Caftan Woman

Caftan Woman

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

SPENDING TIME WITH SHERLOCK: The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes (1939)

20th Century Fox, especially under the auspices of Darryl Zanuck in the 1930s, was adept and successful at historical dramas and literary adaptations. Consider the quality and entertainment value in Lloyds of London, Steamboat 'Round the Bend, Wee Willie Winkie, Kidnapped, Jesse James, Young Mr. Lincoln, Stanley and Livingstone, Drums Along the Mohawk and The Little Princess.

Then, as now, the world could never get enough of Arthur Conan Doyle's creation, the consulting detective of Baker Street, Sherlock Holmes. William Gillette was the first to adapt Holmes for the stage and the recently "found" film version of the great actor in the role is a treasure, yet only one of countless screen versions of Holmes stories.

In 1939 another actor was added to the roll call of Holmes portrayers when Basil Rathbone was perfectly cast as the detective in The Hound of the Baskervilles. Ernest Pascal (Kidnapped, Wee Willie Winkie, Canyon Passage) adapted Conan Doyle's story and the film was directed by Sidney Lanfield (The Lemon Drop Kid, Station West). Nigel Bruce was tagged to play Dr. John Watson and he and Rathbone displayed a chemistry that immediately captured audience's imaginations. Another success and feather in the studio's cap.

The "Hound" was soon followed by The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes. The screenplay by Edwin Blum and William Drake is credited as being adapted from Gillette's play, but I see scant similarities. Nonetheless, the story is a grand, if somewhat messy, pastiche of all we love about the brilliant and quirky Sherlock Holmes.

Any old cab in a rainstorm.
Rathbone and Zucco

Like the previous film, "Adventures" is set in the 1890s era of the original stories. The exciting opening finds an indifferent Professor Moriarty, played by the one and only George Zucco, on trial for murder. The criminal mastermind has placed the court with no option but to exonerate him of the charge, Holmes arriving too late with critical information. In a shared cab ride through rainy, cobblestoned London Moriarty expresses his distaste for Holmes' constant meddling in his affairs. He informs the detective that he will devise and commit the greatest crime of all-time, thus eliminating the troublesome snoop before a gracious retirement. Challenge accepted.

The violin, the arms, an experiment, footwear as tobacco holder
Home, sweet home.

The Baker Street flat is a comfortable abode made more so by its inhabitants. Mary Gordon is a fussy and vague Mrs. Hudson. Terry Kilburn is young Billy who sweeps and tidies while picking up the tips of the trade. Nigel Bruce is the faithful, but befuddled Dr. Watson who supports his friend as we would all like to be supported. 

Henry Stephenson plays Sir Ronald Ramsgate who is in charge of the safety of the crown jewels in the Tower of London. The imminent arrival of a gift from India of a precious emerald has Sir Ronald concerned. Threats have been made against the gem which require Holmes attention. Holmes is not as enamoured of this task as he might be, but agrees to assist Sir Ronald.

If ever there was a damsel in distress, it is Miss Ann Brandon.
Ida Lupino

Ida Lupino, on the brink of her break-out roles in The Light That Failed, They Drive by Night and High Sierra plays Miss Ann Brandon. The young society woman is distraught over threatening letters that harken back to her father's murder of a decade ago. She is worried for her brother's life and she has grown distrustful of her fiance Jerrold Hunter played by Alan Marshal. Mr. Holmes is the only one who can help her. Holmes is intrigued by Miss Brandon and the puzzle she poses which includes a cryptic drawing and exotic music. The death of her brother in a public park by means which elude the police, as exemplified by E.E. Clive as Inspector Bristol, makes the case irresistible. Only good old Watson has the wherewithal to remind his friend that they have another case of equal importance. Ah, have you forgotten about Sir Ronald as well?

I Do Like to be Beside the Seaside
Man of many disguises and talents.

Professor Moriarty hasn't forgotten anything; not his promise to Holmes, not the revenge seeking South American in his employ and not the crown jewels. Ah, Holmes, will you be letting the archcriminal put his plan over? I will certainly not place Miss Brandon's life below the security of the Tower, but isn't Holmes having just a little too much fun in his disguise as a music hall entertainer?

Even his own mother wouldn't know him.
Zucco, Stephenson, Bruce

Holmes' enjoyment in his role may almost match Moriarty's pleasure in playing one officious police officer by the name of Sergeant Bullfinch! I daresay he enjoys this aspect of his plan as much as his constant berating of his servant Dawes played by Frank Dawson or his belittling the brain capacity of his henchman Bassick played by Arthur Hohl. He's a scamp is our Moriarty!

The game's afoot!
Bruce, Rathbone

The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes simply oozes atmosphere from its foggy city streets to the enticing garden of a country home. Noirish shadows play about London Bridge and the criminal activities in the Tower. Leon Shamroy, who won all of his Oscars (Leave Her to Heaven, The Black Swan, Cleopatra) for colour cinematography paints us a background right out of Sidney Paget's imagination for our characters to play out the story.

"Elementary, my dear Watson."
Rathbone, Bruce

Why this story wasn't immediately followed with another Rathbone - Bruce outing is a mystery. Was it the timing or availability of personnel, too many other irons in the fire, inability to get a script together? That last thought seems highly unlikely, but whatever the reason The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes is the last we would see of our leads in the Victorian setting. Three years would pass before Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce would again play the beloved characters of Holmes and Watson. Universal Studios would revive the series (12 in all) bringing the team to a contemporary setting to settle the Nazi's hash in Sherlock Holmes and the Voice of Terror. Who better?

Thursday, December 29, 2016


Alfred Hitchcock was a funny guy. Certainly he was a master at setting up a movie thrill and keeping us on the edge of our seats, but it is the sly humour that permeates his best work that sets him above other directors in the field. When our heroes find themselves in dire straits they invariably resort to cracking wise. The self-deprecating, deadpan humour in the scripts for The 39 Steps, The Lady Vanishes and The Man Who Knew Too Much very much align with the personality Hitch presented to the world.  It was that droll personality that made the director such a popular host of TVs Alfred Hitchcock Presents and The Alfred Hitchcock Hour.

Many of his villains display this wonderfully wry sensibility from Paul Lukas in The Lady Vanishes to Herbert Marshall in Foreign Correspondent to Ray Milland in Dial M for Murder to James Mason in North by Northwest. There are times during the pictures where we almost root for the rotters!

British author Jack Trevor Story's novel The Trouble with Harry was published in 1949. Story was a prolific writer in a number of genres and went on to be a television writer and personality. John Michael Hayes wrote the screenplay, one of four collaborations with Hitchcock during this period including Rear Window, To Catch a Thief and The Man Who Knew Too Much. In The Trouble With Harry Hitch and Hayes made a cinematic drink of dry, nonsensical British humour and served it to the American public straight, no chaser. Box office success did not follow and the film would not find its audience for quite a while. Firstly, this was one of the legacy picture lost to public viewing until the 1980s and secondly, the joys of British humour courtesy of PBS, etc. had finally found its niche in America.

The beautiful and tranquil Vermont village, stunningly filmed in Technicolor by Hitch's favourite collaborator Robert Burks, is populated by a most quirky citizenry. Upon first meeting these individuals you may find yourself shaking your head and wondering about their sanity. However, by the end of the picture you will find yourself in accord with their off-kilter worldview. It may not even take that long as you are helped along by Saul Steinberg's amusing opening credits accompanied by Bernard Herrmann's cheeky score, his first with Hitchcock.

Arnie: "I'll try not to see him tomorrow."

A young boy, Arnie played by Jerry Mathers, discovers a corpse in the midst of the multi-coloured fallen leaves. This discovery does not leave the kid traumatized as he is a kid and his mind switches to other things of interest quickly. However, he is prescient enough to inform his mother, Jennifer played by Shirley MacLaine in her screen debut, of the man in the woods. Jennifer, instead of being disturbed by the occurrence, seems rather pleased. 

Arnie:  "You think she's pretty, you should see my slingshot."

A retired sea captain (more or less), Albert played by Edmund Gwenn, believes himself to be inadvertently responsible for the death of the stranger through a hunting accident. A local artist (modern), Sam played by John Forsythe, endeavours to assist the captain in his attempts to avoid any difficulties with authority figures. This assistance leads Sam to the lovely young mother and his interest increases.

Miss Gravely:  "What seems to be the trouble, Captain?"

Meanwhile, the captain also becomes involved in an unexpected romance with Miss Gravely played by Mildred Natwick. The spinster has her own reasons for suspecting she is at the heart of the matter plaguing this assembled band of conspirators. It is all so annoying!

Mildred Dunnock plays storekeeper Mrs. Wiggs. She knows everybody. She thinks she knows everything, but she's not in on the Harry business. After all, her son Calvin, played by Royal Dano, is a deputy sheriff. When you are trying to hide a murdered man, it does not pay to have a deputy sheriff hanging about. 

Miss Gravely:  "I wanted to be certain it would fit a man."

The acting ensemble expertly handles the silliness of the appearing and disappearing body of Harry Worp, the man who will not stay buried. So many things might go wrong. Can Arnie be trusted to keep his mouth shut? Will pride stand in the way of Sam actually making a sale? What about that teacup Miss Gravely purchases? What about Jennifer's short fuse? 

The Trouble with Harry makes me laugh and, in many ways, is a thoughtful and comforting movie. Prepare your eyes for a feast of Technicolor and your funny bone for a tickling that will last long after the movie has ended.

TCM is screening The Trouble With Harry on Sunday, January 1st at 4:30 am. It ends a full day of Hitchcock films that begins at 6:00 am with Rope. Remember, in the world of TCM a day is begins at 6 am and ends the following morning, same time. In the outside world, we might consider it 4:30 am on Monday the 2nd of January. If you are confused, The Trouble With Harry will not help you!

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

FAVOURITE MOVIES: The Holly and the Ivy (1952)

Wynyard Browne's play The Holly and the Ivy premiered in 1950 at the Duchess Theatre in London. It tells the story of the Gregory family and the Christmas that taught them lessons about life and each other.  The play was filmed in 1952 by director George More O'Ferrall, a pioneering BBC drama producer. 

The Holly and Ivy is still a popular play with community theatre groups and has long been a favourite  of the Nolan sisters. It used to play yearly on local CBC television, but disappeared from their lineup long ago. A recent internet find I was able to share it with my daughter for the first time. It was a wonderful experience for both of us. Janet will soon be quoting Aunt Bridget like her mother and her crazy aunts.

A fine ensemble of top British actors was cast to play the various members of the Gregory clan. The Rev. Martin Gregory (Ralph Richardson) was widowed the previous spring and this will be the first Christmas without the lady of the house. Daughter Jenny (Celia Johnson) has been caring for her father and dutifully sends on the invitations as usual, keeping up the tradition. Invited will be her grand maternal Aunt Lydia (Margaret Halstan) and gruff paternal Aunt Bridget (Maureen Delaney). Both actresses played the roles in the stage production. A cousin by the name of Richard Wyndham (Hugh Williams) is an expected guest. He is also godfather to the sophisticated sister Margaret (Margaret Leighton), a writer on a fashion magazine who makes her base in London. Brother Mick (Denholm Elliott) is in the army, but he'll wrangle leave.

Celia Johnson, Margartet Leighton

Jenny, as I mentioned, is a dutiful woman devoted to her father. However, there is now another man in her life. David Paterson (John Gregson) is in love with Jenny and wants to marry her. He is also an engineer with a dream job waiting for him in South America come the new year. Jenny does not feel she can leave her father. Neither of the aunts is suitable and Jenny won't consider a housekeeper. The idea that Margaret would give up her life in London to hide away in the country is impossible. Martin thinks it is a compliment when he tells his daughter "What would I do without you?", but it only cements the idea that she can't leave him.

Maureen Delaney, Denholm Elliott, Margaret Halstan

There is telling humour and relatable behavior in The Holly and the Ivy as the family faces up to their inner thoughts and their relationships. The things that tie families together, that impact our choices are brought out into the open. An outburst of truth followed by the relief of understanding. Isn't the new year just the time to look at ourselves and each other with clear eyes and open hearts?

For your pleasure here is a post from Laura's Miscellaneous Musings on the film along with a fan made collage of clips with the lovely score by Malcolm Arnold to give you a taste of The Holly and the Ivy:

Saturday, December 17, 2016

The WHAT A CHARACTER! Blogathon: Cora Witherspoon

Cora Witherspoon
(1890 - 1957)

It is time for the 5th Annual What a Character! Blogathon hosted by Paula's Cinema Club, Once Upon a Screen and Outspoken and Freckled.

Day 1
Day 2
Day 3

Cora Witherspoon was born in New Orleans on January 5, 1890. At the turn of the century her elder sister Maud began supporting Cora and their widowed mother by founding the Maud Witherspoon Rag Doll Manufacturing Company. While still a teenager she made and sold rag dolls such as the one pictured below.

Collectors of Americana and antiques prize these dolls made over a century ago. Cora was as creative as her sister, but her talent took a different road. At an early age she joined theatrical stock companies in Louisiana preparing herself for a life upon the stage and never looked back.  By the age of 20 Cora made her Broadway debut in The Concert produced by no less an impresario than David Belasco. As she would quite often in her career, Cora played older than her actual age. In this case a good 50 years older! Between 1910 and her last New York appearance in a 1946 revival of The Front Page as Bruce's confused mother Cora Witherspoon appeared in 34 Broadway plays. You will recognize some of the titles such as Jewel Robbery, Camille, The Awful Truth and Daddy Long Legs.

Cora Witherspoon, young actress

Cora was not fated to reprise any of her stage roles when those plays were adapted for the screen, nonetheless she was a popular and busy Hollywood player during the 1930s and 1940s. She was often cast as a comic busybody, whether the woman be rich or poor.  Among her film roles there are some classic titles and many memorable characterizations.

Billie Burke, Frank Morgan, Cora Witherspoon
Piccadilly Jim

Piccadilly Jim is MGMs 1936 adaption of the P.G. Wodehouse novel starring Robert Montgomery. It is very, very funny in some spots and doesn't work so well in others. The top-rate comic actors are not to blame. After all, Frank Morgan, Eric Blore, Billie Burke and Cora Witherspoon knew their stuff. Cora plays an aunt of the overbearing sort.

Cora is a member of the upper crust in the eternally funny Libeled Lady. In Quality Street Cora was  cast below stairs as a maid comically paired with Eric Blore. In the Gladys George version of Madame X Cora is a shopkeeper who helps the downtrodden heroine raise money on her once glamorous wardrobe. You'll find Cora minding everyone else's manners in the Technicolor western Dodge City and exercising her troubles, if not extra pounds, away as one of the many women in The Women.

Cora as Mrs. Clara Meigs
Colonel Effingham's Raid

Up to the early 1950s you can see Cora in Honeymoon for Three, the remake of Goodbye Again, Over 21 from the Ruth Gordon play starring Irene Dunne, Colonel Effingham's Raid starring Charles Coburn, The Mating Season with Thelma Ritter and many other films. 

Let's take a look at some of my personal favourites from Cora Witherspoon's film history.

W.C. Fields, Cora Witherspoon, Evelyn Del Rio, Jessie Ralph
The Bank Dick

Pictured above is Egbert Souse (Fields) in a scene of familial affection which threads its way through 1940s The Bank Dick. His wife Agatha (Witherspoon) wears herself to a frazzle in her constant concern over Egbert's smoking, drinking and lack of employment prospects. Agatha's mother (Ralph) is of great assistance in making certain Egbert toes the line. Note the endearing action of youngest daughter Elsie May Adele Brunch Souse. It almost brings a tear to the eye.

According to an entry on the IMDb Cora and Bill were quite friendly during the shoot and remained in touch for years afterward.

Cora Witherspoon, George Barbier
On the Avenue

1937s On the Avenue, an Irving Berlin musical, features my all-time favourite Cora Witherspoon performance. She has plenty of screen time and a very appealing character. Her Aunt Fritz is one of those aunts who leans toward the eccentric side. What do I mean, leans? She dives headfirst into the unconventional end of the pool. Witness her Russian phase and her circus phase, etc.

The wealthy Carraways are lampooned on Broadway much to the chagrin of Commodore Carraway (Barbier) and his daughter Mimi played by Madeleine Carroll. You can tell by the picture that Aunt Fritz is getting a kick out of seeing herself spoofed on stage. Mimi eventually finds herself falling for the initially hated star of the show played by Dick Powell. On the Avenue features much music and fun, courtesy of the leads, the Ritz Brothers, and a scene stealing Alice Faye, before the final clinch. Said final clinch requires lots of support and help from quirky Aunt Fritz.

James Burke, Don Beddoe, Cora Witherspoon
Charlie Chan's Murder Cruise

Charlie Chan's Murder Cruise from 1940 is a remake of 1931s Charlie Chan Carries On based on the novel of that name by Earl Derr Biggers. Charlie's colleague, Inspector Duff from Scotland Yard, has been following a cruise since it left London where one of its members was murdered. In Hawaii Inspector Duff, closing in on the murderer, is himself murdered. Inspector Chan takes up the case.

Cora Witherpoon plays Susie Watson, a most excitable member of the tour. She sees the murderer behind every curtain and her boisterous personality is impossible to ignore. During a world tour you might find Susie best taken in small doses, but the cruise and the movie would be pretty dull without her.

Charlie Chan's Murder Cruise, like the entire Chan series, is a treat for fans of character actors. Along with Cora Witherspoon, the cast includes Leo G. Carroll, Don Beddoe, Lionel Atwill, Charles Middleton, Leonard Mudie and James Burke. Cora stands out beautifully like a soprano soloist with an all-male choir.

We are not privileged to see Cora Witherspoon in her natural element, the stage, but with over 50 film and TV appearances we have a chance to enjoy 20 years of a fine actress' career.

Friday, December 16, 2016

THE VINCENTE MINNELLI BLOGATHON: The Reluctant Debutante (1958)

Michaela of Love Letters to Old Hollywood is hosting The Vincente Minnelli Blogathon running from December 16th to 18th.  Click HERE to join the celebration of the artistic and versatile director.

LONDON, 1958

Raised in the States by her American mother, Jane Broadbent has traveled to London to spend time with her father and his second wife. Jimmy, a banker, and Sheila are titled and run in rarefied circles.  Jane's visit coincides with "the season" when young women are launched into society and, at this time, introduced to the monarchy.  It had not occurred to Jimmy and Sheila to subject Jane to the rigours of continual parties until Sheila's cousin Mabel made it a sore point. Sheila had missed her coming out due to the commotion caused by Hitler. Jimmy recalls the whole thing as a tiring and terrible bore. Nonetheless, Sheila is off to the races with grand plans for Jane's debut and a ball of their own.

Sheila is one of those impetuous women and Jimmy has learned it is best to go along. Jane finds her first ball and the male company provided is not exactly to her taste. Mabel's daughter Clarissa has her eye on a guardsman named David. David also happens to be the name of the drummer who catches Jane's eye. There will be socially awkward, as well as romantic, complications. 

William Douglas-Home's The Reluctant Debutante was written in 1955 and opened in England starring young Anna Massey (daughter of Raymond Massey and Adrianne Allen) as Jane. Sheila was played by Celia Johnson and Wilfred Hyde-White was Jimmy. When the play moved to Broadway in 1956 Adrianne Allen played Sheila. MGM had already bought the rights to the play by the time of the New York run. Home, an aristocratic politician and WW2 veteran knew his subject well when he chose the topic of this play which he adapted for the screen.

Vincente Minnelli directs his stars.

Vincente Minnelli directed the lighter than air comedy-of-manners. It is one of three Minnelli films released in 1958 falling between Gigi and Some Came Running. The high society setting cried out for Technicolor, which the artistic Minnelli always used with the master's touch. 

Rex Harrison and Kay Kendall were married from 1957 until her untimely death from leukemia in 1959. On screen in The Reluctant Debutante they are a sheer delight to behold deftly handling the witty lines along with some unexpected and very funny slapstick.

Haven't you heard?

Angela Lansbury is Sheila's cousin Mabel, the cause of all this sudden interest in "the season", instigator of gossip and all around meddler. Ms. Lansbury is, as expected, perfection.

Sandra Dee is charming as the composed and strong-minded Jane who is, more or less, launching herself into adulthood. John Saxon is her interesting jazzy beau, David Parkson. Peter Myers is very funny as the boring David Fenner, Sheila's choice for Jane and Mabel's choice for Clarissa. Sheila will learn that young men are not always what you assume, especially if both are named David.

Daddy will fix everything.

Jane is out terribly late with the wrong David and Sheila is worried.

Sheila:  "It's your fault. You were supposed to be watching her."
Jimmy:  "My fault? It's your fault and you might as well face up to it. You and Mabel Clairmont and the rest behaving like a lot of refined white slave traffickers. Look at you. You dress these wretched children up in silks and satins and throw them on the town to catch the eye of the young men."
Sheila:  "Don't you want your daughter looking nice?"
Jimmy:  "Not if it leads to this."
Sheila:  "This was an accident."
Jimmy:  "An accident indeed! We sit all summer waiting for a victim like a fellow waiting for a tiger with a goat on a stick. And then when the tiger doesn't come what do you do? Ring up the biggest maneater in London and ask him in for a meal. And then when he carries the goat off into the bush somewhere you say it's an accident. The whole thing is fundamentally immoral."

The year of the film's release, 1958, Queen Elizabeth II ended the traditional introduction of young ladies at court as old-fashioned.

Monday, December 12, 2016

Merry Christmas, KATHY O' (1958)

Jack Sher's 1948 magazine story Memo on Kathy O'Rourke is the basis for the 1958 Universal-International release Kathy O' written and directed by Jack Sher.  Sher was nominated for a Writers Guild of America award shared with A.B. Guthrie for the Shane screenplay. You may be familiar with some of Sher's other screenplays such as The Kid from Left Field, Walk the Proud Land, The Wild and the Innocent, Paris Blues and Critics Choice.

Memo on Kathy O'Rourke reads as a memo from Harry Johnson, publicity man based in Hollywood to his counterpart Irv in New York City. Harry has special instructions on the upcoming visit by the studio's child star and her guardian. Harry describes how he came to befriend the lonely kid and the truth behind her well-publicized "kidnapping". The same details survived to Sher's screenplay, plus.

Kathy O'Rourke (Patty McCormack) is the studio's most valuable property and she is treated as such by the brass and by her maternal aunt (Mary Jane Croft). Kathy's late mother had been a successful stage actress and when her parents were killed her aunt took over management of Kathy's life and career. Kathy is lonely and frustrated. Her only release is through a display of temper. Grown men quake at her outbursts. Smart men keep out of her way. Harry Johnson is a smart man, but a cog in the publicity machine must obey orders. He'd like to stay out of her way or give that kid a wallop. Fellow wage slave Ben Melnick (Sam Levene) reminds Harry that a wallop would be illegal as actresses are considered women.

The top writer on a New York magazine Celeste Saunders (Jan Sterling) is going to do a piece on Kathy and the studio is desperate that there be nothing untoward in the article.  Celeste has asked for Harry to be her assistant while in Hollywood. She related that they are good friends. Harry assures his boss that he and Celeste are indeed good friends, that is at least after their divorce 12 years ago.

Harry's wife Helen (Mary Fickett) was Celeste's roommate in New York. She probably knows more about Harry and Celeste's relationship than Harry does. Harry's kids Tommy (Terry Kelman) and "Bobo" (Ricky Kelman) are mildly surprised that their father seems to have a plethora of wives coming out of the woodwork.


The film is set at Christmas allowing for a background of decorations, gifts and carolers. Christmas is also a time when the lonely keenly feel their situation. Kathy lets her guard down with Celeste and finds a friend. Celeste, despite her success, pines for a touch of what her old friend Helen has, namely children. She finds that touch of a kindred spirit in the child who is loved by millions and by no one.

The annual Christmas parade creates a source of conflict for Kathy who thought she had a deal with Harry and her aunt that in return for good behavior with Celeste, she would not have to participate in the parade. When good old Aunt Harriet reneges on her side of the bargain, Kathy runs away.

Aunt Harriet and the studio jump to the conclusion that their golden egg has been kidnapped. Harry did not realize the story that was getting around when he took Kathy home to meet the family and now he's finding it awfully difficult to return the child without losing his job or landing in jail. How does Kathy adapt to living with a regular family? Will Harry keep his job or accept Celeste's enticing offer to return to New York?

You will love seeing Dan Duryea, the clown prince of noir, in the role of a harried family man. There is not a single trace of a psychotically motivated action. If you only know Mary Fickett from her Emmy winning years as Ruth Martin on All My Children you will gain a greater appreciation of the actress (also check out Man on Fire) for her combination of sophistication and warmth. Jan Sterling has a role that plays to all her strengths and vulnerabilities as a career woman who can't have it all.

Patty McCormack, the dynamo child actress who has been working since the age of eight right to this day, must have had a blast playing a temperamental star. Kathy O' was made two years after she recreated her Broadway role of Rhoda in The Bad Seed to a supporting actress nomination. Pair Kathy O' with the 1957 release All Mine to Give for a Patty Christmas double bill. If you are not tired, throw in the Wagon Train episode The Mary Ellen Thomas Story for good measure.

Kathy O' is a charming story about adults with problems, and children with adult problems. It is told with a winning sense of humor and understanding.  It would be enjoyable any time of year, but particularly during the season of Good Will.

Saturday, December 10, 2016

THE JOHN WAYNE BLOGATHON: Island in the Sky (1953)

Oh, happy day! The Midnite Drive-In and Hamlette's Soliloquy are hosting The John Wayne Blogathon running from December 9th to the 11th. Click HERE or HERE for all the great contributions.

1953s Island in the Sky directed by William A. Wellman is based on Ernest K. Gann's 1944 novel based on an actual incident in northern Canada involving the rescue of a downed plane. Both men were involved in aviation, Gann in WW2 and Wellman in WWI, before turning their hands to directing and writing.  Island in the Sky is a harrowing story of survival produced by John Wayne's Batjac for whom Wellman would direct six pictures in the decade, including three starring the Duke.

John Wayne is the featured lead player in Island in the Sky with an ensemble cast which includes some of Hollywood's best veteran character actors and up-and-comers. Director William Wellman is the narrator.

Army Air Transport Command was vital to the transportation of goods during the war and was comprised of both military and civilian commercial pilots. Captain Dooley's (John Wayne) Corsair ran into heavy weather on a trip from Greenland to Quebec. The combined cold, wind, and the effect from the Northern Lights caused limited radio contact and navigational issues. The plane became iced and led to the following report sent to home base: -


Dooley's crew
Sean McClory, Wally Cassell, Hal Baylor
Jimmy Lydon, John Wayne

The plane lands on a lake in uncharted wilderness somewhere in Labrador. Dooley got his crew down safely, but now that are stranded with no generator and, if divided judiciously, perhaps six days worth of food. The sub zero temperatures require energy to keep the men alive and alert.

The navigator played by James Lydon (Life With Father) is young and feeling guilty for any part he may have played in their accident. He misses his wife and recently born child. The radio operator played by Wally Cassell (Sands of Iwo Jima) is responsible for using whatever power they have in the best way to let their whereabouts be known. Crewman Stankowski played by Hal Baylor (The Set-Up) will be vital in keeping their efforts manageable. The co-pilot played by Sean McClory (The Quiet Man) is desperate in the search for food. Desperation can be a dangerous thing.

Search and Rescue regroup

The Colonel in charge of the search effort is played with authority by Walter Abel (Holiday Inn). The one thing he has no difficulty in finding is volunteers for the search. The camaraderie among the pilots is strong, as is their fondness for Dooley.

Willie Moon played by Andy Devine (Wild Bill Hickock) may look like his often-played buffoon, with his girth and a penchant for avoiding heavy work, but he is one of the sharpest of the pilots and a leader among the group. His co-pilot is played by Harry Carey Jr. (The Adventures of Spin and Marty) and radio operator by Bob Steele (F Troop). Lloyd Nolan (A Tree Grows in Brooklyn) is a determined yet sentimental fellow. His co-pilot is played by Carl Switzer (Track of the Cat), whose easy-going response to any suggestion "Whatever's customary" is a phrase I am considering adopting.

James Arness, George Chandler

A Batjac contractee with a nice featured role as a young pilot is James Arness (Gunsmoke). He is given a chance to shine and takes it. Nice to see. Allyn Joslyn (Heaven Can Wait) is another respected pilot and another actor who makes the most out of his scenes. Other familiar faces among the searchers are Paul Fix, Gordon Jones, Herbert Anderson, Darryl Hickman, Fess Parker and Louis Jean Heydt. Ann Doran fans will be pleased with her bit as Willie Moon's wife. Two of Bill Wellman's kids play their children.  Of course, this being a Wild Bill Wellman picture, there is a part for George Chandler.

"I guess we're awful hard to see down here. Awful hard."

Watching the earliest of John Wayne films you are aware of his charisma and potential. Rough around the edges, it would take years of on-the-job training for Duke to become an accomplished film actor. His very presence could overwhelm co-stars and that it does not is proof that he was one of those generous actors who learned how to share a scene. The better everyone does, the better it is for the picture. With roles like Dunson in Red River, Brittles in She Wore a Yellow Ribbon and Stryker in Sands of Iwo Jima behind him, John Wayne's work in the 1950s show his versatility and command of his gifts and skill. I find his performance in Island in the Sky to be among his best as he brings to life a man duty-bound to lead and care for his crew while himself battling the elements and starvation along with them.  I encourage you to judge for yourself by watching this intense and moving film.