Friday, October 17, 2014

The Jack Webb Blogathon: Pete Kelly's Blues (1955)


This one's about Pete Kelly.  If you've ever taken the steps down to Rudy's speak over on Cherry Street to hear Kelly's Big 7, you know who I'm talking about.  If you've been there, you've only gone for the music.  Straight up Dixieland with soul that will divert you from the so-so food and weak liquor.  Blues?  Yeah, Pete Kelly's got 'em.  Some say he was born that way.  Some say he brought it back from the war.  The one that was supposed to end them all.  Pete Kelly's always in a war.  1920s Kansas City has plenty of them - band wars, mob wars.  The liars, the schemers and the broken-hearted all end up on Pete Kelly's doorstep.  If there's trouble he's in it up to his neck.  

Pete Kelly's Blues
Ray Heindorf and Sammy Cahn

If it's going to rain, it might as well pour and pour it does one night at Rudy's.  Flighty society dish Ivy Conrad sets her sights on Pete.  She's looking for kicks.  She's lonely.  She always gets her way.  Racketeer Fran McCarg also has plans for Pete Kelly's Big 7.  McCarg is a political boss/racketeer with controlling interest in bands and joints across the state and he's ever-expanding.  He's cutting himself in for 25 percent.  McCarg always gets his way.  Nobody likes it, but most of the guys have been around long enough to know the score.  Young drummer Joey Firestone is the exception.  Joey shoots his drunken mouth off to McCarg.  Joey gets it in the alley back of Rudy's from a Chicago typewriter.  Pete goes along to get along, but long-time pal Al Gannaway can't stomach knuckling under and is off to better places out of McCarg's reach.

Surprisingly, Ivy turns out to be the one bright thing in Pete's life.  McCarg brings the trouble as promised by muscling a spot on the grandstand for his alcoholic girlfriend, even though it's not that sort of band.  Rose Hopkins was a singer when McCarg found her, but that was ten years and a river of booze ago.  McCarg doesn't like it when Rose drinks, but doesn't seem to care that he's the reason.  George Tennell, a cop with an agenda, pushes Pete from the other side looking for help in bringing down McCarg.  Yeah.  Pete's conscience is getting a real working over.  It all leads to treachery, brutality and a showdown.  Things change and things will always be the same for Pete Kelly.

Pete Kelly's Blues was a summer 1951 radio series created by Richard Breen, Oscar and Writers Guild of America nominee/winner behind Pat Novak for Hire on radio and films such as Titanic, Niagara and A Foreign Affair.  The script, particularly the narration, is brimming with the wry, cynical humour that Jack Webb puts over so well.

Than Wyenn, a welcome and familiar face to those of us who grew up watching television of the 50s, 60s and 70s, plays Rudy Shulak the bottom-line focused owner of the speakeasy.  According to internet sources, still with us at 95, I hope he is enjoying good health and fine companions.  21-year-old Jayne Mansfield's first film credit is as a cigarette girl in Pete Kelly's Blues.  You can't miss the pretty girl with the dark hair.  Martin Milner plays the hotheaded Joey Firestone and Lee Marvin steals scenes as reed man Al Gannaway.  Andy Devine is unusually chilling as a determined cop.

Jack Webb, Janet Leigh
Party like it's 1927!

Janet Leigh was a very busy actress in the 1950s appearing in comedies, musicals, costume dramas, epics and film-noir.  Pete Kelly's Blues falls in the middle of that busy time and Janet is extremely fetching in her 1920s fringed gown and cloche hats.  Ivy's character is that of heiress, madcap.  Ivy is an outsider in Pete Kelly's world and Janet Leigh does yoeman's work giving her character audience appeal.  There are enough hints about motivation in the script to make Ivy's choices feel more organic than they ultimately do, but limiting her interactions to Pete also limits the character.

Edmond O'Brien was also very busy in the 1950s with crime pictures taken up the prime spot in his filmography.  At that season's Academy Awards O'Brien won the Best Supporting Actor trophy for The Barefoot Contessa.  This time around he is a nasty piece of work who bullies his way through life and "business".  A master of intimidation, even whatever feeling he has or once had for his girlfriend Rose is expressed only through his brutality.

Jack Webb, Peggy Lee, Edmond O'Brien
Some nights everything goes wrong.

Singer/songwriter Peggy Lee added "Oscar nominated actress" to her list of accomplishments with the role of Rose Hopkins in Pete Kelly's Blues.  Rose is a woman at the end of her rope.  She's only alive when she sings.  The rest of the time she drinks to escape the torment of her lover, Fran McCarg.  Eventually she escapes into the depths of her mind and soul.  Peggy is subtle and heartbreaking with the dialogue and with the emotional songs by Arthur Hamilton, He Needs Me and Sing a Rainbow.  That more roles of this calibre did not come Peggy's way is a loss to audiences.

Jack Webb is Pete Kelly.  Of course, he was Pete Kelly on radio and his success with Dragnet is all encompassing and legendary.  Jack looks perfectly at ease on the bandstand, having played cornet as a youngster.  The tailor-made dialogue is a pleasure to hear, dripping attitude.  He has some lovely moments in the movie conveying vulnerability, fear and anger.  However, solid skills are not alone in creating a memorable lead character and there have been times (a few) when I have imagined Jack not spreading himself so thin on this project.  I imagine him sticking to the directing and the producing, and perhaps playing Al Gannaway and maybe (just maybe) promoting Lee Marvin to lead.  A part of this could be hindsight.  Perhaps Marvin wasn't quite ready to be that guy that he slowly became over his career.  In all likelihood, Warners would have balked at the idea.  Not let one of the biggest names in the business play the character he created?  Really?  Sometimes I think someone with a bit more of the old screen charisma was needed to give the movie that extra indefinable something.  At any rate, I think it would have amped up the Pete and Ivy scenes.  We wouldn't have cared if they made sense or not.  Silly musings?  Probably.  Jack Webb is Pete Kelly and I guess I really wouldn't want it any other way.

My first impressions of Pete Kelly's Blues back in my teen years was of the look and the sound of the movie.  Cinematographer Harold Rossen and art director Harper Goff created a nighttime world filmed in WarnerColor.  The hue is almost pastel-like, yet dark and smoky where there is no smoke.  I can think of no other film quite like it.  The sound is the music.  The lush background score by Ray Heindorf and David Buttolph utilizing Heindorf's theme and Ted Fio Rito's I Never Knew is haunting.  And then there's Pete Kelly's Big Seven.  Matty Matlock arranged the classic 20s tunes and doubled for Marvin on clarinet.  Dick Cathcart was the cornet lead.  George Van Eps, guitar.  Moe Schneider, trombone.  Ray Sherman, piano.  Nick Fatool, drums.  Jud De Naut, bass.

  
The original soundtrack was nominated for a Grammy for Best Soundtrack Album.  Songs from Pete Kelly's Blues featured the work of Peggy Lee and Ella Fitzgerald.  An album was released featured music from the subsequent 1959 television series produced by Webb and starring William Reynolds.  A garage sale find that enjoys a place of honour in my collection.

An older friend told me that he was in high school when Pete Kelly's Blues was released and it turned him and his group of friends into old-time jazz fiends who thought it would have cool to live in the 20s.  I could look up how well the movie did at the box office or with the critics, but I think my friend's story says it all.


Don't miss any of The Jack Webb Blogathon sponsored by Toby Roan at The Hannibal 8.





Saturday, October 11, 2014

Hollywood's Hispanic Heritage blogathon: TITO GUIZAR

Tito Guizar
1908 - 1999

The 1935 movie Under the Pampas Moon starring Warner Baxter features a charming musical interlude set at a Paris cafe.  The maitre d played by Paul Porcasi announces "Ladies and gentlemen, an internationally famous tenor is present this evening, Senor Tito Guizar."  Tito, and his guitar, then regale the crowd with Fox composer Cyril Mockridge's tune Veredeta to the delight of the crowd.  How does one become an internationally famous tenor?  Practice!

Tito Guizar was born in Guadalajara, Jalisco, Mexico.  Tito's parents had different visions for his future.  To please his father Tito attended Columbia University as a medical student, but encouraged by his mother also studied music.  Fans are grateful that music won out, opening many doors for the young man.  One of the doors in 1920s NYC led to nightclubs and speakeasies.  One can well imagine the good looking fellow with the golden voice being popular with the lady customers, and his classical repertoire making him a favourite with some of the more notorious habitues.  Doors to more legitimate concert halls such as Carnegie Hall also opened wide where, along with the popular classics, Tito treated audiences to his favourite ranchera songs.  

Los Angeles became Tito Guizar's home base of his radio program, Tito Guizar y su Guitar.  Appearances in film were the natural next step in his career.  Tito's eventual record of 45 film credits began with specialty spots in Hollywood shorts such as Rambling 'Round Radio Row and The Big Casino.  Eventually added to the list would be the likes of The Big Broadcast of 1938, St. Louis Blues with Dorothy Lamour, The Thrill of  Brazil with Ann Miller and Blondie Goes Latin with Penny Singleton.  The majority of Tito's movies were made in Mexico beginning with 1936s Alla en el Rancho Grande.  The film was extremely successful and gave Tito a place in movie history as the first big screen Mexican "singing cowboy".



For the next seven decades, Tito's career would include Mexican and American movies, television guest spots, recordings and concerts.  By his side for 57 years was his wife, singer Carmen Noriega, in a marriage Tito described as "idyllic".  The couple had three children and five grandchildren at the time of Tito's passing.

I first became acquainted with the talented singer through two movies he made with Roy Rogers.  Republic Studios boss Herbert Yates was a fellow who knew how to stretch or find a dollar, and pairing two such popular singing cowboys could only enhance profits south of the border.   Tito was billed third in these movies, right after Trigger.



In 1947s On the Old Spanish Trail screenwriter Sloan Nibley throws in everything but the kitchen sink.  Roy is on the hook for a $10,000 loan that the Sons of the Pioneers have taken out for their traveling tent show.  Singing star of the show Jane Frazee has caught the eye of gypsy/outlaw Tito Guizar to the ire of his on-again-off-again girlfriend Estelita Rodriguez.  The gypsies are following the tent show and are suspected of robberies that occur every place the show plays.  The robberies are tainting the show's image which is why the Sons of the Pioneers can't pay back the loan which puts Roy on the hook.  It just so happens that there is a $10,000 reward on the gypsy who is a suspect in the crimes.  Whew!  Oh, and did I forget to mention that Charles McGraw is the show's road manager?  PS:  Deputy Andy Devine walks in his sleep.

I can imagine some youngsters in the audience feeling perturbed with On the Old Spanish Trail for a preponderance of singing and romance, but director William Witney still gives us plenty of chases and fisticuffs.  Roy and Fred Graham, or Roy's stunt double Joe Yrigoyen and Fred, mix it up like they mean it.  Personally, I'm a fool for all the singing.  The title tune is melodic and Bob Nolan's Here is My Helping Hand nice and peppy.  Roy and Jane do a very nice job on My Adobe Hacienda.  Tito gives forth with a show stopping Guadalajara and a few bars of Donizetti's Una furtiva lagrima in the jailhouse.  The aria runs out of steam when, overcome with beauty, Andy Devine tries to sing along.

Estelita Rodriguez
1928 - 1966

A lot of the energy of the movie comes from Estelita Rodriguez, a talented singer/dancer/actress from Cuba.  At Republic Estelita specialized in stock Hispanic females of a fiery nature.  She may be most familiar to audiences today from the role of Consuelo in Rio Bravo.  Estelita and Tito were featured in three films together.  Her acting chops nicely complimented his appealing personality.


The old gang is reunited the following year for The Gay Ranchero.  In this Nibley/Witney outing there is a little more emphasis on action and comedy.  Estelita is as fiery as ever, but this character has the airs and wardrobe of a runaway heiress.  Tito is her on-again-off-again bullfighter/pilot boyfriend.  Jane Frazee and Andy Devine operate a small airline that transports customers to a spa run by the Sons of the Pioneers.  They also transport gold which is a magnet for crooks led by George Meeker.  Roy plays Sheriff Roy Rogers.

The crooks in this film mean business and even go so far as murdering two pilots.  The touching tribute to lost comrades is reminiscent of bigger budgeted flight pictures such as Only Angels Have Wings.  The final showdown between Roy and the last of the outlaws is an outstandingly staged moment in the film.  On the musical side Roy, Jane and the Pioneers have a big band style vocal of Wait'll I Get My Sunshine in the Moonlight which is quite enjoyable.  Tito's showstopper is Granada, along with the popular standard You Belong to My Heart.

Tito Guizar
"El pasado es polvo, el future, no mas una brisa. Si quieres ser feliz, vive por ahorita!"
The past is dust and the future a passing breeze. If you want to be happy, live for the moment!

The Gay Ranchero is a tighter film than On the Old Spanish Trail, but I find both pleasant entertainments that have a special place in my heart for introducing me to the wonderful "internationally famous tenor" Tito Guizar.


Kay (@KayStarStyle) of Movie Star Makeover and Aurora (@CitizenScreen) of Once Upon a Screen host Hollywood’s Hispanic Heritage blogathon, October 11th and 12th.  There is much to appreciate.


Tuesday, October 7, 2014

O Canada Blogathon: ALEXANDER KNOX

Alexander Knox
1907 - 1995

Ruth of Silver Screenings and Kristina of Speakeasy are the hosts of the O Canada Blogathon running from October 4 - 9.

Sharing the world's longest undefended border has given neighbours Canada and the United States a long history of sharing other things, especially people.  Entertainers, actors and singers to enjoyed plying their craft on both sides of the border in the legitimate theatre, vaudeville, movies and television for close to two centuries.

Canadians are always proud when one of our own enjoys success in their endeavours.  They are good ambassadors for Canadian talent.  Musicians like k.d. lang, Oscar Peterson and Jon Vickers.  Directors like Allan Dwan (Sands of Iwo Jima), Arthur Hiller (Love Story) and pioneering producer/writer/director Mack Sennett.  TV actors who become inextricably identified with their character such as Lorne Greene (Bonanza), Jonathan Frid (Dark Shadows) and Raymond Burr (Perry Mason, Ironside).  Glamour gals with talent Norma Shearer, Alexis Smith and Yvonne DeCarlo.  We point to these celebrities with pride.

You might be surprised to learn that Oscar-nominated actor Alexander Knox is one of our nice Canadian boys.  If anything, you may have thought him a Brit due to his masterful elocution and long residence in England.  Of course, a major clue to Knox's Canadian roots would be that he played an American President on screen in 1944s Wilson.  Fellow Canucks Walter Huston and Raymond Massey had already played Abraham Lincoln in films.  Canadians make the best Americans.

Alexander Knox was born in Strathroy, Ontario on January 16, 1907.  Both his father and maternal grandfather were Presbyterian ministers.  At the age of 5, Knox's family settled in London, Ontario and eventually he would attend the University of Western Ontario in that city.  He worked at the local library and in factories to pay for his education.  During his early school days he was praised for his public speaking and elocution took up some of his studies, along with journalism at the university.  The leading role in an amateur production of Hamlet led to an offer with the Milton Parsons repertory company in Boston.  However, it was 1929 when Wall Street laid its famous egg.  The theatre company was a victim of the crash and Knox took a newspaper job on the Boston Post and a return to London and a night desk job on the London Advertiser.  These jobs funded a move to his hometown's namesake as Alexander Knox determined to make his name on the stage in England.

Knox made his West End debut in Smoky Cell by Edgar Wallace (Sanders of the River) directed by Carol Reed (The Third Man).  In the time between long-in-coming acting gigs he returned to writing for magazines and published a well reviewed novel set in Canada, Bride of Quietness.  He would later recall the work as "naive, enthusiastic and romantic".  During this period Knox taught mime at the Old Vic and as an actor with that company performed roles in Richard III, A Midsummer Night's Dream, Othello and was understudy to Ralph Richardson and Laurence Olivier.

Doris Nolan
1916 - 1998

At the start of the War, Knox registered for the draft in Canada and the United Kingdom, but was deemed 4F.  Canadian High Commissioner Vincent Massey enlisted Alexander Knox in a scheme for propaganda work which didn't pan out, but brought him back to the United States.  Laurence Olivier tapped Knox to be the Friar in a production of Romeo and Juliet which toured the country and played briefly on Broadway.  When the production played San Francisco Alexander Knox was introduced to actress Doris Nolan appearing in that city in The Man Who Came to Dinner.  Classic movie fans will know Doris best as Julia Seton, the wrong girl for Johnny Case in 1938s Holiday.  Doris and Alexander were married on December 30, 1944, a marriage that lasted 50 years.  The best man was Alexander's motorcycle riding buddy, Barry Fitzgerald (Going My Way) and the maid of honour was the bride's best friend actress Edith Atwater (The Body Snatcher).

THE SEA WOLF
Alexander Knox, Edward G. Robinson

Alexander Knox made an auspicious Hollywood film debut in 1941s The Sea Wolf as Humphrey Van Weyden.  Van Weyden's intellectual sparring with the crazed and tyrannical Wolf Larsen played by Edward G. Robinson makes for riveting and uncomfortable viewing.  One of the finest films of the decade.

NONE SHALL ESCAPE
Marsha Hunt, Alexander Knox

Alexander Knox is chilling as the unrepentant Nazi Wilhelm Grimm in 1944s None Shall Escape, one of four films the actor made with director Andre De Toth.  Marsha Hunt gives one of the most outstanding performances of her career as a witness at the war crimes trial of her former sweetheart.  A look at world shaking atrocities through very personal stories.


WILSON

1944 also brought the role for which Knox is most well-known, his Oscar nominated performance of President Woodrow Wilson in Wilson.  The film, written by Lamar Trotti and directed by Henry King, received 10 Oscar nominations in total, winning 5 of the coveted trophies for screenplay, cinematography, art direction, recording and editing.  In the best picture, director and actor categories the awards went to Going My Way.  Wilson is beautifully shot and with meticulous attention to period details.  Despite the turbulent times of Wilson's presidency, the movie is short on action and long on thoughtfulness. Knox's immersion into the role of such a well-known public figure is nothing short of brilliant.

Wanting a change of pace after such a serious role, Knox next teamed up with Irene Dunne at Columbia for Over 21.  Alexander Knox plays an older (39!) man overcome with patriotism who quits his newspaper job to join the army.  His screenwriter wife joins him and the change in lifestyle is played for sweetly romantic laughs.

Writing was still a huge part of Alexander Knox's life.  He published several essays in The Hollywood Quarterly throughout the 1940s on performing and performers.  Some of the essays have been collected and edited by Anthony Slide in Actors and Acting, Essays by Alexander Knox.  A devotee of choral singing, he also organized friends and colleagues into what they called The Beverly Bach and Boubon Society and even made a few recordings.  

Alexander Knox is credited as collaborating with Dudley Nichols and Mary McCarthy on the screenplay for 1946s Sister Kenny in which he co-starred with Rosalind Russell, who won the Golden Globe for the film.  1948 saw Knox as the obtuse Mallory St. Aubyn, besotted and dominated by wheelchair bound wife in Susan Peters (Random Harvest) return to the screen following a paralyzing accident in The Sign of the Ram.  Knox and director Boris Ingster (Stranger on the Third Floor) co-wrote the screenplay for 1949s The Judge Steps Out.  Judge Bailey leaves behind his staid Boston existence in search of himself and finds new life and romance with charming Ann Sothern (A Letter to Three Wives).  Hays Code ethics determine an ending that reunites the Judge with wife Frieda Inescourt (Pride and Prejudice) and duty, but this fan has an alternate version of events in mind.

Knox's second movie with Andre De Toth is 1951s Man in the Saddle, a western with a noirish tinge to the relationships of the leads Randolph Scott, Joan Leslie, Ellen Drew and Knox.  His next Columbia release, Paula in 1952 starring Loretta Young would be his last Hollywood film.  Apparently, co-founding the Committee for the First Amendment with Philip Dunne and John Huston, siding with Unions and speaking at a memorial for FDR could get a nice Canadian boy grey-listed.

THE DIVIDED HEART
Eddie Byrne, Alexander Knox

Alexander, wife Doris and son Andrew moved to England where theatre, film work and old friends awaited.  Audiences create their own relationship with actors.  While many would think of Wilson when Knox is mentioned, my sister Paula has been known to clasp her hands in reverence over The Divided Heart.  The 1954 drama from Ealing Studios was nominated for 5 BAFTA awards, winning 2 for actresses Yvonne Mitchell and Cornell Borchers.  The Divided Heart was acclaimed one of the Top Foreign Films by the National Board of Review.  Alexander Knox plays a judge whose task it is to determine the fate of a war orphan torn between his adopted parents and refugee mother.  A sensitive and memorable film that seems to have been lost over the years.

Perhaps you have enjoyed Alexander Knox in other films of this period in the 1950s.  On television I have caught The Night My Number Came Up (great title!), the Douglas Bader biopic Reach for the Sky, Chase a Crooked Shadow, produced by Douglas Fairbanks Jr., The Wreck of the Mary Deare or his last two with Andre De Toth Hidden Fear and The Two-Headed Spy.  Knox took the role of Father Godwin in Kirk Douglas' 1958 epic The Vikings.  It was the first movie backed with American money the actor had appeared in for several years.


TINKER, TAILOR, SOLDIER, SPY

The 1960s would bring The Longest Day, In the Cool of the Day, Woman of Straw, Khartoum, Modesty Blaise and How I Won the War.  Big titles in the 1970s include Gorky Park and Nicholas and Alexandra.  TV also provided opportunities for Alexander Knox, actor.  Look for both Mr. and Mrs. Knox guesting on The Saint - The Latin Touch episode from 1962.  Historical characterizations include John Foster Dulles in the 1979 TV film Suez and Henry Stimson in the mini-series Oppenheimer from 1980 and Churchill and the Generals in 1981.  A personal favourite of mine is the excellent 1979 mini series Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy.

In the 1970s Knox published a series of novels set in the Canadian wilderness, Night of the White Bear, The Enemy I Kill, Raider's Moon and The Kidnapped Surgeon.  In what I find to be a charming touch of symmetry Alexander Knox's last screen appearance was in the Canadian feature 1985s Joshua Then and Now, based on Mordecai Richler's novel and directed by Ted Kotcheff.  Alexander Knox was 88 years old when he passed away in 1995 in Berwick-Upon-Tweed in Northumberland.  A creative and thoughtful professional, and one of those folks Canadians like to point to with pride as one of our own.

  

Saturday, October 4, 2014

O Canada Blogathon: ELWY YOST

Elwy Yost
1925 - 2011

Ruth of Silver Screenings and Kristina of Speakeasy have combined to host the O Canada Blogathon running from October 4 to 9.  In her post announcing the blogathon whose time has come, Kristina said:  "You may want to write about some aspect of Canada’s impact on the movies, or something unique to the Canadian movie fan’s experience (Elwy Yost, anyone?)."  I am a proud disciple of Elwy and in May of 2011 posted a tribute to the TV host and educator.  Sadly, it was a few weeks later that Elwy Yost passed away.  Twitter and Facebook was filled with fans sharing their affection and appreciation for Elwy.  Here are some edited thoughts from that earlier post to keep the flame alive.

Beginning in 1974, TVOntario's Saturday Night at the Movies presented to residents of Ontario and Western New York, a double bill of classic films uncut and commercial free, along with elucidating interviews relating to the subject of movies in general and specifically to the subject of the movies being screened. Contemporary viewers used to the proliferation of specialty channels may not realize what a boon it was for film fans to see movies uncut and commercial free, but let me tell you, it was as if we had died and gone to cinema heaven.

Elwy Yost was born in Ontario in 1925. A former high school teacher who hosted for the CBC and a true film buff, he was the perfect host for Saturday Night at the Movies. Originally a producer of the program as well, he eventually handed the executive producing job to the inestimable Risa Shuman, who is held in great esteem by film fans of Ontario. However, it was Elwy who was the face of the show.

Imagine the thrill of tuning in each Saturday night for the likes of Dodsworth, I Know Where I'm Going!, Gun Crazy, Reap the Wild Wind, The Devil and Miss Jones, The Devil and Daniel Webster, Western Union, Mrs. Miniver, Act of Violence, The Informer, The Prisoner of Shark Island, Charlie Chan at the Circus, It Happens Every Spring, The Letter, Moulin Rouge and so on.

Elwy was our guide through the history of classic film. His unbridled enthusiasm for the subject made it alright for us to be movie lovers. He interviewed historians and experts, writers, directors, actors, cinematographers, set designers, composers, costumers, stunt men and foley artists.

I remember Greer Garson, both grand and twinkly, coming across as a lady who'd be pleased to put the kettle on and make you feel at home. Olivia de Havilland, all polite smiles. Bette Davis, all gruff annoyance. Joan Fontaine, trying to take charge and eventually relaxing. Vibrant and fun Betty Garrett. P.D. James discussing mysteries. A non-cooperative Robert Mitchum almost becoming human by the end of the interview. The intense and sharp Richard Widmark. Henry Fonda, cool and confident. The charm of Jimmy Stewart. Self-effacing Joel McCrea explaining that he was never anyone's first choice except for Preston Sturges, and that was enough. Keye Luke proclaiming the artistry in Warner Oland's portrayal of Charlie Chan. A friendly and seemingly shy Dana Andrews. Edward Dmytryk explaining that the lighting in his noirs was motivated by budget, not art. Jack Elam talking about playing chess with Duke Wayne and drinking too much with Sam Peckinpah. Michael Wayne taken aback and then grinning when told he was starting to look like his dad. Harry Carey Jr. getting misty talking about his dad. Noah Berry Jr. responding to Elwy's story of growing his first moustache because he was inspired by Noah Sr. with a choking "I wish I could tell him." So many fabulous and enlightening moments.  The interviews were donated to the Motion Picture Academy upon Elwy's retirement.


The sister program to Saturday Night at the Movies was Magic Shadows which ran weeknights at 7 and showed one movie per week split into four parts with a serial episode on Friday. The first movie shown was The Thing from Another World. The first part ended with the scientists and airmen at the crash site spreading out to determine the size and shape of the thing. Oooh! The number of times I have seen the movie since is lost in family legend.

Sometimes a film would run the entire five nights and we would loose out on the serial. Such a movie was Sands of Iwo Jima. One episode ended with John Agar meeting Adele Mara at a dance. When we returned to the set/movie room Elwy looked at us and said "Ah, romance rears its ugly head." An immortal line used by our family to this day for the many movies that make that misstep.  If my memory does not match Elwy's words exactly, don't tell me!

Elwy - whose name was a source of curious amusement to a booming Otto Preminger.

Elwy - whose shock at guest Pierre Berton's disdain for John Ford movies matched my own.

Elwy - who, if he is a packrat has a copy of a movie quiz I gave him years ago. A copy of one I had made for my dad.

Elwy - who kept his son home from school with a note of excuse explaining that he was tired because Citizen Kane had been on the late show.

Elwy - whose apparent garbled relating of the plot of the movie Runaway Train inspired his screenwriter son Graham to write Speed, which was proudly presented in 1999 on Elwy's final evening of hosting Saturday Night at the Movies before retirement.

Elwy - who was made a Member of the Order of Canada in 1999.

Elwy - who created an atmosphere of appreciation for film for generations of fans.

Maybe someday you will be in Toronto for a film-related event like the Toronto International Film Festival. Perhaps you will become aware that some of the attendees are native to the town and if they are "between 40 and death" (Auntie Mame), stroll over and mention the name "Elwy". Watch for the smiles on their faces.

BONUS:  Writer, producer Graham Yost (Speed, The Last Castle, TVs The Pacific, Boomtown, Falling Skies, etc.) with TCMs Scott McGee:


Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Caftan Woman's Choice: One for October on TCM


There's a blurb in one of the copies of Christianna Brand's Green for Danger floating around my family that mentions that Ms. Brand was inspired to write her first mystery novel when she imagined bumping off an annoying co-worker.  It is not easy living or working with some people.  Close quarters can often inspire intense feelings.  In Green for Danger, published 1944, the close quarters are a military hospital and nerves are frayed by overwork, German bombs and murder.

The 1946 film based on the novel was adapted by Sidney Gilliat and Claude Guerney, and directed by Gilliat whose usual partner, Frank Launder, was producer.  The setting is a rural emergency hospital outside of London in 1944.  A Tudor mansion has been refurbished to care for patients with outbuildings rigged up as operating theatres.  Staff sleep in old coach houses and towers.  The intense working hours are not the only reason for stress among staff.  German buzz bombs or V1 rockets are a constant threat.  One of the local postmen is wounded when a bomb falls on a shelter and he requires an operation.  Mr. Higgins dies on the table before the cutting begins under troubling circumstances.  He had made some comment about the anesthetist Dr. Barnes (Trevor Howard, The Third Man) having some nerve to be doing the job.  And whose voice did Higgins recognize before being wheeled into surgery?  The new head of administration, Dr. White (Ronald Adam, The Haunting) would like the whole thing to go away, but Dr. Barnes will not co-operate by resigning. 

Sally Gray, Leo Genn, Rosamund John, Megs Jenkins
 
We discover more about the staff at a jolly party arranged for the good of morale.  The surgeon, Mr. Eden (Leo Genn, Quo Vadis), has a reputation with the ladies.  Barne's fiance Freddie Linley (Sally Gray, The Saint in London) is being swept off her feet by the dashing fellow from Harley Street.  Sister Carter (Wendy Thompson, Stairway to Heaven) is a former flame of Eden's who has been swept aside.  Nurse Sanson (Rosamund John, Spitfire) and Mr. Eden go away back.  Nurse Woods (Megs Jenkins, Oliver!) is honest to the point of bluntness.  There may be some who don't appreciate that characteristic.

A dumped and distraught Sister Carter informs all gathered at the party that murder is afoot and she knows who has done what and can prove it.  Poor Sister doesn't get the opportunity.  Her stabbed body is found in the operating theatre and it is now a job for Scotland Yard.

Alastair Sim as Inspector Cockrill
"My presence lay over the hospital like a pall – I found it all tremendously enjoyable."

Scotland Yard in Green for Danger is represented by Inspector Cockrill as played by Alastair Sim (Stage Fright, A Christmas Carol, The Belles of St. Trinian's).  While the plot, the setting and the fine ensemble of actors make for a excellent whodunnit viewing, it is Sim's droll portrayal that places Green for Danger at the very top.  Sim would work for/with Gilliat and Launder in 13 films altogether starting with 1939s Inspector Hornleigh on Holiday through to 1959s Left Right and Centre.

The story unfolds through the unobtrusive narration of Cockrill's report to his superior at the Yard.  We hear the good Inspector's point of view and we see the Inspector in action.  No one is more confident than our Inspector Cockrill.  No one more observant.  No one more able to strike fear into the hearts of foes.  No one is so able at wrapping up a murder case in a matter of days or of outrunning doodlebugs than Inspector Cockrill.  The puzzle pieces are all there for you.  Will you be able to fit them together as neatly as the Inspector?  Green for Danger is a perfect mystery movie full of delights.  Like a perfect solitaire diamond it stands alone, but how you will wish there were sequels filled with Alastair Sim as Inspector Cockrill.

TCM is screening Green for Danger on Sunday, October 5th at 8:15 am and is a great way to start your day.  I only hope it is a nice, rainy day for you wherever you are.  It will enhance the mysterious atmosphere and the slyly humourous dialogue.  

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Mickey Rooney is The Comedian (1957)



Opening night.  The butterflies.  Checking those lines that refuse to stick in your brain.  Focus.  Focus.  Stop thinking about those fifty chores that have to wait.  Concentrate on the blocking.  You mustn't be an inch out of line.  It's not opening night on Broadway.  It's opening - and closing - night on television.  Live television.  Television's Golden Age.  Kraft Television TheaterArmstrong Circle TheaterThe Philco Television PlayhouseThe United States Steel Hour.  This week, Playhouse 90.


Back:  Edmond O'Brien, Mel Torme
Front:  Constance Ford, Mickey Rooney, Kim Hunter

Announcer:  "From Television City in Hollywood, Playhouse 90.  Tonight starring Mickey Rooney, Edmond O'Brien, Kim Hunter, Mel Torme, Constance Ford.  To introduce tonight's show, Miss Claudette Colbert."

Claudette Colbert:  "Good Evening.  Tonight's Playhouse 90 presents The Comedian.  The story of a ruthless, but fascinating entertainer.  The Comedian is the work of two distinguished writers.  The author of the original story Ernest Lehman, who has written the screenplays for such popular motion pictures as The King and I, Somebody Up There Likes Me and Executive Suite.  The adapter, Rod Serling whose long list of original television dramas includes the award winning Patterns, Forbidden Area and Requiem for a Heavyweight."

AND - away we go.  The director of The Comedian was John Frankenheim (The Manchurian Candidate, Seven Days in May, The Iceman Cometh).  At 27, he was the youngest of the directors associated with Playhouse 90, and its most prolific.  At 37, playing the title character was Mickey Rooney, already a stage and screen veteran of 30 years.  It was early in the TV portion of Mickey's career which would include 76 credits, 5 Emmy nominations and a win in 1982 for Bill.  His first Emmy nomination would be for Actor - Best Single Performance - Lead or Support for playing Sammy Hogarth in The Comedian.  John Frankenheimer was nominated for Best Direction - One Hour or More and Rod Serling would win for Best Teleplay Writing - One Hour or More for Rod Serling.


The door to the studio reminds everyone who's boss.

Sammy Hogarth, described in the introduction as "ruthless, but fascinating" is indeed all that and it took an actor with Mickey Rooney's legendary brand of energy to bring that character to life.  Sammy Hogarth is a star with a star's outsized ego.  He's a bully with power.  He may have had to struggle to get to the top.  He may have buried loneliness and self doubt.  However, the day-to-day Sammy is not a nice man.

A special 90 minute comedy special is in the works and the skits don't work.  Sammy is not happy, and when Sammy is not happy nobody is happy.  A couple of days before air and the only thing working is the monlogue.  Sammy's monologues always work.  Some guys do wife jokes.  Some guys do mothers-in-law jokes.  Sammy has a brother, and that kid brother is a joke.  Mel Torme plays Lester, Sammy's devoted lackey.  One thing Lester has that Sammy hasn't is Julie played by Kim Hunter.  It's not that Sammy hasn't made a play for his sister-in-law, or that she isn't as attracted as she is repulsed, but Julie loves Lester.  She wants this constant publicly whipping of her husband to stop.  If it doesn't stop, she will leave.  Lester is desperate.

Head writer Al Preston is played by Edmond O'Brien.  O'Brien is the heart of our story and the actor with most of the screen time.  Al is just about dried up as a comedy writer.  Secretary Connie played by Constance Ford doesn't care what Al does, she just cares about Al.  Al knows his stuff is gone, but out of sentimentality he has kept in his drawer the work of a young writer who died in the war.  It's good stuff.  Maybe he should pass it off as his own.  Anything to make Sammy happy and get him off his back.  Al is desperate.

Is Sammy oblivious to how those in his circle really feel or does he like being top dog too much to care?  Someone who really irks Sammy is a columnist named Otis Elwell played by Whit Bissell like Addison De Witt with a dash of Waldo Lydecker.  Elwell is looking for a story on Sammy.  He doesn't care what it is as long as it's juicy enough to hopefully be a career breaker.  No love is lost between these two.

All of this heightened emotion and these secrets swirl around the blustering and magnetic Sammy Hogarth as rehearsals go on and show night nears.  King Donovan is The Director and it is a fascinating aspect of the program that we get a glimpse of the backstage atmosphere of live television while enjoying the drama.  Who will survive, and how?  You might be surprised.

We can see Mickey Rooney at all stages of his career thanks to film.  Some of us have the memory of seeing him on stage.  It is the same with his castmates in this Playhouse 90 production.  Each time we watch a film performance or TV guest spot, these departed performers are alive for us once more, giving us their art and creativity.  A performance captured on a night of live television is something extra special, something we can share in a way that is denied us in a movie.  We get to share that opening night.

“This post is part of The getTV Mickey Rooney Blogathon hosted by Once Upon a Screen, Outspoken & Freckled and Paula’s Cinema Club taking place throughout the month of September.  Please visit the getTV schedule for details on Rooney screenings throughout the month and any of the host sites for a complete list of entries.”
 

  

Sunday, September 7, 2014

World War One in Classic Film: Ever in My Heart (1933)


Silent-ology and Movies Silently host World War One in Classic Film, a historical blogathon, on September 6 and 7, 2014.

Byzantine political alliances and colonialism led to the first global conflict in 1914 and today we are still intrigued and horrified by the senseless drama.  The 1932 release Ever in My Heart looks at the domino effect of WWI on those who personally or politically clung to isolationism.  Beulah Marie Dix (The Squaw Man, The Life of Jimmy Dolan) and Bertram Millhauser (The Perils of Pauline, The Spider Woman) wrote the story and screenplay, and the movie was directed by Archie Mayo (The Petrified Forest, Black Legion).  Spoilers abound in this look at Ever in My Heart.

Mary Archer comes from a family with deep pride in their American roots, if little else.  There has long been an understanding between Mary and her cousin Jeff (Ralph Bellamy) and everyone is anticipating a wedding now that Jeff is returning from studies in Europe.  Jeff has brought home a friend from German, Hugo Wilbrandt (Otto Kruger) and for Mary and Hugo it is love at first sight.  We don't see fireworks and hear a choir of angels.  Mary and Hugo look at each other and come together as two halves of a heart that was meant to be one.  The family, including brother Sam (Frank Albertson) and various aunts, are scandalized at Mary's attraction and quick engagement to the stranger.  To the foreigner.  Jeff graciously drops his romantic designs assuring Mary that she will be very happy as Hugo is "a grand fellow".  Jeff will be, for a time, their closest friend.

Gentle and loving vignettes show us the passing of time and the growing of the Wilbrandt's love.  Their courtship and marriage is defined by "their" song, Du, du liegst mir im Herzen, in English You, you are in my heart.  Here is a lovely version of the song on YouTube by Erich Kunz.  Stanwyck and Kruger are often filmed with their faces close together heightening our sense of their oneness.

You, you are in my heart
you, you are in my mind.
You, you cause me much pain,
You don't know how good I am for you.
Yes, yes, yes, yes you don't know how good I am for you.

So, as I love you
So, so love me too.
The most tender desires
I alone feel only for you.
Yes, yes, yes, yes I alone feel only for you.

But, but may I trust you
You, you with a light heart?
You, you know you can rely on me
You do know how good I am!
Yes, yes, yes, yes you do know how good I am!

And, and if in the distance,
it seems to me like your picture, 
Then then I wish so much
that we were united in love.
Yes, yes, yes, yes that we were united in love.

Hugo finds a job as a respected and well-liked college professor in chemistry.  He and Mary share a comfortable home with a precocious bi-lingual son, Teddy (Ronnie Crosby), a pet dachshund, and a devoted housekeeper (Clara Blandick).  The Wilbrandt's share with their friends the joyous occasion when Hugo becomes an American citizen, and those loving friends and colleagues present an engraved loving cup as a gift.

To
Hugo Wilbrandt
In Commemoration of
His Oath of allegiance
to
The United States
from
His Friends and Associates
at
Rossmore College

The incident in the Balkans and ensuing battles fill the newspapers and the public's appetite for gory details and propaganda is insatiable turning neighbour against neighbour, if that neighbour happens to be of German heritage.  When America officially enters the war Hugo loses his position at the college and the loving friends, even family turn out to be of the fair weather brand.  The loving cup is empty.  Illness and starvation come to the little family, and the tragic death of their beloved son.  Even the pet is set upon and killed by youngsters no doubt aping the attitude of their parents.

Eventually Mary's family step in to return her to her rightful place.  They will even find a job for Hugo in the family-run factory if he agrees to change his name.  It is too much for the beaten man who blames their lack of compassion for Teddy's death.  He sends Mary off with the Archers for her own good, but Hugo returns to Germany.  He writes to Mary:

"Think of me and remember that what I do is forced upon me.  They let me be a citizen, but they won't let me be an American.

When you get this, I will be on the ocean.  I am going where I belong - to fight for my people.

Love, 
Hugo"

Heartbroken Mary eventually moves forward by joining the Red Cross as a canteen worker/organizer.  Sam and Jeff are also in the military.  Most telling is a conversation with Jeff in which he expresses the hope that after the conflict they can resume their earlier relationship.  His tone and words are so different from his attitude before the war.  Were these ideas buried or were they created anew by circumstance and propaganda?

Jeff:  "You came out of it just the way I thought you would."
Mary: "Had to."
Jeff:  "And now, here we are again just as before."
Mary:  "Just as before.  With time out for a dream."
Jeff:  "Dream is right.  It never would have worked out, Mary."
Mary:  "Why not?"
Jeff:  "Because you're American and he was German.  Don't forget there was 300 years of Archers behind you before Hugo ever came along.  Folks don't get away from what's bred in their blood and bones."
Mary:  "Maybe you're right."
Jeff:  "I know I'm right."

- SOMEWHERE IN FRANCE -

Mary is in charge of a canteen at a major gathering point for reinforcements.  Sam is somewhere on the line.  Jeff is in charge of the area and wary of German spies.  Mary sees a lone soldier, a familiar back and neck seated at a table.  The years, the disappointment and hate drift away as she walks as through a haze to Hugo.  When Jeff enters the canteen Mary succeeds in diverting his attention from the spy he seeks.  It was natural.  It was instinct.  Hugo comes to Mary's quarters and their reunion is bitter and sweet.  She claims to regret her earlier actions. 

Hugo:  "Have you forgotten everything we had together?  The tears and the laughs."
Mary:  "I won't remember.  I mustn't."

Mary remembers.  She also has a picture of Sam on her dresser and the sight of American soldiers marching outside her window.  Hugo will not be returning to his base with information that night.  That night he and Mary rekindle their dream.  They toast that lost dream in the morning with wine and with poison.  The poison Mary confiscated from canteen volunteers intimidated by propaganda.  Mary can't let Hugo carry out his military duty and she can't live without him.  As Hugo unknowingly drifts away from life, they share their love and their song.  One last time we see those faces close together.

Ever in My Heart works as a quiet domestic drama with a calamitous historical background and a lesson for us all.  The melodramatic finale works as well because of the sensitive and sincere work of actors Stanwyck and Kruger who make us feel their hopelessness in the face of overwhelming circumstances.  It also works because there was nothing subtle about World War One.