Imelda Staunton in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix courtesy Warner Bros.
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Question: I've seen Harry Potter five times now - I liked it that much - and I'm still wowed by Imelda Staunton's portrayal of Umbridge. Is there any chance she'll get nominated for an Oscar? I know the Academy Awards are iffy about nominating actors for roles in sci-fi-fantasy movies, which is why I fear she'll get no Oscar nomination. But do you think she'll at least get nominated for a Golden Globe, since the Hollywood Foreign Press tend to be a bit more creative with their nominations? - Lisa

FlickChick: I think the odds that Imelda Staunton will be recognized with an Academy Award nomination for her excellent performance in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix are slim to none, because yes, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has a long-standing bias against horror/sci-fi/fantasy films. At least Staunton was was nominated in 2004 for the title role in Vera Drake, although she lost to Hilary Swank for Million Dollar Baby.

Your question made me curious, so I did a quick (and not definitive) inventory of actors and actresses nominated for genre roles, and the pickings are pretty slim. Fredric March was nominated for Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1932) and Roland Young for Topper (1935). A best-supporting-actress nom went to Whoopi Goldberg for Ghost (1990), and Willem Dafoe was nominated for Shadow of the Vampire (2000), which is a meta-vampire movie rather than a straightforward one, but it's a vampire movie nonetheless. Janet Leigh got a nod for Psycho (1960); Ruth Gordon was nominated for best supporting actress in Rosemary's Baby (1968); and Jason Miller, Ellen Burstyn and Linda Blair earned nods for The Exorcist (1973). More recently, Toni Collette and Haley Joel Osment were nominated for The Sixth Sense (1999). Not a lot, given that the Academy has been handing out statuettes since 1927.

Thrillers fare better: That's where you get Kathy Bates for Misery (1990) and Anthony Hopkins and Jodie Foster for The Silence of the Lambs (1991)... all best actor/actress winners. Edward Norton was also nominated for Primal Fear (1996). Back in the '60s, we have Audrey Hepburn in Wait Until Dark (1967), Samantha Eggar in The Collector (1965), Victor Buono and Bette Davis in What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962), Kim Stanley in Seance on a Wet Afternoon (1964), Nancy Kelly and Patty McCormack in The Bad Seed (1956), Barbara Stanwyck in Sorry, Wrong Number (1948), and Ethel Barrymore in The Spiral Staircase (1946). Awful lot of ladies on this list, huh?

I don't know that Staunton's chances are much better at the Golden Globes. While the Hollywood Foreign Press Association does regularly nominate films that aren't recognized by the Academy, I can't say I've noticed that they're significantly warmer to genre films.

Question: I have a couple of questions for you. I recently saw the great Sergio Leone's epic Once Upon a Time in the West, and was awestruck by Claudia Cardinale's beauty. But it was obvious that her lines were dubbed, leading me to ask the following: Who overdubbed Ms. Cardinale's lines? And does Hollywood still follow this practice, where foreign actresses in Hollywood feature films have their lines overdubbed? Great job on the column; much thanks in advance! - Stephen

FlickChick: I've had absolutely no luck tracking down the identity of the actress who dubbed Claudia Cardinale's voice for the English-language version of Once Upon a Time in the West (1969). But that's not unusual. Hollywood wasn't actually responsible for that piece of dubbing: For most of the history of the Italian film industry, it was common practice not to record direct sound. That means all the dialogue was looped in postproduction, even if the entire cast was Italian and they were all post-dubbing their own parts.

The 1960s were the age of multinational coproduction, and Italian producers - particularly of genre films like Westerns and thrillers - made it their business to cast one actor from each territory in which they thought they could market the final product. This often produced a modern-day tower of Babel on the set, with actors speaking lines in their own languages even if no one else could understand them. Then the whole business was post-dubbed in various languages. Some actors did their own looping for foreign languages they spoke: Franco Nero, for example, usually dubbed his own English-language tracks. Others didn't: Klaus Kinski made dozens of Italian and Spanish Westerns and I have yet to hear his voice on an English-language print (or an Italian one, for that matter).

The upshot is that there was a significant community of actors in Europe who made their living dubbing movies into other languages but were never credited. Every once in a while some fan will be interviewing some second-string actor who worked in Europe in the '60s and 1970s, and it will come out that he or she did dubbing work on the side. But that's pretty much the only way those voices ever get attached to names.

As for dubbing practices now, the theatrical market for foreign films in the U.S. is now so specialized that almost no one ever bothers, except for animated films. A rare recent exception was Miramax's decision to dub Life Is Beautiful (1998) into English, and it was a disaster. The prevailing thinking is that any American willing to watch a German, French or Italian film is willing to read subtitles. I do, however, see optional dubbing on some DVDs.

Question: Let me start by saying I love your columns, I love you on the podcast, and I just got your book and cannot wait to read it! Being a horror fan, it's nice to have a movie critic who enjoys and appreciates the genre. Quality films too often get written off because they carry the label of "horror." That said, onto my question. When I was a kid, I was a big fan of the animated movie The Last Unicorn. For years I'd been hearing some buzz that they may do a live-action version of it, but I have never heard anything really beyond that. Can you confirm that there will be a live-action version, and if so, any ideas on when it might start filming or who might be in it? - Kim

FlickChick: Wow, I wish I had great news, but I trust you're not going to drop me like a hot potato for having to report that as far as I can determine, the long-rumored live-action remake of Peter S. Beagle's novel The Last Unicorn seems to be going nowhere fast.

There is a website, apparently belonging to a company called Continent Films (though there's no company name anywhere - not even in the copyright). This suggests that the project is in some stage of development. But I've also read in reputable publications that in 2005 Beagle started shopping around for a development deal that would include his Last Unicorn sequel, Two Hearts, as well as one or more as-yet-unwritten Unicorn books, and that part of that deal would involve reacquiring the movie rights to The Last Unicorn. That's the kind of thing that can keep a project in limbo for years.

Back in 2003, there were a number of optimistic news items suggesting that Continent Films intended to have The Last Unicorn in theaters by Christmas 2004, with a cast that included Jonathan Rhys Meyers as Schmendrick the magician, Christopher Lee as King Haggard, Mia Farrow as Molly Grue, Angela Lansbury as Mommy Fortuna and Rene Auberjonois as Captain Cully. All but Meyers were in the voice cast of the animated Last Unicorn, with Lee and Lansbury voicing the same characters while Farrow and Auberjonois voiced different ones. Of those five actors, only Lee is listed on the current site, and to its credit, the extent of his commitment can be determined if you click on the "letter" link. It takes you to a handwritten note to producer Michael Pakleppa basically saying that yeah, sure, he'd be into playing Haggard if the project ever comes together and fits into his schedule. Lee is a gentleman, so I have no doubt but that his word is his bond. But that's still something less than a firm commitment.

New Zealand director Geoff Murphy is listed alongside Pakleppa's and there's mention of a production coordinator for Hungary, which makes me think the idea is to shoot in Eastern Europe, where you can get a lot of production value (old buildings and streets, inexpensive crews) for not a lot of money. Apparently the idea is to use a lot of CGI, including motion capture of horses for the unicorn. I haven't read Beagle's book, but I understand this idea upsets a lot of fans because the book says explicitly that unicorns don't look like horses with horns.

So I don't think I'd be holding my breath on this project. You might want to console yourself with the 25th Anniversary Edition DVD of the original animated film, which Lions Gate issued in February 2007. I understand it looks terrific, though the extras are nothing to write home about.

Question: Hi, love your column. I've got two movie questions that have nothing to do with each other. One is driving me nuts: In the early 1990s I played hookie from school and caught a movie midway through on the USA channel, before it was network. I think it might have been a TV-movie and I've never seen it again. It was about some schoolkids and their teacher. I guess they were kidnapped - I started watching at the point where men were holding guns to them in a cave full of water and they had to swim under a dangerous rock to get out. Long-story-short, by the end of the film the teacher and the kids got the upper hand and killed their kidnappers. No one else knew what happened and the students and teacher kept it to themselves, although they kept some of the kidnappers' remains in jars in their classroom.

My second question is about a Portuguese movie called O Misterio da Estrada de Sintra (The Mystery of Sintra's Road). I've seen the trailer on my local Portuguese channel, so it's a somewhat recent release, and it looks really good; it's a period film with a top-notch cast of famous Portuguese and Brazilian actors. Do you know if it will be coming out in U.S. theaters anytime soon? I rarely see recent Portuguese films released here. Thanks for any help you can give. - Eleuteria

FlickChick: The film you remember is Fortress (1986), which was made for Australian television and starred Rachel Ward as the teacher. Many, many readers have written to me about it since I started this column, many of whom remember little more than that someone was kidnapped by guys wearing Santa Claus and duck masks. I've seen DVDs of the film on eBay, though I'm not convinced that they're legitimate commercial product. As to O Misterio da Estrada de Sintra, as far as I can tell it doesn't have a U.S. distributor. Sorry!

Question: How did Jean Simmons like working with William Wyler on The Big Country? - Jim

FlickChick: By all accounts, not much, and she was hardly alone. William Wyler's epic Western The Big Country (1958) was not a happy production.

For one thing, Wyler liked to shoot numerous takes while veteran actor Charles Bickford didn't - they'd fought about it almost 20 years earlier during the shooting of Hell's Heroes (1930), and apparently picked up the same fight in 1958, right where it left off. Wyler would keep shooting take after take and Bickford would do exactly what he wanted, one take after another, until Wyler gave up trying to get him to change a reading or rework a line. On the other hand, when star Gregory Peck - who coproduced the film with Wyler - wanted to retake a scene he felt strongly about, Wyler refused. Peck - not known for being temperamental - walked off the set and cooler heads were forced to intervene so the film could be completed.

Charlton Heston claimed that Wyler, in the name of getting a great performance, encouraged him to manhandle actress Carroll Baker during a scene in which she was supposed to break free from his grip. Wyler told Heston to hang on until the much smaller Baker actually fought her way free, and after nearly a dozen takes Baker was in tears and had welts on her wrists.

And that brings us to British-born actress Jean Simmons, who had a reputation for being polite, professional, gracious and easy to work with. She apparently refused to talk about The Big Country until the '80s, when she admitted that the set was so tense she found herself wondering constantly what she'd done wrong. She also spoke of constant script rewrites, and her longtime manager apparently said that she confided in him that Wyler was cruel to her.

Of the principal cast, the only person who actually seems to have liked Wyler was character actor and folksinger Burl Ives, who won an Oscar for his role in The Big Country and is probably best known to younger viewers as the voice of Sam the Snowman in the Rankin/Bass puppet-animated Christmas special Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer (1964).

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