Caftan Woman

Caftan Woman

Monday, March 27, 2017

EARLY WOMEN FILMMAKERS BLOGATHON: Dorothy Arzner and Merrily We Go to Hell (1932)

Fritzi of Movies Silently is hosting the Early Women Filmmakers Blogathon sponsored by the Flicker Alley release Early Women Filmmakers: An International Anthology. The blogathon is running from March 27th to 29th and you can click HERE for the contributions.

Meet Joan Prentice (Sylvia Sidney). She's the sweet and somewhat sheltered daughter of a wealthy manufacturer who has succumbed to Cupid's ironic marksmanship.

Jerry's favourite toast, "Merrily we go to Hell".

And meet Jerry Corbett (Fredric March), the object of Joan's affection. He's a newspaperman who writes plays on the side. He is going to give up drinking next Tuesday afternoon at three o'clock.

The happy couple.

Everybody knows Joan is too good for Jerry. Joan, deep down inside senses it, but she loves the guy. Her love is strong enough to convince her doubting father (George Irving) that he will gain nothing by standing in the way of the marriage. Jerry is running from his drinking habit and the memory of the actress Claire Hempstead (Adrianne Allen) who broke his heart. Joan is his cure.

Esther Howard and Skeets Gallagher as Vi and Buck

The marriage begins well with Jerry off the wagon and sticking to his plays despite the number of early rejections. Joan is the perfect companion and inspiration. Pals Buck (Skeets Gallagher) and Vi (Esther Howard) are steadfast, clear-eyed and endeavour to help keep things on an even keel. When Jerry's satirical romantic comedy is picked up by a Broadway producer the world belongs to Mr. and Mrs. Corbett.

Back in Claire's web with a drink in his hand.
Adrianne Allen as Claire Hempstead

Enter stage right, the star of Jerry's play, his old flame Claire Hempstead. As if on cue, Jerry once again has a drink in his hand and a tormented heart. The night of the successful opening a showdown between Mr. and Mrs. Corbett finds Jerry beating a path to the perfidious Claire. In a moment of misplaced assertiveness Joan decides theirs will be a "modern" marriage.

Joan parties with a young actor playing a young actor, Cary Grant.
Joan's toast, "Gentlemen, I give you the holy state of matrimony - modern style. Single lives, twin beds and triple bromides in the morning."

Joan takes to the drinking and party scene like she was born to it. Who are we kidding? She's heartsick over Jerry, but keeps up the pretense because once started on this path she finds no way to stop. There's an age-old issue that usually comes, sooner or later, to young wives. It is not merely the thick atmosphere of smoke at a penthouse party that leaves Joan feeling ill, and a doctor confirms her  delicate condition.

Home at last.

Unable to get Jerry to listen to her news, Joan leaves him and returns to her father in Chicago. At least he always loved her. Jerry has never said those words. Months (nine) apart have forced Jerry to take a long look at what he has done with his life and to Joan's. He is back at his old Chicago newspaper job and back on the wagon. Joan's months have passed differently and, we learn, with great difficulty. Her father tries to keep Jerry from her, but Joan's love is steadfast.

Dorothy Arzner
(1897 - 1979)

The insightful and involving screenplay by Edwin Justus Mayer is based on a novel called I Jerry, Take You Joan by Cleo Lucas. The 1932 Paramount release was directed by Dorothy Arzner. Dorothy Arzner appears to be to see her films as a whole which rely on all of its components to tell the story properly. As a viewer, there is a sense that hers is a sure hand that knows where to guide our movie watching experience.

In the framing of her actors in close-ups to highlight emotional scenes I see a respect for her stars and an appreciation of the dialogue from Ms. Arzner. There is a lovely dissolve when Joan has been disappointed by Jerry, but the determination on her face fades to wedding bells indicating the character's state of mind as well as the passage of time and events.

Women were important and established founders and members of the early film industry, handling creative and administrative chores both behind and on the screen. In the period following the First World War young Dorothy Arzner made her way into that industry first as a typist for William De Mille, then a story synopsis writer. Her eye was on the prize of directing and she was given the opportunity at Paramount to move into editing and assistant director. Mentored by James Cruze on The Covered Wagon her skills were recognized and her opportunity arrived.

Success with features began for Ms. Arzner at the end of the silent era and continued into that of sound. Our picture, Merrily We Go to Hell, would be her final picture made at Paramount. Apparently it was a salary dispute that caused the parting of the ways. The following year at RKO she would direct Christopher Strong starring Katharine Hepburn and the year after, Nana for Samuel Goldwyn's European import Anna Sten. In 1936 Rosalind Russell would star in Arzner's Craig's Wife based on George Kelly's play.

A turn at MGM would yield The Last of Mrs. Cheyney and The Bride Wore Red starring Joan Crawford. Back at RKO in 1940 would bring the interesting Dance, Girl, Dance with Maureen O'Hara and Lucille Ball. Her final credited feature is the wartime suspense drama First Comes Courage for Columbia starring Merle Oberon.

During a time when women were cut out of their rightful place in the film industry we are lucky to have Dorothy Arzner's output to enjoy and to study. We are fortunate also in the fact that she passed on her knowledge and skill to future generations of film professionals as a teacher at the Pasadena Playhouse and UCLA. Dorothy Arzner led an inspiring career during a time when the difficulties in doing so are only beginning to be surmounted now in the 21st century.

Friday, March 24, 2017


It is a happy time of year, time for the 3rd Annual Favourite Television Episode Blogathon hosted by Terence Towles Canote of A Shroud of Thoughts. Click HERE for the journey into the best of Classic TV.

My choice this year is the Wagon Train episode Little Girl Lost from that venerable series' final season. The program aired on Sunday, December 13, 1964.

Robert Fuller, John McIntire, Terry Wilson
Michael Burns, Frank McGrath

Wagon Train came into my life upside down and higgledy-piggledy through the television syndication market. The first episodes I watched were the colour, 90 minute programs of the 7th season (1963-1964). Jerome Moross' theme, originally used in the film The Jayhawkers (imagine my surprise when I saw that movie for the first time!) made its way straight to my heart where it lingers to this day. More surprises were in store when I learned there was an earlier theme that was fun to sing by Sammy Fain and Jack Brooks, recorded by Johnny O'Neill. Here's a version by series star Robert Horton.

Frank McGrath as cook Charlie Wooster and Terry Wilson as scout Bill Hawks were the only cast members in all eight seasons of Wagon Train from 1957 to 1965. Ward Bond as Major Seth Adams and Robert Horton as scout Flint McCullough originally led the westbound wagon train. With time came the passing of Ward Bond, the addition of John McIntire as wagon master Chris Hale and Denny Miller as scout Duke Shannon. Still later we would have Robert Fuller as scout Cooper Smith and Michael Burns as "adopted" youngster Barnaby West.

The series ran on NBC from 1957 to 1962 and was picked up by ABC through to 1965. ABC tinkered with the format switching to the popular expanded colour episodes and then back to the black and white 60 minute format before declining ratings saw the end of its prime time run.

284 episodes of Wagon Train were produced, written and directed by the best talent in the business including Howard Christie, Thomas Thompson and Tay Garnett. Impressive guest starts from Barbara Stanwyck to Sessue Hayakawa to Lou Costello performed in stories of high comedy, epic drama and intense character studies. And then there is Little Girl Lost written by Leonard Praskins and directed by Virgil W. Vogel.

Eileen Baral as Robin

Little Girl Lost is first distinguished by its title. The majority of titles for the episodes are The "Main Character or Location" Story. Secondly, every other episode is grounded in the reality of the show's setting while Little Girl Lost is a genuine ghost story. Robin Mercy Rossiter, played by Eileen Baral, is truly a lost soul. The six-year-old was a member of the doomed Donner party, a wagon train trapped by blizzards in a mountain pass in 1846.

Spirituality or faith is often a theme in westerns as characters believe or hope that a higher power will support them in their trials and endeavours. As James Whitmore remarked in The Gabe Carswell Story, "A man has to speak to God even if he's simply talking to himself".

Several nights have passed with members of the Chris Hale wagon train losing sleep due to a young girl crying. Assuming illness or sadness, the source of the sound has not been discovered. Scouts from another train have even approached asking if a child is missing because they have heard the crying as well.

Michael Burns, Frank McGrath

One evening camp cook Charlie Wooster sees a girl outside the circle up crying and asking for help. Charlie kindly offers help, but the child disappears. The girl was also seen by teenager Barnaby and both he and Charlie are startled by how cold it feels in the spot where they had seen the girl. The unusual circumstances convince Charlie that the sighting should be kept a secret. Often the butt of jokes, Charlie does not want to take the chance of being ridiculed.

John Doucette as Boone Gilla

During a further encounter, also witnessed by Barnaby, Charlie bonds with Robin and gains more details about her background. The names she mentioned meant nothing to Charlie so he asks about them among the crew and passengers. Boone Gilla, played by John Doucette, is a teller of tall tales who amuses the children. One true fact of his earlier years is that he survived the Donner tragedy. Boone is able to provide Charlie with the details about Robin's life, and her death.

Realizing that Robin does not understand that she is dead, Charlie feels an obligation to help her find her way. As the train nears the Donner Pass, Charlie rides ahead in a last ditch effort to free the wandering spirit.  He reaches the gravesite as described by Boone and finds Robin.

Frank McGrath, Eileen Baral

Charlie:  Robin, if you're mad at me please don't be. I only want to help.

Robin:  Mommy, Mommy. (sobbing)

Charlie:  Robin, dear.

Robin:  My Mommy is dead. Mrs. Glover said she - she didn't have enough to eat.

Charlie:  Why don't you go to her, dear?

Robin:  I do. Every day. Where they put her in the ground.

Charlie:  I mean join her where she is now.

Robin:  I can't. I told you. She's dead.

Charlie:  So are you, Robin.

Robin:  No!

Charlie:  You have been, honey, for a long, long time.

Robin:  You're a bad man to say that.

Charlie:  You died at the Glovers.

Robin:  I'm not dead. Being dead is awful.

Charlie:  Only for awful people, and maybe not not even for them. But surely not for a dear little girl like you. You were frightened. Maybe that's why you couldn't find your way. There's nothing to be afraid of and that's a good thing to know. Robin, honey, show me where they laid your mama to rest. Show me, dear.

Dying is a natural thing you know. Don't worry about it. It's like sleeping or growing. What's to be afraid of? Who's afraid of getting bigger or going to sleep. Sometimes I think being born is a kind of dying. You know, you die there and live here. When you're through here you go back there. I don't know whether these things are true or not. I'm an old man. Some people say I'm a little cracked in the head. But, Robin, I know one thing. There's a God in Heaven and He's not going to give his children a bad deal. He can't. He's our Father so He's got to love us.

Robin:  What are you looking for? Charlie is digging around the graves.

Charlie:  Well, you might say a sign - to show you the comfort you've missed all these years because you've been wanting to go.

Robin:  I'm cold. I'm going to the Glovers. I don't want to stay here with you.

Charlie:  Wait, Robin. Please. It's gotta be here somewhere. If Boone lied to me... Robin, dear, you said you could read.  Charlie finds the gravestone.

Robin:  Robin Mercy Rossiter. 1840 - 1846.  It's me.

Charlie:  Yes, darling. The comfort you've missed all this time is waiting for you.

A bright light envelopes the place where they are sitting.

Robin turns toward the light and smiles:  Mommy.

Little Girl Lost is a charming and unique Wagon Train episode and a lovely showcase for one of the show's two longest running stars, Frank McGrath.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

VISITING PARIS WITH INSPECTOR CHAN: Charlie Chan in Paris (1935) and City in Darkness (1939)

"Many strange crimes committed in the sewers of Paris."

Paris, city of light, is the scene of dark crimes which require that master of deduction, Inspector Charlie Chan of the Honolulu Police Department. The Inspector is an international sensation after his dramatic solving of the Stable Murder Case (Charlie Chan in London, 1934) and his arrival in Paris does not go unnoticed by the criminal element he has been sent to unmask.

A warning to get out of Paris.
Warner Oland

Inspector Chan was not the only one becoming an international sensation. Since 1931s Charlie Chan Carries On, Warner Oland had been playing Charlie Chan and this was his sixth outing as the great detective. His popularity among film fans increased with each outing until he was known and revered the world over.

Together again - for the first time.
Keye Luke, Warner Oland

Charlie's confederate in the search for a gang of bond counterfeiters, a beautiful Apache dancer named Nardi played by Dorothy Appleby, is murdered before revealing the results of her undercover work. The nefarious gang can try to cover their tracks, but Chan is on the case. Actually, two Chans are on the case as this is the film that introduced the world to number one son Lee as played by Keye Luke. What a brilliant idea and what marvelous casting for the series!

Convivial company for a night on the town.
Mary Brian, Warner Oland, Thomas Beck
Ruth Peterson, Erik Rhodes

Charlie's entry into the world of finance is arranged through the an old friend's son played by Thomas Beck (Charlie Chan in Egypt, Charlie Chan at the Race Track, Charlie Chan at the Opera). The young man's fiance is played by pretty Mary Brian, whose career went from playing Wendy in 1922s Peter Pan to TV mom in the 1950s to Corliss Archer. The daughter of a bank owner, this character will get mixed up in the murder of a bank executive. A playboy friend of the couple played by Erik Rhodes is an obnoxious drunk with a talent for sketching. Surely we couldn't suspect him of any wrongdoing.

Detectives do dinner.
Warner Oland, Minor Watson

"Optimist only sees donut. Pessimist sees hole."

Charlie's old friend Inspector Renard played by Minor Watson is willing to listen to any input Chan may have on the current investigations, but he is a skeptical sort. A policeman in a strange city may need others to open closed doors. Is Charlie being as good a friend as he can be when he withholds information?

Charlie Chan in Paris is based on a story by Philip MacDonald, the British novelist whose screenplays include The Body Snatcher (Hugo winner), The Lost Patrol, Rebecca, Bride of Frankenstein, Sahara, The Princess Comes Across and 23 Paces to Baker Street. He also wrote the earlier Charlie Chan in London which launched the character of Chan into his international phase.

You go where the clues take you.
Thomas Beck, Warner Oland

This was one of the Chan that films that was "lost" for many years with a print discovered in the 1970s. There is a story we may never know about the making of this movie as Hamilton MacFadden, who directed The Black Camel, Charlie Chan Carries On, Charlie Chan's Greatest Case (the last two also lost) began directing with cinematographer Daniel B. Clark (The Black Camel, Charlie Chan in Egypt, the Circus, the Olympics, Monte Carlo). The pair was replaced after only one week's shooting. The movie was completed by Lewis Seiler (The Winning Team, Guadalcanal Diary) and cinematographer Ernest Palmer, Oscar winner for Blood and Sand, in their only contribution to the series.

Charlie Chan in Paris has a fine, just-intricate-enough plot and delicious atmosphere in the dark streets and noirish nightclubs. Plausible red herrings abound in a cast of sterling character actors including Henry Kolker, Murray Kinnell, John Miljan and (yes, that's him!) John Qualen.

NOTE: Gino Corrado as a waiter.

"A wise man once said, "Beware of spider who invites fly into parlour".

Twentieth Century Fox was not ready to lose the profitable Chan series when Warner Oland passed away in 1937. Sidney Toler, at age 65, stepped into the shoes previously filled by the popular Oland. Certainly an unenviable task, but one the veteran actor handled successfully. The Toler films brought Chan into the next decade with a poise and sense of modernity that was just enough to reboot the series in a way to please old fans and gain new ones.

Created in the 1920s and fostered on screen during the 1930s, the first great film Chan was an old school gentleman who, for the most part, dealt with crimes and criminals in the manner of the Golden Age of detective fiction as created by Christie, Sayers and the like. The real life friendship between Oland and screen son Keye Luke added a gentle warmth to their scenes within the films.

Comrades from the Great War.
Sidney Toler and C. Henry Gordon lead the group.

Chan moved into the 1940s as a spry and more overtly sarcastic character; a professional who would brook no nonsense. Keye Luke was unwilling to continue in the series with another actor so talented Victor Sen Yung was cast as number 2 son, Jimmy Chan. Here too was a more modern second generation youngster with Sen Yung gave his all in comic support.

City in Darkness was Toler's fourth release as Chan. The first, Charlie Chan in Honolulu introduced the character on his home turf and about to become a grandfather. The second took him to the mainland in Charlie Chan in Reno in a terrific movie that could easily be paired with The Women for a great movie night. Next up is one of the greatest of Chan features, Charlie Chan on Treasure Island. In our film Toler's Chan makes his first foray to the continent to reunite with friends from WWI and watch as the world again spins toward disaster. Germany is itching for a fight and Paris is preparing with gas masks and blackouts.

Aha! Marcel sees it all.
Harold Huber

Sen Yung is not in this film as Jimmy. The timeline suggests he may have been busy giving his outstanding performance in William Wyler's The Letter. Comic support is herein provided by Harold Huber as Marcel Spivak, a police trainee eager to please. Huber literally throws himself into the unaccustomed comic relief duties as a character that comes off like Inspector Clouseau's grandfather.

Our hero is in trouble.
Leo G. Carroll, Sidney Toler, Lon Chaney Jr.

Charlie is inadvertently involved in the murder case which, it will be discovered, is connected spies and illegal munitions. A new type of criminal has crossed the border. There are passport counterfeiters, blackmailers, housebreakers and profiteers. How does it all fit together?

A couple caught in a web of lies.
Lynn Bari, Richard Clarke

"Truth is only path out of tangled web."

Our good inspector is also in mortal danger from the likes of Leo G. Carroll and Lon Chaney Jr.  The elegant Pedro de Cordoba is a proud veteran of the Great War. Douglas Dumbrille a wealthy ladies man. C. Henry Gordon a harried police official. Lynn Bari is a desperate woman, Dorothy Tree a spy and Noel Madison a most shady operative.

A man of many explanations.
Pedro de Cordoba

This entry was directed by Herbert I. Leed, a studio editor turned director who had a nice hand with keeping the pace up and the characters interesting in B movies. Check out his Michael Shayne pictures Blue, White and PerfectThe Man Who Wouldn't Die and Just Off Broadway. You'll wonder why he wasn't given another Chan assignment. The screenplay by Robert Ellis and Helen Logan was the eighth of nine Chan scripts from the then married pair starting with Charlie Chan in Egypt through to Charlie Chan's Murder Cruise.

War was coming. The world knew it and the movies knew it. Like Sherlock Holmes over at Universal, Charlie Chan would find spies and war profiteers in his sphere as the series and its popularity continued.

NOTE: Gino Corrado as a tavern keeper.

Friday, March 10, 2017

FAVOURITE MOVIES: A Run for Your Money (1949)

I recently revisited A Run for Your Money after many years. It was with some trepidation that I approached this movie as I was sharing it with my daughter, Janet. Would it be as delightful as remembered? It was, and my memory was unusually accurate for such a long absence.

In the post-WW2 period Ealing Studios embarked on a number of comedies which were incredibly successful. I believe Passport to Pimlico, Whisky Galore!, Kind Hearts and Coronets, Titfield Thunderbolt and The Man in the White Suit can wear the banner of legendary. The screenplay for A Run for Your Money is by Richard Hughes (A High Wind in Jamaica), Leslie Norman (The Shiralee) and the director of our film, Charles Frend (Scott of the Antarctic).

Julie Milton, Donald Houston, Meredith Edwards

Dai #9 (there apparently being a dearth of names popular with Welsh parents) played by Donald Houston (Doctor in the House) and his brother Twm played by Meredith Edwards (The Blue Lamp) have won glory. The miners have cut more coal in the past month than any other workers in the country and will be honoured by the newspaper The Echo with 200 pounds, tickets to the Wales vs England rugger match at Twickenham, and the aforementioned glory.

Armed with the well wishes of their co-workers, the manager's bowler hat and a warning from Dai's girlfriend to behave and have a good time, they are off on the train to London with no instructions on how or where to receive their prize.

Alec Guinness, Meredith Edwards, Hugh Griffith

It will suit the reporter tasked with accompanying the glory laden miners if he never were to meet these lads. Mr. Whimple, the self-proclaimed "gardening correspondent" for The Echo played by Alec Guinness (The Ladykillers) much prefers vegetables to people. Nonetheless, a human interest piece must be written up. It means his job. First, he must locate the errant winners.

Moira Lister, Joyce Grenfell, Donald Houston

A professional con woman whose speciality is separating rubes from their cash, played by Moira Lister (Abandon Ship), first separates Dai from Twm, and from the manager's hat. She steers him to  the office of The Echo where the money is obtained. Meanwhile, Twm has found his old pal Huw played by Hugh Griffith (Ben-Hur), a much admired harpist down on his luck. Huw easily convinces Twm to help him retrieve his harp from a pawnbroker and even more easily persuades him to drop into a pub or two for a quick one, or two, or three.

Ah, the adventures these boys have in the big city. Sadly (all bow our heads), none of these adventures involve attending the match at Twickenham Stadium. There's song and drink, and villains and chases in this movie. There's slyly humourous dialogue and pratfalls. There's even a Joyce Grenfell sighting for those into that sort of thing. I can say with confidence that A Run for Your Money remains the very definition of "charming", and Janet agrees.

Friday, March 3, 2017


Phyllis Loves Classic Movies is hosting John Garfield: The Original Rebel blogathon running from March 3 - 5. HERE is where you'll find all the tributes to the actor.

"You know how it is early in the morning on the water? Everything is quiet except for the sea gulls a long way off and you feel great. Then you come ashore and it starts, and in no time at all you're up to your ears in trouble. And you don't know where it began."

John Garfield as charter boat Captain Harry Morgan lays it all out for us in the opening of 1950s The Breaking Point. Michael Curtiz directed this second of three, thus far, film adaptions of Ernest Hemingway's 1937 novel To Have and Have Not. The screenplay is by Ranald MacDougall (The Hasty Heart, Mildred Pierce) and the cinematography by the legendary Ted McCord (The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, Young Man with a Horn). The Breaking Point is an exemplary film-noir in every respect.

Juano Hernandez, John Garfield

Location filming in California takes us into Harry's world. Harry's world, despite his ocean workplace, is small and closing in on him. It is a cramped rented bungalow he shares with his wife and two young daughters. Phyllis Thaxter (Act of Violence, The World of Henry Orient) is superb as the supportive Lucy, making do with next to nothing while Harry scrounges for work. He has a choice in this matter as Lucy's lettuce producer father is willing to take Harry into his business. For Harry, this is no choice.  Harry also has support in his friend and partner Wesley played by Juano Hernandez (Trial, Ransom). All this support also acts as pressure in that Harry feels obliged to make things work out. 

Victor Sen Yung, Wallace Ford, John Garfield

Things are looking up when Harry gets a fare to Mexico who brings along his gal pal Leona played by Patricia Neal (A Face in the Crowd, The Homecoming). The rich fare fishes while Leona flirts with Harry. Once in Mexico moneybags ducks out, stiffing Harry and leaving Leona stranded. It is at this point that Harry is vulnerable to an offer from shady lawyer F.R. Duncan played by Wallace Ford (The Informer, The Beast of the City) who likes Harry and has a way to put money in his pocket.

Harry, being an honest man with an honest boat, is a necessary component to a smuggler. Victor Sen Yung (The Letter, TVs Bonanza) is Mr. Sing, an importer/exporter in human misery. The pay is $1,600 for Harry if he takes 8 Chinese into the States. Actually, Mr. Sing doesn't care if the cargo gets to their destination. He'll leave that up to Harry. Harry, not wanting to involve Wes gives him money to take a bus back to Newport. He also gives Leona bus fare. Wes, for reasons of friendship and Leona, for reasons of her own, sneak back on board the boat and become deeply involved. 

Mr. Sing, as is the way with business people and Harry, fails to pay the agreed upon fee. In a struggle Sing is killed and Harry leaves the cargo in Mexico. One of the Chinese gives the name of the Sea Queen to authorities and the boat is confiscated upon return to California. Harry Morgan is under suspicion and out of commission. Lucy takes a job sewing at home to make ends meet. Harry takes to drink. Murder, even in self defense is murder, and Harry's life has taken its darkest turn. Leona wonders why Harry always has to do everything the hard way. Duncan's advice is to take things easy, just let them happen.

Patricia Neal, Phyllis Thaxter

Leona is hanging around town, hooking up with various moneyed friends. She also insinuates her way into Harry's life. There is a lovely, understated showdown between Leona and Lucy while a slightly inebriated Harry remains clueless. Perhaps he gets a clue when Lucy dyes her dark hair blonde like Leona.

"Once everything went just the way I wanted it. I couldn't make a mistake. I was like that. I was eight feet tall all the time. Not any more."

Harry is ready to accept that job with his father-in-law when lawyer Duncan comes to him with another deal. Harry will get his boat back and a lot of money providing a getaway for mobsters planning a racetrack robbery. The set-up will look like he was hijacked. Harry takes a gun aboard as he plans a double-cross which will get him the expected reward. It is necessary to keep Wes away from the Sea Queen on that day. Wes, for reasons of friendship, is unfortunately on board when the mobsters arrive, setting up the bleakest and most heartbreaking final shot in film-noir. On the fateful trip, Harry gains everything, but loses much.

John Garfield 

John Garfield's film debut in 1938s Four Daughters netted him a supporting Oscar nod and he would be nominated in the leading category for 1947s Body and Soul. In his many roles Garfield's intensity was a hallmark making him an intriguing and watchable actor to this day. The Breaking Point finds him at the height of his abilities with the promise of much more to come. Sadly, there would be only one more film from Garfield. He would die at age 39 of a heart attack a few months after producing and starring in 1951s He Ran All the Way.

Monday, February 27, 2017


Quality Street
Where a gentleman passerby is an event.

Miss Phoebe expects an offer of marriage.
Katharine Hepburn, Franchot Tone

The year is 1805 and the dashing Dr. Brown has been paying attentions to Miss Phoebe Throssel much to the pleasure and jealousy of the maiden Georgian ladies of the neighbourhood. Miss Phoebe and her older sister Miss Susan are in high hopes of the dashing Dr. Brown making an offer. After all, he did say he had something of importance with which to speak to Miss Phoebe this afternoon. Patty, the household maid even ceases visiting with the local Recruiting Sergeant to usher the dashing Dr. Brown into the garden with great haste. Alas, the news from the dashing Dr. Brown is not as wished by the Throssel sisters. The dashing Dr. Brown has followed the clarion call of the Recruiting Sergeant and, perhaps overcome with news of Nelson's victory at Trafalgar, has joined the cause of King and Country.

Miss Phoebe altered by time.
Katharine Hepburn, Franchot Tone

The year is 1815, King George III is holding unto his crown, but the Little Corporal's ambitions have been vanquished at Waterloo. The dashing Captain Brown is returning to Quality Street. He will find the Throssel household and the inhabits within, with the exception of Patty, sadly altered. Ten years of running a school have taken the ringlets from Miss Phoebe's hair and the weariness of her lot weighs on that face once so beloved. This reaction Miss Phoebe can see in the dashing Captain Brown's face which both saddens and annoys her. Why is it that 30 is so much older than 29?

Miss Livvy makes her entrance.
Cora Witherspoon, Fay Bainter, Katharine Hepburn

Attempting to prove something to herself, Miss Phoebe dons her finest gown and arranges her hairstyle as of old. She is young again and dances around the parlour. The dashing Captain Brown, as a close friend of the family, has returned with cards for an evening's ball and happens upon the rejuvenated Miss Phoebe. He begs the young woman's pardon and remarks on the resemblance to his old friend Miss Phoebe. A flustered Miss Phoebe easily falls into the housemaid Patty's announcement that this is Miss Phoebe's niece, Miss Livvy. The dashing Captain Brown escorts Miss Livvy to the ball where she is an immediate hit with two debonair Lieutenants. The dashing Captain Brown gallantly overlooks Miss Livvy's allusions to his grey hairs and age.

The Sisters Willoughby on the job.

Miss Phoebe keeps up the Miss Livvy pretense after the night of the ball for two reasons. The first is that she enjoys being young, being lively and being a flirt unconstrained by the society of Quality Street. The second is that she intends to get an offer from the dashing Captain Brown and laugh in his face. Three gossipy neighbours, the Willoughby sisters, are an obstacle to the success of Miss Phoebe's plan. Never having heard mention of a niece previously and never having seen Miss Phoebe and Miss Livvy together, they are suspicious and set out to prove their suspicions.

Patty and her confused beau.
Cora Witherspoon, Eric Blore

Has the dashing Captain Brown fallen for Miss Livvy? Will he make that offer? How will Miss Phoebe react or, rather, Miss Livvy? Will she be able to keep her characters straight? What about the poor Recruiting Sergeant? The household maid Patty has enlisted him in a plan to maintain the secret, but he can't figure out what, precisely, is the secret.

Ellaline Terriss, Seymour Hicks
Quality Street

These are the questions leading up to the finale of James M. Barrie's Quality Street which was his first great theatrical success. The play premiered on Broadway in 1901 enjoying only a scant 64 night run. Certainly not a flop, but not the roaring success it would have when it opened in London in 1902 starring the married team of Ellaline Terris and Seymour Hicks (Scrooge). The show was a sensation, running for 459 performances. Several revivals on both sides of the Atlantic followed and a musical version Phoebe of Quality Street was produced by the Schuberts in 1921 with Max Steiner as the musical director.

Barrie's comedy-of-manners is a masterful play set in the early 19th century. The formal and stylized language of its characters is expansive enough to allow for much wit and many truths about how people cope with their stations in life. Miss Susan has resigned herself to the life of an old maid. The household maid Patty still holds out hope for a sweetheart despite lowly station and the fact that she is not "handsome".  Miss Phoebe wants to kick over the traces and have her revenge despite the constraints of society.

Sidney Franklin directed a 1927 film version of Quality Street starring Marion Davies and Conrad Nagel. A 1949 television version on The Philco-Goodyear Television Playhouse starred Marsha Hunt and Alfred Drake.

Costume sketch, Walter Plunkett

George Stevens directed the 1937 film version of the play at RKO. He was assisted in creating the appropriate feel for Quality Street by costumer Walter Plunkett, set decorator Hobe Erwin, cinematographer Robert De Grasse and Roy Webb's Oscar nominated score.

The Sisters Throssel
Fay Bainter, Katharine Hepburn

The exemplary ensemble beautifully interpreted the style of the play. Katharine Hepburn as Miss Phoebe/Miss Livvy is touching and funny as both characters. We understand immediately the softness of her heart and the steel in her backbone. Fay Bainter is adorable as the timid Miss Susan, placing her lost hopes of happiness on those of her sister. George Stevens would direct both actresses later in Woman of the Year starring Katharine Hepburn as an independent journalist and Fay Bainter her feminist mentor/role model.

Young Joan Fontaine takes her moment.

Franchot Tone is the dashing Captain Brown and this thoughtful and intelligent actor portrays the charms of the character while also subtly conveying the nuances of the script. The comic second leads Cora Witherspoon as Patty and Eric Blore as the Recruiting Sergeant are a joy. The Sisters Willoughby are our laughable villains, led by the brazen gossip played by Estelle Winwood. An uncredited Joan Fontaine plays a young society belle whose popularity is usurped by Miss Livvy. She would work with George Stevens again as the ingenue in 1939s Gunga Din and by the following year would receive an Oscar nomination for Rebecca.

The immense popularity of the play led the candy manufacturer Mackintosh, established 1890, to package their chocolates and toffees under the label Quality Street in the late 1930s. Illustrations of Miss Phoebe and the dashing Captain Brown adorned the tins and paper advertisements for decades. It would be pleasant to indulge in the confectionery treat soon.

TCM is screening Quality Street on Monday, March 13th at 1:00 pm in a day (6:15 am to 8:00 pm) devoted to Katharine Hepburn with 7 feature films and 1 documentary.