Stanley Donen, the legendary director of musicals and romantic comedies, has died at age 94. He started as a choreographer and dance director before being elevated to director status at MGM, where he brought to the screen some of cinema's greatest musicals. Among his achievements: "On the Town", "Royal Wedding", "Singin' in the Rain", "Seven Brides for Seven Brothers", "Kismet", "Funny Face" and "Damn Yankees". As the traditional musical genre started to decline, Donen concentrated on comedies such as "Once More with Feeling", "The Grass is Greener", "Two for the Road" and "Bedazzled". One of his biggest hits was the 1963 comedy thriller "Charade" starring Cary Grant and Audrey Hepburn, which can be described as the best Hitchcock movie not directed by Hitchcock. A similarly-themed spy thriller, "Arabesque" starring Gregory Peck and Sophia Loren, was not as well received. Donen had other artistic misfires in the course of his career including the big budget 1975 comedy "Lucky Lady" and he also directed, produced and wrote the 1969 poignant comedy "Staircase" starring Richard Burton and Rex Harrison as an aging gay couple. The film was ahead of its time in its sympathetic portrayal of a homosexual relationship. Surprisingly, Donen was never nominated for a directing Oscar but the Academy awarded him a lifetime achievement honor in 1998. For more click here.
Finney with Audrey Hepburn in Stanley Donen's "Two for the Road".
BY LEE PFEIFFER
Albert Finney, who rose to fame and acclaim as one of Britain's generation of actors known as "Angry Young Men", has died at age 82. A chest infection was cited as cause of death. Finney was among an exciting new generation of British actors who burst upon the scene in the 1950s and 1960s, reaping critical praise for their realistic portrayals often of troubled men who were being constrained by socio-economic conditions that afflicted the lower income class in post-War Britain. His star-making role came in director Karl Reisz's "kitchen sink" classic, the 1960 film "Saturday Night and Sunday Morning" which reflected the frustrations of the working class. Finney called upon his real life experiences growing up in Northwest England under somewhat spartan living conditions.
As a newly-minted star, he screen tested for director David Lean for the title role of "Lawrence of Arabia" but Finney didn't want to sign a five picture deal with the film's producer Sam Speigel. Peter O'Toole took the role and became a major name in international cinema. Finney was somewhat opaque compared to other young actors that emerged in the UK in the 1960s. He wasn't the publicity seeker that Richard Burton was, nor was he the hard-drinking, towel snapping joker Richard Harris was. He was thought by some critics to have not achieved his full promise on stage or screen, despite having been nominated for five Oscars and thirteen BAFTAs. (He won two of the latter.) Finney was a remote figure in a publicity-hungry industry. He rarely gave interviews and was often cynical about the shallowness of fame. He refused to attend any of the ceremonies at which he was nominated. Perhaps his best-loved role was in "Tom Jones", the 1963 screen adaptation of Henry Fielding's bawdy comedic novel. Yet, Finney's work on the big screen was spotty. He didn't work very frequently and sometimes chose projects that were not especially successful at the boxoffice. His more prominent films include "Murder on the Orient Express", "Erin Brockovich", "Two for the Road", "The Victors", "Scrooge", "Wolfen", "Shoot the Moon", "Annie", "Traffic", "The Bourne Ultimatum" and "The Bourne Legacy". He was off screen for a number of years while he waged a successful battle against cancer. His final role was a memorable one: as Kincade, the grumpy old farmer and boyhood friend of James Bond in the 2012 blockbuster "Skyfall". For more click here.