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?

Friday, September 8, 2017


Christina Wehner and Ruth of Silver Screenings are hosting, for the second time mind you, the Movie Scientist Blogathon. The good, the mad and the lonely lab rats can be found online from September 8 - 10. My guy, Barnaby Fulton, is one of the good ones. Day 1 recap  Day 2 recap  Day 3 recap

Barnaby and Edwina Fulton
Cary Grant, Ginger Rogers

Edwina (to Barnaby): "You're not often the absent-minded professor, but, darling, when you are, you're a real zombie."

Barnaby Fulton (Cary Grant) is the chief chemist at the Oxley Chemical Company. Barnaby has been working on a rejuvination formula and it is preying on his mind when he should be thinking about his wife Edwina (Ginger Rogers) and the party they are dressed to attend.

Miss Laurel, Barnaby, Mr. Oxley
Marilyn Monroe, Cary Grant, Charles Coburn

The lab team has been testing their recent formula on chimpanzees and tests show that only 23% of the formula is being assimilated. Mr. Oxley (Charles Coburn), who owns the company, is 70 and more than a little anxious that they come up with what he terms a "youth" formula. Perhaps his secretary, the luscious Miss Laurel (Marilyn Monroe) has something to do with his overly anxious attitude.

When the white coats are away, the simians will play.

Barnaby is assisted in the lab by Dr. Kitzel (Henri Letondal), Dr. Brunner (Douglas Spencer), and Dr. Zoldeck (Robert Cornthwaite). These eminent brains are assisted in turn by Esther! Esther is the youngest of the chimps and she plays a bit of "monkey see, monkey do" by getting out of her cage and pouring this into that and that into this. Perhaps dissatisfied with her work, Esther disposes of her formula in the water cooler. 

Barnaby Fulton, in that way of brainy types, decides to test the most recent formula on himself. It leaves a bitter after-taste that Barnaby decides to chase with water. Funny thing, the water also has a bitter aftertaste. It's incredible! Barnaby can see without his glasses. Barnaby has astounding reservoirs of energy. Barnaby feels young again!

Barnaby doesn't strictly follow protocol by chronicling his reactions to the formula. He wants to have fun! Barnaby goes joy riding with Miss Luscious, I mean Miss Laurel. He gets a younger haircut, buys a snazzy car, goes roller skating and swimming until the formula starts to wear off. A then exhausted and sore Barnaby smashes the car into the factory's fence and takes a well-deserved nap.

Mr. Oxley is over-the-moon in his excitement about the formula. Edwina is less than thrilled with Barnaby's antics of the day. Instead of allowing Barnaby to take more of the formula, Edwina takes the larger dose chosen for the next experiment. Nothing happens until, of course, she chases the bitter aftertaste with water from the cooler.

The blackboard says it all.

Edwina is once again the fun loving, empty-headed girl of her youth. Her love and affection for Barnaby is as strong as ever, and she wants to drive to the coastal hotel of their honeymoon. She wants to dance the night away. Once there, however, she is overcome by sudden shyness and blazing anger at anything her beloved says that strikes her as untoward. Edwina has phoned her old boyfriend Hank Entwistle (Hugh Marlowe) and her mother (Esther Dale), who always disliked Barnaby, to announce their break-up. Barnaby and Edwina both have a lot of embarrassing incidents to explain. Is the formula really worth all of this nonsense?

Again under the influence of what they understand to be the formula, Edwina and Barnaby commit further silliness. Edwina believes a neighbour's baby is a reverted Barnaby (don't ask!). Meanwhile, Barnaby plays a game of "let's scalp Hank Entwisle" with the neighbourhood kids.

I don't believe all labs look like this one.

It is obvious that the chief chemist at the Oxley Chemical Company is not going to be of any help to the corporate world. His assistants finally figure out the mystery of Esther and the water cooler. What was left of the miracle concoction is inadvertently destroyed, and things go back to normal. Poor Mr. Oxley!

Dr. Fulton has come to some conclusions concerning his current line of research:

"I'm beginning to wonder if being young is all it's cracked up to be. We dream of youth. We remember it as a time of nightingales and valentines. But what are the facts? Maladjustment, near idiocy, and a series of low comedy disasters. That's what youth is."

Barnaby's newest formula:  "You're old only when you forget you are young."

No word on Esther's theories after these hectic days in the lab.

The very funny script for Monkey Business is by Ben Hecht (The Front Page), Charles Lederer (I Was a Male War Bride) and I.A.L. Diamond (Some Like It Hot).

Monkey Business is the last of 5 films Hawks and Grant made together beginning with 1938s Bringing Up Baby where Grant also played a bespectacled absent-minded professor involved in romantic entanglements.

Ginger Rogers as Edwina was nominated for the Golden Globe in the category of Best Actress - Comedy or Musical, along with Katharine Hepburn for Pat and Mike and the winner, Susan Hayward in With a Song in My Heart.

Movie trivia

Douglas Spencer and Robert Cornthwaite, who play two of the scientists, appeared in the previous year's Howard Hawks film The Thing from Another World as Scotty, the newspaper reporter and Dr. Carrington, the obsessive head of the expedition.

Harry Carey Jr. plays a newspaper reporter and his mother, Olive Carey, is the Fulton's next door neighbour who leaves her infant son to the tender mercies of the Fultons while she runs errands.

Friday, September 1, 2017


The improbable and charming love story of a girl who did not know her place and a man with no place of his own. 

Margery Sharp wrote her novel Cluny Brown, set in the time prior to the outbreak of WW2, while working for the war effort as an Army Educator. It is just one of her many novels that were adapted for the screen from The Nutmeg Tree aka Julia Misbehaves to The Rescuers. The screenplay is by Samuel Hoffenstein and Elizabeth Reinhardt (Laura), with contributions from James Hilton (Random Harvest).

This movie is the happy recipient of The Lubitsch Touch, being the final completed project of the great director prior to his death at the young age of 55 from a heart attack.

Cluny Brown: "I may not cook the best tripe and onions in England, but whoever gets me won't have to worry about his plumbing."

On a lazy Sunday afternoon in the London of 1938 Adam Belinski (Charles Boyer), a Czech refugee, wanders into the home of Hilary Ames (Reginald Gardiner), about to host a cocktail party and beset with an unco-operative sink. Belinski intended on putting the touch on his friend, the lettor of the flat. He manages to wrangle a small stipend, a nap, and the acquaintance of Cluny Brown (Jennifer Jones).  Cluny feels she may have found her place in the world as a plumber. She has observed her Uncle Arn (Billy Bevan) and felt she could do him one better. 

Belinski also becomes the unbidden object of the adoration and charitable impulses of two rich young men with serious attitudes toward Nazis and Czech refugees, Andrew Carmel (Peter Lawford) and John Frewen (Michael Dyne). Both men are pining over the cream of society, Betty Cream (Helen Walker). These disparate characters and their varying intentions will come together in the countryside.

Cluny's Uncle Arn feels he has found a place for Cluny when he settles her in the position of a second maid at the Carmel Estate. Andrew Carmel feels he is successfully keeping Belinski safe from Nazis by installing him as a guest at the family country home. Cluny finally feels she has found a place when she attracts the attention of eligible village bachelor, the chemist Mr. Wilson (Richard Hadyn). Of course the relationship is dependent upon Cluny gaining the approval of his mother, Mrs. Wilson (Una O'Connor). What could possibly go wrong, or right?

All of the supporting cast is superb. Sir Henry and Lady Carmel are played with fey appeal by Reginald Owen and Margaret Bannerman. The Carmel's butler Syrette and housekeeper Mrs. Maile display the proper haughtiness of their exalted positions, as portrayed by Ernest Cossart and Sara Algood.

Cluny Brown is a whimsical and insightful look at the class system and the rules society places on ourselves as to behavior. The observations and social commentary are smart and indulgent. The characters are silly and real. The romances we follow with interest are affecting and sweet. Cluny Brown is a completely winning character, and a charming movie.

Jennifer Jones is TCM's September Star of the Month. If, like myself, it took you until 1953s Beat the Devil to appreciate the actress' comedic abilities, then you will truly enjoy Cluny Brown. It pops up on the TCM broadcast schedule on Tuesday, September 5th at 1:00 in the morning.

Friday, August 25, 2017

THE VAN JOHNSON BLOGATHON: State of the Union (1948)

Michaela of Love Letters to Old Hollywood is hosting The Van Johnson Blogathon running from August 25 to 27. Click HERE for all the contributions on the popular and versatile actor.

Katharine Hepburn, Spencer Tracy

The couple above are Mary and Grant Mitchell, and they are preparing for a political rally. Grant is a self-made man, a WWI pilot turned successful aircraft manufacturer. He is being manipulated by his mistress, a publisher and daughter of a political family, Kay Thorndyke played by Angela Lansbury. Mary has agreed to campaign alongside her husband with hopes of winning him back. The other newcomers to their circle include political operative Jim Conover played by Adolphe Menjou and newspaper reporter Spike McManus played by Van Johnson.

Adolphe Menjou, Angela Lansbury

State of the Union is Frank Capra's 1948 film adaptation of Howard Lindsay and Russel Crouse's Pulitzer Prize winning play which ran on Broadway for 765 performances. Ruth Hussey and Ralph Bellamy played the Mitchells on stage. Kay Johnson played Kay Thorndyke, with Minor Watson as Conover and Myron McCormick as "Spike". 

Van Johnson as reporter "Spike" McManus

Grant has fallen under Kay Thorndyke's spell, and Kay Thorndyke is a slave to her own ambition. Her late father and their publishing empire was dismissed by the Republican Party, and she intends to own them by putting the next man in the White House. Conover is more than willing to go along for the ride. For Spike McManus, this is just a paycheque.

"Spike" is not impressed with Grant's stunt flying.

When the Mitchells are together, it is easy to see that Mary's opinion means a lot to Grant, and her opinions are generally the opposite to the machinations of a political campaign. While Mary wants Grant back as her husband and father to their two children, there are a lot of opposing forces whose goal is power.

Grant starts out as someone who relates to many different people because of a straight-forward honesty. However, he soon wants whatever Kay wants and becomes convinced that the only way to get to be president is to play the game as the professionals demand.  The story becomes a battle of wills and a battle for a man's integrity.

"Spike" has put together an impressive broadcast.
Yes, that is indeed Charles Lane you see.

1948 is an interesting year of releases in Van Johnson's film career. The Bride Goes Wild is an amusing romantic comedy co-starring June Allyson, the engrossing wartime drama Command Decision is another award winning Broadway adaptation, and then there is State of the Union.

The character of Spike McManus acts more or less as a Greek Chorus, wryly commenting on the action and the characters. Van Johnson has just the right attitude and timing to get the idea behind the lines across.

The political maneuvers, which are considered so deadly serious by Kay and Conover, are joking matters for Spike. Nonetheless, he has a soft spot for Mary and will tend toward anything that is on her side.

"Spike" comforts and inspires Mary to take action.
Is the effect exactly what he envisioned?

The hoped for culmination of Grant Mitchell's ride to victory at the upcoming Convention is a live radio and television broadcast direct from his home. Mary has even agreed, very reluctantly, to the presence of Kay Thorndyke. Secrets are revealed, scales fall from eyes, hearts are broken and mended.

"Spike" is fired, but he's happy!

The cast is filled with familiar faces from Capra films of the past: Margaret Hamilton, Irving Bacon, Raymond Walburn, Charles Lane, Tom Fadden and Carl Switzer. Maidel Turner as a tipsy Judge's wife is the only cast member from Broadway to appear in the movie, and she is a hoot.

Frank Capra knew how to fill the screen with the great character actor faces, and how to pace a story to keep it fresh and interesting. State of the Union skewers the lazy voter and the cynical politicians who take advantage of them. While it looks clearly at the problems in the system, it offers no solution beyond that of honesty. The themes and the issues are as relevant today as in 1948, and I imagine if we took it backward to 1901 or 1832, audiences would nod knowingly in recognition.

Kay Thorndyke: "He's beginning to wonder if there is any difference between the Democratic Party and the Republican Party."

Jim Conover: "Now that's a fine question for a presidential candidate to ask. There's all the difference in the world. They're in and we're out!" 

I close with this picture of Margaret Hamilton as Norah, Conover's maid. She is beaming at Spike played by Van Johnson. It is the look shared by all of us Van Johnson fans.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

WORKPLACE IN FILM AND TV BLOGATHON: Car 54, Where Are You? (1961-1963)

Debbie Vega of  Moon in Gemini is hosting the Workplace in Film and TV Blogathon running from August 18 - 20.  Day 1 recap    Day 2 recap    Day 3 recap       

Nat Hiken, the genius comedy mind behind The Phil Silvers Show chose as his next television project to focus on policemen; not just quirky characters, but police officers as people. These people were not the dedicated, focused, law and order at any cost, characters of TV dramas. These co-workers liked each other, fought with each other, knew each others families and foibles, and did their work as best they could without getting anybody in too much trouble.

"I worked for three geniuses in comedy writing --- George S. Kaufman, S.J. Perelman, and Nat Hiken."  
 - Al Lewis (Officer Leo Schnauser)

807 East 107th Street in the Bronx is the real-life location of the old Biograph Studios which, in the 1960s, became home to the various homes which made up the world of the 53rd Precinct. Like a Russian matryoshka doll, hiding other dolls inside, a studio is a home to many worlds. The cock-eyed comical world of Nat Hiken's Car 54, Where Are You? came to life within these walls.

From David Everitt's King of the Half Hour, published 2001:

"By the early sixties, though, there was little about the studio that suggested movie industry glamour. More in keeping with the tone of its current project, the Biograph was now surrounded by mostly Jewish, working-class neighbors. Many of the show's company would commute to work on the subway, exiting at the 174th Street station, perhaps picking up a coffee and bagel at a corner candy store before walking to the studio entrance where neighborhood kids played on the sidewalk."

Sixty episodes of laugh-out-loud comedy served up by an impressive ensemble of acting talent with worthy material created a workplace any of us would recognize and enjoy. Friendships extend outside of the patrol car, and events like weddings and bar mitzvot bring families together. Social outings are planned, and even the hereafter is given consideration. Much of this activity is through the 53rd Precinct Brotherhood Club, and it is by looking at four of the episodes concerning that organization that we learn about the heart and soul of the precinct.

Season 1, episode 13: December 10, 1961

Gunther Toody (Joe E. Ross) is the new treasurer of the Brotherhood Club. The post must be on some sort of a rotation because no one, and I mean no one, is happy about the new treasurer.

Officers O'Hara, Wallace, Nicholson and Schnauser express their dissatisfaction.

Officer Wallace (Frederick O'Neal): We got over $800 in the treasury. We're going to let him handle it?

Officer Nicholson (Hank Garrett): You gotta be kidding.

Toody: Fellow members, I'm perfectly thrilled at being elected your new treasurer, but I wouldn't be honest if I said I was happy about the lousy way you guys are taking it.

Officer O'Hara (Albert Henderson): Gunther, you know we love you, but you're not the guy to be handling money like that.

Toody: Oh, yeah. Give me one reason why I won't make a good treasurer.

O'Hara: You can't count!

Toody: Besides that.

The mistrust of his fellow officers is well placed. Toody is a comic mess-up and incredibly susceptible to suggestion. When he sees guys, without even his brains, making a killing in the stock market, Toody is convinced he can make the Brotherhood Club rich. Eventually, the club agrees to take a flyer on the market. They chose a very safe, blue chip stock in International Sulphur. After all, they plan to use the money to build a summer camp for the poor kids of the neighbourhood. Toody's constant hovering over the head office of the company leads to rumors which have the head of the company, guest star John Alexander (Arsenic and Old Lace), brought before a senate committee. Upon returning from Washington, he buys back the Brotherhood Club's stocks, at a profit to the delighted officers, and advises them to "put the money in the bank."

Season 2, episode 13: December 9, 1962

A meeting of the Brotherhood Club and the Ladies Auxiliary is convened to determine the annual summer outing. If they don't reach a decision soon, it will be winter!

A civilized discussion.

Sylvia Schnauser (Charlotte Rae): I've been sitting here quietly listening to all your suggestions and I must say I am shocked. Beer parlors. Boat rides. Don't you honestly think it's time that we did something cultural?

Ed Nicholson (Hank Garrett): Aww, Sylvia.

Leo Schnauser (Al Lewis): My wife is talking! Go ahead, Pussycat.

Sylvia: Thank you, Daddy Bear. Well, think of it. Here we are in the Bronx, just a stone's throw away from Broadway, the theater center of the world and not one of you has suggested that we organize a theater party and go and see a Broadway play.

Toody: That's a good idea. Let's all go and see Oklahoma!

Schnauser: Oklahoma? Oklahoma has been closed for fifteen years.

Toody: I haven't been following the papers lately.

Muldoon: Any discussion on Sylvia Shnauser's suggestion that we have a theater party?

Lucille Toody (Beatrice Pons): Mr. Chairman, I am a Hunter College graduate, and, as you know, I am one hundred and ten percent for culture. But the plays they're showing on Broadway these days - well, I certainly wouldn't want my husband to see them.

Sylvia: Lucille, stop being such a bluenose.

Lucille: Bluenose? My sister Rose saw a play by Tennessee Williams last year and she had to go to bed for two weeks with the door locked.

A bargain for something you don't want, is not a bargain.

All agree on a theatre party and the committee is charged with purchasing 142 tickets for a play from  an agreed upon list. The committee plans to take care of it on their lunch hour.

Leo Schnauser:  We want 142 seats. 106 in the center. 23 on one side, 10 on the other side and one in the balcony. That's for Officer Coogan. He's a mounted patrolman. He likes to sit up high. And two in a box for the captain and his wife, that makes 142 seats.

How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying is sold out until next August. There's nothing until September for A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum. Our out-of-luck committee gets the same answer at every box office until someone suggests they might have luck for a play called Little Miss PioneerLittle Miss Pioneer is a dog. Critics hated it and audiences stayed away. The producer is idealistic enough to believe his perfectly clean play will find its audience and the prospect of 142 policemen and their wives in attendance keeps his hopes alive.

When the denizens of the 53rd leave their home base and enter the outside world, something  inadvertent and unexpected always happens. In this case, it is the presence of their uniforms which leads to a rumor that Little Miss Pioneer is a lewd production that was raided by the police, and this does wonders for its box office.

Behind box office bars and the eight ball.

However, the Ladies Auxiliary is not going to be happy to discover that, once again, the Brotherhood Club is stymied at the box office by another "sold out" sign. There's always next summer!

Season 2, episode 18: January 20, 1963

Officer Nicholson cannot face the prospect of being next to a jerk like Toody for eternity.

Francis Muldoon has been the president of the Brotherhood Club for the last few terms, elected unanimously and running unopposed. This doesn't sit well with some of the brotherhood as Francis is becoming something of a dictator, especially when he starts choosing plots for fellow officers in a proposed cemetery purchase.

Officers Anderson, Schnauser and Sgt. McBride have given Toody the presidential itch.

Schnauser: You had to open up the mouth. You had to open up the mouth.

Nicholson: All I did...

Sgt. Jim McBride (Jimmy Little): All you did! Here we have a friendly Brotherhood Club, now we gotta have an election.

Officer Omar Anderson (Ossie Davis): Yeah, and nothin' will break up a nice democratic organization like an election.

Hail to the Chief!

Someone must run against Francis, but it must be someone for whom no one in their right mind would vote, to ensure Muldoon remains in the position. Toody is convinced to run and Sgt. McBride is his campaign manager. However, they didn't count on the presidential itch being so easy to catch. McBride pictures himself as a mastermind and Toody's delusions of grandeur are very grand indeed. They pull out all the stops, including lies and dirty tricks, and it is working!

Has Schnauser overestimated Captain Block's influence?

Captain Block (Paul Reed): Now, now boys, take it easy. I know you're in the heat of a political campaign, but I want you to know that as far as I'm concerned the two of you are just police officers under me. I'm absolutely neutral. Toody, button your blouse. You look like a slob. How's your mother, Francis? I want the two of you to come over to my house tonight.

Muldoon: Thank you, Captain.

Captain Block: Just like his father - honest, hard-working, courageous. Toody, pull up your pants, you're a disgrace to the Force. Yes, boys, I'm absolutely neutral.

Francis' good guy tactics are no way to win an election. Even the unabashed backing of Captain Block is not having an impact on the voters of the 53rd. It is only by miking Toody's own words of praise for his friend and partner, do the ballots reflect the sensible outcome.

Season 1, episode 15: December 24, 1961

Click on highlighted text to see the performances of the songs.

Captain Block greets guests to the annual Brotherhood Club Christmas Party.

It is a coin toss as to what holds the coziest part of my sitcom loving heart - Christmas episodes or shows highlighting the musical talents of a cast. When a series combines the two, then "Heaven, I'm in Heaven".

Officer Dave Anderson has help on the switchboard this Christmas Eve.

Dispatcher Anderson (Nipsey Russell): How's my boy (Duane Harper Grant)? Let me show you what Daddy does. Take this. Plug it right here. That's it. We'll make a policeman out of you yet. Hello? Hello?

To Mrs. Anderson (Billie Allen): Okay, have it your way. He'll be a nuclear scientist.

 Kids run amuck at the precinct on Christmas Eve.

Joe: 53rd Precinct. This is Eliot Ness.

Sergeant Feldman (Phillip Carter): Joe, will you sit down and let me get this call?

The happy audience.

Once everyone is settled, the entertainment begins including comedy bits by Mickey Deems on the well-dressed police officer, and Carl Ballantine's magic act. Ballantine plays Toody's brother-in-law Al, and he is assisted by Lucille's sister Rose played by Martha Greenhouse, pictured above next to Beatrice Pons as Lucille.


Bonita Kalsheim is not Francis' girlfriend.

Alice Ghostley returns as "pretty Bonnie Kalsheim" performing a faux chanson francais by Nat Hiken called Irving. Joe E. Ross, accompanied on guitar by Fred Gwynne, serenades Lucille with You're Nobody Till Somebody Loves You.

Roll call!

The big bow on top of the sitcom gift is a couple of Gilbert and Sullivan spoofs. Fred Gwynne leads the troops in contemporary version of A Policeman's Lot is Not a Happy One from The Pirates of Penzance. I could listen to Paul Reed all day as Captain Block proclaims I Am the Captain of the 53rd, taken from HMS Pinafore.

You really should attend all the meetings.

As the snowflakes fall gently on the 53rd precinct and its environs, we leave you with the four lambs of the Brotherhood Club and their shepherd, Leo Schnauser, recounting the all important The Golden Principles of Brotherhood.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017


Crystal of the blog In the Good Old Days of Classic Hollywood is hosting her 3rd Annual Barrymore Trilogy Blogathon. The celebration of the great theatrical family runs from August 15 - 17 and you can click HERE to read the contributions.

Lionel Barrymore as Nat Miller

I became a Lionel Barrymore fan watching him as Dr. Gillespie in the Kildare series on late night television, and annual viewings of his Mr. Potter in It's a Wonderful Life. My list of favourite performances include Broken Lullaby, Grand Hotel, On Borrowed Time, Dinner at Eight, You Can't Take It With You, Down to the Sea in Ships, Key Largo and Ah, Wilderness!. 

The great modern American playwright Eugene O'Neill (1888-1953) forever changed and influenced the theatrical landscape through his thoughtful and often harrowing dramas. His posthumously produced Long Day's Journey Into Night calls on an early family life troubled by drug and alcohol addiction. Ah, Wilderness!, produced in 1933, is a nostalgic and wistful comedy that took those same early years and re-imagined them in a sweetly supportive family environment.

Eily Malyon, Lionel Barrymore, Spring Byington, Aline MacMahon, Wallace Beery
Mickey Rooney, Bonita Granville, Eric Linden
Suppertime with the Miller family

The Millers are a typical middle class family in a small sized eastern American city. Nat (Lionel Barrymore) is a newspaper editor. His wife Essie (Spring Byington) runs a loving home. Eldest son Arthur (Frank Albertson) is a university student. Richard (Eric Linden) is about to enter Yale. Millie (Bonita Granville) is boy-crazy, and a pain to her brothers. The youngest, Tommy (Mickey Rooney) gets into as much trouble as possible. Extended family in the household include Nat's sister Aunt Lily (Aline MacMahon) and Essie's brother Uncle Sid (Wallace Beery). 

O'Neill did not preclude the presence of alcohol in his imaginary family. Uncle Sid drinks. Uncle Sid is a friendly and funny drunk, and the family, intentionally or not, enable his habit. Sid's addiction ended his long ago engagement to Lily, and that lady still holds out hope that one day he will change his ways.

Eric Linden as Richard Miller

Richard Miller is an oh-so-serious 16-year-old, and valedictorian of his 1906 high school class.  His duty in that regard is our first experience of a crisis in Richard's life. Richard reads the greats, Shaw and Swinburne, and the radical political thinkers of the day. He faces life clearly and doesn't expect to be understood, even by his timid girlfriend Muriel (Cecilia Parker).

Richard is determined to speak his mind to the fuzzy-headed students and parents awaiting his graduation speech. Quick thinking by Richard's father avoids a ruined day for the audience and lifelong embarrassment for Richard. Richard is appalled to later learn that his mother is shocked and strongly disapproves of his reading material. Richard will be surprised to learn of the amused tolerance of his father.

Mickey Rooney
Mischief on the 4th.

The young mind turns quickly from one major event to another. It is soon the 4th of July holiday and everyone has plans. Unfortunately, Richard's plans for a picnic with Muriel are scuttled by her uptight father (Charley Grapewin) who has discovered some of the poetry Richard has shared with Muriel. The outraged parent accuses the sincere young fellow of trying to corrupt his daughter. He demands Nat Miller punish his son severely. Nat responds by cancelling his neighbour's much-need advertising in his newspaper. Richard would be surprised to learn of such support and sacrifice on the part of his father.

Eric Linden, Cecilia Parker
Muriel doesn't always understand Richard, but she loves him.

It is an eventful July 4th for the Millers. Richard is absolutely dejected by a letter of good-bye that Muriel was forced to write by her father, and he intends to go out and face life! The opportunity presents itself when a friend of his brother Arthur seeks Art for a night on the town with a couple of chorus girls. Arthur not being available, and Richard having a bankroll of $11, Wint (Edward Nugent) brings Richard in on the festivities.

Eric Linden, Tom Dugan, Helen Flint
Mischief on the 4th.

A night of beer, slow gin fizzes and kisses from an overly made-up doxy make Richard ashamed and sick at heart. Not to mention the anxiety his late night causes his mother. Fortunately, Richard is the recipient of the expert attention of Uncle Sid. Eventually, Richard takes lessons learned to heart. He gains a greater appreciation for his family and his relationship with Muriel reaches a new level of understanding.

Spring Byington
Worried about Richard.

Ah, Wilderness! premiered on Broadway in 1933 with Elijah Cook Jr. as Richard, George M. Cohan as Nat and Gene Lockhart as Uncle Sid. There have been several touring companies and revivals throughout the decades. Actors such as Will Rogers and Harry Carey have played Nat Miller. I attended a lovely 1990 production at Ontario's Stratford Festival which was only marred by the fellow in the row behind complaining that "this is the olden days". Sigh!

Frank Albertson, Bonita Granville
A distraction for mother.

Take Me Along is the 1959 Broadway musical version of the play with songs by Bob Merrill which ran for 448 performances. Robert Morse (Tony nominee) played Richard. Walter Pidgeon (Tony nominee) and Una Merkel played Nat and Essie. Eileen Herlie (Tony nominee) and Jackie Gleason (Tony winner) played Aunt Lily and Uncle Sid. 

MGM's 1935 production was directed by Clarence Brown, who throughout his film career, showed a lovely knack for presenting stories of children; children who consider themselves outsiders, but around whom the entire family revolves. Consider National Velvet, The Yearling, Intruder in the Dust, The Human Comedy, and Angels in the Outfield.

Lionel Barrymore, Eric Linden
The father - son talk.

Eric Linden's performance of Richard is heartfelt and unpretentious. Our fond feelings for the character are enhanced by seeing young Richard through the eyes of his father Nat, as beautifully played by Lionel Barrymore. The father-son relationship is sweet, yet unsentimental.

Wallace Beery, Aline MacMahon
Sid and Lily, always close and always apart.

The Millers became the obvious template for one of MGMs most successful franchises. Two years later much of this cast would reunite in the first of the Hardy Family pictures, A Family Affair. Lionel Barrymore and Spring Byington were Judge and Mrs. Hardy. Mickey Rooney, their son Andy and Ontario born Cecilia Parker, their daughter Marion. Eric Linden and Charley Grapewin also had featured roles. Aunt Lily would become Aunt Milly played by Sara Haden and her role would continue when Lewis Stone and Fay Holden became Judge and Mrs. Hardy.

Eric Linden, Spring Byington, Lionel Barrymore
Richard: "You sort of forget the moon was the same way back then, and everything."

MGM would once again visit the property in 1948s Summer Holiday, their musical version filmed in Technicolor and directed by Rouben Mamoulian with songs by Harry Warren and Ralph Blane. The excellent cast includes Mickey Rooney stepping into the role of Richard, Walter Huston and Selma Royle as the Millers, Agnes Moorehead and Frank Morgan as Lily and Sid, and Gloria De Haven as Muriel. It's the same story, and thoroughly professional throughout, yet it does not work. Perhaps the studio should have agreed to composer Warren's idea of filming it in the mode of an opera.

Thankfully, Clarence Brown's Ah, Wilderness! is available for us today to relive the long ago past, stepping into the nostalgic never-world created by Eugene O'Neill.

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 ...