was important they remained in sync with each other. After doing the character for so many months, Brian Henson and the other puppeteers were almost able to improvise. Which is unusual for a puppet of this complexity.
      • Shari Weiser couldn’t see outside the suit and needed a monitor and camera. She apparently hated the system, and the camera in the chest was eventually removed. This meant that she could only see out when Hoggle’s mouth was open. Brian Henson had to come up with reasons to open the puppet’s mouth when Shari was about to run into things. He would often let out loud grunts and scoffs so she could see what was ahead of her. This became part of Hoggle’s character and charm.
      • Brian also performed the voice with the intention that his father was going to replace it, but by the end of filming, Jim said he was keeping Brian’s voice in. 
      • Brian said that he never felt closer to his dad than when they worked on “Labyrinth” together. He was only 20 years old at the time. 
    • As Sarah makes her way through the labyrinth, she falls into a shaft of green, arthritic hands. Terry Jones first came up with the concept of the hands, and Jim Henson called the scene, “bizarre and unusual.” 
      • Jennifer Connolly described scenes like this as a personal amusement park where she got to experience all these cool “rides” even though she was very ticklish! 
        • The shaft was 30 feet deep, filled with 150 pairs of foam latex hands, operated by 75 different puppeteers. In order to make this scene, they lined everyone up behind boards that were slightly diagonal, so the hands would show while their faces would stay hidden. 
        • Jim Henson came up with the idea of the hands making faces to speak. He and some other puppeteers spent hours in front of mirrors, trying to create different ways to imitate faces with hands. 
    • Another memorable piece of the labyrinth was the “Bog of Eternal Stench.”
      • Brian Froud was critical of the scene, thinking that the humor was too childish to be in the film. However, Prince Charles reportedly loved the bog of eternal stench, being the only one to laugh at it during the royal premiere of the film.
      • The water in the bog stayed stagnant long enough that it really was quite smelly! They had a stunt double stand in for Jennifer Connolly so there was no danger of her falling into the gross water. 
    • In Jim Henson’s original notes, he wanted a giant that came out of the wall. It was one of the few original elements that made it into the final cut of the film. During the battle sequence in the final act, a huge monster comes forth from the wall, operated by goblins. 
      • Brian really fought against the idea of a giant monster. So, he ended up making the creature come out of the door, because he did not want a straightforward puppet. He also designed it to look like goblins were operating him, so it was this incredibly advanced-looking technology, but in a very disarming and old way. 
      • The monster was gigantic and mechanical, one of the biggest puppets ever created. It was operated remotely. The machine was real and could cause problems if not operated properly.
      • Polyurethane foam was used and painted to look like armour with the entire project taking 2-3 months to build.
    • Jim Henson knew that a climatic battle sequence would be the best way to get his characters to the doors of the Goblin King’s Castle. 
      • The scene was not meant to be overly violent, as the goblin army is a hapless group, barely able to get their own weapons to work. One of these goblins was Star Wars actor Kenny Baker. In his sequence, a cannon doesn’t fire properly, causing his real-life costume to catch fire! 
      • The goblin army is painted many different bright colors, red, green, orange, and blue. They also have numbers on their heads. This design was actually inspired by Thomas the Tank Engine characters! 
      • Many of the goblins in this sequence are puppeteers in suits. They wanted every aspect of puppetry to be present, from suits, to mechanism, to hand operation. Like the rest of the film, the scene was incredibly complex. 

MUSIC

  • Jim Henson knew from the very beginning that he wanted a big star attached to the project. His son John was a big fan of David Bowie, and Henson noticed a certain other-worldliness to the entertainer. Bowie was immediately intrigued by the idea, and wanted to be able to write songs for the film that would appeal to all audiences. It was a perfect match. 
  • The film’s score was written by Trevor Jones, with music and lyrics by David Bowie.

Opening/Underground

  • The film opens with an owl, created by Industrial Light and Magic. It was one of the first fully CG creatures to appear in film at the time, and looks a little dated now. The owl signifies the night, and eventually turns out to be The Goblin King in disguise. 
  • Underground was the title track for the film, recorded in The Atlantic Studios in New York City around 2 in the morning. 
  • The opening leads us to Sarah, as she acts out a scene in the park with her dog. We’re soon introduced to her home, and bedroom filled with influences for the story that will soon unfold. 

Magic Dance

  • As Sarah has entered the labyrinth and makes her way toward the center, we see she is being watched by the cocky and spoiled Goblin King, from his hall filled with goblins. Then, Jareth sings an upbeat song with the baby, doing twirls in his more casual costume. David Bowie had trouble recording the song, because the baby in the studio wouldn’t make any noise. The baby sounds on the track were made by Bowie! 
  • This scene was one of the first ones filmed. The set had to have several holes within the walls to accommodate and hide the puppeteers. Brian Henson said that the set looked like Swiss Cheese. They were almost worried it would fall apart. 
  • In addition to the puppets there were actors that were on wires jumping around to bring more motion.
  • The song represents the carefree nature of the Goblin King, and his disregard for what he’s done. It also shows off the silliness of the goblins, characters that try to be evil, but just can’t seem to pull it off. 
  • When asked about Jareth, Bowie said, “I think Jareth, at best, is a romantic; but at worst he’s a spoiled child, vain and temperamental–kind of like a rock n roll star!” 

Chilly Down

  • During Sarah’s journey, she encounters a group of Fireys! These are brightly-colored bird-like creatures that live in the forest. At first, she is disarmed by their free-spirited song and dance, but the scene quickly turns dangerous when they want to see if she can remove her head, the way the fireys can remove theirs. 
  • During this scene there are several Firey characters that dance around, bounce their heads, and remove their hands. These characters were modelled directly after drawings by Brian Froud. Even in the drawings their movements were wacky and strange. The team decided to take this and bring it on screen. The rehearsals with these characters informed them a lot. A lot of experimentation was done and each time it changed the configurations and movement of the characters.
  • Since the Firey’s were able to unattach their heads, multiple puppeteers were used to create one Firey. The characters were shot on black velvet with the puppeteers covered from head to toe in black velvet as well. The characters are brightly colored to stand out against the black screen that they were filmed in front of and they were meant to look like traditional muppets.
  • Visual keys were done to match the lyrics. One example:
    • When they say “I shake my pretty little head” their heads are removed and bounced around.
  • This was the first song recorded by David Bowie for the film. 

As the World Falls Down

  • After Jareth convinces Hoggle to give Sarah a poisoned peach, she finds herself at a costumed ball. This scene is absolutely vital in showing Sarah’s progression from a sulky teenager to a young adult. It’s an abrupt transformation, as she’s transported from her regular clothes to a beautiful ball gown, and surrounded by confusing and unfamiliar faces. She gravitates to the only face she recognizes: Jareth, and the two engage in an almost trance-like dance. 
    • The scene meant a lot to Jim Henson personally, because he was able to apply his own emotions as a father of teenage girls, watching them mature into adulthood.  
  • For this scene, the filmmakers tried to create an adult world that Sarah would be simultaneously attracted to and repulsed by, because she’s in that stage between childhood and adulthood. 
    • This adult world was inspired by Venice and is set vaguely in the 18th century. The entire set was supposed to seem as if it existed in a bubble, preserved from the rest of the world. 
    • They took 10 days on this scene and ended up needing more people to fill the room. This caused the costume department to scramble for several more costumes in just a few days.
    • Although Sarah’s character is becoming an adult, Jennifer’s parents were worried about her growing up too much in the scene. So the hairdressers were sure to make her hair not seem too adult; they simplified her design and gave her natural references in her hair. 
    • The scene was Jennifer Connolly’s favorite to shoot because of the costume, and the thrill of dancing with David Bowie. 
  • Jim Henson asked Bowie to write a more traditional song for the scene, and Bowie felt that it was prettiest and most relaxed tune in the film.

Within You

  • With the help of her friends Hoggle, Ludo, and Sir Didymus, Sarah finally reaches the center of the labyrinth and must face The Goblin King. As she heads inside, she turns to her friends and tells them that she must face him on her own. The scene was meant to drive home Sarah’s maturity, but also paid homage to the classic fairytale or hero’s journey, as our hero must face their final battle alone. 
    • Sarah’s friends have grown with her, an idea that Jim Henson especially liked. He loved the concept that we were all connected and have a responsibility to each other. 
  • Sarah must now chase down her brother through a complicated mess of staircases, inspired by an MC Escher painting. For this scene, the crew built a complicated set that seemed to defy logic, one that really made you question what was up or down. 
  • Jim Henson wanted the stairs as a way to depict the meeting of real danger and the surreal nature of Sarah’s imagination. The story is never clear as to whether or not all of this happens in Sarah’s mind, and this scene illustrates that completely. 
    • For the scene, Jim Henson wanted to put baby Toby up on a tower, but Brian Froud and his wife were too scared to let them shoot it. Both of them were afraid of heights and they did not want their baby so high.
      • Although it looks like Toby is lost in the complex riddle of the stairs, he was actually just climbing up one or two steps off the floor the entire time. Family members stood around, calling his name and playing music to get him to look and crawl in certain directions. 
  • This song was David Bowie’s personal favorite from the film. He said, “I had to write something that sounded like stone walls and crumbling power; and the all-over effect, with Jim’s visuals, is, I think, very tragic and slightly disturbing.” 

Underground

  • In the final sequence that Sarah shares with Jareth, he’s dressed in white. He looks pale compared to his other moments, like he’s lost his power. He looks this way because he knows that he’s already lost, that Sarah has all the power. He pleads with her because he really is smitten with her and how strong she has proven herself to be. Jareth is lonely. The only companions in his life are those that he controls. But Sarah would be different because Sarah has the power to leave, even if she didn’t realize it until this moment. 
  • At the beginning of the film, Sarah was memorizing the lines from a play. She couldn’t remember the final lines, and she struggles to recall them now. She ignores Jareth, and a look of realization crosses her face. She remembers something she knew all along, a fact that seems so obvious to her now, if only she had remembered sooner. She looks at Jareth and says, “you have no power over me.” 
  • The words are enough to destroy Jareth’s hold on Sarah, as words were the thing that gave Jareth any power at all in the beginning of the film. Sarah didn’t earn or fight for her power. It was always there. 
  • This was Bowie’s favorite scene to shoot. He said, “It’s so sad, I think, because Sarah really likes Jareth, but she must get her baby brother, Toby, back safely, so she has to reject all of Jareth’s pleas for companionship in his pretty lonely world.” 
  • After Sarah returns to her room, she sees her friends in the mirror. They tell their heartfelt goodbyes, and Sarah tearfully tells them that she needs them. Then, the characters all appear, goblins and Fireys alike, to dance together. 
  • Brian Froud disliked the scene. He felt it was unnecessary and cheapened the ending of the film. But, he said he was happy to be proven wrong, as many people liked the addition of this happy scene. 
  • Underground then plays as the credits begin to roll. 

STARRING

  • Jennifer Connelly as Sarah
    • Jennifer Connelly began as a model before acting. She was not sure what she wanted to be when she grew up, maybe a vet or carpenter but she kinda fell into acting. 
    • Since this movie she has been in several things such as Requiem for Dream, A Beautiful Mind, and Spiderman: Homecoming.
    • It was the first time Jennifer was ever in England and she said the whole experience was fun for her.
    • Jim Henson was supportive and very kind to her. He did not have to talk down to her or tiptoe around her feelings. Many members of the team even remarked how mature and professional she was at the young age of 14.
  • David Bowie as Jareth
    • Bowie was a singer-songwriter that would also appear in movies. Some of these were UHF, The Prestige, and Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me.
    • Michael Moschen was the amazing performer behind David Bowie, juggling the balls.
      • He was working blind behind Bowie and so every time they had to do several takes.
  • Toby Froud as Toby
    • Toby is actually Brian Froud’s son!
    • He was influenced by what his father did and things like this movie and so he is now a special effects designer, puppeteer, filmmaker, and performer.
  • Shelley Thompson as the Stepmother
    • Shelley is most known now most for her character in Trailer Park Boys as Barbara Lahey. 
  • Christopher Malcolm as the Father
    • He was in things like Highlander, Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back, and Never Say Never Again.
  • Shari Weiser as Hoggle
    • Shari was often a suit performer and was in Babes in Toyland(1986), Follow that Bird, and Mr. Willowby’s Christmas Tree.
  • Brian Henson as Hoggle/ Goblin (voice)
    • Brian was about 22 when this movie was made. He has continued on his father’s legacy and is an amazing puppeteer, director, and technician in his own right.
  • Ron Mueck as Ludo(one of the two that would switch off in the costume)/ Firey 2/ Goblin (voice)
    • He is an amazing sculptor. His sculptures are very lifelike and have a huge scale. He also voiced a character in The Tale of the Bunny Picnic.
  • Rob Mills as Ludo(the other that would switch off in the costume)/ Firey 3
    • He worked for 12 years with Jim Henson’s puppet studio and even started a couple of his own production companies.
    • Ron Mueck was the main actor within Ludo, but since it is such a heavy and difficult character Rob Mills would sometimes take over. 
      • These actors would control Ludo by using one arm to move his head around and one arm to control one of the creature’s arms. Ludo’s second arm hung by itself. Inside with the puppeteer, whether it be Ron or Rob, were two video screens strapped in so they could see what the camera was filming and where they were heading. For a little extra visibility there was also mesh that they could see through, hidden in fur on Ludo’s chest.
      • There were two Ludo heads, one that had a smile and one that had a frown. Both of these heads were animatronic like Hoggle’s and required three people to control. The three people that contributed to this were Francis Wright, Sue Dacre, and Donald Austen. 
    • Jim Henson came up with the idea of Ludo communicating with rocks. He liked the idea of creatures communicating with nature.
  • Dave Goelz as Didymus / The Hat / The Four Guards / Left Door Knocker / Firey 3 (voice)
    • We mentioned Dave Goelz in the last episode as well and has been with Jim Henson’s Company for a long time now and has even voiced the new series Muppets Now on Disney Plus.
    • There were about 4 different Didymus puppets.
      • Didymus is part fox and part dog in an Elizabethan costume that guards the bridge.
      • The first Didymus was essentially a hand puppet, but a little more complicated. In the left hand of the character is a rod that is used as a prop for Didymus, but it is also a clever disguise to assist in control of that arm. Karen Prell aided in controlling the right arm while Dave controlled the mouth and left arm. From afar other puppeteers controlled the eyebrows, eyes, and ears.
      • In the shots where it is just Didymus’s legs a marionette was used and controlled by David Barclay.
      • The third was a radio controlled Didymus that was strapped onto a live sheepdog that was playing Ambrosius.
      • The fourth was a Didymus that was connected to a dog sized puppet where Dave Goelz hand would go up through the dog to get to Didymus’s mouth.
        • Kevin Clash would then control the movements of Ambrosius.

AWARDS/ HOW IT WAS RECEIVED/IMPACT

  • The Labyrinth opened at number eight in the US box office charts with $3.5 million, putting it behind other films such as Ferris Buller’s Day Off and Top Gun. During its next weekend, the film dropped to number 13 only earning another $1.8 million. By the end of its run, it had grossed $12.7 million, just over half of its $25 million budget. 
    • According to Variety, it also made another $12 million overseas which would still just fall short of the budget. 
  • The film received mixed to positive reviews from critics. It currently sits at a 73% from critics on rotten tomatoes and 86% from audience scores. The general consensus from critics is that while the Labyrinth is most interesting on a visual level, it provides further proof of director Jim Henson’s boundless imagination. 
  • Labyrinth was nominated at the British Academy Film Awards for Best Special Visual Effects and received two Saturn Award nominations for Best Fantasy Film as well as Best Costumes. Lastly it was nominated for the Hugo Award for Best Dramatic Presentation. 
  • The film is ranked 72nd on Empire’s “The 80 best ‘80s movies’ and 26th on Time Out’s “The 50 best fantasy movies”. In 2019 The Telegraph named it as one of “The 77 best kids’ films of all time”. (Two British publications.)
  • Despite its poor performance at the box office, Labyrinth was a success on home video and later on DVD, and has become a cult classic. 
    • Brian Henson remembered his father as being aware that Labyrinth and The Dark Crystal both had cult followings by the time of his death in 1990, saying, “he was able to see all that, and know that it was appreciated.”
  • This movie continues to be a classic beloved by many. In 2017 McFarlane Toys made a special collectible Jareth the Goblin King figurine and in 2019 made a special Dance Magic Jareth!

Much like the name of the film suggests, the Labyrinth takes the audience on a wild and remarkable journey, with confusing sequences and strange visuals. Like the classic fairy tales on which it was based, it’s a timeless story that can appeal to every generation. This film is rich with visual metaphors, telling a deeply personal story that audiences everywhere can relate to. 

Afterall, life is a labyrinth. We’ve all ventured into the twisting walls of the unknown, gathered our friends, lost our way, and fought our own Goblin King. To many of us, this film is a guide that reminds us we’re all on our own strange and magical journeys. And if ever we should need it, we know where to find it.   

Before we go, we’d like to thank our Patrons! Joel, John, Jacob, Jacklyn, JD, Anthony, Shelli, Linda, Bob, and Carlos!

You can now buy us a Popcorn! @  buymeacoffee.com/blackcasediary   

Thank you to all that support us, whether it be through listening, telling a friend, or donating!


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The Case of The Muppet Movie

Well, it’s no secret that we here at The Black Case Diaries are BIG fans of alliteration. So, last week we departed from Musical May, and this month we are heading into…Jim Henson June! Usually, June is the month reserved for June Tunes, but we decided to shake things up this year. This week, we’re covering a Jim Henson film that is near and dear to our hearts. 

From 1976 to 1981, The Muppet Show dazzled audiences everywhere with its chaotic charm. Jim Henson was known everywhere as an innovator, and master entertainer. He took the rigid medium of puppetry, which was known to cater almost exclusively to children, and turned it into something for everyone. So, in 1979 when the Muppets were at their peak popularity, Jim Henson produced their first ever full-length feature film. It was a beautiful musical journey of how The Muppets met and came to be, with a variety of high-profile cameos speckled throughout. 

So this week, we’re moving right along, out of the swamp and on our way to Hollywood! It’s time to explore the Magic Store with The Muppet Movie! 

In the late 1970’s, Jim Henson was one of the busiest men in show business. Caroll Spinney, the man that brought Big Bird to life, called him “the hardest working man I’ve ever met.” In 1977, as Henson juggled The Muppet Show, Sesame Street, holiday specials, and live performances, he started working on The Muppet Movie. 

The film would be incredibly ambitious. No one had ever made puppets the main actors of a feature film before. Of course, Jim Henson could have turned an episode of The Muppet Show into a film. But, instead he did something much more challenging. This film would be the reverse of The Muppet Show. Instead of live actors coming to visit the muppet characters, the muppets were venturing out into the living world. 

Jim Henson brought this idea to Lord (Lew) Grade, the chief of ATV, which was the home of The Muppets. Grade was enthusiastic about the idea, and granted Henson an 8 million dollar budget (quite steep at the time). Filming started in 1978.  

SUMMARY

  • After being discovered by an agent in a swamp, Kermit the Frog decides to head to Hollywood to chase his dream of becoming a professional performer. Along the way, he meets a struggling bear comedian named Fozzy, a talented dog pianist named Rowlf, a beauty queen that happens to be a pig, an alien plummer, and many more! As the group heads to California, Kermit must also escape the clutches of an evil restaurateur that intends to use Kermit to sell deep-fried frog legs! 

MAKING OF THE MOVIE

  • Jim Henson wanted to direct The Muppet Movie himself. But, he was eventually persuaded to allow an experienced filmmaker to come in and take charge. Henson had never shot film, and the producers chose director James Frawley to take the helm. Although this was incredibly frustrating for Henson, he seemed to work well with Frawley. Frawley was familiar with directing quirky material, like episodes of the TV show, The Monkees, and Henson liked his sense of humor.  
    • Frawley performed a screen test, which helped him understand the characters and how they worked, and whether or not they would fit into the real world.
    • In a USA Today article, the director said, “We shot them in and among cows — real locations though — trees, farmland and cars to see if you accepted their reality mixed in with real reality.” 
      • Frawley admitted to not understanding their mechanics and process at first, but he was soon an ally to the muppet performers. Jim Henson had worked with directors in the past that did not understand the physical demands of puppeteering. For this film, performers would often stand in small, claustrophobic places while holding their arms above their heads. In some scenes, they hid in underground cylinders, covered with plywood and dirt. Frawley was sympathetic, and would often shout, “Muppets relax” between takes, so the actors could rest.  
    • Making a groundbreaking film meant solving a lot of problems. Frawley felt that the most difficult scenes to shoot involved driving. The scenes inside the Studebaker forced up to four puppeteers to squish together under the dashboard with their monitors since there was no room for an actual driver. Frawley had the car rigged, so a stunt driver could operate it from the trunk, while watching the road on a monitor! 
    • But the sequence that Frawley felt was the most difficult of all, was the opening shot of Kermit singing in the swamp. Originally, Jim Henson wanted the scene to be in a real swamp, but quickly abandoned the idea. Instead, he shipped in trees from Georgia, and turned a water tank into an incredibly realistic swamp set.
      • Henson had a diving bell made to sit in the four-foot tank. He squeezed inside, and was sealed in. A rubber sleeve at the top allowed him to reach up and control Kermit with one hand, and a wire allowed him to operate Kermit’s banjo movements. Except for a headset that allowed him to communicate with the outside world, and the oxygen being pumped in, Henson was essentially buried alive. The scene took 5 days to shoot. At one point, Henson was sealed in for over three hours. 
      • Any time a muppet was shown with their feet, a creative solution was required to make it happen. For example, one sequence when Kermit walked across the sand in a ghost town, the camera was ground level as someone operated two green legs from above.
  • This movie was written by Jack Burns and Jerry Juhl, the head writers for The Muppet Show. Back when Jim Henson first pitched the show, Juhl was the main writer. But, the network hired comedian Jack Burns to take the head writer title, because he was a more well-known comedian. So, Juhl understood Henson’s frustration when he wasn’t named director of The Muppet Movie. For years afterward, Juhl continued to write muppet content, and is responsible for many of the jokes that we associate with the muppets today. 
    • Juhl and Burns wrote a film that was a nod to old Hollywood. There were elements of classic movie musicals, buddy films, and slapstick comedy. But, Juhl also made sure to incorporate elements of Jim Henson’s own life. Jim Henson had left Mississippi (where there are a few swamps) to achieve his dreams in Hollywood. Like Kermit, he gathered up a group of coworkers and friends that shared his dream of wanting to bring more light into the world. He also fought to escape the clutches of the advertisement business. 
      • In Brian Jay Jones’ biography on Henson, he points to the climactic scene in which Kermit faces Doc Hopper at High Noon, as a true Jim Henson inspired moment. 
      • “Yeah well, I’ve got a dream, too. But it’s about singing and dancing and making people happy. That’s the kind of dream that gets better the more people you share it with. And, Well…I’ve found a whole bunch of friends who have the same dream. And it kind of makes us like a family.” 
      • Jones wrote that Juhl could have lifted those words verbatim from Jim Henson’s mouth. 
  • Filming took a total of 90 days, with many shots done on location in California and New Mexico!
    • The entire film was done in camera with no after effects added. Every scene was choreographed so that the actors knew exactly where to be. It’s a complicated process, because the muppets need to appear autonomous, which means that puppeteers cannot ever appear. 
    • “Simple is good,” was always one of Jim Henson’s philosophies. But, it seemed as if his definition of simple would fluctuate. Writer Jerry Juhl said, “We always used to kid Jim that after telling everybody that ‘simple is good,’ he would turn around and try to produce the most complicated work in the world.” 
      • One notable example of this would be the scene in the film when Animal consumes chemicals and grows a gigantic head. Although some suggested filming the scene using the regular-sized Animal puppet with miniatures, Jim Henson instructed his crew to build a 60-foot Animal head instead, controlled by Frank Oz. 
  • When you’re watching a Muppet movie, you’re witnessing a series of complicated maneuvers by people so talented, that it all looks seamless. Only two characters in the film were operated as suits. Sweetums, the ogre muppet that works at the used car lot, and Big Bird! 
    • Another example of these maneuvers was the scene that included legendary actor Orson Welles. As the group is about to appeal to Welles to become rich and famous, the five or six puppeteers were wheeled on a dolly across the stage and objects in the foreground were used to help conceal them, such as chairs and couches.
  • In the finale we see many of the muppets all together under a rainbow. When watching you may not even think about what kind of an amazing feat this is. You see the muppets as actual characters, but in reality they must be moved by puppeteers. In this final scene there are more than 250 Muppet characters with 137 puppeteers hiding. The scene took an entire day to shoot and several of the puppeteers were called to help from the Puppeteers of America. In the beginning of the day Henson and Oz gave a crash course in the art of cinematic puppetry.
    • We will include in the blog a picture of how they organized where each puppeteer would stand with their characters by numbers written on the ground.
The Muppets.jpg

The Muppet Movie released in America on June 22,1979! It was a critical and commercial success, just like Jim Henson knew it would be. It was one of the most profitable films of the decade. 

MUSIC

  • The music and lyrics were written by Kenneth Ascher and Paul Williams.
  • In an interview with Stephen Deusner, Paul Williams said “Jim instructed us never to write down to children. That was never the point. We were writing the story and the characters. I think the special thing about the Muppets is that they encompass every age.”
  • When Williams was asked about working with his co-writer he said that, “The way Kenny (Ascher) and I write, it’s almost like we’re one consciousness. I probably write about 85 percent of the lyrics and a little bit of the melody as I’m singing, and he writes 85 percent of the music and a little bit of the lyrics. It was a perfect collaboration for The Muppet Movie.”

SONGS

  • The Rainbow Connection
    • There are a lot of magical moments in this film, but the opening of “Rainbow Connection” is other-worldly. It starts in the sky, as the orchestral opening music fades away, to make room for the humble sound of a banjo. The camera comes in from a wide shot, reminiscent of the opening of “The Sound of Music.” This first song of the movie sets up our main protagonist Kermit so that we see him as a true character and not a pile of fabric. 
    • At the film’s premiere, Jim Henson’s 14-year-old son, John, burst into tears. When asked about it later he said, “I cried in the opening. I still do.”
      • The inspiration for The Rainbow Connection was “When you Wish Upon a Star.” Both songs deal with inner thoughts, feelings, and emotions.
      • The Rainbow Connection is essentially an “I want” song. Linda Holmes from NPR wrote this about the song, “His ‘I Want’ is not just for his own dreams to come true. It’s for those who believe in the enchanting myths that we’ve all written together to be proved right. Someday, he hopes, we will find a thread that makes all this make sense. You know. Life. It’s almost a ‘We Want’ song.”
    • Jim Henson decided that when the audience first sees Kermit he would be sitting on a log. When Williams and Ascher asked Henson what Kermit would be doing, Henson thought briefly and said Kermit would be playing a banjo. Williams and Ascher built from there.
    • Performed at the 1980 Oscars
      • It was named in 2017 by Billboards Andrew Unterberger as one of the 100 Greatest Award Show performances of all time.
    • The song hit number 25 on the Billboard Chart and stayed in the top 40 for seven weeks! 
    • Since then the song has been covered by many artists. It’s wise lyrics may not be grasped by younger listeners but it has the capacity to be appreciated by all. It has been covered by Willie Nelson, Sarah McLachlan, and Jason Mraz.
  • Movin’ Right Along
    • This song comes just as Kermit is able to “convince” Fozzie to come with him to Hollywood. It sets up the beginning of their journey together.
      • This song also shows the audience the chemistry between Fozzie and Kermit, two best friends hittin’ the road together. It sets up the film as a “buddy” and “road trip” movie. It also shows how creative the characters are, as they are singing the song and writing it in real time! 
      • This song is filled with funny asides and is a plucky tune pounded out on banjo. Movin’ Right Along is an absolute jam. It also has a great cameo from Carroll Spinney’s Big Bird! 
    • In January of this year The Muppets social media uploaded a video of current day Kermit and Fozzie singing the tune together via a phone video call as Fozzie does a quick road trip. We will link to the video if you would like to view it.
  • Never Before, Never Again
    • This song really shows Frank Oz’s range, as Miss Piggy sings a love ballad while noticing Kermit for the first time. This song is filled with silly moments of the two Muppets being in love and spending time together, although only in Miss Piggy’s imagination. 
  • I Hope that Somethin’ Better Comes Along
    • This song is unique in that Henson duets himself! In order to accomplish the performance the two tracks were recorded separately and then composited together. 
    • The Muppets constantly walk a line between entertainment for children and adults. It’s tough to say if anyone has ever done it as well as they have. This song has the most grown-up jokes, as Rowlf and Kermit lament their lady troubles.
    • Rowlf the Dog was a very special character for Jim Henson. He was as much Jim as Kermit the Frog. When Jim Henson passed away, Rowlf only made a cameo appearance in The Muppet Christmas Carol, because Brian Henson didn’t want to recast him. 
  • Can You Picture That?
    • Shortly after Fozzie and Kermit meet up, the two encounter Dr. Teeth and the Electric Mayhem (aka the heroes of the film). Hanging out in a church, which they hope to turn into a coffeehouse. Once the band finds out about Kermit’s troubles with Doc Hopper, they decide to help by disguising their car. 
      • This is also the introduction of Scooter, Kermit’s eventual stage manager! 
    • This song is filled with trippy lyrics, and hilarious Animal moments, not to mention it absolutely rocks harder than almost any song ever. 
  • I’m Going to Go Back There Someday
    • When The Muppets break down in the desert, all dreams of Hollywood seem to have been lost. Sitting around a campfire, Gonzo performs one of the most poignant songs of the film. 
    • When Dave Goelz first took up the Gonzo puppet, he was a quieter, more emotional character. He was always very emotive, more so than many other Muppets. As The Muppet Show progressed, so did Gonzo’s character. He became more confident, and hardly afraid of failure as the resident daredevil.
    • But, when it comes time to perform this song, we see the complex emotional side of Gonzo that’s more akin to his original character. “I’m Going to go back there someday,” describes how it feels when you think you have finally achieved your dreams, just to have them fall apart.
    • Just after this song, Kermit goes and has a conversation with his inner self. He feels responsible for everyone’s misery, and wishes that he never left the swamp. Then, he realizes that they came along with him because they believed in the dream, and he owes it to himself to keep trying to achieve it.
    • Kermit says, “I guess I was wrong when I said I never promised anyone. I promised me.” And he looks up just as a shooting star strikes across the desert sky. 
      • The shooting star has been recreated for several other movies in honor of Jim Henson. It was a Christmas tree light rigged to a wire. When Frawley gave the signal, it shot across the other desert stars.
    • After Henson’s passing, I’m Going to go Back There Someday was one of the songs performed for his funeral at St. John’s Cathedral in New York City.
  • America
    • In one of the funniest and most off-beat moments of the movie, Fozzie Bear sings an off-key version of America The Beautiful. The rendition is charming and warm, with Fozzie singing along to the swelling music at the end. This is the kind of moment that really appeals to younger audiences, children that are listening to the songs, but also singing along. It’s also a great representation of the silly shenanigans that often happen on a long car ride. 
  • The Magic Store
    • This song is the big finale, a moment of celebration for our heroes that finally found their way to fame! The group sings to the audience, detailing their paths from being awkward kids in school, to successful entertainers. It’s a song for the audience, inspiring them to follow their dreams, too. 
    • The group starts to perform “The Rainbow Connection” together. Then, the ceiling breaks open and a rainbow appears, distracting everyone with its beauty. The music seems to stall for one haunting moment, except for two notes gently played on the piano. Then, Kermit turns to the camera, and tells us what he learned: Life’s like a movie, write your own ending.

STARRING

MUPPETS

  • Jim Henson: Kermit the Frog/ Rowlf/ Dr. Teeth/ Waldorf/ Swedish Chef/ Link Hogthrob 
  • Frank Oz: Miss PIggy/ Fozzie Bear/ Animal/ Sam the Eagle/ Marvin Suggs/ Motorcycle Guy
  • Jerry Nelson: Floyd Pepper/ Crazy Harry/ Robin the Frog/ Lew Zealand/ Camilla/ Blue Frackle
  • Richard Hunt: Scooter/ Statler/ Janice/ Sweetums/ Beaker
  • Dave Goelz: The Great Gonzo/ Zoot/ Dr. Bunsen Honeydew/ Doglion/ Nigel/ Pig
  • Steve Whitmire: Fletcher Bird

GUEST STARS:

It isn’t The Muppets without some guest stars. The puppeteers on set were thrilled to work with the large group of celebrities that agreed to appear in the film, from Bob Hope to Richard Pryor. 

  • Charles Durning as Doc Hopper (He looks a little like Colonel Sanders)
    • At one point on set, Jim Henson and Frank Oz got into an argument about Hopper. Henson believed that they should redeem the character. He believed that of any villain, and was once quoted saying, “Our villains are innocent, really–and it’s that innocence, I think, that is our connection to the audience.” Oz reportedly responded with, “bullshit.” 
  • Austin Pendleton as Max
  • Edgar Bergen as himself and Charlie McCarthy (you know, that monocle puppet)
    • Of all the celebrities, this was the most revered by the muppet cast. Edgar Bergen was a trailblazing puppeteer that paved the way for Jim Henson and every other performer on set. Writer Jerry Juhl said that watching him perform was like being a child again. 
    • Bergen was ill while filming The Muppet Movie, but agreed to do it anyway. It would be the very last footage of him, as he died that fall. Jim Henson spoke at his funeral, and the film is dedicated in Bergen’s honor. 
  • Milton Berle as Mad Man Mooney
  • Mel Brooks as Professor Max Krassman
  • James Coburn as El Sleezo Cafe Owner
  • Dom DeLuise as Bernie the Agent
  • Elliott Gould as Beauty Contest Compere
  • Bob Hope as the Ice Cream Vendor
  • Madeline Kahn as El Sleezo Patron
  • Carol Kane as Myth
  • Cloris Leachman as Lord’s Secretary
  • Steve Martin as the Insolent Waiter
  • Richard Pryor as the Balloon Vendor
  • Telly Savalas as El Sleezo Tough
  • Orson Welles as Lew Lord
    • Lew Lord is a nod to the head of ATV, Lord Lew Grade!
  • Paul Williams as El Sleezo Pianist
  • Scott Walker as the Frog Killer

AWARDS/ HOW IT WAS RECEIVED

  • The movie grossed almost $66 million in its initial release. Lew Lord certainly made back his 8 million dollar investment. Thanks to the film’s success, several other muppet films followed. 
  • It was nominated for two Oscars, for best song and best score. It won the Saturn Award for Best Fantasy Film. 
  • When Jim Henson’s agent Bernie Brillstein saw the film, he said, “Kermit was Jim. Jim believed in the entire world.” 

The Muppet Movie was another triumph by Jim Henson. He took his team of dreamers and continued to push the boundaries of his medium. He found artists that truly understood his vision and songwriters that captured the true magic of The Muppets and what they represented. The Muppet Movie works for many reasons, but one of the most notable is because of how much every single person that touched it believed in its message. This film walks the line between silly and sentimental, displaying a truth that will stick with audiences of all ages. 

The Muppet Movie is beautiful. It’s magic personified. And the best part is that it’s for absolutely everyone: the lovers, the dreamers, and you. 

Before we go, we’d like to thank our Patrons! Joel, John, Jacob, Jacklyn, JD, Anthony, Shelli, Linda, Bob, and Carlos!

You can now buy us a Popcorn! @  buymeacoffee.com/blackcasediary   

Thank you to all that support us whether it be through listening, telling a friend, or donating!


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The Case is Alive (With the Sound of Music) Part 2

So how do you solve a problem like covering the Sound of Music? Well, you cut your episode into two parts, of course! Last week we covered the first half of the film, ending at intermission. We last saw the Von Trapps at their party, with the children singing a farewell song to the guests. After Maria discovers that she and the captain were in love (with the help of the Baroness), she has returned to the Abbey. So, let’s pick up right where we left off, discussing the remaining songs in the film. 

SONGS

  • The Sound of Music (Reprise) 
    • The second half of the film opens at the exterior of the Von Trapp Villa. They couldn’t use the real house for the film, so they used the historical Frohnburg Palace! The building is actually a musical conservatory. They had to change a lot for the exterior, like adding gates and trimming shrubs/trees to make it look like a private home. 
    • “The Sound of Music” reappears several times in the film. This time, the children sing it to Uncle Max and the Baroness as they try to get over Maria’s departure. This scene illustrates how miserable the family is without her, especially the captain. We also see the Baroness struggle to connect with the children, even as the captain announces their engagement.
  • Climb Ev’ry Mountain
    • When the children come to see Maria at the Abbey, they pull a rope to alert the nuns that they are at the gate. That rope was a prop, but the abbey liked the prop so well, they asked to keep it. As far as everyone in the movie knows, it’s still there. 
    • When Robert Wise saw The Sound of Music, he felt that the performance of “Climb Every Mountain” was so powerful, it made him want to hide under his chair. Mother Abbess sang the song out toward the audience, which is common for a stage musical. He felt that for the screen, he needed to shoot a much more subtle performance. He knew that if the character sang into the lens, it would be too intense for a film. 
      • In the play, this is a huge, show-stopping number. For the film, it’s more like a quiet, guiding voice. Although she isn’t singing, the song is more about how Maria reacts to it, and so the camera focuses more on her. Never does Mother Abbess look into the camera as she sings, making the song feel more natural and passive. 
    • As we mentioned last week, Peggy Wood wasn’t able to do her own singing. Margery McKay provided the singing voice for Mother Abbess. 
    • Julie cried because the scene was so important for her character.
    • In the very beginning of this scene, Mother Abbess is welcoming a new postulant. When Maria returns to the children, she is wearing the street clothes of that woman!
  • Something Good
    • Christopher Plummer had a very difficult time playing Captain Von Trapp. He wanted to play the part in a cynical way, but the role called for him to be sentimental. He was with screenwriter Ernie Lehman when he wrote the scene just before “Something Good.” He felt that Ernie really deepened the relationships of the characters. 
    • This song takes place in and around the same gazebo as 16 going on 17, with much darker lighting, and little to no choreography. It’s a great way to represent the difference in maturity between the two songs. 
  • Processional/ Maria
    • The wedding of Maria and Captain Georg was filmed in the Basilica at Mondsee. It’s a very popular wedding venue today! 600 locals appeared in the scene to fill out the crowd, and the actual Bishop of the Abbey stood in as the officiant. The entire scene was all shot in one day, which was contrary to many of the other scenes.
      • In real life, they were married at the Nonnberg Abbey! 
    • Julie Andrews still considers this dress to be the most beautiful costume she has ever worn. 
    • The song we hear in this scene is a beautiful choral version of Maria. As we have said before, this film uses reprises to great effect. It’s a perfect call back to the nuns and their frustration with Maria early on in the film, and also serves as their way of saying goodbye to her. How do you solve a problem like Maria? Well, maybe Maria wasn’t the problem. 
      • Irwin Kostal was the composer and arranger for the film, and weaved the themes of its songs seamlessly throughout. In scenes where there isn’t a reprise, the music is still there reminding the audience of how the characters feel. 
    • When the camera pans upward out of the church, we hear the notes of the processional fade away, and into the foreboding ring of church bells. The bells work as an audio and visual metaphor for the end of happier times. As the camera pans down, we see the nazi flag. 
  • 16 Going on 17 Reprise
    • After Maria and The Captain return from their honeymoon, Maria is purposely dressed in more mature clothing than what she wore before the wedding. In this scene, she’s finally in a motherly role. 
    • This reprise represents Leisl’s maturity as well, and the progression of her and Maria’s relationship. Remember, the first time Leisl sang this song, Maria was brand new in the house, and didn’t have her trust. 
    • This song also leads into the scene where The Captain alerts Maria that he has been drafted to be in the Third Reich Navy. From this point on, the film takes a much more serious tone as the family narrowly escapes the country.
  • Edelweiss Reprise
    • For the second and final time, Captain Von Trapp performs Edelweiss at the Salzburg festival. This time the song takes on an entirely different meaning. The first time he sang the song, he sang because he wanted to. Now, he’s singing for his life. The song has such a strong tie to the country that he loves, a country that he has watched disappear under the Nazi regime. It’s his way of saying goodbye, and moves him to tears, as the audience sings with him. 
    • Christopher Plummer said that he wasn’t “entirely sober” for this scene, as the cast had been drinking to keep warm on the cold set. 
    • Because The Sound of Music was the last musical that Oscar Hammerstein worked on before his death, Edelweiss was the last song he had ever written. It was a farewell in many ways. 
  • So Long, Farewell Reprise
    • The last song sung by the Von Trapps at the festival is, “So Long, Farewell.” Not only does this mirror the final moments of the first half of the film, it’s also a harsh comparison between the setting when the song was first performed, and the cold, dark Rocky Riding School where the festival takes place
    • The Riding Hall setting was very cold and damp, and the actors spent a lot of time on the set. The entire location had been carved from stone. 
    • The film’s assistant director recruited hundreds of extras that wore their own traditional Austrian clothing, and sat in as the audience. 
    • Just after this scene, the family hides in the graveyard, trying to escape the nazis. This scene was filmed on a soundstage, and Robert Wise did his best to build as much suspense as possible. Ernest Lehman added the confrontation between Rolfe and The Captain here to add dramatic tension.
    • We learn here that the borders have been closed, and they decide to escape through the Alps. In real life, the Von Trapps actually escaped one day before the borders were closed.  

After the Von Trapps escaped, their villa became the headquarters for Heinrich Himmler, a notorious Nazi leader. His headquarters was on the second floor of the villa, and Hitler himself visited him there. After the war, the villa was returned to the Von Trapps, and they donated it to the church. In the commentary, Maria’s youngest son revealed that Himmler’s headquarters were turned into a chapel. 

CAST

  • Dame Julie Andrews as Maria
    • When Julie Andrews was cast in The Sound of Music, she was fairly unknown as a film actress. The two films that she had acted in (one of them being Mary Poppins) had not been released. Of course she had made her mark on the stage, playing Eliza Doolittle in My Fair Lady. But, was famously passed up for Audrey Hepburn when the play was optioned for film. 
    • Julie had a strong connection to Maria. Both of their lives had been changed by music, and they were born exactly 30 years apart. 
      • Maria Von Trapp thanked Julie for playing her as a “tomboy” because it was true to how she really was. 
      • Christopher Plummer made the comment that this was the most natural role he ever saw Julie play, that this character was the most like her actual self. Robert Wise also shared that Julie is as warm as her character in real life, and they remained friends after the film. 
    • Andrews was jealous that other actors were able to tour the area while they were filming. Her schedule didn’t allow her to do that, even though she was very fond of her costars and wanted to spend time with them. 
      • She actually formed a singing group with some of her costars, to keep their spirits up on long days. They called themselves “The Vocalzones,” which are lozenges that help relieve strained vocal chords. 
    • She was 28 when she played the role, meaning that in real life, she was only 7 years older than the oldest Von Trapp child, Liesl. 
      • She also at this time had a daughter that was only one at the time. She would often sit on Robert Wise’s knee and watch her mother during shooting.
    • Dame Julie is most well known for not only this movie but Mary Poppins, and The Princess Diaries.
  • Christopher Plummer as Captain Von Trapp
    • He was a stage actor before becoming an actor in films and television. He has been in many including National Treasure, All the Money in the World, The Thorn Birds, and Knives Out.
      • While filming the movie, Julie Andrews was a little struck by him. She had seen his stage performances and thought he was a brilliant actor. 
    • After seeing Christopher on stage multiple times, Robert Wise specifically wanted him as the Captain. Wise saw the character of the captain as boring and he thought Christopher would make him more interesting and add a certain darkness to the character.
      • At one point, Wise flew to London to convince Christopher Plummer to take the part. He was concerned that he wasn’t old enough to play the captain, so Wise had a make-up artist show him how he would look in age make-up. Finally, Wise convinced Plummer to take the part.
    • He famously admitted that he did not like children. He called them little monsters and saw them as inconvenient to film production due to labor laws and how long filming could be. He did end up coming to adore the children in this movie.
    • He also famously did not like the movie, often referring to it as “The Sounds of Mucus” or “SNM.” He was also known to have said that, “The damn movie follows me around like an albatross.” 
  • Eleanor Parker as The Baroness
    • An Ohio born Actress she was in many movies and tv series including Caged, The Naked Jungle, and Escape from Fort Bravo. 
  • Richard Hadyn as Max Detweiler
    • He has been in Young Frankenstein, Alice in Wonderland (1951), and And Then There Were None.
    • After filming had wrapped Robert Wise had enjoyed Richards company so much that they often would meet up to chat.
  • Peggy Wood as Mother Abbess
    • She has been in A Star is Born (1937), Mama, and The Story of Ruth.
  • Charmian Carr as Liesl
    • The Sound of Music was her biggest role. 
    • At the time when she was playing the oldest child, a 16 year old, she was about 21. It was her first time away from home. In her book, “Forever Liesl,” she detailed her experience on the set, including interactions with Christopher Plummer that many have raised their eyebrows at. On the audio commentary, she said that he was her favorite thing about making the film. 
  • Heather Menzies-Urich as 13 year old Louisa
    • She appeared in tv movies and shows and the movie Piranha.
  • Nicholas Hammond as 14 year old Friedrich
    • He has appeared in things like Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, Crocodile Dundee in Los Angeles, and Stealth.
  • Duane Chase as 11 year old Kurt
    • This was his biggest role.
  • Angela Cartwright as 10 year old Brigitta
    • She appeared in the television series Lost in Space and the movie Beyond the Poseidon Adventure.  
  • Debbie Turner as 7 year old Marta
    • This was her biggest role.
  • Kym Karath as 5 year old Gretl
    • She briefly appeared on several television series such as The Brady Bunch, The Waltons, and All My Children.
  • Anna Lee as Sister Margaretta
    • She has been in several things such as What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?, General Hospital, and Fort Apache.
  • Ben Wright as Herr Zeller
    • He has done voice work in One Hundred and One Dalmatians, The Little Mermaid, and The Jungle Book.
  • Daniel Truhitte as Rolfe, Liesl’s love interest
    • This was his biggest role.
  • Norma Varden as Frau Schmidt
    • She has been in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, Strangers on a Train, and Witness for the Prosecution.
  • Gilchrist Stuart as Franz
    • He has been in The Wild Wild West, A Yank in the R.A.F., and Assault on a Queen.
  • Portia Nelson as Sister Berthe
    • She has been in Doctor Dolittle (1967), The Other, and The Trouble with Angels.
    • She was known as a comedic actress, and Julie Andrews loved the character she brought to Sister Berthe, especially at the end when the sister sabotage the Nazi’s cars
  • Marni Nixon as Sister Sophia
    • She was a well known ghost singer for the leading ladies in movies like The King and I, My Fair Lady, and West Side Story. Wise wanted her to be able to step out  of the shadows for this movie and be a face that we all see!
  • Evadne Baker as Sister Bernice
    • She was also known for the movies Shock Treatment and 7 Women from Hell.
  • Doris Lloyd as Baroness Ebberfeld
    • We can’t name all the movies that Doris was in because she had been in 150 movies between 1920 and 1960!

AWARDS/ HOW IT WAS RECEIVED

  • When test audiences viewed the film, it was clear that it would be successful. But, no one could have foreseen the level of success that this film would achieve.
  • When the film opened in 1965, audiences flocked to it. For the next four years, the soundtrack sat near the top of the Billboard charts, and was number 1 for 70 weeks in the UK. It was nominated for 10 Oscars, and would win 5. The Sound of Music was more than a success, it was a cultural phenomenon. But, critics didn’t like it. For example, in an original review for the New York Times, critic Bosley Crowther said, “The adults are fairly horrendous, especially Christopher Plummer as Captain Von Trapp.Looking as handsome and phony as a store-window Alpine guide, Mr. Plummer acts the hard-jawed, stiff-backed fellow with equal artificiality.” 
    • One critic was reportedly fired for writing an incredibly harsh review of the film! But, it didn’t have any effect on its commercial success. 
  • There were other critics of the film as well. For example, the real Maria Von Trapp was unhappy with the film’s ending, as the family escapes through the Alps. As we said last week, the family would have had to travel 200 miles on foot over the alps to arrive in Switzerland. In response to this criticism, Robert Wise simply said that Hollywood has a way of making its own geography. 
  • Since the premiere of the Sound of Music, it has been translated into at least 30 languages. It was the top grossing film of all time between 1965 and 1972!
  • The film brought thousands of tourists to Salzburg, so they could visit where it was filmed.
  • One wonderful result of the film was an interest in the Nonnberg Abbey. Many young girls all over the world saw this movie and there were several that felt called to become Nuns. The Abbey accepted several new postulants after the film’s release. The Mother Abbess at the time of the 50th anniversary even said that they all love to sing!
  • Another wonderful result is that Julie Andrews was told many times by people that it is the reason they went into theater, became singers, and more!

When the Sound of Music premiered, it looked like nothing more than a blockbuster film. Critics didn’t like it, it was too hopeful, too unrealistic. It was a sugar-coated view of a turbulent time, and audiences ate it up. But as time went on, it became clear that The Sound of Music was much more than that. It is a film that has inspired millions of people, and continues to do so. Its intricate sets, sweeping cinematography, and charming songs, told a story that the world longed to hear. 

The Sound of Music is about so many things: family, romance, war, and the healing power of music. The first act shows us a romance and a family reconnecting through music. The second half shows the family relying on music and each other to help them through incredible challenges. In the 1960’s, Hitler and the second world war was still fresh on the minds of many moviegoers. Some would criticize the sound of music for being optimistic, but audiences yearned for a happy ending. 

And beyond that, this is a film that undoubtedly changed lives. It influenced some to join the theater, and its songs have lifted the spirits of countless people. This film has brought families together, and many of us can’t separate it from some of our happiest movie memories. Even though The Sound of Music was released over 50 years ago, it is still very much alive, and is still one of our favorite things. 

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