Flashback
A look back at this day in film history
December 22
Louis Malle October 31, 1932
Louis Malle born

The great French director Louis Malle was born October 30, 1932. Coming of movie-making age alongside the New Wave directors, Malle was never formally associated with that movement and, perhaps, was never treated as a boundary-breaking director. But he still created a number of sensuous and sometimes controversial works that were some of the best French films of the ‘50s, ‘60s, ‘70s and ‘80s. Crossing from documentary to fiction, occasionally drawing from the world of theater, and refusing to be bound by the “French system” by venturing into Hollywood, Malle was an elegant storyteller whose works usually featured indelible characters and strong emotions. Malle’s first film was as co-director with Jacques Cousteau of The Silent World, an undersea documentary that was the first non-fiction film to win the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival. His first fiction film was Elevator to the Gallows, a terse crime pic with a moody Miles Davis score. Also in 1958 was the hugely successful Les Amants, starring Jeanne Moreau in a tale of adultery. In 1971, he made Murmur of the Heart, which featured mother/son incest, and in 1978 he made, in the States, Pretty Baby, starring a young Brooke Shields as child prostitute in 1917 New Orleans. Because of all these films, Malle was often thought of as a director who tackled controversial themes, but his best films were simpler human dramas where his skill for casting and directing actors could shine. In Atlantic City, for example, Susan Sarandon played a down-on-her-heels woman struggling to remake herself as a croupier in Atlantic City who befriends an aging numbers runner, Lou, played by Burt Lancaster. Wrote Roger Ebert, “What's interesting, even with a seemingly commercial project like Atlantic City, is how resolutely [Malle] stayed with the human dimension of his story and let the drug plot supply an almost casual background.” Malle died in November 23, 1995, of lymphoma.


More Flashbacks
Around the World in Eighty Days Dec. 22, 1956
Around the World in Eighty Days Premieres

Based on the novel by Jules Verne, the 1956 film Around the World in 80 Days, which opened in L.A. on December 22, 1956, was the kind of glorious cinematic jape that rarely is produced anymore.

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December 22, 1993
Philadelphia breaks the AIDS barrier

A few days before Christmas, Jonathan Demme’s groundbreaking AIDS melodrama hit screens, just in time for Academy consideration. A month later the film was duly rewarded, garnering five nominations, with Tom Hanks winning for Best Actor and Bruce Springsteen winning Best Song. But the road to Philadelphia was neither straight, nor clear. Years earlier, producer Scott Rudin worked with screenwriter Ron Nyswaner to get a film about AIDS started. The two looked at a range of stories, including that of Geoffrey Bowers, a New York City attorney who was fired after he showed signs of HIV in 1986. Rudin sold the concept to TriStar who worked with Jonathan Demme (who’d just won an Oscar for Silence of the Lambs in 1991). For Rudin and Nyswaner, both gay men who’d experienced the deaths of many friends, the issue was personal. Likewise for Demme, who dealt with illness and death of his wife’s best friend: “When Juan [Botas] said he was HIV positive, I reacted in the only positive way I could, which was to try to work somehow.” While Demme made Philadelphia to be “targeted for the malls," he wanted the set to be true to the people dealing with the epidemic. Of the 53 gay men cast in the film, nearly 43 died within the next year. At one point, Demme was forced into a fight with TriStar over casting openly gay actor Ron Vawter; the studio wanted to reject him because they could not take out insurance on him. Demme only had to point out the cruel irony of the studio firing an actor in a film about someone being fired for having HIV.

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