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Garry Armstrong – Desert Island Films

As promised, here is part 2 of the Armstrong family edition of Desert Island Films. After Marilyn’s Desert Island Film choices were posted this morning, her husband Garry has been persuaded/pressured/forced into sharing his thoughts with us. Without trying to embarrass him too much, in his wife’s own words; Garry been on TV for 40 years. He’s a walking film encyclopedia and the lucky dog actually got to sit and talk to Cagney, Hepburn and The Duke, Black Edwards, William Holden …. kind of everyone. 

As you may notice Garry has picked a few more than 8 films, and has a unique take on my rules for the luxury items and books. But hey, I’m sure you will all agree that if the rules are to be broken for anyone, Garry is more than worthy! Please sit back and read what is easily my favourite ‘castaway‘ so far (no offence, but come on, look who he has met!), and if enough people enjoy it we may get treated to more stories from Garry very soon! 🙂

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Desert Island Films is about choosing 8 films you would take if you were going to be stranded on a desert island and explaining your choices. They don’t necessarily have to be your favourites, just 8 films, no more or no less! You are also permitted to take one book and one novelty item which must be inanimate and of no use in escaping the island or allowing communication from outside.

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Garry Armstrong – Desert Island Films

This is a post I would have liked to ponder over a bit longer, but The Wife is very sweetly asking me to jot down my list of favorites right now. She’s out-of-order! You’re all out-of-order!

That said, here we go:

The Searchers

I love westerns. This may be the best ever made and it’s Duke Wayne’s finest performance. My director idol, John Ford, said of his masterpiece, “It’ll do”.

Casablanca

Everyone’s go-to movie easily could be number one. I remember chatting with Julius Epstein, one of the co-screenwriters, who told me how crazy it was on the set with revised scripts rushed in every day as they set up shots.

Epstein said Bogie was never fazed and usually nailed his lines on the first take. Director Michael Curtiz, on the other hand, was very “upset”, according to Epstein.

The Best Years of our Lives

Wonderful film but, admittedly, a sentimental choice here. The very FIRST film I ever saw at a movie theatre.

It was 1946. My Dad had just returned from the war. He was dressed in his uniform. He seemed ten feet tall and very heroic. The theme of the movie, GI’s trying to cope with post-war life, is timeless. Little did I know that it would be an issue in my family.

The Magnificent Seven

Another great western. I saw it numerous times when it opened in 1960. I know all the lines.

The cast of then relatively unknown actors was terrific. Steve McQueen was my movie hero — next to Duke Wayne. I even tried to dress like McQueen. Didn’t quite work out. Years later, I had a sit down chat with James Coburn who related how wild things were during the shooting of “Seven”. He told me how McQueen used to drive the nominal star, Yul Brynner, crazy with upstaging bits of business. Charles Bronson was described as “one very quiet and strange dude”. Coburn admitted everyone was sneaking in “bits” trying to outdo each other.

The Great Escape

Think “The Magnificent Seven” as a World War two prison escape war movie instead of a western. James Coburn said he marvelled at how director John Sturges kept control of the “boys”, including several of the “Magnificent Seven” cast members.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t single out Elmer Bernstein’s distinctive musical score in both films. Those scores or “themes” would achieve their own celebrity over the years.

All About Eve

I’ve always loved this one!! The cast, acting, dialogue, and script are superb. It’s about the theatre world. But anyone who’s had a professional life in the public eye can relate to the characters and the plot. Bette Davis was at the top of her game (role was originally slated for Claudette Colbert who had to pass).

The wonderful supporting cast included Anne Baxter, Celeste Holm, Gary Merrill, Gregory Ratoff, Hugh Marlowe, Thelma Ritter, a young Marilyn Monroe and the estimable George Sanders in his career-defining role. I shared Bloody Mary’s with Gary Merrill when he was in Boston (that’s another story) and had me laughing about life on the set of “All About Eve”. He and Ms. Davis fell in love while making “Eve”. However, the theatrics within the theatrics were something to behold, Merrill recalled. Everyone was trying to upstage everyone else but nobody upstaged Bette Davis. Gary Merrill grinned as he refilled my drink. And, George Sanders, Merrill said, was George Sanders on and off camera.

Yankee Doodle Dandy

Oh, how I adore this movie and WHY didn’t they make it in color?? Had the great fortune to meet James “Call me Jimmy” Cagney in the early 70′s on Martha’s Vineyard. I was awestruck. He was very kind. Seems he had caught my work as a TV news reporter and just wanted to say he liked what he saw. Over coffee, we talked about the joys of doing what we loved and the frustration of dealing with “suits” or executives. I mostly just listened. He talked about the making of “Yankee Doodle Dandy” and how, clearly, that was his personal favorite “job” in his long career. He was glad to do the music biopic and show off his dancing chops which he’d always had but were rarely used in previous films. He credited his unusual dance movements to mannerisms of his old street pals in New York’s “hell’s Kitchen” where he grew up.

My favorite scene in “Yankee Doodle Dandy” is near the end where Cagney/Cohan, dances down the stairs at the White House.

My wife Marilyn and I usually replay this scene three, four, five times whenever we watch the film.

Shane

Another classic western. Alan Ladd’s shining hour and another gem in director George Steven’s illustrious career. The photography and editing are wonderful. Victor Young’s music is evocative. Perhaps my favorite sequence is the burial of “Reb”. The dialogue is muted and the plaintive harmonica music, ”Dixie” and then “Taps” is contrasted with Reb’s dog softly wailing over the grave and two youngsters nearby — oblivious to the tragedy — playing with a horse. The continuous scene then pans down to a long shot of the nearby town ending with an ominous dirge. Powerful, poetic stuff!!

The final scene of Shane — slightly slumped in saddle — riding away to the mountains with the young boy calling after him is the stuff of movie legend.

The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance

Another John Ford-John Wayne classic. This is Ford near the end of his career. It’s his homage to the ending of the west as he’s depicted it for most of his professional life, dating back to silent films. Shot in black and white on a small budget, Ford is more concerned about characters than action.

Duke Wayne and Jimmy Stewart, teamed for the first time, are the perfect choices, albeit a little long in the teeth, to play the contrasting leads. Wayne is the rough tough cowman. Stewart is the sensitive lawyer who wants to see justice meted out by the court rather than Wayne’s six-shooter. Lee Marvin’s “Liberty Valance” borders on parody but that’s okay.

Great supporting cast including Edmond O’Brien, Vera Miles, Andy Devine, Lee van Cleef, Strother Martin and Woody Strode (why did they have to call him “Boy” in one scene). The “print the legend” theme is so ironic and haunting. Ford is trying to break his habit of printing the legend but the public doesn’t want the facts.

The haunting theme at the end of “Liberty Valance” is the same mournful theme Ford used 25 years earlier in “Young Mr. Lincoln“.

The Quiet Man

Ford and Wayne again — this time in Ireland. Ford’s tribute to his birth place. Wonderful photography!! The green hills and pastures of Ireland never looked lovelier. Just watch out for the sheep dung. The music is memorable. “Wild Colonial Boy” pub sequence is pure John Ford. The Wayne-McLagen epic fight is in Hollywood’s hall of Fame.

Marilyn and I visited Cong and the remnants of “The Quiet Man’s” cabin during our honeymoon in Ireland in 1990. That’s when we found out that — guess who — has Irish roots.

Will Penny

Another western and a relatively unheralded film. It’s Charlton Heston‘s realistic take on the life of an aging cow puncher. Had the genuine pleasure to “hang out” with “Chuck” on several occasions and he was a very nice, down to earth guy (just ask Marilyn). This was the pre-NRA Heston. Anyway, during one of our sit-downs, he talked about making “Will Penny” as a personal project.

He had done several traditional westerns and wanted to do one that was authentic and free of Hollywood glamour and happy endings. “Will Penny” is perhaps Heston’s best acting work. It is understated with Heston showing a range of emotion not usually apparent in his more typical epic screen characters.

S.O.B.

Terrific Blake Edwards film that angered Hollywood insiders — with good reason. Again, if you’ve had a professional career in the public eye, you will absolutely love this movie. You know these people. You’ve worked with and for these people. William Holden’s talk to his depression-ridden pal was all too real and could easily have been Holden’s own eulogy.

Most of the ensemble star cast, plus Edwards, stopped in Boston to promote the movie. The behind the scenes arm-twisting coming out of Hollywood was trying to kill the film. On that memorable Saturday morning, I was with only one or two other reporters (who also left after 5 minutes or so to chase more meaningful stories), listening to William Holden (a few sheets to the wind), Robert Preston, Craig (Peter Gunn) Stevens, Loretta Swit, Blake Edwards and others chat about making “S.O.B.”. It sounded more like a “Bitch session” than a movie promotion. In fact, it sounded very familiar to me.

There are so many other films on my list. “To Kill A Mockingbird”. Atticus, I believe, was rated the most popular movie hero in a recent poll. Then and now, “Mockingbird” resonates on so many levels. The movie does Harper Lee’s wonderful book full justice. That, alone, is a miracle.

There are so many favorite films and stars I could mention with personal “war stories” or anecdotes. And there are musicals, romance. And comedies. ”So many movies, so little time” takes on new meaning. All great movies. Just not the only great movies.

Luxury Item and a Book

Luxury? I want a fully functioning bathroom! Lots of hot water, flush toilets, a life time collection of clean towels, papers, etc. and a hotline to a plumber.

I cannot pick one book. Impossible. How about a library card? Or a Kindle and an unlimited charge account at Amazon? Because no way will one book cut it!!

I need to sign off because I’m burning daylight. Maybe another time if there is interest. There’s still the John Wayne story to tell, Pilgrims. There are plenty more movies to talk about and many more tales to tell … Happy trails!

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Thanks again to Garry for taking the time to join the prestigious Head In A Vicecastaway” list. If you would like to submit your choices and add your name to this list, please drop me an email to – tysoncarter@hotmail.co.uk

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25 Comments

  1. Thank you SO much for doing this Garry!! And thanks to you also Marilyn for persuading him to join this project. I hope everyone else loves this list as much as I do. Some brilliant choices, reasons and tantalising little stories. You have had some life sir 🙂 Thanks again!

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  2. This One Is Also A Helluva List.
    Some Great Films Here, Totally Totally.
    I’m Partial To His John Wayne Selections, Fo SHO! hehehe

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    • Garry Armstrong

       /  September 20, 2012

      Hey, thanks for the “props”. It’s amazing that Duke Wayne still ranks high in popularity ratings 32 years after his death. Met him in ’73 or ’74 in Boston when he was plugging “McQ”. There’s a long story to that day but — for now — gotta tell a short one on me. When I returned to the TV newsroom after the Wayne interview, I just kept walking around repeatedly blabbering “Do you know who shook my hand today?”. Finally, one of my obviously unimpressed colleagues told me to ‘shut up — and go away’. I did. But I didn’t wash my hand that day!!!!

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  3. Garry has stories within stories. Sometimes I think he forgets how few people actually get to meet the stars, the Presidents, the makers and shakers of this world. I got a taste of it … but he was really there. I have heard most of the stories more than once, but they never bore me. It’s a peek into a world I would otherwise never have glimpsed. Thanks for the terrific write up!!

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    • Thank you for doing your list and getting Garry to share some of his thoughts with us!!

      Just really nice to read about someone who has been there and done it, but dropped into the style of this list worked really well and I loved the stories behind his film choices! I’ll let him off with his luxury items, and both of you choosing your kindles! Although as my wife said they have fantastic battery length 🙂

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      • We are both such addicted readers that the idea of being without books is terrifying. As we’ve gotten older and less physically active, books have become as important as they were when we were awkward kids. I love movies … but I *need* books.

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  4. Victor De Leon

     /  September 20, 2012

    Whoa. I’m speechless. Awesome list.

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    • Garry Armstrong

       /  September 20, 2012

      Hey, Victor!! Thank you! There’ll be more to come. As I mentioned to someone else (Mark), I’m brainstorming another piece that will give some background to all these anecdotes. I think, I hope you’ll find the stories behind the celebrity anecdotes yet to come — just as interesting.

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  5. By far the best Castaway yet. Some excellent choices there Garry and some excellent little stories to go along with your choices.

    Don’t go Garry, come back and tell us pilgrims some more tales. I’d love hear more.

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    • Garry Armstrong

       /  September 20, 2012

      Hi, Mark!! I’m not going away. I have some thoughts perking that hopefully will give a common and personal thread to all the celebrity encounters I’ve been so lucky to have in almost half a century. Hopefully, the “back stories” will be as interesting as the anecdotes.

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  6. thanks for this, very much… i have not seen all but that gives me an excuse to scan old DVDs at the department store. this is a very good refresher for the classic Westerns, when lead actors were really dashing and larger than life… you did well by pointing out the roles played by the directors and producers who had visions and saw the creations in their imaginations first…. regards to you and the wife. 🙂

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    • Garry Armstrong

       /  September 20, 2012

      Just to say “Thank You very much” for the kind comments. There’ll be more to come.

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  7. This is such an amazing list! I love all the stories – does Garry have a blog? Because I would read his stories every single day – I’m completely fascinated with old Hollywood and nostalgia in general – just hearing about these conversations with people is phenomenal – I love it – please come back, Garry, please?? 🙂

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    • Garry doesn’t blog but I’m hoping these comments will show him people want to hear more. I’m trying to convince him to share more stories I can post on here 🙂

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    • Garry Armstrong

       /  September 20, 2012

      Hi, Misty! Thanks for the lovely comment. I am a computer klutz and burned out TV news reporter. My Wife, Marilyn, patiently gets me to sit down and write. There will be more to come! Again, thank you so very much for the kind words.

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  8. garryarmstrong

     /  September 20, 2012

    My head is swelling as I write. I am AWED at the response of folks to my movies list and anecdotes. I really was very, very fortunate to meet so many of these legends across the years of my professional life. I am guessing that my genuine love of movies made them feel like they could treat me as a friend and not just another reporter trying to meet a deadline. Some of these encounters still blow my mind. Early on in my career, I was working at a very small TV station in Hartford, Connecticut. I got a call from someone who claimed to be Katherine Hepburn. Long story relatively short: It WAS Katherine Hepburn!! Fast forward to an afternoon visit at Miss Hepburn’s Connecticut hideaway. She told me she ‘liked my cut and that I showed promise…I needed to do something about my wardrobe..but would probably do well’. When asked about my career, I blurted out complaints about executives. Miss Hepburn then launched into a number of stories about Hollywood “suits” who drove her ‘nuts’. Along the way, she included Spencer Tracy in her stories. She stopped and confided that she rarely — if ever — talked about Tracy to news people. I think I just blushed!! A very memorable afternoon that left me a little dizzy for the rest of the day. So, As I say, I have been so very lucky to have these stories. They get a little fuzzy as time goes by. An old friend had to remind me — the day Paul Newman died — that we’d spent an entire day with the legendary actor. I had completely forgotten!!! So, I am most happy to share these stories when I can get myself to sit down at the computer. I am indebted to my namesake for posting this flattering piece. Thank you all!!!!!!

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    • With some wifely finagling, I am gradually getting Garry to author here and there … I wish I could just record him and post that! Anyway, he posted this originally as a comment, but I redid it under his authorship since he did write it, albeit out of format. It was too good to bury in comments to my little story:

      Garry on the Sagebrush Trail — http://teepee12.wordpress.com/2012/09/20/along-the-sagebrush-trail/

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    • Brilliant story Garry. I could listen to these all day. You really should try and get more of these stories out there. People will lap this stuff up my friend. As for the Paul Newman one, I must hear more. He was one of my all time favourites.

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      • Garry Armstrong

         /  September 20, 2012

        Mark, met Paul Newman when he was in Boston for his “Hole In The Wall” charity. Somehow one, brief interview turned into lunch and almost a full day of chatter about a variety of things. The rest I’ll leave for another day. If I forget, you can remind me. Still shakin’ the bush, Boss!

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    • You are more than welcome! I told you people wanted to hear this stuff Garry! You have us all on the edge of our seats wanting more 🙂

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  9. Carly

     /  September 21, 2012

    I’m so glad you decided to write this list! Love hearing your stories and can’t wait to hear more. I’m ashamed to admit i haven’t seen Casablanca from start to finish but really need to. All About Eve is one of my Grandma’s favourites. I remember searching it out when we moved to DVD’s for her. Look forward to you next post!

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  10. Very cool and interesting. Love to see this project grow 🙂

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  1. Marilyn’s Desert Island Films | Head In A Vice

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