Saturday, October 14, 2017


Hispanic Heritage Month is being celebrated by Aurora at her site Once Upon a Screen with Hollywood's Hispanic Heritage Blogathon on October 15th.

Ramon Novarro

Born in Durango, Mexico as Jose Ramon Gil Samaniego, the actor we came to know as Ramon Novarro moved to Los Angeles with his parents in 1913, escaping revolution. We can truthfully call his career that of an overnight sensation, if we count five years as overnight. He began doing extra work in film in 1917, and in 1922 director Rex Ingram cast him in the flashy part of Rupert of Hentzau in The Prisoner of Zenda. A star was born! Charismatic and good looking, Novarro soon became another of Hollywood's popular Latin Lovers.

"Nobody would do but Ramon Novarro."

The name Ramon Novarro still meant movie romance forty years later. The 1961 Car 54, Where Are You? episode Love Comes to Muldoon featured Alice Ghostley as the unmarried and pining Bonnie Calsheim. She was never able to find love because of Ramon Novarro. "I never met Ramon Novarro, but that man ruined my life. I fell in love with Ramon Novarro the first time I ever saw him on the screen. I lived only for the hours we were together; he on the silver screen and me in the balcony. How I suffered! Here's the worst part. Nobody would do but Ramon Novarro."

Romantic idols can retain that cinematic glow long after they have left us thanks to the longevity of film. Off the screen, the young actor grows into an older actor and hopefully that performer will have the opportunity to show their mettle as a character actor. I enjoy 50-year-old Ramon Novarro's turn as a police inspector in 1949s The Big Steal.

Don Siegel's movie opens with a map of Mexico on screen and a theme by Leigh Harline with a peppy mariarchi feel. You might almost expect "the voice of the globe" James A. FitzPatrick to begin a plummy narration. Based on a Saturday Evening Post short story by Richard Wormser called The Road to Carmichaels, the script by Daniel Mainwaring and Gerald Drayson Adams is fast-paced, cheeky fun. That map may have come in handy as along with location shooting at the Corrigan Ranch, cast and crew went to Mexico City, Veracruz and Tehuacan.

Jane Greer, Patric Knowles

A fellow named Jim Fiske (Patric Knowles) has stolen $302,000.00. $300,000 was liberated from an Army payroll and a Lt. Duke Halliday (Robert Mitchum). Lt. Halliday is angry and chasing Fiske. After all, a fellow does like to have his name cleared.

The stolen $2,000 is from a young woman who was expecting to be married to Mr. Fiske. If Lt. Halliday thinks he is angry, just wait until he meets Joan Graham (Jane Greer). The whole kit and caboodle are being followed by the apoplectic Captain Vincent Blake (William Bendix), and they are following one another through Mexico to what end, no one can be sure.

Robert Mitchum, Don Alvarez, Ramon Novarro, Jane Greer

None of these visitors to Mexico are the calm, easy-going type. If they don't bring trouble, trouble finds them. They may think their excuses are acceptable to Inspector General Ortega (Ramon Novarro) in Veracruz, but then again, they may be underestimating the official. The Inspector is friendly, but wily. He may only be learning English from his second-in-command, Lt. Ruiz (Don Alvarado), but knows not to tip his hand. As Holmes would say, the game is afoot. Inspector Ortega is a man of patience and intuition, explaining to Lt. Ruiz that he is a cat playing with mice.

Inspector Ortega: "I'll tell you a little story, in English. Once upon a time there was a cat who had a little mouse right in his paws, but he let the little mouse go so that later he could find that mouse into a group of other little mouses - mice."

Lt. Ruiz: "You're a clever cat, Inspector."

Inspector Ortega: "So is the mouse."

Jane Greer, Robert Mitchum

Duke and Joan become partners in search of Fiske who leads them a merry chase along scenic byways and detours. Along the way, the pithy byplay between our leading man and leading lady, and their encounters with locals, reveals histories and creates a bond. Not far behind, but hampered by his lack of Spanish, is Captain Blake. Blake is a trigger-happy fellow you hope does not win at this game of catch up.

Ramon Novarro, Don Alvarez

One step ahead of these strangers is Inspector Ortega. Slyly he greets all parties at a resort to observe and stir the pot. However, Fiske is desperate to get to someone and whither Fiske goes, there goeth Duke and Joan. Of course, where Duke and Joan go, can Blake be far behind? Inspector Ortega is a patient man. He can wait. A mouse called Seton (John Qualen) is waiting at the end of the chase.

Ramon Novarro, Robert Mitchum

Inspector Ortega: "You helped get the goods on Seton. Such a clever man. We knew he was a fence, but we could prove nothing. All we could do was wait until someone would lead us to him. Along came Fiske. Along came you. Along came Blake. Now we have nothing to worry for Seton."

Duke Halliday: "Or Blake, or Fiske."

Inspector Ortega: "Or you."

Jane Greer, Robert Mitchum

The Big Steal is a breezy 71 minutes filled with quips, chases, gunfights, fisticuffs, and the architecture and people of mid-century Mexico. You'll enjoy Ramon Novarro as Inspector Ortega and wish you would find him there still should you ever take the trip.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

A FAVOURITE FOR THIS TIME OF YEAR: The Legend of Sleepy Hollow (1949)

The nights are growing longer and it is time for ghostly tales of Hallowe'en. Cozy up with your favourite horror author of past or present, slip that familiar Universal or Hammer feature into the DVD player or schedule your life around TCMs spooky movie line-up.

Washington Irving
(1783 - 1859)

"He had a way with a yarn, did Mr. Irving."
- Bing Crosby, narrator

A perennial at this time of year is Washington Irving's The Legend of Sleepy Hollow written in 1820. A grand tale told with verve and a cheeky sense of humour, both the chills and the chuckles translated beautifully to Disney's animated version originally released in 1949 as the second half of The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad. Since then, both stories have often been screened as separate shorts. Basil Rathbone expertly narrated the studio's take on Kenneth Grahame's The Wind in the Willows, and Bing Crosby took up that mantle for The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.

The writers of the witty adaptation were Erdman Penny (Cinderella), Joe Rinaldi (Sleeping Beauty) and Winston Hibler (Peter Pan). The animators included Frank Thomas, Ollie Johnston, Wolfgang Reitherman, Fred Moore, Ward Kimball and Milt Kahl. The directing team was Clyde Geronimi (101 Dalmations) and Jack Kinney (The Three Caballeros). The music was by Oscar winner Oliver Wallace (Dumbo).

Bing Crosby as narrator both sings and speaks the story in the fluid manner so familiar to fans of his radio program, and his films. If Mr. Irving had "a way with a yarn", then Mr. Crosby had a way with language that pleases the senses. Vocalist and arranger Jud Conlon's Rhythmaires joined Bing Crosby's radio show in 1947 and their collaboration on this Disney feature is a prime example of voices combining in perfect musicality.

The delightful songs are by Gene de Paul (Seven Brides for Seven Brothers) and Don Raye (Alice in Wonderland), and they humourously propel the story with a perfect platform for their narrator and companion to the artistry of the animators.

Bing Crosby and the Rhythmaires

Who's that comin' down the street?
Are they shovels or are they feet?

We are introduced to Ichabod Crane, itinerant schoolmaster, upon his arrival at Sleepy Hollow. His arrival provoked both pleasure and consternation, but all agreed they'd never seen anyone like Ichabod Crane.

Ichabod may be quaint
May be odd, and maybe he ain't

We see the schoolmaster lording over his students, indulging his appetite at dinners and seeing to the cultural interests of the burg. We also see that the unique Ichabod is victim to the pranks of local hero Brom Bones. None of this disturbs his remarkable equanimity, until the fateful day when his path was crossed by a woman.

Bing Crosby and the Rhythmaires

Once you have met that little coquette Katrina
You can't forget Katrina

Ah, Katrina. The daughter of Baltus Van Tassel, the richest farmer in the country, was the local beauty as well as an heiress. All vied for her hand, but although it was obvious that she would end up with Brom Bones, Katrina often wished for a champion to take the field against the overly confident Brom. Such a man was Ichabod Crane who, in his obliviousness, felt that his charms far surpassed  those of these country bumpkins.

And yet when you've met that little coquette Katrina
You've lost your heart

Bing Crosby and the Rhythmaires

The annual Hallowe'en frolic hosted by Herr Von Tassel was an occasion where Ichabod triumphed with his Terpsichorean skill and charm. Brom Bones had one last chance to best and remove his rival for there was no more potent believer in spooks and goblins than Ichabod Crane. When guests were called upon to spin a ghoulish tale, Brom Bones stepped to the plate with the tale of the Headless Horseman.

When the spooks have a midnight jamboree
They break it up with fiendish glee
The ghosts are bad, but the one that's cursed
Is the headless horseman; he's the worst

They say he's tired of his flaming top
He's got a yen to make a swamp
So he rides one night each year
To find a head in the hollow here

It is the witching hour when Ichabod leaves Van Tassel's farm on the old hay burner borrowed for the night. Down into the hollow they travel amid the weird shadows cast by moonlight upon the trees, surrounded by unfamiliar and eerie noises. The commonplace becomes supernatural and Ichabod's heart beats faster as he comes face to face with...

The comedy and the terror which combines in this scene is thrilling sensory overload for the small child and one which inspires sheer admiration in the adult viewer. Fortunately, I have found that the admiration gained as an adult film fan has not erased that original emotional response. It is so much fun to be frightened when no harm will come to you. Happy Hallowe'en, friends!

Thursday, October 5, 2017

THE JUNE ALLYSON CENTENARY BLOGATHON: June on TV in Burke's Law and Murder, She Wrote

June Allyson
October 7, 1917 - July 8, 2006

Simoa of Champagne for Lunch is hosting a blogathon celebrating the life and career of June Allyson, a first-rate musical entertainer, sly comic actress, and versatile dramatic star. Click HERE to read all the contributions to the blogathon running from October 5th to 7th.

A back injury before the age of ten led this Bronx born baby to swimming and dance as therapy. Dance led to her show business career beginning with chorus work on Broadway. Her perky personality was shown to good advantage in a number of musical shorts throughout the 1930s. Her featured role in the Broadway hit Best Foot Forward led to a contract with MGM for the 1943 film version. The studio paired June with stars like Van Johnson and James Stewart to great success.

We might call June the unofficial queen of remakes with Little Women, My Man Godfrey, The Opposite Sex (The Women) and You Can't Run Away from It (It Happened One Night) in her filmography. June's appeal and skill is a pleasure to enjoy.

Today I am looking at two of June's television guest appearances, 20 years apart, on the popular mystery programs, Burke's Law and Murder, She Wrote.

Burke's Law was a Four Star TV production, the company founded by June's husband Dick Powell. The series, produced by Aaron Spelling, began in the 1963 season. Spelling, originally an actor, was employed by Four Star and encouraged by his mentor Dick Powell to try writing and then producing. Good eye, Mr. Powell! Mr. Spelling turned out to be one of television's most successful producers. Dick Powell was TVs first Amos Burke in a episode of the anthology series The Dick Powell Show called Who Killed Julie Greer? written by Frank Gilroy, Pulitzer Prize winner for The Subject Was Roses.

Regis Toomey, Gary Conway, Gene Barry, Leon Lontoc

Our sleuth in this delightful series is Captain Amos Burke of the LAPD played by Gene Barry. Independently wealthy, Burke lives a life of luxury surrounded by beautiful women, driven in his Silver Ghost Rolls Royce by chauffeur Henry played by Leon Lontoc. Every once in a while his unit's detectives played by Regis Toomey and Gary Conway interrupt Burke's casual lifestyle to involve him in a murder case.

Each episode opens with a murder. The list of suspects is played by familiar names from the world of movies and television. The series can be enjoyed for the guest cast alone, but its delights extend beyond the opening credits of special guest stars listed alphabetically. Burke's Law features screwy characters, witty lines and a devil-may-care attitude. The show ran for three seasons, two under its original premise and an aborted third in an ill-advised revamp into Amos Burke, Secret Agent. A syndicated update reverting to the earlier format ran for two seasons starting in 1994.

W H O   K I L L E D   B E A U   S P A R R O W ?

Let's start with who is Beau Sparrow in this episode written by John Meredyth Lucas (Star Trek) and directed by David Orrick McDearmon (Peter Gunn). Played oh-so-briefly by Jerry Catron, Beau is a playboy/artist, and the alleged fiance of a Countess played by Yvonne De Carlo. He is dispatched to the hereafter while attempting to use a catapult device to dive into a swimming pool. That's odd, you may be thinking, and you would be right.

Jack Haley as Victor Haggerty

The host of the party is the head of a corporation specializing in weird contraptions. He is Victor Haggerty played by Jack Haley. Victor has been estranged from his wife Liz played by Agnes Moorehead for the past five years. Perhaps that is why he is the king of the hypochondriacs. Victor's support group includes his physician played by Dan Tobin, his right-hand-man played by Ken Murray and his executive assistant Jean played by June Allyson.

Agnes Moorehead as Liz Haggerty

Countesses, working girls, health nuts and sickos - my what a strange group we have for this murder case, or is it a murder? Most of the episode is spent trying to determine a specific cause of death. As Amos opines, if no doctor will claim it then it must be a criminal matter.

Yvonne De Carlo as Countess Barbara Erozzi

Captain Burke's investigative technique generally involves intimate questioning of female guest stars. In this case, he and the Countess are not sympatico companions. It is a tangled relationship that is woven among our guest characters. The Countess has definite opinions about another of Beau's "friends", Jean Sampson. The Countess calls her a salmon. "The cold fish that swims with such termination up rivers."

June Allyson as Jean Sampson

Amos discovers that Jean has equally strong feelings about Beau and the Countess. "Isn't that just like a little boy to be impressed with a title? ... "You don't think her cheap, overblown looks could hold a man, do you?"

The steaks haven't hit the grill and we're already at dessert.

Amos wrangles a dinner date with Jean, who has steaks on the grill and cocktails at the ready. She is also wearing a very fetching hostess ensemble. Amos is impressed with her cute smile and authoritative martinis.

Amos: "I can't tell you how much I hate myself."
Jean: "Well, you'll have to stand in line!"

Impressed or not, Amos is always on call and rushes out on the date to pursue a theory and a lead. Beware girls with cute smile, they get angrier than most. They also devise plans to ensure date number two continues as advertised. Said plans involve handcuffs and passing the next case on to the  captain's underlings.

As to the solution to this mystery, let's say that fans of a certain well known 1947 British film will have figured out the how, but spend the rest of the time figuring out the why.

A pretty portrait of June to indicate Beau Sparrow was an artist.

Who Killed Beau Sparrow? aired on December 27, 1963. Four Star Executive Producer, and June's husband since 1945, Dick Powell, had passed from cancer in January of that year. All of June's television appearances during the period of 1960 to 1963 were in Four Star productions, including her own anthology series. It takes a long time to recover from such a loss. Perhaps familiar work among friends helped with the healing.

Richard Levinson and William Link, as writers and producers, gave us the best of TV mysteries including Columbo, Ellery Queen and Murder, She Wrote co-created with Peter S. Fischer. Beginning in the 1984 season Murder, She Wrote would spawn four made-for-TV films, a book series authored by Donald Bain, and a never-ending syndication run.

Angela Lansbury stars as Jessica Beatrice Fletcher, a widowed teacher living in Cabot Cove, Maine. She takes up writing to occupy her time and finds success. Jessica not only finds success in the publishing world, but success as an amateur sleuth. Noted for a keen eye at crime scenes and precise judgment of people, law enforcement alternately loves and hates her presence. Fortunately, success also leads to travel, so that the entire population of Cabot Cove is not wiped out. After all, the show ran for 12 seasons.

H I T ,   R U N   A N D   H O M I C I D E

This season 1 episode, written by Gerald K. Siegel and directed by Alan Cooke, takes place in Jessica's home base of Cabot Cove. Eccentric inventor Daniel O'Brien played by Van Johnson is mixed up in the murder of his former employer. Luckily, Daniel has strong support in his friend Jessica, his nephew Tony played by Edward Albert and Tony's fiancee Leslie played by Patti D'Arbanville. Daniel is most fortunate in the steadfast affection of his former co-worker Katie Simmons played by June Allyson.

June Allyson as Katie and Van Johnson as Daniel

June Allyson and Van Johnson made a very appealing team in comedies and dramas for their home studio, MGM. It is an impressive list of entertainment including Two Girls and a Sailor, High Barbaree, The Bride Goes Wild, Too Young to Kiss and Remains to Be Seen. On episodic television, they co-starred in a 1968 episode of The Name of the Game titled High on a Rainbow. In 1978 they were featured as a married couple in a segment of The Love Boat called On Her Own Two Feet. June and Van's last film appearance together is on this episode of Murder, She Wrote.

Mrs. Fletcher and Sheriff Tupper discuss the case.

The plot of the episode can be summed up in this exchange between Jessica and Sheriff Amos Tupper played by Tom Bosley.

"Sheriff, think. Two partners arrive from Boston to a tiny town they've never seen before. One of them is almost run down by a car. The next day the other is run down. Now don't you think that's more than just coincidence?"

So nice to have June Allyson back on our screens.

The injured partner played by Stuart Whitman insists that Daniel invited him to Cabot Cove, for some reason. The murdered partner was there at the behest of his business cohort. Katie is there to convince Daniel to join her at a firm in Memphis. The spooky thing about this whole business is that the car involved appears to be riderless. Don't talk to me about the technology being around for ages, and all of the riderless trucks and cars that are soon to hit our roads! It's spooky.

Technology gone wrong.

Jessica is frightened by being placed in peril in the remote control operated vehicle, with the villain taking her to the edge of a cliff before stopping. Jessica: "And you wonder why I don't drive a car!"

The mystery portion of the episode moves along at a logical and humourously presented script. For fans of June Allyson and Van Johnson the most charming sequences involve the old pros doing their acting thing with Miss Lansbury.

The Cabot Cove lock-up.

Frightened after being arrested, Daniel and Jessica have a charming exchange concerning Katie.

Jessica: "Is he [the lawyer] good enough to get you bailed out of here?"
Daniel: "He and Katie have promised I'll be home for supper."
Jessica: "There's someone who believes you."
Daniel: "She always has."

We all feel like Jessica at the happy sight of Van and June together again.

The wrapping up of the case is celebrated at a dinner at Jessica's with local handyman Ethan played by Claude Akins, June Allyson and Van Johnson who, as Daniel, makes a toast.

"May I offer a toast to the two ladies in my life. To the one who just saved my life and to the other who's been saving it for years, only I was too pre-occupied to notice."

Sunday, October 1, 2017


October is upon us. Whether the icy winds and fall colours are your reality, a memory, or a tantalizing anecdote, at this time of year the heart yearns for stories that are moody in nature. The moodiness may come from a classic horror tale, an edgy film-noir, or perhaps the unexpected and moving fantasy we find in The Curse of the Cat People from 1944.

The story of Amy and her friend springs the story of Irena in Cat People. The surprise 1942 hit for the newly formed Val Lewton unit at RKO is a deftly told tale of classic and psychological horror. Producer/writer Lewton and his team crafted a number of impressive low-budget horror themed films that have stood the test of time, including The Seventh Victim, The Body Snatcher and Ghost Ship.

In the way of Hollywood it was only a matter of time that there be a follow-up to that initial success and The Curse of the Cat People is a logical title to attract an audience, although somewhat misleading as to the content of the film. Robert Wise received his first directing credit on this film. It is a co-credit with Gunther Von Fritsch, who was replaced, not for creative differences, but for being over time with the project. The clever and emotional screenplay is by DeWitt Bodeen, perhaps in collaboration with Val Lewton, who brought Bodeen to the unit. Nicholas Musuraca was in charge of the evocative cinematography. Roy Webb contributed an achingly lovely score.

Irena Dubrovna played by Simone Simon in Cat People believed herself the victim of an ancient curse in which giving way to her passions would transform her into a panther. For those in Irena's orbit it was impossible to reconcile the idea of magic in the modern world. Her husband, Oliver Reed played by Kent Smith, is sincere, but too troubled to do anything but complicate the situation. Oliver's co-worker at an architectural firm, and more suitable love match, Alice Moore played by Jane Randolph, is supportive which places her in danger. Psychiatrist Dr. Louis Judd played by Tom Conway dooms himself with arrogance. Note: this is the same role Conway plays in The Seventh Victim. We can assume the latter story predates the first.

Ann Carter, Kent Smith, Sir Lancelot, Jane Randolph

Irena's death at the end of Cat People leaves Ollie and Alice free to marry. In The Curse of the Cat People we see them in what should be ideal circumstances in Tarrytown with their 6-year-old daughter Amy played by Ann Carter. The comfortable household is attended to by Edward played by calypso singer Sir Lancelot. 

Childhood is not always the easy time we would wish. Parenting, as well, comes naturally to very few. Amy is a solitary, lonely and imaginative girl who does not fit in with her peers. Her kindergarten teacher Miss Callahan played by Eve March is an understanding and sometimes practical adviser to Amy's parents. Some of her ideas are forward thinking, while others sadly fall into line with things better left in the past.

Ollie and Alice may be unconsciously guilty of giving Amy mixed messages in that they share fairy tales. Edward also speaks of magic to Amy. At school, Miss March plays up the legendary aspects of Tarrytown and Sleepy Hollow. They do these things in the adult manner of sharing an entertainment to be enjoyed but not taken seriously. They do not take into account Amy's age, her companionless circumstances and flights of fancy.

Jane Randolph, Ann Carter, Kent Smith

Ollie, in particular, is alarmed by Amy's dreamy ways and isolation from other children. He likens it to what he knows as Irena's psychosis. "Amy has too many fancies - too few friends. It worries me. It doesn't seem normal." His efforts to snap Amy out of a dangerous phase takes the unhelpful form of edicts that must be obeyed. Amy truly wants to please her father and be the little girl he considers healthy, but her ability to do so and her efforts are hindered at every turn.

Elizabeth Russell, Julia Dean

The next few months of Amy's life will be dominated by her eagerness to please her father, and two disparate friendships. Amy makes the acquaintance of two women living their own lonely existence in a deteriorating mansion. Mrs. Julia Farren played by Julia Dean is a former actress reliving past glories. Mrs. Farren takes an imperious and cold attitude toward her daughter Barbara played by Elizabeth Russell. Mrs. Farren goes so far as to call Barbara an impostor, claiming her daughter actually died while still a youngster. Is this mere spite, an eccentricity, an illness? Life must be torture in the rambling old house.

Simone Simon, Ann Carter

Amy has wished for a friend, and a friend has come to her. Her friend takes the form of Irena, whose picture Amy has found in a drawer. Irena is beautiful and sweet. She plays with Amy in the garden. She comforts her at night when she is troubled. When Amy asks Irena where she came from, Irena replies "I come from great darkness and deep tears."

Irena fills the role of Robert Louis Stevenson's The Unseen Playmate as quoted by Miss Callahan in the movie.

When children are playing alone on the green,
In comes the playmate that never was seen.
When children are lonely and happy and good,
The Friend of the Children comes out of the wood.

The Christmas holiday time is filled with charming scenes in the film, warm family moments and trauma. The trauma is in the form of corporal punishment from an at-wits-end Ollie, and the trauma is felt by both father and daughter.

Ann Carter

Amy runs from her home and her journey on a stormy night takes her further in emotional growth than the physical traipse from her home to that of the Farrens where the night will end in a mix of magic and fate, or perhaps the magic of fate.

TCM is screening The Curse of the Cat People on Friday the 13th at 6:45 pm, the concluding feature in a day devoted to films focusing on children and the supernatural. Among the great performances given by children in film, Ann Carter as dear, lonely Amy must be deemed one of the finest.

Friday, September 22, 2017

THE DUO DOUBLE FEATURE BLOGATHON: Susan Hayward and Tyrone Power in Rawhide (1951) and Untamed (1955)

The Flapper Dame and Phyllis Loves Classic Movies have come up with a fabulous idea. It is The Duo Double Feature Blogathon, and it runs from September 22nd to September 24th. Two stars who worked in two films only. We'll have double bills for days!  Day 1  Day 2  Day 3

Susan Hayward 
June 30, 1917 - March 14, 1975

The scrappy Brooklynite was one of any number of pretty girls with a dream who went to Hollywood to throw her hat in the Scarlett O'Hara ring. Susan stayed to start up the rung to stardom with bit parts leading to progressively more showy roles. By 1941 she was making life miserable for Ingrid Bergman in Adam Had Four Sons. The next year she was featured in the DeMille epic Reap the Wild Wind. In 1944 she was the leading lady in the O'Neill play The Hairy Ape. The 1947 release Smash Up: The Story of a Woman saw Susan Hayward receive the first of five Oscar nominations for Best Actress in a Leading Role. The 1949 romantic drama My Foolish Heart gave Susan her second nomination.

The 1950s would find Susan Hayward taking on roles that showcased her personality and her versatility, many at Twentieth Century Fox in films such as the Americana classic I'd Climb the Highest Mountain and the searing film-noir House of Strangers. Biographical films would bring two more Oscar nominations, as singers Jane Froman in With a Song in My Heart and Lillian Roth in I'll Cry Tomorrow. Her winning role would come in 1958 as convicted murderer Barbara Graham in I Want to Live! directed by Robert Wise.

Tyrone Power
May 5, 1914 - November 15, 1958

Born into an acting dynasty reaching back three generations, and blessed with beyond good looks, Tyrone Power would seem blessed by the gods to be a movie star. Signed by Twentieth Century Fox at the age of 22, after a few small roles he was cast as the lead in 1936s Lloyds of London opposite Madeleine Carroll. We might say that his abilities were not fully tested during this period, but Tyrone Power's popularity and star power were unquestioned.

Tyrone Power served with the Marines during WW2 in the Pacific Theatre, and returned with a maturity and a desire to prove himself an actor depth. His first role after the war was an adaptation of Somerset Maugham's The Razor's Edge, and was a step in the right direction. In 1947 he gave what I believe is his greatest screen performance, that of Stanton Carlisle in Nightmare Alley, the con man extraordinaire whose biggest fall guy is himself. Tyrone Power appeared in memorable films throughout the 1950s, from I'll Never Forget You to Witness for the Prosecution, but more and more he turned to the theatre to find creative satisfaction.

When you look at these two stars, their pairing seems a long time coming, but 1951 finally saw Susan Hayward cast opposite Tyrone Power in a powerful and dramatic western directed by Henry Hathaway. This was the first of four films Hathaway would make with Susan Hayward. Tyrone Power and Henry Hathaway collaborated on 5 films, going back to 1940s Johnny Apollo.

The Rawhide screenplay is by Dudley Nichols, Oscar winner for The Informer, whose other western films include Stagecoach, The Arizonian and The Tin Star.

Rawhide Pass is an isolated way station on the passenger/freight stagecoach line from San Francisco to St. Louis. Tom Owens (Tyrone Power) has one more week to go on the job. His father is the director of the line and Tom is learning the business from old hand Sam Todd (Edgar Buchanan). 

Passengers on an incoming stage include Vinnie Holt (Susan Hayward) who is taking her orphaned niece back east to the the toddler's paternal grandparents. Vinnie's trip is waylaid when a troop of soldiers arrives in search of escaped convict Rafe Zimmerman (Hugh Marlowe). Zimmerman escaped the day before he was to hang for murder and has three others convicts with him. Company policy insists that women and children passengers must remain at the station in the event of such danger. She would have been better off if she had been allowed to continue on her journey.

The too smart for his own good Zimmerman is after gold that is headed toward the way station. His gang is not of his choosing, but was formed due to the circumstances of the escape. Simple-minded Yancy (Dean Jagger), unimaginative thug Gratz (George Tobias) and psychotic Tevis (Jack Elam). Shocking violence comes to Rawhide Pass when these four ride in, with the almost immediate killing of Sam Todd. The outlaws conclude that Vinnie and little Callie (Judy Ann Dunn) are Tom's wife and child. Tom and Vinnie play along to stay alive.

The wait for tomorrow's gold laden stage is fraught with anxiety as character is revealed through escape plans that almost work, that cause more danger, and are twisted through the unexpected. Rawhide is a top-notch western, an intriguing character study and a searing hostage drama.

Susan and Ty would be reunited on screen in 1955s epic adventure Untamed. The film would be Susan's fourth and final with director Henry King and one of the 11 pictures King made with Tyrone Power during their years together at 20th Century Fox.

The source of the story of Untamed is a novel by South African Helga Moray. Our heroine is Katie O'Neill Kildare (Susan Hayward), a Scarlet O'Hara sort, whom life keeps kicking around, but who always lands on her feet. Her first kick is when she falls for the visiting Paul Van Riebeck (Tyrone Power), who is buying horses from Katie's father, a wealthy Irish landowner.  Their love for each other is not enough for Paul to abandon his responsibilities as a leader of the Dutch settlers in South Africa.

Two years later Katie is in South Africa with her husband Shawn Kildare (John Justin), her infant son, and companion Aggie (Agnes Moorehead). The potato famine has wiped out her family's fortune and she is looking for new land. A Zulu raid on the wagons trekking to new land leaves a widowed Katie free to reunite with Paul. Complications arise when Katie callously discounts the attraction she holds for Paul's friend Kurt Hout (Richard Egan) and the enmity of Kurt's girl, Julia (Rita Moreno). 

Choosing an idyllic place to farm Katie is planning her future with Paul, while Paul is still dedicated to his political ambitions for the Dutch. The conflict causes the couple to separate. It will be many years before Katie and Paul are together once more. Those years bring storms, tragedy, the birth of Paul's son, of whom he will remain unaware for years, poverty, wealth and power, regret and adventure. 

Untamed is epic in scope and boasts gorgeous location filming in Ireland and South Africa. The score by Franz Waxman is another of his glorious compositions. 

Nonetheless, for all its assets, I find Untamed lacking in depth and, therefore, in entertainment value. The characters, leading and supporting, are underwritten, leaving the actors to flesh out a sense of their core amid the overwhelming narrative. Although necessitated by story, it holds back our involvement when our two charismatic leads, Susan Hayward and Tyrone Power, spend so much time apart on screen.

Friday, September 15, 2017

REMAKE ALLEY: From Headquarters (1933) and When Were You Born (1938)

Another amble down the twisty byways that lead to those movies you watch and say to yourself, "Haven't I seen this before?"

You say you like your fast-paced Warner Brothers programmers particularly fast-paced? You have come to the right place, the municipal building of a city that hosts, among other things, its police headquarters, a jail, a records facility with IBM technology, a press room, and a forensics lab. Everything that happens in the next 64 minutes occurs within its environs.

Director William Dieterle, whose classics include The Hunchback of Notre Dame, The Devil and Daniel Webster, and Portrait of Jennie, shows a masterful hand with with the cut and the swipe in moving us through the action. Howard Hawks himself would sit back and applaud the off-hand delivery of the dialogue.

Robert N. Lee, Oscar nominated for Little Caesar, came up with the story and co-wrote the screenplay with Peter Milne, who gave us The Kennel Murder Case. We are introduced to headquarters through the round-up of undesirables and the routine they go through at booking. The crowded hall shows workers coming in for the day including Lt. Stevens played by George Brent and Sgt. Boggs played by Eugene Pallette. Apparently Inspector Donnelly played by Henry O'Neill sleeps in his office. Edward Ellis as Dr. Vanderwater, the top lab man is a hoot in his glee at each conflicting clue.

The whole crew is on the job.

Gordon Bates is the name of our murder victim played by Kenneth Thomson in flashback, a known playboy and a suspected blackmailer. Suspects include Bates' fiancee, a showgirl called Lou Wynton played by Margaret Lindsay, her brother Jack played by Theodore Newton, the butler Horton played by Murray Kinnell, and Bates business associate, a Mr. Anderzian played by a heavily accented Robert Barrat. Hobart Cavanagh as a hapless safecracker called Muggs Manton roams the halls, as does an annoying bail bondsman Manny Wales played by Hugh Herbert. Ken Murray as a pushy newshound called Mac shoves the cops  and the copy around.

Orders are barked into phones, punch cards relay data, officers rush in and out with information and physical evidence. Dr. Vanderwater rushes ballistic tests and autopsies, and fingerprints are covertly gathered. Our pretty showgirl is grilled by Sgt. Boggs who bets his badge on every hunch. She's a former girlfriend of Lt. Stevens, so he's more gentle with his questioning. Evidence of Bates blackmailing schemes are discovered. Compounded with his collection of antique firearms and his drug habit, the suspect net widens. Why won't Sgt. Boggs listen to what Muggs has to say? There's another murder and a lockdown. Just when you think everything is wrapped up - aha! From Headquarters is a dandy use of an hour.

When Were You Born is credited as an original story by Manly P. Hall, an Ontario born astrologer and mystic who introduces the film onscreen. The screenplay is by Anthony Coldeway who wrote dozens of B westerns and mysteries. The movie was directed by cinematographer and Oscar nominated effects director William C. McGann. You may have seen some of his films like Penrod and Sam, The Case of the Black Cat and The Parson of Panamint.

The mystery plot of When Were You Born with the victim a wealthy, drug-addicted, blackmailing playboy, and the myriad suspects including the women in his life, his business associate, butler, etc., basically follows the template of From Headquarters. Where the two films differ gives When Were You Born its cache.

The introduction by Manly Hall takes us through the different signs of the Zodiac and our characters are identified by their birthdates. The story is opened up to introduce us to our victim and suspects on board a luxury liner about to reach San Francisco. Anna May Wong plays Mei Lei Ming, a popular passenger who amuses many with her predictions based on their horoscopes.

Margaret Lindsay has deja vu.

James Stephenson is our disagreeable about-to-be victim, and he is quite put out when Mei Lei warns him of impending danger. Margaret Lindsay repeats her role of a reluctant fiancee from the earlier film and Lola Lane is a rejected girlfriend. Eric Stanley plays the loyal valet and Leonard Mudie a nervous business associate. Jeffrey Lynn plays a reporter, who is moved into the romantic lead position, and hefty Charles Wilson plays the chief inspector. Maurice Cass is our excitable wizard of the lab and Olin Howland the johnny-on-the-spot bail bondsman.

Suspects are called into headquarters, including Mei Lei Ling. She cleverly uses her knowledge of astrology to become an unofficial member of the investigative team. Her strange abilities and coolness under stress leads to the solution of the case. This version of the story is opened up to include street chases and mysterious tunnels. Despite these brackets to the murder story, the run time of both From Headquarters and When Were You Born differs by only one minute. Those studio folks certainly knew how to get a story across without numbing your backside!

Anna May Wong on the case!

Anna May Wong began her film career as a teenager in the silent era. She made her mark in classics like The Toll of the Sea, The Thief of Bagdad, Peter Pan, Old San Francisco, Piccadilly and Shanghai Express. The ground-breaking actress deserved more from her career than the odd character role as in Impact or on television in The Barbara Stanwyck Show. Where, oh where was the foresighted producer to suggest a series based on Mei Lei Ling and starring Anna May Wong?


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