Friday, April 24, 2015

REMAKE ALLEY: Goodbye Again (1933) and Honeymoon for Three (1941)

Movie:  Goodbye Again
Genre:  Comedy
Sub-genre:  screwball, romance, trains

Allan Scott and George Haight's play Goodbye Again had a successful run of 216 performances in the Broadway season of 1931/32 starring Osgood Perkins.  Ben Markson (Gold Diggers of 1933, What Price Hollywood?) wrote the screenplay for Warner Brothers film directed by Michael Curtiz.  This screwball comedy gem from Curtiz shares its 1933 release date with the thriller classic Mystery of the Wax Museum, the outstanding Philo Vance mystery The Kennel Murder Case, and the feminist comedy-drama Female.  I am ever-impressed by Curtiz's versatility and the quality of his work.

Joan Blondell 

Joan Blondell is Ann Rogers, the attractive and efficient secretary to a successful author.  Her relationship with her boss is more than business and we see just how much more as the story progresses.  She's a cookie that is tough on the outside and all goo inside when it comes to the leading man, but she can only be pushed so far!  We like Ann and if it is Bixby she wants, then we want him for her.
Warren William 

Warren William stars as Kenneth Bixby the author of such best selling titles as A Saint in Scarlet, Ecstacy, The Woman Who Gave and Miriam.  He's going to run into trouble with Miriam.  The ladies love Kenneth Bixby.  For one thing, he looks like Warren William.  His lectures are sell-outs and bookstores can't keep copies on the shelves when Bixby shows up for autograph sessions.

Genevieve Tobin

Genevieve Tobin (No Time for Comedy) is the former Julie Clochessy, now Julie Wilson.  She and Kenneth were at college together and shared a passion divine.  Julie has never recovered from that first love.  She feels unfaithful to Kenneth ever since she married Harvey Wilson of Cleveland, and she is convinced she inspired Miriam.  Hugh Herbert plays Harvey.  He's an understanding sort.  Perhaps too understanding.  Perhaps he is just tired of constantly being compared, and found lacking, to Kenneth Bixby.

When Bixby's tour brings him to Cleveland, it brings Julie once more into his life.  At first, he doesn't quite remember the woman (after all, he's Kenneth Bixby), but Julie very easily stirs the old embers and book signings and lectures and radio broadcasts go out the window.  The couple spends the night in her country home.  Ostensibly, Kenneth was to disabuse Julie of the notion of togetherness.  Yeah, right!

Ann is left wondering and worrying.  She also has to deal with Arthur Westlake and Elizabeth Clochessy.  Arthur, a lawyer, is engaged to Julie's younger sister and they are mightily concerned about Julie's strange and socially unacceptable behavior where it concerns Kenneth Bixby.  It does not look proper.  What is Ann going to do about it?  Further, Ann must handle Harvey Wilson who shows up only wanting to take a look at the paragon that is Kenneth Bixby.  It's a mess.  Wallace Ford (T-Men) is a hoot as the uptight Arthur, as is Helen Chandler (Dracula) as the weepy Elizabeth.

Kenneth regrets his dalliance with Julie, but what's a poor fellow to do?  Won't Ann help?  Ann will not.  She may be broad-minded, tolerant and sophisticated, but she is also hurt.  Ann is determined to leave.  Julie is determined to stay.  Julie's family won't leave until Kenneth makes an honest woman of Julie.  What is to be done?

Kenneth's plan on working himself out of the Julie trouble and winning Ann back involves staying in bed and acting like a maniac as the Wilson faction pursues a legal and binding solution.  He also enlists the drollery of Hobart Cavanaugh (Margie) and his youngster at the mock Hearing.  I'll be darned if Kenneth's plan doesn't work.  The plan and the movie works for me due to Warren William's commitment to the zaniness.  Much is made by commentators in later years of the superb comedy performances of Cary Grant and his fearlessness as a handsome man not being afraid to look silly.  Well, that is just the sort of flair Warren William brings to his comedy outings and it is on fine display in Goodbye Again.

PS:  Your ears do not deceive you when watching Goodbye Again.  That is the charming melody of Harry Warren's I've Got to Sing a Torch Song from Gold Diggers of 1933, wafting appropriately throughout the score.

Movie:  Honeymoon for Three
Genre:  Comedy
Sub-genre:  screwball, romance, country inns

Eight years after Goodbye Again, Warner Brothers returned to the play, this time with a screenplay by Earl Baldwin (Wonder Bar, Brother Orchid) with additional dialogue by Philip and Julius Epstein (Casablanca, Mr. Skeffington).  The directing reins were handed to Lloyd Bacon.  Mr. Bacon directed many of my personal favourites including It Happens Every Spring, 42nd Street, Marked Woman, Action in the North Atlantic and Home, Sweet Homicide.

Osa Massen

The main triangle in this outing features Ann Sheridan as Ann, George Brent as Kenneth and Osa Massen as Julie.  Danish born Massen was a photographer turned actress whose best remembered films might be A Woman's Face, Deadline at Dawn and You'll Never Get Rich.  The multilingual Massen even coached John Wayne for his Swedish accent in the Oscar nominated The Long Voyage Home.  The premise of Honeymoon for Three sticks to the play, but it is noted that in 1941 Ann is not sharing a hotel room with her boss and Ann is pressuring Kenneth to answer her marriage proposal.

Kenneth and Julie strive to visit her country home, but get lost along the way ending up at an the Tomahawk Inn for dinner.  The couple's indiscretion is hardly that, but it will be of no consequence when they meet up with all the Wilson clan plus.  Certainly, Julie has no doubt as to the emotional connection she shares with Kenneth.

Charlie Ruggles

Charlie Ruggles was cast as the hubby Harvey.  Charlie, as always, proves himself quite adept at the comic aspects of the character.  His interplay with Ann Sheridan and George Brent is delightful.  However, at 55, Mr. Ruggles was not quite the perfect visual match as the hubby of the 27 year old Osa.  It distracted from the idea of the couple.

The interfering Arthur and Elizabeth are on hand to complicate matters.  Elizabeth is now Julie's cousin, not sister, and she is played with verve by Jane Wyman.  William T. Orr, later producer of Warner Bros. 50s TV shows, is the annoyingly officious Arthur. 

Additions to this version include an array of young actors, partners of Arthur, attempting to get their foothold in the impending legal brouhaha.  Lee Patrick is an adoring fan who names her children after famous authors.  Her attempt to get Kenneth Bixby to be godfather to Kenneth Bixby Pettijohn is amusing and impactful.  Walter Catlett gets away with some great double takes at the Tomahawk Inn mentioned earlier.  Catlett is a waiter constantly befuddled by the appearance of Brent at one table with the attractive Julie and then miraculously showing up at a table filled with husbands, cousins and secretaries.

The sorting out of all this confusions occurs at Arthur Westlake's office.  Personally, I didn't find the finale as enjoyable as the shenanigans put on by Bixby in Goodbye Again.  This script benefited from the wit of the Epsteins and the game cast, from support to leads.  George Brent and Ann Sheridan had nice chemistry in their only onscreen pairing.  They would be married the following year, but the union would only last one year.  I love George Brent in comic roles, but would seek out Snowed Under and Out of the Blue before Honeymoon for Three.  Warren William owns Kenneth Bixby. 

Honeymoon for Three provides the expected chuckles, but Goodbye Again has that true anarchic screwball touch that puts it at a different level.         




Monday, April 13, 2015

The Great Villain Blogathon: Raymond Burr in "Pitfall" (1948)

The Great Villain Blogathon of 2015 runs from April 13th to 17th.  It is hosted by the terrific trio of Kristina of Speakeasy, Karen of Shadows and Satin and Ruth of Silver Screenings.  It is a do-not-miss internet event.

What motivates our great villains?  Greed?  The lust for power?  Love?  Hate?  Are they born bullies or were they once the bullied?  Did they just get up on the wrong side of the bed?  Villains - no matter where or how they are spawned - are all around us in fact and fiction.  Sometimes their viciousness is on a global scale and sometimes it is up close and personal.  In the case of J.B. MacDonald "Mac" as played by Raymond Burr in 1948s Pitfall, his wrongdoing is extremely personal.  Mac's single-minded purpose will lead him to cross boundaries, callously invading the physical and emotional homes of his victims.

Raymond Burr as J.B. "Mac" MacDonald

Andre de Toth directed the film based on the novel The Pitfall by Jay Dratler.  Among de Toth's dark-tinged dramas and westerns are None Shall Escape, Dark Waters, Ramrod, Man in the Saddle, Crime Wave and Day of the Outlaw.  Dratler's noir credits include an Oscar nomination for the Laura screenplay, a Poe Award for Call Northside 777 and the screenplays for Impact and The Dark CornerPitfall's screenplay is by Karl Kamb (Whispering Smith) with uncredited William Bowers (Support Your Local Sheriff!) and Andre de Toth.  Cinematographer Harry J. Wild was behind the look for such crime features as Murder, My Sweet, His Kind of Woman and The Big Steal.

Jane Wyatt, Dick Powell

Johnny:  "Whatever happened to those two people who were going to build a boat and sail around the world?"
Sue:  "Well, I had a baby.  I never did hear what happened to you."

When a fellow meets an attractive girl who shows an interest, it is really incumbent upon the fellow to let the girl know that he is married.  It is no excuse that he's been having one of those days when life has been wearing him down with its sameness.  If you start acting like you are single things are bound to get complicated.  The complications will treble when that girl is also the object of another's affection and you are aware of the same.  

In our movie the fellow is Johnny Forbes, an insurance agent with personal and professional obligations.  Dick Powell plays Johnny who uses wry humour to barely disguise his bitterness.  Sue, Johnny's wife, is played by Jane Wyatt.  She is good-natured and pragmatic.  She may sometimes feel the stifling effects of house-wifery, but she doesn't let it get her down.  Jimmy Hunt plays their son Tommy, a freckled faced kid with the right mix of spunk and adoration for his dad.

Lizabeth Scott as Mona Stevens

Mona:  "I liked him mostly because he was nice to me.  Very few men are.  That means a lot."

The girl in the case is one Mona Stevens played by Lizabeth Scott.  She's the sort of girl men make assumptions about, and they are way off base.  A department store and photographers model, Mona's ex-boyfriend Bill Smiley played by Byron Barr is serving an embezzlement sentence.  He foolishly stole money to buy Mona's affection.  Johnny must repossess the gifts given to Mona as his company had bonded Smiley.

Dick Powell, Raymond Burr

Mac:  "I bet you never thought of me as a man who could fall in love."
Johnny:  "You'd be surprised how little time I have to think about you at all, Mac."

Mona was tracked down for the insurance company by a freelance private eye and former cop named J.B. MacDonald.  Johnny's secretary Maggie, played by Ann Doran, has a nickname for Mac, it is "Gruesome".  The bulky Burr in this film looks slightly unkempt when we first meet him and he uses his size as a form of intimidation.  Reporting on Mona to Johnny, Mac confesses that one look and he was hooked.  Mona's impression of Mac is slightly different.  As she tells Johnny, "That was quite a bull you sent to see me yesterday.  I've met some weird ones in my life, but that one nearly scared me to death."

Johnny and Mona get acquainted on the open sea in her motorboat (a gift from Smiley) and in a darkened cocktail bar.  They don't realize that all the time they are under the watchful eyes of MacDonald.  The jealous Mac switches tactics from implied intimidation to brute force.  Confronting Johnny outside his home Mac gives him a beating which lays Johnny up for a couple of weeks.  By this time Mona discovers Johnny has a family and she breaks things off with no hard feelings.  Johnny sheepishly apologizes.

Dick Powell

Johnny:  "It's just a warning, Mac.  If you're real smart you'll take it seriously.  Leave the girl alone.  Stay way from her.  And if I ever hear that you've threatened to do anything about my family again I'll kill you, Mac.  I mean that."

For Mona and Johnny the incident is closed.  For Mac things are not that simple.  He harasses Mona at work and follows her home at night.  She tries to let him down easy then threatens him with the police.  Mac, who feels he knows Mona better than she knows herself, plays the ace of threatening to hurt Johnny if she doesn't see things the MacDonald way.  There is nowhere else to turn when Mona shares her troubles with Johnny.  Johnny, a former boxer in college who had been taken by surprise by Mac earlier, returns the beating and, once again, walks away thinking the problem has been solved. 

Raymond Burr

Mac:  "I just don't like to see a guy getting a bad deal."

Now Mac ups the ante in his battle for Mona and against Johnny.  He has tried scare tactics and drubbings, but now it is time for manipulation.  Mac visits Smiley in prison and plants seeds of doubt about Mona.  He mentions Forbes and needles the nervous Smiley who has been sweating out his time.  On the day of his release Mac offers solicitude and friendship to Smiley in the form of copious liquor and a gun, setting the crazed ex-con on the Forbes family.  Spoiler ahead.

Lizabeth Scott, Raymond Burr

Mac:  "You haven't thought about it yet, but when you do you'll realize the only reason I did all this was because I  - I really love you."

Backed into a corner, Johnny has no choice but to defend his home and a shootout in the dark leaves Smiley dead.  Mac later brags to Mona that he is a lucky gambler, but didn't expect such a strong payoff.  He claims he expected Smiley and Johnny to frighten each other off, that he didn't expect actual gun play with murder.  Mac also didn't expect the frustrated, angry and frightened Mona to shoot him.  Villains, no matter how many arrows they have in their quiver, somehow never expect their victims to reach the point where they can't take it any more.

Pitfall ends - well, not really.  Johnny comes clean about every nasty detail in the whole affair to his wife and the District Attorney and is spared criminal charges since Smiley was an intruder.  Sue seriously considers divorce, but decides she is willing to work to salvage their marriage.  Will Sue and Johnny be able to make it work?  There is resignation in Sue's face along with the determination.  Mona's fate is up in the air.  If Mac dies, she will be charged with murder.  Mac didn't know Mona as well as he thought.  All this mayhem because a wrong guy fell for a right gal.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

The Pre-Code blogathon: The Mask of Fu Manchu (1932)

They had themselves quite a time in Hollywood before the rigid enforcement of the Motion Picture Production Code in 1934.  Join Karen of Shadows and Satin and Danny of as they host the 2015 Pre-Code Blogathon.

Where would pulp/crime fiction of the 20th century be without Chinatown?  The enclave of Asian immigrants in port cities filled the niche of the exotic and the inscrutable in the imaginations of the public.  Every fictional PI and B movie crime solver had to have at least one adventure in a "Chinatown".  Among the ordinary citizens trying to get by in a new land you would find, as you would with any group of people, a criminal class.  It was this criminal class that was the subject of freelance journalist Sax Rohmer's investigation in 1911.  He wasn't interested in any random crook.  Rohmer was certain readers would want to know about the top kick, the head man.  As any Costa Nostra Don would let you know, an enterprise like crime works better if it is organized.  It would take a special power to be the boss in Chinatown.  Rohmer did not have luck in obtaining an interview with the purported head of the Chinese underworld of Limehouse, but that didn't matter.  Rohmer had his imagination and his imagination conceived of the world's first super-villain.  Fu Manchu, the holder of multiple doctorates, a man of incalculable wealth, personal magnetism and power, with a touch of megalomania.  Why have all this power if you can't rule the world?  The serialized stories and novels featuring the outlandish villain and his pursuer Sir Nayland Smith of British Intelligence brought Rohmer fortune and fame.

Historians and socialists can expound more fully on Dr. Fu Manchu's place in the perpetuation of racial stereotypes.  Observation and experience prove that there are those who take their fiction too seriously.  On the other hand, there are just as many people who know how to enjoy the respite and diversion of fiction and lay it aside.  We go to Chinatown in search of bargains and restaurants with nary a thought that an over-dressed egomaniac is lurking behind a beaded curtain.  It is in that spirit that I look at MGM's Grand Guignol pre-code opus The Mask of Fu Manchu.

Mad scientist at work.
Karloff as Fu Manchu

Karloff fan that I am, I had not seen The Mask of Fu Manchu until a few years ago when it was screened by TCM in an early morning time slot.  Making the assumption that the film would creak like an old door hinge I planned on setting about with the morning tea and toast, and getting in a bit of a.m. puttering without missing much of the plot.  I was wrong!  The Mask of Fu Manchu is a template for pacing that should be studied by all makers of thrillers.

The most problematic aspect of the screenplay is the racial invectives that pass between and about the characters in the play.  They are many and heartily delivered; "yellow beast", "fiend", "accursed white race", "sterile Christian paradise", etc.  They are shocking and harsh things to hear, but the setting is so preposterous and over-the-top that it is impossible to take them seriously.  Only in the days prior to rigid "code" enforcement would this sort of language and the sexually charged torture sequences and relationships pass the censor.

We start off at Whitehall where Sir Nayland Smith (Lewis Stone) informs Sir Lionel Barton (Lawrence Grant) that his archeological expedition to the Gobi Desert to retrieve artifacts of Genghis Khan is of major importance to the the British Government.  The infamous Dr. Fu Manchu has his eyes on the treasure as a means of securing success for his current plan to rouse the East against the West for world domination.  "Right ho", or words to that effect, says Sir Lionel.

The British Museum has lost its charm.

Bam!  We're in the British Museum where, before he can reach his colleagues, Sir Lionel is waylaid by three thugs and spirited away.  The thugs are disguised as mummies and hiding in sarcophagus and they seem a part of the scenery until they come to life.  You gotta admit, this Fu Manchu guy has style, but he must share the credit with director Charles Brabin.

What have we here?!
David Torrence, Charles Starrett, Karen Morley, Jean Hersholt

Bam!  A week later we are in Nayland Smith's office where Sir Lionel's daughter (Karen Morley) announces her intention to join the expedition dragging her fiance Terry (Charles Starrett) with her.  Bam!  We view a silhouette of a caravan.  Bam!  We're at the end of the dig.  Bam!  Incredible solid gold tomb of Genghis Khan is opened and the long sought mask and scimitar are recovered.  A few of the native people get religion and are booted about.

If ever a fellow enjoyed his work, that fellow is super-villain Fu Manchu.
Boris Karloff 

Bam!  We are at the opulent headquarters of Dr. Fu Manchu who is suavely entertaining his guest, Sir Lionel.  Sir Lionel, stubborn cuss that he is, will not be swayed to reveal the location of the tomb - not for money and not even for Fu Manchu's daughter ("yes, even that").  Well, there's nothing for it but torture.  Sir Lionel is bound beneath a booming bell, denied sleep, food and water.  Fu Manchu:  "You can't move. You can't sleep. You will be frantic with thirst. You will be unspeakably foul. But here you will lie, day after day, until you tell."  This cat knows his business!

Boris Karloff plays a a self-satisfied villain who truly enjoys his vocation.  His endearing lisp brings a subtle touch of the farcical to the grandiose pronouncements of Dr. Fu Manchu and Karloff wears the silks and headdresses with uncommon ease.

Dr. Von Berg and Nayland Smith formulate a plan.
Are reservations at Grand Hotel included?
Jean Hersholt and Lewis Stone

Bam!  We're in a safe house somewhere close to Fu Manchu's location.  The expedition has arrived and his greeted by Sir Nayland.  Our middle-aged secret agent is everywhere!  However, the spies and minions of Fu Manchu are everywhere as well.  The scimitar is locked in a tower room with Dr. McLeod (David Torrance) who is promptly dispatched by Fu Manchu's gang.  Bam!  The next day a hand (Sir Lionel's hand!) is thrown into the yard.  The gruesome sight prompts Terry, at Sheila's urging, to take the scimitar and bargain for her father's release.  She figures Nayland can get it back later.

Do you like my hat?
Myrna Loy as Fah Lo See, the daughter of Dr. Fu Manchu

Bam!  Terry is taken to Dr. Fu Manchu, the scimitar is proven to be a fake replace by the ever-busy Smith, and Terry is left to the tender mercies of Fah Lo See (Myrna Loy).  It is a few years before the handsome Starrett will make his mark as a B cowboy star as the Durango Kid, but here he paves the way for the TV cowboys of the 50s (Clint Walker, Robert Horton, etc.) who spent a lot of camera time being beaten with their shirts off.  Such scenes do not give me the intense pleasure they seem to inspire in Fah Lo See, but I'm not complaining. 

Bam!  The delivery of a corpse lets our group know that it is time to give up on poor old Sir Lionel.  Nayland Smith sets out to retrieve Terry by finagling his way into an opium den, then a tavern of sorts where he follows a man through a secret entrance to the lair of Dr. Fu Manchu and is captured.  Terry is drugged to do Fu Manchu's bidding and is released to lure Sheila and the verbose Dr. Van Berg (Jean Hersholt) to the evil genius.

As we come to the final moments of the movie:

- Nayland Smith is tied to a beam balanced above and timed to release him into an alligator pit.

- Dr. Von Berg is about to be juliened by the world's largest veg-o-matic.

- Terry about to become the drugged sex slave of Fah Lo See.

- Sheila, gowned in virginal white is to be, as declaimed by Fu Manchu himself to his excited followers, "sacrified to our god".  After all, there hasn't been a god going that won't bless an enterprise that starts off with a good sacrifice.

Bam! In short order, our greying Bond escapes the reptiles, frees Terry and in consort they free, just in the nick of time, Dr. Von Berg.  One of Dr. Fu Manchu's own creations, some sort of electrical shock gun that would have been useful in The Thing from Another World is used to eradicate the malevolent mastermind and his followers.  Bam!  The saviors of the white race consign the golden treasures of Genghis Khan to the deep as they sail back to civilization.

Fu Manchu, of course, lives on.  Like Conan Doyle with Holmes, Rohmer tried to kill off his creation, but the public wouldn't allow it.  The character appears to be indestructible in terms of recognition, shelf life and influence.  Dozens of movies and TV programs have featured Fu Manchu.  He has been intentionally spoofed by TVs Get Smart (Diplomat's Daughter) and Peter Sellers in The Fiendish Plot of Dr. Fu Manchu and, let's face it, Fu Manchu has the aura of a spoof in his organic state.

The character of Dr. Fu Manchu could be considered the grandfather of such villains as James Bond's Dr. No and Marvel Comics the Mandarin.  As recently as 2010, the BBC series Sherlock episode The Blind Banker continued the tradition of a hero dealing with an omniscient Chinese criminal organization and in 2013s Iron Man 3, the Mandarin makes an appearance.  Beware!  There's no telling where the dastardly villain or his progeny will pop up next. 


Monday, March 30, 2015

Caftan Woman's Choice: One for April on TCM

All the resources of the great Warner Brothers studio came together to give us a ripping good melodrama in 1940s They Drive by Night.  Jerry Wald (The Roaring Twenties) and Richard Macaulay (Born to Kill) based their script on a novel by A.I. Bezzerides (On Dangerous Ground, Thieves' Highway) with a dash from the screenplay for the 1935 Warner's feature Bordertown thrown in for good measure.  This look at the movie will discuss a possible spoiler in the well-known, star making turn for a new Warners leading lady.

Director Raoul Walsh was an incredibly busy and prolific filmmaker, particular in this period of his career.  His energetic style meshed perfectly with the studio for which he provided much of their classic product, including The Roaring Twenties, High Sierra, The Strawberry Blonde, They Died With Their Boots On, Gentleman Jim, Objective, Burma!, etc.  The moody cinematography on the picture is by 3-time Oscar nominee Arthur Edelson, a frequent Walsh collaborator (The Thief of Bagdad, The Big Trail, The Cock-Eyed World).

They Drive by Night was the last great role for George Raft.  The former dancer splashed into the ranks of a "name" with the role of the gangster Rinaldo in 1932s Scarface which led to a brace of similar tough characters.  Raft's best work can be seen in Each Dawn I Die, Souls at Sea and They Drive by Night.

Humphrey Bogart, George Raft

Raft plays Joe Fabrini, an ambitious wildcat trucker.  Along with his brother Paul played by Humphrey Bogart, they eke out a precarious existence.  Paul is beholden to his brother, but longs for a more quiet and stable life with his wife Pearl played by Gale Page.  Bad luck seems to dog the Fabrini Brothers.  Crooked financiers and bosses are as much in the way of their success as bad weather, faulty equipment and sleep deprivation.  John Litel, Frank Faylen and Eddie Acuff are among the actors portraying fellow truckers on the same road that seems to lead nowhere.

George Raft, Ann Sheridan, Humphrey Bogart

Romance enters Joe's life in the form of Ann Sheridan as waitress Cassie Hartley.  The hard-boiled quips comes fast and easy from this gal, but she has a heart of pure gold and soon that heart belongs to Joe Fabrini.  When it looks like things are finally going their way, an accident results in the loss of Paul's right arm.  The loyal Joe gets a job working for a large trucking concern run by old friend Ed Carlsen played by Alan Hale so he can help with Paul's recovery.  Carlsen's company is a good fit for Joe.  Ed and old friends like Irish McGurn played by Roscoe Karns respect Joe's ability and he is given the responsibility of traffic manager, contributing to the prosperity of the company.

Ida Lupino

Only one thing could mar Joe's position at Carlsen's, and that one thing is a woman.  Ed's wife Lana is played by Ida Lupino in her first picture at Warner Brothers.  At 22-years-old (!!) and acting since her teen years in England, Lupino was adept and versatile beyond her years and, therefore, hard for Hollywood to pigeonhole.  She could be glamorous or dowdy, comic or dramatic and had just had a star making performance in William Wellman's The Light That Failed.

Lana was a frustrated and dangerous woman.  Married to the older, boisterous Ed for eight years, she had pushed him to make something of himself so she could live a life of wealth.  She constantly belittles Ed and his drinking, which he obliviously sees as her humour.  Well, perhaps Ed wasn't quite so oblivious to Lana's contempt; perhaps that was why he drank.  Lana spends money to excess and looks for romance outside of her marriage.  Her fabulous wardrobe which tells us so much about her character courtesy of costumer Milo Anderson (Young Man with a Horn, Gentleman Jim).  Lana had set her sights on Joe prior to his coming to work for Ed, but Joe spurned her advances because of his friendship to Ed and because he sensed something was not quite right about the woman.  Joe's instincts were firing on all cylinders.

Once we leave the road, our story turns to the section cobbled from Bordertown and our spoiler section.  The obsessive Lana, fed up with Ed and thwarted by Joe, kills her husband by trapping him behind electrically controlled garage doors in a still running automobile.  Joe stays on as a partner to continue running the company not realizing that Lana has more in mind for their relationship.  When Joe announces his engagement to Cassie, Lana goes to the District Attorney to confess the murder, but claiming she committed the crime at Joe's behest.  In a classic courtroom scene, guilt overwhelms Lana who has a complete mental breakdown screaming about the doors making her kill Ed.  It must be seen.  I think she leaves Bette Davis (Bordertown) in the dust.  Warner Brothers was not yet done with Bordertown.  Check out TVs Cheyenne, Season 1, Episode 8, The Storm Riders for another version of the dissatisfied wife with an agenda.

One star, Raft, reaches his peak.  Another, Lupino, stakes her claim.  Bogart's next picture would be High Sierra and he would be cemented as one of Hollywood's great leading men.  Here they are together at the crossroads in They Drive by Night where audiences can enjoy the best of the studio system in a hugely entertaining film.

TCM is screening They Drive by Night on Monday, April 20th at 10:00 pm., part of an evening they are calling "Hitching a Ride".    


Friday, March 27, 2015

The Favourite TV Show Episode blogathon: Ironside - One Hour to Kill (1970)

Terence Towles Canote at A Shroud of Thought is hosting The Favourite TV Show Episode Blogathon, a brilliant idea whose contributions can be found here from March 27th to the 29th.

The television series based on Erle Stanley Gardner's Perry Mason character was an outstanding success on CBS from its debut in 1957 to The Case of the Final Fade-Out in May of 1966.  Star Raymond Burr was nominated for three Primetime Emmy Awards for Leading Actor in a Series, and won the trophy in 1959.  When an actor is so successful and so identified with such a popular character, it staggers the imagination that lightning could strike with another prominent series or character, but strike it did - and in amazingly quick order.

Raymond Burr played the title character of Ironside in the pilot TV movie which aired in March of 1967.  Collier Young (Act of Violence, The Hitch-Hiker) created the series and the teleplay written by Don Mankiewicz (I Want to Live!, Trial) was nominated for a Primetime Emmy for Outstanding Writing Achievement in Drama.  Raymond Burr was nominated for Outstanding Single Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role in a Drama for World Premiere, and Outstanding Continued Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role in a Dramatic SeriesIronside began its regular series run in September of 1967 and ran for eight seasons. 

The pilot introduced us to San Francisco Chief of Detectives Robert T. Ironside, a tough-minded cop and media darling who is put in a wheelchair by a sniper.  All too used to getting his own way, the "Chief" refuses to be put out to pasture, but finagles a position through the Police Commissioner Dennis Randall played by Gene Lyons.  The Chief is now a consultant to the SFPD, with housing/offices in an unused floor of the headquarters building and a staff to help him investigate his own shooting.

Det. Sgt. Ed Brown played by Don Galloway is an ex-Serviceman and a protegee of Ironside's.  (I see him as the Archie Goodwin to Burr's Nero Wolfe.)  Episodes with an emphasis on the character of Ed Brown worth checking out are Nightmare Trip (Season 6), The Wrong Time, the Wrong Place (Season 3) and Five Days in the Death of Sgt. Brown (Season 6 with a crossover the the series The Bold Ones).  Second on the Chief's staff is Officer Eve Whitfield played by Barbara Anderson who would win one Primetime Emmy out of three nominations for Outstanding Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role in a Drama.  Eve is a young women with a wealthy background whose journey to a policing career is chronicled in the episode Reprise (Season 2).  All in a Day's Work is an excellent episode written by Ed McBain which chronicles the aftermath of Eve having to shoot a fleeing suspect. 

Rounding out the Chief's team is Mark Sanger played by Don Mitchell.  Mark is a young black man who has had his troubles with the law and attempted to rob Ironside.  Seeing potential, and hating to be proved wrong, Ironside offers Mark a job as his driver/caregiver.  Mark sees the position as demeaning, but the Chief has a way of getting to people.  Eventually Mark attends law school at night and becomes a police officer.  The episode Down Two Roads (Season 6) shows us why Mark makes this career change.  An offbeat episode featuring Mark is Beware the Wiles of the Stranger (Season 3).  By the time of the 1993 TV Movie The Return of Ironside, Mark is Judge Sanger.

Throughout the series we would be reminded of the challenges faced by the Chief; the annoyances of inaccessible buildings, the reliance on Mark and others.  Sometimes comments based on pity or derision, or even empathy.  None of this, however, overrode the strength and competency of the character.  As viewers tuned in week after week, the wheelchair was accepted and put in its place.  The chair was not the man.

One Hour to Kill (Season 3) was written by Sandy Stern and directed by Richard Benedict.  It is a Thursday evening in San Francisco (coincidentally, the very night Ironside aired on NBC).  Mark Sanger is rushing to make his law class after making sure he is not needed by the Chief.  A measure of his level of independence, the Chief has the night all laid out - a nice whirlpool bath, some of his famous chili and the 49ers game on the TV.  Commissioner Randall stops by with the offer of his extra ticket to a highly touted boxing match.  For a moment, the Chief is tempted, but prefers a quiet night at home.  The extra ticket will go to Randall's chauffeur.

Not exactly the evening as planned.
Raymond Burr as Ironside

Unexpectedly, an alarm clock goes off next to the telephone which rings.  The voice on the line informs the Chief that he has one hour to live then disconnects.  People, even trained observers, see what they expect to see most of the time.  The out of place clock and the threatening phone call alert the Chief to the unexpected who begins to notice other subtle changes to his home.  Retrieving a gun from a drawer, he finds it empty.  A box of shells is filled with bolts.  Anything that could be used as a weapon has been removed including fencing foils which adorned a wall, pool cues and butcher knives.  The phone is only operable by the mysterious caller.  The building is deserted and anyone who has ever worked late hours in an office building knows there is nothing more unsettling than familiar surroundings devoid of their humanity.  A game of cat and mouse follows, but just who is the cat and who is the mouse?

Ed wants to ditch the tie.  Eve's feet are killing her.
Don Galloway and Barbara Anderson

Ed is filling in for Eve's ill date at a concert.  They sit in a box, looking like an elegant young couple enjoying an opera.  Actually, they are having difficulty following the plot, Eve's feet are killing her and Ed would like nothing better than to dump the tie and get a pizza and join the Chief watching the game.  Eve is all for it if they can add rum crunch ice cream to the menu.  Before the viewer can sigh a relief of "rescue!", they decide to wait until intermission and call ahead before leaving the theatre.

Alerted to danger, the Chief is not the worried rat in a trap that his tormentor hopes.  Fashioning booby traps out of what is available to him including electricity and aerosol cans, the Chief also fashions a signal to the outside using a lamp and rotating fan.  He continues to be pro-active by attempting to reach the elevator phone, which has also been sabotaged.  In more warning calls, the Chief gleans clues as to the perpetrator's identity.  Ironside is meant to suffer the fear and agony that someone else has experienced.  With time running out, Ironside searches his files for knowledge with which to confront his attacker.  Ironside is chair bound, but most definitely not helpless.

A pensive Mark.
Don Mitchell

The professor leading Mark's class is played by Henry Corden (The Black Castle, TVs The Flintstones) and he is interrupted by an intruder who fires a gun and rushes from the classroom.  It is part of the lesson plan.  How accurate are eye witnesses?  What do they see?  What do they imagine they see?  How are they influenced by others?  As the class continues Mark experiences flashbacks to the scene of the garage as he left for school.  Something was off.  Something about the phone box.  What was it?  Abruptly, Mark rushes from the class to get to the Chief.

Meanwhile, Ed has been having no luck getting through to the Chief and contacts the phone company who send a repairman to the site.  Eve and Ed ditch the concert hall for the pizzeria and continue attempting to contact Ironside becoming increasingly more uneasy.

Revenge or absolution?
Guest star Robert Lipton as Jimmy Chard

Ironside is face to face with the man who threatens his life.  Guest star Robert Lipton (Tell Them Willie Boy Is Here, TVs As the World Turns) plays Jimmy Chard, whose younger brother was convicted and executed for a robbery and killing of a police officer.  He had been arrested by Chief Ironside.  Chard presents himself as an avenging angel, but the Chief cuts through that pretense with the truth that it was Jimmy who planned the crime and backed out leaving his brother to take the fall.  It is Jimmy's guilt and various documented mental issues that have led to this attempted murder of the Chief, nothing more.

Somewhere there is a pizza with their names on it.

The Chief's psychological and physical traps pay off in a scene as tense and exciting as all that has gone before and only after having disabled his tormentor does rescue arrive in the form of his three colleagues.  The obligatory light-hearted tag releases the knot in the viewer's stomach as our favourite Thursday night crime fighters adjourn for pizza and rum crunch ice cream.  What adventure will find the Chief and the gang next week - a murder mystery, international espionage, something on the lighter side?  I can't wait!

Monday, March 16, 2015

The Luck of the Irish Blog O'Thon: George Brent stars in Out of the Blue (1947)

George Brent as Arthur Earthleigh
Oliver Jensen:  "Arthur Earthleigh.  It isn't even a name, it's a lisp."

Those darlin' girls of Silver Scenes are hosting a wee bit of a St. Paddy's Day celebration with The Luck of the Irish Blog O' Thon running from March 15 to 17.

I feel a connection to folks who share the family name of Nolan that extends to the likes of Jeanette and Kathleen and Lloyd and Bob and George.  George?  Yes, George.  The charmingly handsome lad with the winning smile and over 100 movie and television credits under the name of George Brent was actually born George Brendan Nolan in Shannonbridge, Ireland in 1899.  Orphaned at age 11, caught up in "the Troubles" and an alumni of the Abbey Theatre, George Brent made his mark in Hollywood as leading man to the greatest leading ladies of Hollywood's greatest era, Barbara Stanwyck (5 pictures), Bette Davis (11 pictures), wife Ruth Chatterton (4 pictures), Merle Oberon (2 pictures), Claudette Colbert (2 pictures), Myrna Loy (2 pictures) and one movie with wife Ann Sheridan. Among "cousin" George's best pictures are 42nd Street, Baby Face, The Rains Came, 'Til We Meet Again (a lovely remake of One Way Passage), The Spiral Staircase and Tomorrow is Forever.

How do you prefer your George Brent?  In a moving melodrama, a tidy B crime picture, an historical romance, a pre-code shocker, a comedy?  I like it when George gets to exercise his comedy chops as in Snowed Under.  Of course, he had a lovely, sly way of inserting a bit of wit into all the appropriate roles, but rarely was he given the chance to to be a flat out goof.  1947s Out of the Blue provides George Brent with an opportunity to display all of his Irish humour; the sarcasm, the love of the absurd and the offhand way of treating the outlandish as commonplace.

Julia Dean, George Brent, Elizabeth Patterson, Richard Lane, Carole Landis

The story by Laura author Vera Caspary concerns a group of Greenwich Village apartment neighbours, bedeviled by the heat and frightened by the news of a serial killer at large.  A put-upon husband steps out on his nagging wife and finds himself with a body to hide and the prime suspect in a murder.  Prime noir territory, wouldn't you say?  This story, however, is played for laughs and the director, Leigh Jason, was noted for such comedy-mystery stories as exemplified by The Mad Miss Manton (Barbara Stanwyck, Henry Fonda), Wise Girl (Miriam Hopkins, Ray Milland) and Dangerous Blondes (Evelyn Keyes, Allyn Joslyn).

George Brent, Carole Landis

Nothing that happens in the apartment complex goes unnoticed by a couple of maiden ladies played by Elizabeth Patterson (Intruder in the Dust) and Julia Dean (The Curse of the Cat People).  From the vantage point of their terrace they can focus all their attention on the goings on on the terraces of the 10th floor.  One is occupied by a Bohemian playboy artist David Gelleo played by Turhan Bey (Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves) and his prize-winning German Shepherd, Rabelais played by Flame.  His next door neighbours are Arthur and Mae Earthleigh.  The hapless Arthur is completely under the thumb of the domineering Mae.  Heartthrob George Brent plays Arthur and glamourous Carole Landis (I Wake Up Screaming) is the unpleasant spouse.

Two more of Hollywood's glamourous leading ladies are thrown into the mix when debutant Deborah Tyler played by Virginia Mayo (White Heat) proposes to our artist friend that his Rabelais would be a perfect match for her own prize-winning Shepherd.  Her proposition gives David other ideas, more human in nature.  David is not the only one with romance on his mind.  Mae Earthleigh is out of town for the weekend and Arthur is on the loose and ready to howl.  At a local tavern he meets professional interior decorator and amateur souse Olive Jensen played by Ann Dvorak (Three on a Match).  Arthur flirts with Olive.  Arthur is not very good at flirting, but Olive thinks he's cute and happily returns to his abode where disapproving pictures of Mae squelch any starry-eyed notions.

Ann Dvorak, George Brent

The sorts of mishaps that only happen in screwball comedies start happening to Arthur Earthleigh.  He thinks he has gotten rid of Olive, but she is passed out in the guest room.  Olive had told Arthur about her bad ticker and her propensity for "popping off", but Arthur does not realize the truth of her statement.  An unconscious Olive appears to Arthur to be a dead Olive.  He places the body on David's terrace, more in fear of Mae than of any official condemnation.  Arthur's action compounds an ongoing feud with David over Rabelais.  In the midst of his burgeoning romance with Deborah, David uses Olive in a scheme to get even with Arthur.  Olive is quite amenable to David's plans, after all, she gave Arthur the best years of her life!

By now you have the idea that our leading actors are playing characters well removed from their usual fare and carrying it off beautifully.  Turhan Bey a sophisticate, Carole Landis a nag and Virginia Mayo the woman with class.  Mayo, who played her fair share of molls and dames is absolutely adorable in a scene where her dainty deb pretends to be a crook.  George Brent is a riot as a man buffeted by fate.  He takes one step forward in ill-conceived shenanigans and always winds up two steps back.  Ann Dvorak takes the comedy crown as Olive Jenson.  Olive has no impulse control whatsoever and her stream-of-consciousness ramblings are the highlight of a very funny screenplay.

An early release from Eagle-Lion, this comedy has a lot going for it, but has yet to achieve the acclaim that is attached to some of the studio's film-noir of that era like T-Men or Raw Deal.  To my comic ear the screenplay is that good that at one of the major studios with bigger names Out of the Blue might be looked upon as one of screwball comedies last great hurrahs.  As it stands now, it is a gem awaiting discovery, especially for the delightful Dvorak and goofy cousin George.


Friday, March 13, 2015

The Cinemascope blogathon: Gunman's Walk (1958)

Becky and Rich, the astute duo behind Classic Becky's Brain Food and Wide Screen World are hosting The Cinemascope Blogathon from March 13 to 15.  Revel in the variety of movies that entertain to this day.

The wide-screen process came of age in the 1950s as a competitive draw to what audiences could find on their tiny television screens.  It came of age in a period when the so-called adult western was at its height and many westerns benefited with the breathtaking scenic backgrounds of their stories.  Such westerns as Broken Lance, River of No Return, The Last Wagon and The Professionals told their stories of perilous landscapes and desperation through the breathtaking marvel of widescreen.  A strong influence on the 1950s westerns was film-noir and although director Phil Karlson may be better known for his crime pictures that fall under the noir purview, his half dozen or so westerns also feature tough-minded characters caught in the whirlwind of destiny.  1958s Gunman's Walk may well be Karlson's masterpiece in the genre.

Frank Nugent wrote the screenplay based on a story by Ric Hardman.  Nugent was Oscar nominated for The Quiet Man and his previous westerns include The Searchers and Fort Apache, and the Karlson directed feature They Rode West.

Van Heflin (Johnny Eager, Shane, Airport) stars as Lee Hackett, a powerful rancher who raised two sons in his own image, that of the law unto himself.  The passage of time is a theme in many westerns of this period and time weighs heavy on Lee Hackett.  He strives to be one of the boys by insisting his sons refer to him by his first name.  The longtime ranch foreman jokes about Lee's need to keep ahead of the boys when it is getting harder to keep up with them.

Both of Lee's sons are troubled.  Davy, the younger played by James Darren (The Guns of Navarone, Gidget, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine) is finding his way in life more in step with times.  Davy's attitude toward the Natives from whom Lee wrestled his land is the opposite of his father's casual racism.  Davy is attracted to Cecily Chouard, who is part French and part Sioux.  Davy refuses to wear a gun.  He is more thoughtful than his father and brother appear to be.  Cecily or "Clee" is a empathetic and strong young woman as played by Kathryn Grant (Anatomy of a Murder, The 7th Voyage of Sinbad) in one of five pictures she made with Phil Karlson.  Ms. Grant and James Darren can also be seen to good advantage as a couple in the previous year's Karlson noir, The Brothers Rico.

Ed Hackett is played by Tab Hunter (Damn Yankees!, Battle Cry, Track of the Cat) and it is an excellent performance of a narcissist psychopath.  Seeking to emulate his father in toughness, the changing times have given Ed little in the way of opportunity to prove himself and to best the older man.  Ed is ruthless in his dealings with underlings and toward Natives, yet often tender toward his brother.  His need to prove himself through destruction and violence has made Ed a fast draw when that skill is no longer admired.

Out on the range during a round up of wild horses the vastness of the physical background gives us a sense of what Lee Hackett has tamed for his own and the freedom of the characters.  Freedom, that in Ed's case, leads to the wanton murder of Cecily's brother witnessed only by two other Sioux working the roundup.  Once the company reaches town or civilization the Hackett family is faced with how their actions are viewed in the new reality.  The physical constraints of sidewalks and bylaws and society that actually provide freedom to many, cages Ed in and ties him in knots.

The script plays with many levels of the events, the family dynamics, the changing times, the crime and the romance.  Robert F. Simon (TVs Bewitched) represents the law.  A contemporary of Lee's, he knows the past, but he also accepts the present.  Lee feels entitled to bully the Court, but finds the hated Sioux accorded rights as well.  The Hackett pride, and fear for Ed, is ripe for the fleecing by a lying horse trader played by Ray Teal (TVs Bonanza).  Constrained by society, Ed Hackett looks for ways to explode.  Mickey Shaughnessy (Designing Woman) is a deputy assigned to keep an eye on Ed.  The character sees all and understands much.  Davy learns to stand apart from the Hackett name.  Lee Hackett ignores his own doubts about his parenting and the nature of his sons.  Eventually, thoughtlessness and violence lead to a devastating conclusion where compassion may finally have a chance to grow.

Gunman's Walk has riveting performances and an interesting story.  The Arizona filming location combined with the impressive effects of Cinemascope give to the movie a physical sense of the character's inner turmoil.  And George Duning's whistled theme will stay with you for days.