The second annual O Canada blogathon is underway hosted by Ruth of Silver Screenings and Kristina of Speakeasy. The blogathon runs February 1 - 5. Visit the great white north without leaving home! Day 1 recap. Day 2 recap. Day 3 recap. Day 4 recap. Day 5 recap.
It wasn't until a screening on TCM a few years ago that I became aware of this 1935 film based on Mazo de la Roche's immortal Whiteoaks of Jalna series. This seems strange to me as both a classic movie fan and a Canadian. While not a touchstone for Canadian youngsters like Lucy Maud Montgomery's Anne of Green Gables, nor forced to read in school like Farley Mowat or Margaret Atwood, de la Roche's 16 novels in the Chronicles of Whiteoaks were an immensely popular and successful worldwide phenomenon beginning in 1927. One hundred years and generations of Whiteoaks came to life in Mazo de la Roche's stories. I well recall how the library copies I borrowed lorded it over the other novels in the section. Ms. de la Roche became something of a celebrity. 2012's The Mystery of Mazo de la Roche is a compelling documentary on her personal and creative lives which I can recommend. The success of the BBCs The Forsyte Saga inspired the CBC to adapt Whiteoaks into a miniseries. I recall watching it out of a sense of loyalty, but it did not stay with me the way The Forsyte Saga has managed to do. The story and characters from the novels were just as intriguing, but at that time the CBC was not up to the job or didn't hire the right people. Perhaps they should have turned to RKO's release of a few decades earlier for their approach.
Eden Whiteoaks has a "slight, but pretty" talent in the writing line, according to his Uncle Ernest. It is something that sets him apart from his farming family, firmly ensconced at their Ontario estate for generations. Alayne Archer, the reader at the NYC firm that publishes Eden's book of poetry, falls for the sensitivity in his writing and his good looks. Alayne has no idea what she has signed on for when she marries Eden and moves with him to Jalna. Fairly soon, she does realize that the man she married is not the man she made of him in her imagination. Eden is somewhat of the spoiled wastral. If Alayne has married the wrong man, the right man is her brother-in-law and de facto head of the family, Renny.
Renny and all of the Whiteoaks have a queen in the nearly one hundred year old Gran, who assumes all of her wishes and pronouncements are honoured. The elderly uncles Ernest and Nicholas must have their say. It is common that the Whiteoaks all have their say at once! Renny's older sister Meg was disappointed in love by their neighbour Maurice Vaughn and has perfected her role as the scorned sweetheart over twenty years. Maurice's daughter, Pheasant (love that name!) is romantically involved with Meg and Renny's younger half-brother Piers, who is a bit of a hothead. Youngsters Finch and Wakefield round out the group. When Piers marries Pheasant and brings her home at the same time Eden brings Alayne, life will never be the same for the Whiteoaks of Jalna.
Anthony Veiller, Oscar nominated for The Killers and Stage Door, wrote the screenplay. Jalna was directed with his usual display of charm and style by John Cromwell (Anna and the King of Siam, The Prisoner of Zenda, Caged). Leading lady Kay Johnson (American Madness, White Banners) plays Alayne. She is a woman of strong character and a nurturing nature. Ms. Johnson was at the time (1928-1946) married to John Cromwell. David Manners (Beauty and the Boss, The Miracle Woman) plays Eden Whiteoaks. Is he a young man of thwarted potential or merely a spoiled brat? Ian Hunter (The Church Mouse, The Long Voyage Home) is appealingly stalwart as Renny, who never planned on being the third side in a triangle.
Jessie Ralph (David Copperfield, After the Thin Man) steals every scene as Gran. She's almost a hundred, you know! Her granddaughter Meg, the spinster, is played by Peggy Wood (The Sound of Music). Nigel Bruce (Suspicion) is a surprising Casanova. Theodore Newton (Two Years Before the Mast) played Piers and charming Molly Lamont (The Awful Truth) is Pheasant. The older Whiteoaks are played by C. Aubrey Smith (Five Came Back) and Halliwell Hobbes (Gaslight) and the younger by George Offerman, Jr. (A Walk in the Sun) and Clifford Severn (Forever and a Day).
The discovery of Jalna was an unexpected treat for me and I am sure would be the same for anyone coming across it, whether they have heard of Mazo de la Roche's novels previously or not. The cast is comprised of a mix of Americans and British ex-pats to make up the Canadian family. Three of the cast, Ian Hunter, Clifford Severn and Molly Lamont hail from South Africa. We find among the troupe one Haligonian, that is, a person born in Halifax. In this case, Halifax, Nova Scotia being the birthplace of David Manners.
Surely Rauff de Ryther Duan Acklom is the most interesting birth name of a future Hollywood star since Spangler Arlington Brugh. David Manners is a little easier to recall, for audiences and producers. An excellent scholar from a wealthy family, David was studying Forestry at the University of Toronto, but his heart was with the school's Hart House Theatre Company. He left school in his final year of 1923 to join a touring company out of New York run by Basil Sydney. He gained experience and a solid reputation and in 1924 appeared with Helen Hayes in Dancing Mothers and they became lifelong friends. James Whale wanted Manners for the role of Lieutenant Raleigh in a New York production of Journey's End, but the timing did not work out. Fortunately, things worked out for the 1930 film version of this always timely anti-war play written by R.C. Sherriff and directed by Whale. It was an auspicious Hollywood beginning for David Manners. By 1936 David Manners would have 39 motion pictures to his credit. Let's look at a few of my favourites.
The Black Cat publicity still
Horror film fans are among the most loyal of our breed. David Manners is forever immortal to horror fans for three films in particular. 1931s Dracula set the tone for classic horror with Bela Lugosi's archetypal performance in the title role and Dwight Frye's scene-stealing as Renfield. Davis is John Harker, out-of-his-depth hero. 1932s The Mummy gave the great Boris Karloff one of his best remembered roles. Zita Johann is torn between her dead-for-centuries lover Karloff or contemporary sweetie Manners. H'm. 1934s The Black Cat gives Manners a role with a bit more meat on its bones as his character, mystery writer Peter Allison has to deal with both Karloff and Lugosi and their tortured relationship. It must be seen to be believed, and maybe not even then.
David Manners, Marian Marsh, Warren William
Beauty and the Boss
The entire cast impressed me in 1931s The Last Flight, an emotional drama of the lost generation from John Monk Saunders. 1932s Beauty and the Boss from Ladislas Fodor's play The Church Mouse features one of my favourite David Manners performances. As the callow younger brother of a successful banker Davis is strictly second lead to Warren William. Both men are vying for an impossibly charming secretary played by Marian Marsh. You know going in that she will win over her playboy boss, but David is so unselfconsciously besotted that I can't help rooting for him.
The best of David Manners work in 1930s films shows that he gave one hundred percent to his profession and received in return the trappings of fame and adoration. Before the decade was over David would make a change in his lifestyle that few would imagine many with his success undertaking. A combination of things led to a decision to abandon Hollywood. Physically the Los Angeles smog was wrecking havoc on David's chronic asthma. Creatively there were other worlds for him to explore. He would publish four novels during the 1940s. He would be a painter for the rest of his days. Much of his time was spent on a ranch near the Mojave Desert. "I did all the things I wanted to do. I wrote three novels, rode my horses for miles, created more than one hundred paintings and every day milked the cows myself."
Broadway beckoned and in 1946 David replaced Henry Daniell as Lord Windermere in Lady Windermere's Fan. Earlier that season he appeared in the brief run of Maxwell Anderson's Truckline Cafe. Co-star in that production Marlon Brando was among those contacted by Charles Foster for his book Once Upon a Time in Paradise: Canadians in the Golden Age of Hollywood.
Marlon Brando: "David Manners spent hour coaching me in my small role. He allowed me to steal the one scene I played with him by telling me how to do it."
Lucille Ball: "He took me to a swanky restaurant and we went dancing afterwards. He was mobbed everywhere, but he always had time for his fans. The reason why I spend so much time with my fans today is because David showed me on that special date it was the right thing to do."
Loretta Young: "He hadn't an ounce of difficulty or obstinacy in him. Every girl in town wanted to work with him. He was a dream actor, handsome, charming and totally genuine. He was very competent, never flustered, always knew his lines and was always ready to help newcomers to the film industry."
Helen Hayes and Edward G. Robinson provided anecdotes where David Manners, who dabbled in boxing in his youth, actually defended them from rowdy fans with separate displays of fisticuffs.
In his later years David devoted much of his time in spiritual and philosophical pursuits and publishing his journey in Look Through, An Evidence of Self Discovery, The Soundless Voice and Awakenings from the Dream of Me.
I think it would have been nice to know the man behind this quote:
"Perhaps to the young, old age looks pretty grim, but let me tell it. For this ancient one, this is the happiest, most beautifultime of a long life. How come? The appearances are that I have less freedom, less motion, less of everything, including hair and shape, but these are the lesser blessings. There are blessings today that were never dreamed of."
Once Upon a Time in Paradise by Charles Foster