Caftan Woman

Caftan Woman

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 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.

Monday, February 20, 2017

MOVIE OF THE WEEK BLOGATHON: Say Goodbye, Maggie Cole (1972)

The Classic Film and TV Cafe today hosts the Movie of the Week Blogathon. Click HERE for contributions and a stroll down Memory Lane. Click the banner for a video trailer.

"Oh, Maggie, Maggie. Take a risk. Don't you know that's all the difference between being alive and being dead? Take a chance, girl. Take your lumps. And learn to say goodbye."

Susan Hayward as Dr. Margaret Cole

Susan Hayward (my late dad called her "Susie baby") was a movie star and actress with an undeniably unique mix of beauty, guts and vulnerability. The model from Brooklyn worked her way through the studio system, paying her dues in bits and supporting roles before becoming a popular headliner. During an era when outstanding actresses had equally outstanding roles to play, Susan Hayward received five Oscar nominations, winning in 1959 for I Want to Live!.

ABCs popular Movie of the Week proved a home for many greats from Hollywood's classic era. It was a time when fans, new and old, still wanted to see the stars, but too many producers were tone deaf to that idea. In 1972 Susan Hayward appeared in two made-for-TV films. Heat of Anger was a crime drama with Susan portraying an attorney, directed by Don Taylor, who appeared in one of Susan's Oscar nominated films, I'll Cry Tomorrow. In Say Goodbye, Maggie Cole Susan plays a physician at a turning point in her life.

Susan Hayward, Darren McGavin

Maggie Cole had a comfortable and happy life as a medical researcher working with her beloved husband played by Richard Anderson. A massive coronary takes his life and Maggie finds that the work she thought she loved as much as her husband no longer interests her. Running from her loss, Maggie leaves California for a temporary position taking over a Chicago general practice from a vacationing doctor. The vacationing doctor played by Darren McGavin never does seem to leave on that vacation. He uses this ploy to test potential partners and he doesn't have a lot of faith in Maggie Cole.

The screenplay for Say Goodbye, Maggie Cole was written by Sandor Stern, an Ontario born physician who wrote for the CBC before moving to California as a full-time writer and director of television and film. The medical aspects of the story ring true as does the attitude of the various doctors depicted. The emotions of the patients and others in the involving script are heartfelt to the core without being sentimentalized.

The film was directed by Jud Taylor, an experienced overseer from TVs Dr. Kildare to Star Trek to Law and Order: Special Victims Unit. Among his many made-for-TV successes, Taylor was nominated for an Emmy for Tail Gunner Joe.

Maggie Cole has spent the last 15 years of her career in a laboratory. Perhaps she was hoping the change of pace, of venue and the distraction of patients would keep her from concentrating on life without her husband. Familiar and favourite actors fill up the cast. Maidie Norman (Bright Road, About Mrs. Leslie) plays Nurse Ferguson, who is immediately on Maggie's side, just like the audience. Fergie is friendly and smart, just the friend and colleague Maggie needs.

Michelle Nichols, Susan Hayward

Michelle Nichols plays Lisa, a young woman with big dreams and a leukemia diagnosis. Maggie is unaware of the diagnosis when she becomes friends with Lisa, even boarding with her grandmother played by Jeanette Nolan (The Big Heat, Dirty Sally).

Beverly Garland (Gunslinger, My Three Sons) and Richard Carlyle (Torpedo Run, Crime Photographer) play a couple dealing with the uncertainty of a brain tumor. Michael Constantine (Room 222) is a treat as an eccentric neurosurgeon. Frank Puglia (Black Hand, Tall in the Saddle) has a bit as a stubborn patient not interested in seeing a "lady doctor". I kept waiting for his return.

Maggie Cole learns about days and nights with too many patients and not enough hours. She learns about life as a "street doctor" and how to communicate. She learns about the grief of others in a very moving scene with Jeanette Nolan. Maggie learns to stop looking inward and to give her heart again.  She learns to say goodbye, as Dusty Springfield sang in the theme song Learn to Say Goodbye by Hugo Montenegro and Bradford Craig.

Sunday, February 19, 2017


1895 - 1966
Portrait by Janet Clare Hall, 2016

This year is a special one for our hostess Lea of Silent-Ology because her Third Annual Buster Keaton Blogathon coincides with the 100th anniversary of Buster entering the film business. Let's celebrate! Click HERE for the all the fun.

Buster Keaton makes us laugh. Even more than that, Buster Keaton inspires us. His persevering character in silent films inspires us to develop that characteristic in our own lives. His life and art in turn inspires our own creativity. His story inspires interpretation and sharing.

Certainly the best way to introduce anyone, but especially youngsters, to Buster Keaton is through his films. Read HERE about my young niece Lenny's first movie theatre experience at a screening of The Navigator. If you can follow that successful outing with a relateable picture book, then you can be assured of having made a fan for life.

Written and illustrated by Catherine Brighton and published in 2008, Keep Your Eye on the Kid, the Early Years of Buster Keaton combines the facts and legends of Buster's life from his born in a trunk beginnings to his entry into films. Along the way we learn about Vaudeville, about the skills Buster picked up, his education and his interests. We learn about the pioneering years of motion pictures. We meet the famous people who influenced Buster from Harry Houdini to Fatty Arbuckle.

The youngster hearing or reading this story will develop a kinship with the kid Buster - one of their own. Perhaps they will be inspired in their life as Buster was in his.

A Toby Bradley Adventure
by Harold D. Sill, Jr.

Illustration by Mike Eagle of Buster in Steamboat Bill Jr. for Sill's book.

Published in 1977, Harold Sill's Young Adult novel takes teenager Toby Bradley on a ghostly time travel adventure with Buster Keaton. The spectre Keaton whisks Toby back to 1920s Hollywood to give the youngster a first-hand, behind-the-scenes taste of how Buster put together some of his most famous and awesome stunts beginning with that falling house in Steamboat Bill Jr. to the racing motorcycle in Sherlock, Jr. to the cliffhanger in Our Hospitality.

Away from the studio, Toby gets a glimpse of life in the 1920s; the fashions, the celebrities and the automobiles. Along with learning about movies, which is fascinating to many tweens and teens, the reader gets a very easy to swallow history lesson. The book is a total charmer. Toby had a follow-up adventure published in 1978 with Fats Waller.

Inspired by the autobiography My Wonderful World of Slapstick and Buster's tales of The Actors' Colony founded at Bluffton by his dad Joe Keaton, Matt Phelan's beautiful graphic novel was published in 2013.

A summer home for Vaudevillians and actors by a lake in Muskegon, Michigan, the Colony existed from 1908 to 1938. Buster's vacation home during his youth is the basis for the story of a kid from the show business and a kid with stars in his eyes, and both finding their way.

Henry works in his father's hardware store, handles his chores at home and daydreams when the actors come to town. Never having seen a Vaudeville show makes the strangers even more fascinating to Henry. They bring elephants and zebras, and their own extraordinary personalities to upset the daily grind.

Henry becomes pals with a couple of kids his age; the baseball mad Buster Keaton, star of the Three Keatons, and Lex Neal, the son of actors and a future film writer. Henry enjoys hanging out with his newfound friends. He is proud of the association and admires and is jealous of Buster. Henry longs to really belong in this group. He tries to put together his own juggling act without success. He tries to get Buster to teach him some of his tricks, but it is summer and Buster would much rather play baseball. While Henry sees only glamour in Buster's trade it appears Buster sees things about Henry's regular routine that have great appeal. For one thing, Buster's stated dream of becoming a mechanical engineer is at odds with his lack of education. 

The bond of friendship, along with the hurts youth can inflict on each other, are a part of each succeeding summer as the boys mature.  Time passes and Henry comes to appreciate the life his family afford him. He grows up to marry the girl he's always liked and retains a connection to his friend, Buster Keaton.

The charming illustrations and the knowing text make all of the characters endearingly real in Bluffton. It brings to life an era long gone, but which deserves a place in our memory. A delightful story to share with children and a touchingly nostalgic tale for an adult curled up in their favourite reading chair.

Saturday, February 18, 2017


Virginie at The Wonderful World of Cinema is hosting this blogathon in celebration of the 90th birthday of Sidney Poitier. The blogathon runs from February 18 - 20. Click HERE to join the party.

The Slender Thread was written by Stirling Silliphant (In the Heat of the Night, TVs Route 66, Naked City) based on a magazine article by Shana Alexander. Silliphant was nominated for a Golden Globe for Best screenplay for this involving drama. The film was director Sidney Pollack's first feature after years of television films and episodes.  Its stars, Sidney Poitier and Anne Bancroft, were recent winners of Academy Awards for Lilies of the Field and The Miracle Worker, respectively.

Sidney Poitier

Sidney Poitier portrays Alan Newell, a university student volunteering one night a week at a crisis centre. On the night we meet him Alan is manning the centre on his own while the boss, Dr. Coburn played by Telly Savalas (Kojak), takes some down time.  It is on this night that Alan crosses paths with Inga Dyson.

Anne Bancroft

Anne Bancroft plays Inga, a 30-year-old married mother of a 12 year old son. A past long buried and forgotten has caught up with her and is tearing her marriage to pieces. Steven Hill (Law and Order) plays Mark, Inga's estranged husband. There are days when our problems overwhelm us, when we can see nothing ahead but unhappiness. This is such a day for Inga. She needs someone to talk to, but she doesn't seek that someone until after she has swallowed a bottle full of pills. That someone is Alan and the race is on to save the woman at the end of the phone line who has so much to live for.

The resources of the telephone company are deployed for tracing the call which proves more problematic than expected. Police, including an off duty detective with no home life played by Ed Asner (Lou Grant) joins uniformed patrol on the search. Alan is more that willing to turn the phone over to his boss as the pressure of the case wears on him. However, he has established a rapport with Inga and the importance of the relationship they are forming is paramount. Alan must learn to trust his instincts in this nerve-wracked night.

Sidney Poitier, Telly Savalas, Indus Arthur

"Look, Inga. Please get this straight. I'm up to my ears in lessons I've been taught long before I picked up this phone tonight. I've been taught, so lessons I don't need, you understand? Good people I do. You watch the walls close in on you. Me too. You've been ignored or studied out of the corners of people's eyes. Me too. You've been suffered and tolerated. Me too. Okay. Times are bad. Things stink. The world is a cinder in your eye, but what is the alternative? Now I ask you, Inga, what in god's name is the alternative? Every time I breathe, every breath I take, every gulp, it's like it's got bubbles in it - it's heady. Now why can't you reach out and hang on to me, feel what I feel? Why can't you come into my world?"

We follow the story from the tense atmosphere in the crisis centre office to Inga's memories of what brought her to this fateful night. We see her as a sad and introspective woman at the Seattle Center, at her suburban home, at the beach where she first attempts suicide, the hospital, a church and a discotheque.

Our two leading characters never meet in this story, but the connection established by the actors with their distinctive voices and emotionally fine-tuned performances keep us caring for them.  Reminiscent of the great television dramas of the 1950s, The Slender Thread is a fine showcase for Poitier and Bancroft, as well as an impressive movie debut for Pollack.

PS: If the girl at the switchboard looks familiar, it is Charlotte Stewart (My Three Sons, Little House on the Prairie).