Caftan Woman

Caftan Woman

Sunday, June 26, 2016

TODAY'S COZY: The Bishop Misbehaves (1935)

Frederick Jackson's play The Bishop Misbehaves was a Broadway hit in 1935 starring Walter Connolly (It Happened One Night) as the Bishop and Jane Wyatt (Lost Horizon) and Alan Marshall (After the Thin Man) as the young leads.  It was the tenth of twelve plays Mr. Jackson had on Broadway dating back to 1915.  The mix of entertainments include comedies, musicals, dramas and whodunnits.  The Bishop Misbehaves premiered in London in 1934 and was not considered a hit.  It wasn't until the move to New York that the play found its audience ready for some light-hearted fun.

MGM filmed the property also in 1935 with the screenplay adapted by Leon Gordon (A Yank at Oxford).  Frederick Jackson has 49 films to his credit, some adaptions of his own plays and novels, from 1916 to 1946.  Stormy Weather, Wells Fargo and The Hole in the Wall are some of his credits.  The movie was directed by German silent film director E.A. Dupont whose career faltered in the sound era and found him working in Hollywood on second tier pictures.

Lucile Watson, Maureen O'Sullivan, Edmund Gwenn

Edmund Gwenn is as twinkly as all get out as The Bishop of Broadminster, 40 years in the service of the Church and beyond that solely and entirely addicted to mystery stories.  In all his life he has thirsted for adventure and never encountered one.  Not one!  Neither has his sister Lady Emily played by Lucile Watson.  I have seen Lucile Watson as a font of practical wisdom in The Women, and imperious as a dictator in My Reputation.  It is for that imperious mien that she is most well remembered.  Though I have never doubted her range, I also have never before seen her play whimsical.  Yet there she is in The Bishop Misbehaves almost out-twinkling Edmund Gwenn!  She is as excited about the evening's adventure as her brother.  Only Etienne Girardot (The Whole Town's Talking) as their manservant Brooke is dubious about involvement in the case, and his worrying and clucking steals the movie.  That was his way.

But just what is this mystery/adventure you ask?  It is a convoluted piece of business involving the rich Guy Waller played by Reginald Owen (Mary Poppins) who swindled a poor inventor Mr. Grantham played by Ivan Simpson (The Male Animal) out of his rightful earnings.  The inventor's devoted daughter Hester played by Maureen O'Sullivan (Pride and Prejudice) comes up with a plan to right this horrible wrong.  Her plan involves robbery and the assistance of some rather shady characters played by Dudley Digges (The Maltese Falcon), Robert Greig (The Lady Eve), Melville Cooper (The Adventures of Robin Hood) and Charles McNaughton (Treasure Island).

Norman Foster, Maureen O'Sullivan

Miss Grantham decides to hedge her bets when she meets an American on holiday Donald Meadows played by Norman Foster (Skyscraper Souls).  When he mentions he is from Chicago her eyes light up.  Of course, he must be connected to gangsters and will be just the sort needed for the big job.  Donald's eyes are lighting up as well, but it is the light of love.  Hester is the sort of girl one runs into in Wodehouse novels, slightly manic, but very pretty and not averse to quick engagements.  In no time at all (let's not waste time on it after all), the two are a couple and their plan to trap Mr. Waller is well underway.  The unexpected appearance of the meddling Bishop of Broadminster and Lady Emily on the scene changes events considerably and we are off to the races.

Said races involve double-crosses, locked rooms, cut wires and black eyes.  They also involve a trip to the Limehouse District with everything thrown in from docks, opium dens and Missions.  The movie lags in some spots, but thanks to the uniformly excellent cast, overall I found it frightfully amusing and, as a mystery fan, the Bishop's obsession hit close to home.  Also, as a mystery fan, the final scene is filled with melancholy, although I understand the play ends on a more cheering note.


1951 British TV - Denys Blakelock and Mary Jerrold, Rona Anderson and Ronald Howard
1951 American TV - Walter Hampden and Dorothy Gish
1952 American TV - Gene Lockhart and Alice Pearce
1954 American TV - Bramwell Fletcher and Nydia Westman

1952 radio, Theatre Guild on the Air - Charles Laughton and Josephine Hull

Friday, June 17, 2016

A Clifton Webb and Claude Binyon Double Bill: Dreamboat (1952) and Woman's World (1954)

Producer and director of 1944s Laura, Otto Preminger is quoted in Rudy Behlmer's Behind the Scenes regarding the casting of Clifton Webb as Waldo Lydecker:

"...he (casting director LeMaire) said"  "You can't have Clifton Webb for this part.  He flies."  I said:  "What do you mean?  I didn't even understand what he meant.  I already knew that Clifton Webb was a little effeminate, but that didn't bother me at all.  I said I would like to make a test with him."

As any movie buff can tell you, the test was made and Clifton Webb, noted stage star with a few silent films under his belt, became at age 45 a most unlikely movie star with a string of hits in the 1940s and 1950s.  Popular films include Sitting Pretty which introduced the Mr. Belvedere character and sequels, The Dark Corner, The Razor's Edge, Cheaper by the Dozen, Stars and Stripes Forever as John Philip Sousa and Titanic.  

In 1952s Dreamboat Clifton Webb was not only an unlikely movie star, he played an unlikely movie star.  Reporter Claude Binyon went from writing about entertainment for Variety to writing for the screen in the 1930s.  An ear for a great line and for flawed relateable characters was his hallmark.  You have probably enjoyed If I Had a Million, The Princess Comes Across, Sing, You Sinners, Too Many Husbands and Holiday Inn.

Gloria Marlowe and Bruce Blair
Immortal Lovers of the Silver Screen

Clifton Webb in Dreamboat plays Thornton Sayre, a staid, respected, and often mocked by his students, professor of  literature.  Some twenty years earlier, the professor went by the name of Bruce Blair and was a silent screen sensation, a "dreamboat".  Unbeknownst to the bookish teacher and his equally bookish daughter Carol played by 21-year-old Anne Francis, Bruce Blair has made a comeback.  His old co-star "Glorious" Gloria Marlowe played by lovely Ginger Rogers has been hosting their films on television sponsored by a perfume company.  They are a hit!  The faculty is dismayed.  The student body is in stitches.  Carol is embarrassed.  Professor Sayre heads to NYC to stop this intrusion on his life only to find it is not that easy to stop a money-making venture.  In fact, he will have to take the matter to court and even there take matters into his own hands.

Anne Francis, Jeffrey Hunter

Fred Clark plays the agent who can't understand his old friend's objections to publicity.  Thornton/Bruce finds he still has feelings for his former leading lady and Gloria is one determined gal.  Carol is kept busy by a young executive played by Jeffrey Hunter who opens her eyes to a life outside of academia.  The roles for the young people are woefully underwritten, but a pleasant enough showcase for the up and comers.  We're really here for Clifton Webb, Ginger Rogers and Elsa Lanchester.

Elsa Lanchester, Clifton Webb

Elsa plays Dr. Mathilda Coffey, the head of the college where Thornton had been so happy for the last twenty years.  Dr. Coffey is a confused woman.  On one hand she admires Thornton and wants him to remain at the school.  On the other hand, she has long harboured feelings of a most delicate nature toward motion picture star Bruce Blair.  Her pursuit of romance is very funny.  Also very funny are the glimpses we have of Bruce and Gloria's heyday in bogus clips from their films.

Clifton Webb, Ginger Rogers, Travilla gown

The script manages to spoof movies, television, education, movie fans, the law and love without losing a sweetly good-natured touch.  And you have to see Ginger in the Travilla gold dress that will be redone for Marilyn Monroe in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes.  

Woman's World from 1954 is another Claude Binyon script.  It is filled with the characteristic wit that gave the world the headline "Wall Street Lays an Egg" to announce the Great Depression.  However, this picture is a glossy soap opera directed by Jean Negulesco (The Best of Everything, Road House, The Mask of Dimitrios).  Negulesco and Webb also worked together on Three Coins in a Fountain, Titanic and Boy on a Dolphin.

Van Heflin, Cornel Wilde, Fred MacMurray, Clifton Webb

As Ernest Gifford, Webb is both a character and the narrator of our story of corporate intrigue.  Gifford is the largest stakeholder in a family-run motor vehicle company whose top honcho has expired (shades of Executive Suite).  The search is on for the right man to fill that top position.  Webb as Gifford holds our attention with his biting wit and power.  Throughout the trials that follow we also get a sense of the importance of the task.  It is not for the wealth alone that proper leadership is required, it is also a question of the Gifford family legacy.  The field has been narrowed to three branch managers and they, and their wives, have been summoned to NYC for the once over.  We meet these couples and learn about their hopes, ambitions and fears.  It  is more than a simple question of which of the men is most suitable for the job.  Which wife will be the right fit?

June Allyson, Cornel Wilde

Arriving from Kansas City are Bill and Katie Baxter played by Cornel Wilde and June Allyson. Bill is bright and independent.  The couple is crazy about each other, yet Bill has not let his wife know how much he really wants this opportunity.  Katie is very much the homebody.  New York is a nice place to visit, but she wouldn't want to live there.  She worries about the kids at home.  She puts her foot in her mouth at every opportunity.  She's a fish out of water and she knows it, but is she as dumb as she lets on?

Arlene Dahl, Van Heflin

Jerry and Carol Talbot played by Van Heflin and Arlene Dahl have come from Texas where Jerry was recently promoted to district manager.  Jerry exhibits a quiet sort of leadership and intensity.  Carol knows in her bones that she was born for this, for New York and the pinnacle of society.  Jerry plans to get ahead on his own merits.  Carol sees herself as the moving force behind the "great man" and will do anything to see that Jerry will get ahead.

Lauren Bacall, Fred MacMurray

Sid and Elizabeth Burns are played by Fred MacMurray and Lauren Bacall.  Sid worked on the factory line when he was a kid and has worked his way up to managing the Pittsburgh branch.  He puts everything into the job to the point of neglecting his family and his health, as his ulcer attests.  Liz has come with him on this journey for the sake of his career, but in her eyes their marriage is over and has been for a long time.

We tour the boardrooms and the bedrooms of these characters navigating the corporate waters and the woman's world - the expectations of 1950s society vs. the personal wants and needs of the wives.  Filmed in sumptuous Technicolor and filled with gorgeous haute couture gowns, the movie is a feast for the eyes, a fascinating history lesson and an extremely satisfying melodrama.

I'll leave you with the theme song It's a Woman's World by Cyril Mockridge and Sammy Cahn which charted on Billboard for The Four Aces during the autumn of 1954.

Friday, June 10, 2016

ORDER IN THE COURT! The Classic Courtroom Drama Blogathon: The Winslow Boy (1948)

ORDER IN THE COURT!, The Classic Courtroom Drama Blogathon hosted by Theresa of CineMaven's Essays from the Couch and Lesley of Second Sight Cinema is running from June 10th to the 13th.  Look for contributions HERE.

Terence Rattigan's The Winslow Boy premiered on the London stage in 1946 and was filmed by Anthony Asquith in 1948.  Based on a true incident, the story, set in Edwardian England, expertly touches on matters of family, honour, philosophy, justice and the class system.  What cost is too high to pay for ones' beliefs?

The following look at The Winslow Boy is, by necessity, spoilerish in nature.  I hope that if you have yet to see the film or a production, that it does not deter you in doing so.  It is a play dear to my heart that grows more precious with each viewing.

Margaret Leighton, Sir Cedric Hardwicke, Neil North
Marie Lohr and Jack Watling

Cedric Hardwicke (The Hunchback of Notre Dame, I Remember Mama) plays Arthur Winslow, a recently retired banker of well-off, yet modest means.  Mrs. Winslow played by Marie Lohr (Pygmalion, Went the Day Well?) is happy with her husband's change in status and pleased he will be able to "take things easy" as worsening arthritis is becoming troublesome.  The Winslow children are daughter Catherine played by Margaret Leighton (The Best Man, The Holly and the Ivy), a mid-20s spinster aligned with the suffragette cause who has reason for hope in the matrimonial department.  An army officer played by Frank Lawton (David Copperfield, The Invisible Ray) has moved next door.  Dickie played by Jack Watling (A Night to Remember, Under Capricorn) is a student at Oxford majoring in the latest dance crazes.  Young Ronnie played by Neil North (Tom Brown's Schooldays) is the pride of the family having been accepted at the Royal Naval College.

Prior to the passage of one college term, Arthur becomes more reliant on his cane, Catherine has come to an understanding with her Army officer and Ronald is expelled.  Ronnie Winslow is charged with the theft of a 5 shilling postal order, found guilty and sent home in disgrace.  Mrs. and Miss Winslow are full of sympathy.  Dickie thinks the Navy is being rather high-handed as fellows pinch things all the time.  Mr. Winslow only asks Ronnie if he did it, and asks for a truthful answer.  Ronnie avows his innocence to his father and life will never be the same.

Calmly, yet persistently Arthur Winslow sets about to clear his son's name.  He is immediately and it is thought ultimately blocked in his goal by the red tape surrounding the military bureaucracy.  To wit, there is irrefutable proof and it cannot be revealed.  One course is left open to Arthur Winslow which he discovers through consulting the family solicitor Desmond Curry played by Basil Radford (The Lady Vanishes, Dead of Night), who has long harboured tender feelings for Catherine.  However,  the act of suing the King is fraught with its own blockades, but that is what Arthur Winslow is now intent upon.  The Admiralty is part of the government and the monarchy, which falls under the Divine Right of Kings.  Firstly, the Attorney General must agree to a Petition of Right for the litigation to go ahead.  To this end Winslow enlists the aid of his local Member of Parliament.

 Robert Donat, Margaret Leighton

The most-noted barrister of the day, Sir Robert Morton played by Robert Donat (The 39 Steps, Vacation from Marriage) agrees to take on the case after a rigid cross-examination of young Ronnie.  Sir Robert is eloquent, principled and a thorn in the side of Parliament.  His reputation and his high-handed manner does not create a winning impression on Catherine, although she agrees with her father that no better man could handle the case.

Kathleen Harrison

"The Winslow Boy" becomes a cause-celebre, spoofed by musical hall entertainers (Cyril Ritchard, Stanley Holloway) and a draw for international headlines.  Mona Washbourne (My Fair Lady) is delightful as a scattered sob sister more interested in decor than honour.  She played the reporter's role in the original stage production.  Also repeating her stage role is Kathleen Harrison (Night Must Fall, A Christmas Carol) as Violet, the Winslow's maid of quarter of a century.

Over two years of fighting this good fight has paid havoc with the Winslow's savings and with Arthur Winslow's health.  Staff has been cut.  Dickie has had to leave Oxford.  Mrs. Winslow has adapted courageously, but puts it all down to stubborn pride.  Catherine's prospective father-in-law makes it an issue of inheritance placing the marriage on the line.  Catherine stands by her ethics.  She wants to see the maxim "Let right be done!" carried out.  An ailing Sir Robert makes his own sacrifices in pursuing the case of "The Winslow Boy".

Terence Rattigan's plays are renowned for their craftsmanship and beauty.  This story of the collision of family and national values set among a class of people who prized their privacy is a joy.  The emotions, always under the surface, are communicated with superb language, deep eloquence and lovely, dry humour.

Robert Donat

The scenes which play out in the House of Parliament when the petition is in question are a reminder that politics/parliament/people haven't changed much in the past 60 years.  Government often places protection of the status quo above the admirable basis of their very existence.  That Mr. Winslow must reach back to Magna Carta for redress, and that even that is frowned upon by his betters speaks to a never ending battle.

Sir Robert:  "The House of Commons is a peculiarly trying place you know - far too little ventilation and far too much hot air."

The trial, with the overly polite exchanges between the Defense and the Attorney General, the droll comments from the Judge and the preening of the witnesses reminds us why courtrooms and courtroom dramas continue to fascinate audiences.  As spectators, we do not see the outcome of the trial, but it is breathlessly reported to us by Violet, the family maid, in a manner so enthusiastic that we, and the Winslows, live that moment far more than if we had been present.

The thoroughly polished and professional cast of the film is equal to the script by playwright Rattigan  (Separate Tables, The Browning Version) and director Asquith (Pygmalion, The Importance of Being Earnest).  A classic story and a classic courtroom drama, The Winslow Boy is a play for the ages.

Saturday, June 4, 2016

Athletes in Film blogathon: Lou Gehrig in Rawhide (1938)

Aurora of Once Upon a Screen and Rich of Wide Screen World are hosting the Athletes in Film blogathon running June 4th and 5th.  DAY 1.  DAY 2.

Lou Gehrig's life was relatively short, being stricken with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis at the age of 36 in 1939.  The degenerative muscle disease which has commonly become known as Lou Gehrig's disease took the athlete's life in 1941.  Lou's baseball career was one of great accomplishments.  Even non-baseball fans are aware of his automatic entry into the Hall of Fame, his world series play and the New York Yankees' legendary status as the "Iron Horse" with the long-held record of 2,130 consecutive games.  

Relatively fewer fans know of Lou's connection to the movies beyond the 1942 biography Pride of the Yankees and Gary Cooper's Oscar-nominated performance as Gehrig.  Cooper paints a disarmingly diffident portrait of the baseball star.  In 1938s Rawhide, a B western release from producer Sol Lesser, audiences get to see Lou Gehrig as an actor.  Well, maybe not so much an actor, but a lovable character called Lou Gehrig.

Popular jazz singer and one of the earliest of the movies' singing cowboys Smith Ballew is top-billed as Larry Kimball.  Give a listen to Ballew's version of Dream a Little Dream of Me.  In our movie Smith plays a lawyer trying to assist ranchers fighting a protection scheme in a place called Rawhide, Montana.  The trouble is that the ranchers have been intimidated into backing away from a fight.  Enter a renowned first baseman.  

Evelyn Knapp as Lou's sister Peggy

The New York press kids Lou along as he departs the Big Apple for the quiet life on a western ranch he has bought with his sister played by Evelyn Knapp (The Perils of Pauline, The Lone Wolf Takes a Chance).  The reporters are sure Lou will change his tune when the Yanks concede to his contract negotiations.  However, the big lug insists he is serious about a life on the range far away from the crowds and noise of the major leagues.    

Growing up watching old B westerns on TV gave me an appreciation for western songs and singers, well choreographed barroom brawls, and rackets.  Seems to me in these flicks there is always some mook in a suit finagling his way around the legal system to do somebody or other out of their ranch.  In this case the mook is a guy named Saunders played by Arthur Loft.  He has wrested control of the Rancher's Protection Association away from a nice old guy named MacDonald played by Lafe McKee, who specialized in playing nice old guys in B westerns.  A disgraced doctor is slowly poisoning the old guy while Saunders takes over the business.  Saunders' henchmen, led by B western baddie Dick Curtis, beat up ranchers, burn wagons of supplies, and do so with impunity.  Cy Kendall is the sheriff who turns a blind eye for a fee.  It's a pretty tidy set-up for Saunders until Lou Gehrig shows up. 

Lou Gehrig, Smith Ballew
After the Brawl is Over

Lou and his sister have no intention of falling for Saunders' guff and when their hired hand played by Si Jenks gets plugged (Don't worry, kids, he'll be fine.) Lou is only too happy to help lawyer Kimball take down the villains.  Peggy is only too happy to help out the handsome lawyer as well.  Peggy and Kimball will make eyes at each other in the romantic subplot of the flick.

The taking down of the baddies is managed in under an hour and is accompanied by four songs, a couple of brawls, and plenty of riding and shooting.  It is fun to watch Lou clean out a mess of hombres by chucking billiard balls at them.  He's got a good arm and a good eye.

Lou Gehrig

Lou is also a real good sport about learning to ride a horse and dress like a "real" cowboy.  He has the amateur habit of shouting his lines, but overall the Lou Gehrig we meet in Rawhide comes across the screen as a genuinely nice and friendly guy, who is having a lot of fun playing cowboy.  If time had been on his side, it would have been pleasant to see Lou attempt another film.

Wednesday, June 1, 2016


The plan for June is to spend some time with Buster Keaton.  Buster the dreamer and Buster the doer.  Buster the ambitious and Buster the romantic.  It is time to watch Buster as 1928s The Cameraman.

Buster, the character in this movie, is a NYC photographer; an artist in tintype.  The photo produced on tin had its heyday in the late 19th century.  Rumpled little Buster and his career seem an anachronism in the late 1920s, an era most remembered for its fast-paced jazz sound-tracked antics.  Life is about to take a sudden change for our hero.  He has met a girl.  Correction.  He has met THE girl.  Miss Sally, played by lovely Marceline Day is the Girl Friday for the MGM Newsreel Department.  The smitten Buster is encouraged by Sally's kind advice regarding how to break into this modern form of photography.  His life savings go toward a second-hand (maybe third or fourth hand) moving picture camera.  It will only be a matter of the right breaks (please not the office window again!) and he'll be in business.  See Buster in Yankee Stadium!  Too bad the team was in St. Louis.

Buster Keaton, Marceline Day

Miss Sally is also kindly encouraging regarding their personal relationship.  She lets it be known that she may possibly be free on Sunday.  See Buster break the bank for a pocketful of dimes with which to show the young lady a good time.  See Buster brave the sitting area of the women's residence while picking up his date.  See Buster drive a cop played by Harry Gribbon positively goofy in a running (in more ways than one) gag throughout the movie.  See Buster at the municipal pool sharing a change locker with rotund Edward Brophy (Dumbo).  See Buster lose his swimwear in the attempt to impress his date.  See Buster catch cold. 

Josephine, Buster Keaton

Sally tips Buster to a celebration in Chinatown that might make for good copy.  When a Tong war breaks out Buster is Johnny-on-the-spot, along with a new companion in Josephine the famous Capuchin Monkey (The Kid Brother) of the movies.  Josephine is an adorable scene-stealer who both hinders and helps Buster as he records and creates news in Chinatown.  Josephine is also instrumental in wrapping things up quite nicely in the amorous section of our story.  In the best heroic and comedic fashion, Buster succeeds on all levels, as does the movie.  

The Cameraman was directed by Edward Sedgwick and Buster Keaton, two compatible comedic souls who found each other at MGM.  Sadly, their creativity was not utilized at its best by the studio in the coming sound era, but that does not negate the pleasure to be found in their best work.  The Cameraman was placed on the National Film Registry in 2005.  

TCM is screening The Cameraman on Wednesday, June 15th at 6:00 am, kicking off a day of movies about photographers.  I will confess to not being a fan of the score provided on the TCM copy of The Camerman, but it may be just your thing.  Live accompaniment by William O'Meara at a Silent Revue screening a few years ago was much more to my liking.


Thursday, May 26, 2016

The Animals in Film Blogathon: A Tiger Walks (1964)

The Animals in Film Blogathon hosted by Crystal of In the Good Old Days of Classic Hollywood has arrived and runs May 26 - 28.  Enjoy all the interesting contributions by clicking HERE.

"A tiger walks the streets of Scotia today while residents cower within their homes gripped by the primitive fear that jungle people have known through the centuries."

Doodles Weaver (Hockey Homicide, Duck Pimples) as Bob Evans, local reporter selling his big, big story to city editor Stafford Repp (Big House USA, TVs Batman).

Ian Niall's 1960 novel A Tiger Walks is the story of a man-killing circus animal loose outside of a village in Wales.  The Disney film version, adapted by Lowell S. Hawley (In Search of the Castaways, TVs The Loretta Young Show) changes the setting to a small New England town.  Norman Tokar (Candleshoe, Those Calloways, TVs Leave It to Beaver) directs a dream cast of familiar character actors.

Kevin Corcoran, Pamela Franklin

The truck transporting tigers for a travelling circus breaks down in the small town of Scotia leaving the handlers to wait for repairs.  Theo Marcuse (The Cincinnati Kid) is lead handler Joseph, a braggart, a bully and, on this tragic day, a drunkard.  He relentlessly torments the tiger Raja and foolishly leaves the cage door open in a show of misplaced courage.  The hungry and enraged tiger leaps to his freedom in the surrounding countryside.  Spectators, comprised mainly of youngsters, scatter as the tiger heads down an alley coming face to face with Julie Williams played by Pamela Franklin (The Innocents, The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie).  Raja is interested only in escape and Julie's only injury from the encounter is a scrape on her arm from a fall.

Joseph follows the tiger into the woods armed with a shotgun taken from garage mechanic Frank McHugh (The Roaring Twenties, Three Men on a Horse).  What Joseph does not know is that the gun is not fully loaded and this will lead to his death.  Also following Raja is the more sensible and compassionate trainer Ram Singh played by Sabu (Black Narcissus, Drums) in his last film.  Mr. Singh wants to capture the tiger alive and is instrumental in educating the local children as to the animal's true nature.

Julie is the daughter of the town's sheriff Pete Williams played by Brian Keith (The Wind and the Lion, Nightfall).  The crisis of the tiger comes in the midst of his re-election campaign.  His political opposition includes the governor played by Edward Andrews (Advise and Consent, The Unguarded Moment) and his opportunistic campaign manager played by Jack Albertson (The Poseidon Adventure, The Fox and the Hound).

Pamela Franklin, Brian Keith, Vera Miles

Julie inadvertently causes problems for her father when she explains to a reporter that her father is on the tiger's side in that it isn't the big cat's fault for behaving naturally.  The death of the sadistic trainer has caused the press to paint the tiger as a man-killer and everyone is out for blood.  Mrs. Williams is played by Vera Miles (The Searchers, Psycho) and she sees both sides of the conflict that causes tension in the home.  

Dorothy Williams:  "The thing is, Pete, we have talked to her.  Almost from the day we brought her home from the hospital.  We're the ones that taught her animals weren't put on this earth just to be kicked around; that they have certain rights just like people.  Who is it that taught her that justice is important?  That you have to do what's right?  Not just in the big things, but in the little things and not just when it's convenient, but when it louses up everything for you."

The escaped tiger has become national news and the tiny town is swamped with reporters, politicians and the military.  Local businesswoman, hotel and bar owner Mrs. Watkins played by Una Merkel (Destry Rides Again, 42nd Street) takes full advantage of the situation by raising her fees in the name of civic duty.

Raja's supporters

Hal Peary (The Great Gildersleeve) plays a children's TV host who spearheads a campaign based on Julie's television appearance to "Save That Tiger".  Protests are staged and money is collected to purchase Raja and his family for a zoo.  The governor intervenes when it appears the sheriff is being too soft on a man killer.  It is unexpected to see such behavior from adults and authority is such a cynical light in a family entertainment, but as a child I appreciated it and as an adult I find it amusing.

Raja, born and bred in captivity, is not equipped to deal with life in what is to him extremely strange circumstances.  He frightens more than harms the local wildlife and cultivated stock.  A farmer played by Arthur Hunnicut (El Dorado, The Red Badge of Courage) on his way to town to apprise the sheriff of the tiger's whereabouts is shot and wounded by a frightened National Guardsman.  Sheriff Williams had warned that the combination of fog and too many scared people would lead to disaster, but the politicians continue to view the situation as a way to garner votes.

The military believes they finally have the tiger trapped in a valley and the captain in charge played by Donald May (Kisses for My President, TVs The Edge of Night) agrees to let Sheriff Williams, Mr. Singh and a deputy played by Peter Brown (Summer Magic, TVs Laredo) attempt to capture the tiger alive.  The captain, however, is overridden by the governor who wants headlines of a different sort.  Events culminates in a race against time and authority to "save that tiger".

Deputy Vern Goodman:  "I wonder if it takes all this to put on a tiger hunt in Africa or India, or wherever the heck it is."

Sheriff Pete Williams:  "They're hunting a lot of things, Vern.  Headlines.  Pictures.  Trophies.  Excitement and publicity.  Not many of them come just to help out."

Walt Disney with Seranga and Sultan

Animal behaviorist, author and founder of Marine World and Africa, USA, Ralph Helfer supplied the tigers Seranga and Sultan to play "Raja".  Helfer trained animals using what he called "affection training" and provided exotic animals to Hollywood productions including TVs Daktari and Gentle Ben.

A Tiger Walks is entertaining, exciting and edifying.  The character of Raja is presented as what he is - a tiger; a natural creature with its nature perverted by a life in a cage.  The human characters are all too human with their fears, anxieties, ambitions, yet also their capacity for understanding and compassion.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

The Great Villain Blogathon: William Talman as Dave Purvis in "Armored Car Robbery" (1950)

Run for cover! The Great Villain Blogathon is once again upon us hosted by Kristina of Speakeasy, Ruth of Silver Screenings and Karen of Shadows and Satin.  Cinema is filled so many extraordinary villains that the blogathon will run from from May 15th to 20th.  Contributions:  Day 1, Day 2, Day 3, Day 4, Day 5, Day 6.

Armored Car Robbery, directed by Richard Fleischer in 1950, is as tidy and dandy a noir-procedural as you are likely to come across.  At this stage of Fleischer's varied career he was becoming the master of the tightly-paced, low-budgeted crime picture with 1948s Bodyguard, 1949s The Clay Pigeon and Follow Me Quietly.  The Narrow Margin would follow in 1952 and Fleischer would move on to more prestigious and bigger-budgeted films such as The Vikings, The Boston Strangler and 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea.

The film's use of Los Angeles locations including Wrigley Field, home of the Cubs farm team, is one of the strengths of the picture.  You are put right into the action from City Hall, Police Headquarters and Communications, to highways and wharves.  The other highlight of this 67 minute treat is the intriguing mastermind of the armored car heist, Dave Purvis, and his portrayer, the gifted William Talman.

William Talman

Immortalized for his outstanding performance as tenacious, but luckless district attorney Hamilton Burger on TVs Perry Mason (1957-1966), Talman made his Broadway debut in 1940, his film debut in 1949 and his television launch in 1955.  In between was Army service in the Pacific rising from private to major.  His many movie and television roles highlight the actor's versatility.  He was equally believable as a brave young policeman in 1951s The Racket and a real-life psycho in 1953s The Hitch-Hiker.

In the annals of film-noir, Dave Purvis is one of the coldest and coolest villains you will come across.  Dave Purvis is a meticulous and calculating individual.  Constantly on the move, Purvis is careful to leave no clue to his identity.  He goes so far as to remove labels from clothing and have nothing in writing.  He plans his capers down to the last detail.  His reputation among the underworld types he uses is enough to ensure their obedience.  His obsession with self-preservation, however, sorely taxes their loyalty.

William Talman, Douglas Fowley 

Purvis' number one underling is Benny McBride played by Douglas Fowley (Battleground, TVs The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp).  Benny is desperate for a big score to impress and hold onto his estranged wife, Yvonne LeDoux.  Yvonne is a burlesque dancer with expensive tastes and a roving eye played by Adele Jergens (The Dark Past, Side Street).  If there is a sentimental bone in Yvonne's body, she hides it very well.  She's stringing Benny along all the while she's having an affair with Purvis.  Yep.  Benny is being played for a sap by his wife and his pal.

Benny recruits the two other men required for the job by bringing Al Mapes played by Steve Brodie (Crossfire, Winchester '73) and "Ace" Foster played by Gene Evans (Park Row, Steel Helmet) on board.  They are strictly no imagination types, but know how to follow orders and the heist is promised to yield half a million dollars.  Having timed police response time, the plan involves creating a diversion in front of a stadium which is the last stop on an armored car route.  Gas will knock out the guards and in the three minute wait time the car will be emptied of its treasure.  Only one little thing has to go wrong and it does.  A patrol car is closer than anticipated and before the three minutes is up there is a shootout resulting in the death of a police officer and the wounding of Benny.

Don McGuire, Charles McGraw

Lt. Cordell has a vested interest in this case as he was on the scene and has lost his partner of many years.  "You get used to a guy."  Cordell is played by Charles McGraw (The Narrow Margin, Slaughter on Tenth Avenue) and this actor's cops are as tough as his villains.  When it comes to focus, Cordell and Purvis are perfectly matched adversaries.  Cordell's new partner is Danny Ryan played by Don McGuire (writer - Bad Day at Black Rock, Tootsie).  He's a solid worker, but maybe a little too eager to impress Cordell.

Gene Evans, Douglas Fowley, William Talman, Steve Brodie

Dressed as road workers, the gang comes up against a road block and it is the first test after the mostly botched heist.  Mapes, the driver, is a nervous wreck and almost draws undue attention their way.  Purvis' bullying snaps them into place, even the desperately wounded Benny.  Reaching the hideout, Benny's pleas for a doctor go unheeded by Purvis to the point where Benny pulls a gun on  him.  Purvis' cool response is to end Benny's suffering by putting three bullets in him.  "Ace" takes care of dumping the body and their car in the harbor while Mapes keeps an eye on Purvis.  Even these mooks have caught onto the fact that the man is not to be trusted.  Mapes suggestion that now the loot be cut three ways is dismissed by Purvis who says he is going to make sure that Benny's widow gets her share.  Mapes has seen Yvonne strut her stuff and sees clearly through that altruistic statement.

Adele Jergens, William Talman

The police close in on the waterfront digs and Purvis is the only one to keep his head.  "Ace" is shot down and a panicked Mapes makes a noisy exit in a motorboat.  Purvis risks one quick meeting with Yvonne advising her to keep her distance and her nerve for the next couple of weeks.  When he gives the signal they will leave town with the dough.  Mapes has payback plans, but when he is picked up and put on the spot for the cop killing Mapes comes clean about Purvis and, once again, the police close in on the criminal.

William Talman

You can well imagine that someone with Purvis' smarts is not going to be easy to catch.  His habit of changing addresses often and quickly comes in handy.  Even Detective Ryan's undercover rouse does little to break Purvis' composure.  It is nothing to him to shoot to kill another cop.  Deft police work lead to an airfield and a chartered plane.  Even as things start to unravel, Purvis battles to the end.

All of the characteristics of a villainous mastermind are displayed in William Talman's riveting performance.  Purvis is smart, with a smartness that leads to arrogance.  He is cool under pressure and equally as calm about using violence when it suits him.  As ruthless as they come, Dave Purvis is due a spot in the movie villain Hall of Fame.