Saturday, November 21, 2015

WHAT A CHARACTER! BLOGATHON: Harry Carey and Harry Carey Jr.

Harry Carey
1878 - 1947
Mr. Smith Goes to Washington

Harry Carey is pictured above in his Academy Award nominated performance (Best Supporting Actor) as the President of the Senate in Frank Capra's classic Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.  It is a performance practically free from dialogue, but that is not a problem for the stage actor whose film career dates back to 1910 in the heyday of Biograph Studios and D.W. Griffith.  That face eloquently conveys amusement, concern and encouragement for James Stewart's beleaguered rookie senator filibustering his cause on the floor.  There is no "mugging"; only pure talent and experience.

Harry Carey - Bright Star of the Early Western Sky

John Ford's dedication to his friend and colleague appears at the opening of 1948s 3 Godfathers.   The semi-pro ball player and aficionado of the American west switched a career trajectory that was to follow his father into the courtroom when he had his first show business success.  Harry Carey wrote a western play entitled Montana and toured as its star.  Carey began his screen career at Biograph Studios in the Bronx with D.W. Griffith.  Their first collaboration, of 50 total films, was a western short in 1909 called Bill Sharkey's Last Game.

Carey relocated to Hollywood in 1913 where at Universal Studios he worked at a unit run by Francis Ford, making western shorts.  Dissatisfied with his directors, Harry Carey took an instant liking to Francis' younger brother Jack who worked as a stunt rider, extra and all-round hand at Universal.  The two men, despite their age difference, became friends and Ford learned to become a director working on the "Cheyenne Harry" shorts.  Like most of Ford's relationships, the one with Carey was complicated with its love and loyalty as fierce as its jealousies.  However, it was a defining one for both.

Harry Carey, John Wayne
The Shepherd of the Hills

Carey's "Cheyenne Harry" character was a regular working stiff cowpoke, not one of the fancy shirted fantasy fellows.  He had a very strong following and one of his admirers was the young movie fan who would grow up to be John Wayne with whom Carey worked in four films.  The first was 1941s The Shepherd of the Hills, a Technicolor revenge among the hill folk directed by Henry Hathaway.  Next up is 1942s The Spoilers, the fourth of five (so far) versions of Rex Beach's novel.  Both actors, along with Harry Carey Jr. appear in the 1948 release of Howard Hawks' Red River.  When John Wayne became a producer (Batjac), he starred Harry Carey in the personal project as an old-time marshal called Wistful McClintock in 1947s Angel and the Badman.  The final short of Ethan Edwards framed in the doorway in The Searchers features Wayne using a familiar Carey gesture.  According to Harry Carey Jr. (Saturday Night at the Movies interview), Duke looked off camera at Harry's widow Olive (Mrs. Jorgensen) before turning to walk out the door.

Harry Carey played the title character Trader Horn in the 1930s first "blockbuster" and endured its arduous location shooting in Uganda, Sudan, Kenya, Mexico and the Congo.  He made a lot of B westerns in that decade, including resurrecting "Cheyenne Harry" a couple of times.  In 1932 he starred in Law and Order a very interesting western based on the Tombstone legends by W.R. Burnett and adapted by young John Huston.  More and more throughout the decade Harry Carey was becoming the respected character actor who could moonlight from his B jobs to A pictures including Howard Hawks' Barbary Coast, John Ford's The Prisoner of Shark Island, Wesley Ruggles Valiant is the Word for Carrie, Michael Curtiz's Kid Galahad, Henry Hathaway's Souls at Sea to that Oscar nomination in 1939.  Some of my personal favourites from the 1940s are Beyond Tomorrow, Happy Land, Air Force and So Dear to My Heart.  During the 40s Harry Carey even returned to the stage.  His picture is among the hundreds of performers to be found at Toronto's historic Royal Alexandra Theatre.  He worked there in a tour of Eugene O'Neill's Ah, Wilderness! as "Nat", the understanding father.

Olive Golden Carey
1896 - 1988

Harry Carey married Olive Golden, the young co-star of his western shorts in 1920.  She retired from her career at that time and the couple raised two children, Ella and Harry Carey, Jr.  As Olive Carey she later revived her career and is familiar to audiences today as a revered member of the John Ford Stock Company.

Harry Carey Jr.
1921 - 2012
She Wore a Yellow Ribbon

Harry Jr. grew up on his parents California ranch, fashioned from the imagination of his western buff dad, and the skills he learned as a youngster would be put to good use in his career as a character actor during Hollywood's golden era of westerns.  Acting, however, was not "Dobe's" first choice as a life course.  The nickname, "Dobe" is from adobe, for the lad's pale red coloring.  The goal in his heart was music - opera.  The world is filled with failed Carusos and Galli-Curcis.  We could form quite a club!  History put the kibosh on a lot of plans and Dobe was no exception, joining the Navy in 1941.  He was a medical corpsman in the Pacific until being transferred to the OSS.  Specifically, and against his wishes, Dobe was placed in the photographic unit run by John Ford.  The details of this experience, and of Dobe's movie career are detailed in his 1994 memoir Company of Heroes: My Life as an Actor in the John Ford Stock Company.  Dobe tells his story with candor and warmth.  It is a must-read for fans of the actor and the films of John Ford.

Harry Carey Jr., John Wayne, Pedro Armendariz
3 Godfathers

Dobe's first film role of note is as Dan Latimer, the stuttering cowboy in Howard Hawks' Red River.  It is an excellent showcase for the young actor.  Harry Carey Sr. also appears in Red River, but sadly the two characters never interact.  John Ford's 3 Godfathers, dedicated to Harry Sr., gave Dobe a great co-starring role alongside John Wayne and Pedro Armendariz.  In a trial by fire, Dobe was Ford's whipping boy on that picture and found a friend and protector in John Wayne who had been on the receiving end of the "treatment" on Stagecoach.  The two became lifelong friends, and frequent co-workers, with Dobe idolizing Duke the way Duke had idolized Harry's dad.

Dobe's best work and roles at this time are as part of Ford's stock company.  She Wore a Yellow Ribbon is another fine showcase with Dobe playing a West Pointer with a chip on his shoulder.  One of his post popular is as "Sandy", the naive recruit in Rio Grande.  Sandy's fondness for his newly acquired reply of "yo" is so enjoyed by fans that Dobe used it as part of his e-mail address which he used to reach out to those fans in his later years.  Dobe and Ben Johnson share the same character names, and possibly characters, in Rio Grande and Wagon Master.  Along with Ward Bond in Wagon Master, these character actors are the stars of this gem from Ford.

In The Searchers Dobe plays the tragic Brad Jorgensen with his mother Olive playing Mrs. Jorgensen.  In Two Rode Together he and Ken Curtis are over-the-top nasties.  In The Long Gray Line Dobe plays a young Dwight Eisenhower.

David Stollery, Harry Carey Jr.
"Way out here on the Triple R"

Television would play a large part in Dobe's career with hundreds of appearances, particularly on popular westerns such as Have Gun - Will Travel, Gunsmoke, Wagon Train, Bonanza, Laramie, The Virginian.  There were opportunities to check him out in contemporary fare as well - Perry Mason, Mannix, Run for Your Life, Lassie, Dallas.  Many of us have our fondest memories of Dobe from Disney and The Adventures of Spin and Marty serial (and sequels) from The Mickey Mouse Club where he played camp counsellor Bill Burnett.

"We had faces then" said Norma Desmond in Sunset Boulevard.  Movies depend on faces; faces that become familiar to audiences in a way that requires no thought, just the recognition factor.  Thus, John Ford had his stock company and directors learn that audiences, sometimes subconsciously, demand to see those faces.  Dobe Carey had one of those faces that it was a pleasure to see in Joe Dante's Gremlins, Lindsay Anderson's gentle The Whales of August, Robert Zemeckis' Back to the Future III, set in the old west, in George Cosmatos' epic Tombstone.


Dobe and Marilyn
Married 1944 - 2012

Dobe Carey's wife/widow Marilyn is the daughter of another character actor great, Paul Fix (To Kill a Mockingbird, TVs The Rifleman).  The Careys raised a family of four and became proud grandparents.  Dobe Carey lived to become an elder statesmen in his profession and to know the deep affection of film fans.  Harry Carey Jr. has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, is an inductee of the Western Performers Hall of Fame at the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum and the winner of the Golden Boot award.  Yo!

As welcome as the holidays is the What a Character! blogathon hosted by Once Upon a Screen, Outspoken and Freckled and Paula's Cinema Club, this year running on November 21 - 22 - 23.  Thank you, Aurora, Kellee and Paula.

Thursday, November 19, 2015


The epic Criterion Blogathon continues from November 16-21 courtesy of our hosts Aaron of Criterion Blues, Kristina of Speakeasy and Ruth of Silver Screenings.

The movies have given us many ideas and images of manly cool through the years.  There's Robert Mitchum "Baby, I don't care." cool.  There's John Wayne walking out of the desert with that dog by his side in Hondo cool.  There's Fred Astaire whose simple stroll is a dreamy dance cool.  And then there is Toshiro Mifune cool, particularly, his disreputable looking, wandering ronin.  No one else could make the shrug of a shoulder and a cantankerous glare so downright cool.  We first met this character in 1961s Yojimbo, in which the roaming samurai brings warring crime factions to heel, inspired by Dashiell Hammett's Red Harvest.

Adding to the character's cool is his status as a loner.  This samurai's sword owes allegiance only to his own code.  A natural leader of men, he seeks no followers.  Seeking solitude and rest in what appears to be an abandoned building, circumstances find our hero saddled with a gang.  A group of nine very earnest and very naive fellows have met to discuss the corruption they can no longer bear. Their concerns have been brought to the chamberlain, Mutsuta, who sympathizes and cautions that things are not always as they appear.  Disheartened by that response they consult the slick Superintendent Kikui who agrees to meet with the group to discuss their valid concerns.  The samurai correctly reads the situation in that the chamberlain is the man to trust and the superintendent is bent on wiping out the simple young men.  To save his own skin, the samurai saves the would-be rebels thus creating a nine-headed puppy dog that, despite some hot-headed misgivings, are willing to follow him to the ends of the earth.

The head honcho of the superintendent's syndicate is Hanbei Muroto played by Tatsuya Nakadai and he is a formidable samurai the equal of our hero, though certainly more kempt in appearance.  Measuring the skill and character of each other, it is taken for granted that one day they will meet on the field of honour.

The first order of business is to rescue the chamberlain who is by now surely under the control of the wily superintendent.  Too late to save the kidnapped politico, the ragtag group rescues instead Mutsuta's wife (Takako Irie) and daughter (Reiko Dan).  If our hero was perturbed by his unlikely and cumbersome crew, he is quietly fuming about the addition of women to watch over.  The older lady is a lady, not used to exertion and given to overly polite behavior in inappropriate situations.  She's rather like a Gracie Allen plopped in the middle of an action movie.  Like Gracie, she may appear scattered upon first glance, but she is a woman of immense sense with an ability to put things, and people, in their proper place.  Mrs. Mutsuta likens her rescuer to an unsheathed sword that glistens from too much use.  "I hesitate to say this after you so kindly rescued us, but killing people is a bad habit."

Our ronin cannot help but agree, but a man's gotta do what a man's gotta do.  He curbs his natural inclinations and turns the joke on himself when asked his name.  Referring to the profusion of camellias in a neighbouring house where the chamberlain is being held, he says his name should mean 30 year old camellia, but he is actually 40.  If that is as straight an answer as he will give, that is what Mrs. Mutsuta accepts.

Retrieving the kidnapped chamberlain will put an end to Kikui's plan to use a false confession of corruption to obtain control of the clan.  It will also put the kibosh on Muroto's plan to turn on his master.  Mutsuto however is too shrewd to bow to his captor's wishes and this causes worry and discord among those who would unjustly usurp power.  The game is now one of trickery, false trails and the excessive violence which Mrs. Mutsuto has feared.  Would the chamberlain's plan to handle the situation diplomatically have worked without the interference of his nephew and his friends?  Perhaps.  Or do the actions of violent, desperate men demand a solution in the same mode?

The master storyteller Akira Kurosawa gives us this grandly entertaining action and character study in a tidy 96 minutes.  The terribly beautiful killings and seriousness of the political plot is leavened by some truly enjoyable humour and heart.  This humour springs from character's actions, reactions and attitudes, ably assisted by the musical score.  Each instance that reveals depths of character becomes a favourite scene among many.  I have a special fondness for the fate of a kidnapped guard who desperately wants to be considered one of our gang, keeps insinuating himself into the group by coming out of his prison in the closet only to be told with affronted looks to return to his proper place.

There is a popular opinion that perfection is never achieved.  I disagree with that.  I have had a perfect lemon meringue pie, occasionally worn the perfect outfit and have seen more than one movie which I would easily describe as "perfect".  Sanjuro is such a movie where all the ingredients are blended with precision and care to create the lemon meringue pie of samuai stories.

The Criterion Blogathon
Day 1:  Monday, November 16
Day 2:  Tuesday, November 17
Day 3:  Wednesday, November 18
Day 4:  Thursday, November 19
Day 5:  Friday, November 20
Day 6:  Saturday, November 21

Saturday, November 7, 2015

SWASHATHON: The Son of Monte Cristo (1940)

She's at it again!  Fritzi of Movies, Silently is hosting the "Swashathon", a blogathon devoted to derring-do in classic film.  The festival runs from November 7th to the 9th.

The introduction to 1940s The Son of Monte Cristo takes us to tiny, but proud Lichtenburg, the jewel of the Balkans in 1865.  The country, we are told, is steeped in the ancient traditions of romance and chivalry - so too is our story.

George Sanders, Joan Bennett

Above is the villain of our piece, General Gurko Lanen, menacing the Grand Duchess Zona.  George Sanders plays General Lanen with his usual suave surety, excepting scenes where he lays his heart on the line to the disinterested (putting it mildly) Grand Duchess played by Joan Bennett.  General Lanen is the son of a stone mason who has a dream of becoming master of Lichtenburg and Zona.  The first goal is within his grasp, and he will stop at nothing to achieve the second.  It will take an unusually brave hero to fight General Lanen.  In fact seeing as it is George Sanders, it will take a whole group of heroes before country and crown is rescued.

Rand Brooks, Clayton Moore, Henry Brandon, Louis Hayward

Saint vs. Saint.  George Sanders was a very busy actor in Hollywood in the late 30s and early 40s with series such as "The Saint", "The Falcon" and features that include Confessions of a Nazi Spy, Man Hunt (co-starring Joan Bennett), Foreign Correspondent and Rebecca.  Louis Hayward was the first actor to play Simon Templar on screen in 1938s The Saint in New York.  His swashbuckling Hollywood debut in 1936s Anthony Adverse marked him as a stalwart in such roles, but his diverse career also includes such titles as Ladies in Retirement, And Then There Were None, Repeat Performance, Walk a Crooked Mile and House by the River.

A chance encounter with Zona of Lichtenburg finds our young hero totally smitten.  Being the son of the fabled Count of Monte Cristo, young Edmund has inherited his father's hatred of tyranny and  Dantes Jr. flings himself into the Lichtenburg cause joining a group of underground freedom fighters.

I mentioned a gaggle of heroes, didn't I?  The leader of the group is an army lieutenant Fritz Dorner played by 26-year-old Clayton Moore (The Lone Ranger).  It's Moore's familiar voice, but without a mask, and he's a real baby-face.  A hothead who uses the power of the press is Hans Mirbach played by 22-year-old Rand Brooks (Gone With the Wind).  Within the decade Brooks would don the hero sidekick cowboy hat as Lucky Jenkins in the Hopalong Cassidy series.  Briefly (all too briefly) we see Ralph Byrd (Dick Tracy) as prisoner William Gluck who figuratively spits in Lanen's eye.  Henry Brandon (Babes in Toyland, The Searchers) plays the brave, but doomed Lt. Schultz.  

Hayward, who co-starred with Joan Bennett in 1939s The Man in the Iron Mask wherein he played the dual role of arrogant king and tormented twin brother, here takes on three personas.  In order to get inside the palace, Dantes adopts the guise of a foolish fop who must endure Zona's scorn to appear harmless to Lanen.  He also becomes a masked avenger known as The Torch who has a way with a sword and a way of stirring things up.  The Torch leaves a cryptic note for the General who comments:  "This man is dangerous.  He has a sense of humour."  Love that line.  The Son of Monte Cristo is a fun mix of political machinations, romance, secret tunnels, leaping and sword fighting with an appealing hero and a hissable villain.  Who could ask for anything more?

Excelling among the supporting cast are Florence Bates as the Grand Duchess' confidante, Montagu Love as an honourable prime minister and Ian Mac Wolfe (the only time I've seen Ian Wolfe billed as such) as a two-faced, rat of a spy.  Also, keep your eyes peeled for Dwight Frye as the Russian ambassador's secretary.

Rowland V. Lee directed The Son of Monte Cristo.  You may be familiar with some of these titles from Lee's 25-year film directing career.  Zoo in Budapest starring Loretta Young, The Count of Monte Cristo starring Robert Donat, 1935s The Three Musketeers, One Rainy Afternoon with Ida Lupino and Francis Lederer, Son of Frankenstein with Bela Lugosi as Ygor, Tower of London with Boris Karloff as Mord, and The Bridge of San Luis Rey from Thornton Wilder's novel.  

The Count of Monte Cristo, our feature and Toast of New York with Edward Arnold as Diamond Jim Brady are the three films Lee made with independent producer Edward Small (1892-1977).  Small entered the industry as a teenager by working as an artist's representative.  He began producing films in the 1920s and continued to do so until 1970.  His name is a familiar one to those of us who grew up glued to the television whenever an old movie was scheduled.  Edward Small had a hand in many favourite adventure tales, sci-fi, film-noir and comedies.  Check out these titles:  The Last of the Mohicans, The Corsican Brothers, Brewster's Millions, Raw Deal, Kansas City Confidential, Walk a Crooked Mile, It! The Terror from Beyond Space, etc.  Between 1938 and 1948, Small and leading man Louis Hayward collaborated on seven features, the majority of them being swashbucklers.  I've had the impression that even though movies were his business, Edward Small was one of us - a movie fan.

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Caftan Woman's Choice: One for November on TCM

Henry Hathaway's 1947 feature Kiss of Death is one of a spate of post-war crime dramas from the director, many of which can be classified film-noir, most embodying the popular docu-drama style.  In quick succession Hathaway made The Dark Corner, The House on 92nd Street, 13 Rue Madeleine, Call Northside 777 and Kiss of Death.  The cinematography, so important to the mood of the films, on 13 Rue Madeleine, The House on 92nd Street and Kiss of Death is by Oscar nominee and Emmy winner Norbert Brodine.

Career criminal Nick Bianco has always played the game by gangland rules.  He'll even keep quiet about doing a stretch on the proviso that his wife and two daughters are properly cared for.  After three years in Sing Sing, Nick discovers that his pals, represented by Taylor Holmes (Nightmare Alley) as lawyer Earl Howser, may not be strictly above board.  A hood named Rizzo has been the cause of Nick's wife suicide and now his children are in an orphanage.  It is time to take a deal once offered by Assistant District Attorney Louis D'Angelo played by Brian Donlevy (The Big Combo).  Nick is willing to turn informant for the chance to be a father to his girls and more to Nettie played by Coleen Gray (The Killing), a young woman who has long harboured feelings for him. 

Nick is played by the underrated Victor Mature, who was generally the first to deride his career, before the critics had their fun ("Actually, I'm a golfer.  That is my real occupation.  I never was an actor.  Ask anybody, particularly the critics.")  I think he should have been able to point with pride to his performance here, in the classic My Darling Clementine and in winning comedies such as Footlight Serenade  ("I'm an emotional actor. When I'm doing a scene, I really believe it, I live the part as long as I'm in the scene.").  Mature brings a great deal of that emotion to Nick Bianco.  The audience has to root for him, to feel events through him and it is his grounded performance to which Kiss of Death owes much of its success.

Victor Mature, Coleen Gray

Coleen Gray (co-star):  "It's the best thing Victor ever did.  But I have a feeling that because Richard Widmark was so good Victor may have had a little bit more of a prod."

Fulfilling his deal with the D.A. places Nick in the orbit of an unstable mob enforcer.  Kiss of Death may be most notable for the character of Tommy Udo and his portrayer, Richard Widmark (No Way Out).  A radio and stage actor for ten years, Widmark made his impressive screen debut as Udo, a man who lives for mayhem, particularly that of his own creation. 

Richard Widmark

Henry Hathaway (director):  "I have a very strange feeling about the part.  The only man that I'm scared of is a hophead.  I'm nervous around 'em.  I'm scared of 'em.  I don't know what the hell they're gonna do.  They're unpredictable, they're vicious.  They're not themselves any more.  They're psychotic.  They're crazy."

Udo is a maniac.  Even audiences who haven't seen the film are familiar with the scene between Widmark and Mildred Dunnock (The Trouble With Harry) which involves a staircase and a wheelchair.  It is the stuff of movie legend.

Richard Widmark was nominated for a Best Supporting Actor Oscar for his debut.  It would be his only nomination in a distinguished career.  The winner of the award at the 1948 ceremony was Edmund Gwenn for Miracle on 34th Street.  The other nominees were Charles Bickford for The Farmer's Daughter and, also their only career nominations, Thomas Gomez in Ride the Pink Horse and Robert Ryan in Crossfire.

Elwy Yost (interviewer):  "When I look at you I think of that laugh in Kiss of Death which chilled me and still does all down the years - that terrible laugh.  I met someone who said 'he laughs like that'. 

Richard Widmark:  "When we were little my brother and I used to go to the movies in Princeton, Illionois and we'd cut up enjoying the pictures.  The audience would say 'Well, the Widmark boys are here.'  We were trouble with bad laughs."

TCM is screening Kiss of Death on Monday, November 16th at 10:00 pm as part of a six film salute to Victor Mature.

Gray, Hathaway and Widmark quotes are from TVOntario's Saturday Night at the Movies.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

THE UNIVERSAL BLOGATHON: Werewolf of London (1935)

The hostesses with the mostesses that we know as the Metzinger Sisters of SILVER SCENES present The Universal Blogathon to commemorate the studios 100th anniversary.  The party, which is described as being a howling good time, runs from October 29th to 31st and HERE is your invitation.

Movie buffs have their sacred traditions.  Christmas Eve belongs to Alastair Sim as Scrooge.  St. Patrick's Day is commonly accepted as The Quiet Man Day.  October 3rd is Werewolf of London Day to celebrate the shared birthdate of Warner Oland (1879-1938) and Henry Hull (1890-1977), the two character actors with star billing in the 1935 Universal release.

The infection and the antidote.

Dr. Wilfred Glendon is a botanist with a single-minded thirst for adventure.  He travels to Tibet in search of a rare flower, the mariphasa, which blooms by the light of the moon.  The only example of this blossom is in a mysterious valley shunned by all who know of it.  Porters refuse to continue on the journey.  Glendon insists and persists and goes where no man has gone before.  Dr. Glendon not only finds the flower, but has an encounter with a strange beast that leaves him with a scar and ... something else.

Wilfred secludes himself in his London laboratory with only his aid Hawkins (J.M. Kerrigan) allowed entry.  He is trying to coax the mariphasa plant to bloom under manufactured moonlight.  He is a driven man who cuts himself off from all society, even that of his pretty young wife Lisa (Valerie Hobson).

A triangle forms.
Henry Hull, Valerie Hobson, Lester Mattews

The Botanical Society presents many of Dr. Glendon's choice plants at an exhibition and tea which he tries to shun.  Among the many guests are Paul Ames (Lester Matthews), an old friend and sweetheart of Lisa's.  Paul's aunt, the crotchety dowager duchess type, Lady Forsythe (Charlotte Granville).  Lisa's Aunt, a society butterfly, Ettie Coombes (Spring Byington) and Dr. Yogami (Warner Oland), a fellow botanist who wishes to consult Dr. Glendon.

Glendon and Yogami have much in common.  It was Yogami, transformed into a werewolf, who attacked Glendon in Tibet.  Now Glendon faces the same fate of lycanthropy.  It is only the sap from the mariphasa plant which provides a temporary antidote to the curse.  Yogami is a tortured soul whose own attempts to grow the plant have met with failure.  Glendon, who has yet to experience a transformation, is skeptical.

Small talk about Fate and lost souls.
Warner Oland, Spring Byington

Dr. Glendon, like Stevenson's Dr. Jekyll, walks the streets of London transformed into something not wolf and not man, but a satanic creature with the worst qualities of both.  This was Dr. Yagami's description and the man knew of which he spoke.  A slightly inebriated Ettie Coombs comes face to face with the monster.  Ettie survives, but a hapless stroller in nearby Goose Lane is horribly mangled and the case falls to Lady Forsythe's son, the head of Scotland Yard Sir Thomas Forsythe (Lawrence Grant).  Paul Ames speaks of a werewolf murder he heard of in South American.  Poppycock!  Dr. Yogami implores the Yard's assistance in retrieving the last remaining mariphasa from Dr. Glendon or London will face an epidemic that will leave it a shambles.  Yogami has a way with words.  Forsythe dismisses the supernatural nonsense.

A couple of swells.
Ethel Griffies and Zeffie Tilbury

Wilfred becomes more estranged from Lisa and Lisa grows more attached to Paul.  Wilfred attempts to isolate himself in a rooming house.  He is without hope and forced to commit yet another horrible murder.  The audience, however, is relieved of his singular despair by the best comic relief team in any horror film from any studio.  The landlady Mrs. Moncaster (Zeffie Tilbury) and her bosom friend Mrs. Whack (Ethel Griffies) are a couple of nosy old soaks who think nothing of bashing each other about and insulting each other in a most endearing manner.

Fate has decreed the end for both Glendon and Yogami.  We can but hope for the well being of those in their midst.

There's a bad moon on the rise.
Henry Hull

I am a fan of the screenplay by John Colton (Rain, The Shanghai Gesture).  You can tell by the examples above that Dr. Yagami is prone to be flowery, yet he remains sincere.  The humour in the characters is appropriate to their class and backgrounds, be it the flighty Ettie Coombes or the earthy Mrs. Whack and Mrs. Moncaster.  Lisa Glendon gets to combine her loving wife side with the headstrong individual she was previous to marriage.  Each character is a distinct individual and the cast, even in the tiniest roles, is given due consideration under otherwise unremarkable director Stuart Walker.  Karl Hajos provided the moody score for Werewolf of London.  The composer/conductor was nominated twice for the Academy Award for the comedy The Man Who Walked Alone in 1945 and the crime drama Summer Storm in 1946.

Jack Pierce's make-up for this early incarnation of the werewolf is less layered and intense than what will come in 1940s The Wolf Man.  Wilfred Glendon can bundle up in a hat, scarf and turned up collar and roam the streets of London at will.  He is most definitely not human, but just what sort of beast is he?

Nursing the mariphasa lumina lupita.
J.M. Kerrigan

My favourite aspect of Werewolf of London is the cinematography by Charles Stumar.  The mariphasa plant glowing against the mountains in Tibet or the darkened London laboratory.  The gloom of the den where Glendon first transforms into the creature.  There is an hypnotic, almost comforting aspect to the look of the film.  It is very familiar to fans as Stumar, who sadly died in a plane crash at age 44 the year of this film's release, was responsible for the "look" of The Raven, The Mummy and other Universal pictures going back through 1923's The Hunchback of Notre Dame.  1923 was Stumar's first year at Universal in a career that began in Hollywood in 1917.

Werewolf of London is a treat any time of year, but I find it works best in the cool of October, for character lead birthdates and Hallowe'en.


Saturday, October 24, 2015

The Silent Cinema blogathon: 3 Bad Men (1926)

"My name is John Ford and I make Westerns."

Director John Ford's introduction of himself at a meeting where he shamed those behind Hollywood's black list says a lot about the man and his image.  His treatment of the west as history and as a platform for storytelling is indelible, despite his artistic and box office success in other areas (The Grapes of Wrath, The Quiet Man, etc.).  Following his older brother actor/director Francis Ford to Hollywood, young "Jack" worked as a stunt rider and actor before moving behind the camera on popular western fare, mostly featuring star Harry Carey, in 1917 at the age of 23.  Movies seem made for westerns with their outdoor vistas making thrilling backgrounds for stories of adventure and hardship.  The 1926 release 3 Bad Men was Ford's last western of the decade and he would not make another until Stagecoach in 1939.

George O'Brien as Dan O'Malley

Herman Whitaker's 1916 novel Over the Border was the basis for the movie.  The books setting was in the contemporary time period in Mexico.  The characters and plot of 3 Bad Men remains the same though moving the action to the Dakota in 1877.  Fox Studios originally considered an all-star western cast of Buck Jones, Tom Mix and George O'Brien as the title characters.  Director Ford felt the story would be better served by character actors and had his way.  George O'Brien was cast as Dan O'Malley, the young romantic lead, and his strong likability factor made him a perfect choice.

Olive Borden as Lee Carlton

Gold is discovered in the Black Hills and the Sioux are displaced from their land in favour of speculators and settlers.  Among the travelers is southerner Lee Carlton played by beautiful Olive Borden, aged 20 and at the height of her career.  Lee and her father are taking a string of thoroughbred race horses to assist in their bid for Dakota land.  Along the way they meet "My name and address is Dan O'Malley" (title card) and sparks fly between the young couple.

Lou Tellegen as Sheriff Layne Hunter
Tom Santschi as "Bull" Stanley

The destination for those on the wagon train is a newly sprung up town near to the land rush location.  The town is under the control of a crooked sheriff played by Lou Tellegen.  He's a killer with the ladies, especially the sweet Millie played by Priscilla Bonner (The Red Kimona, The Strong Man) to whom he has promised marriage.  Sheriff Layne Hunter is also a killer in the true sense of the word and has total command of a gang of outlaws who harass the common citizens. 

Tom Santschi, J. Farrell MacDonald, Frank Campeau as
"Bull" Stanley, Mike Costigan and "Spade" Allen

Our 3 Bad Men are "Bull" Stanley, Mike Costigan and "Spade" Allen.  Stanley is played by Tom Santschi and his affecting performance is the core of this film's success.  An imposing figure on screen Santschi was a director with 50 shorts to his credit and an actor who specialized in villains.  J. Farrell MacDonald plays the perpetually soused Costigan and his map of the Old Sod face was made for his close-ups.  Frank Campeau plays "Spade" Allen a gambler who, in all likelihood, has fallen on bad times.  He sports an incongruous top hat in memory of better days. 

The outlaws attempt to rob the Carlton's of their fine horses, but their timing is a bit off.  Sheriff Hunter's gang also plans the same job.  The arrival of our 3 "heroes" frightens away the townsmen after the death of Lee's father.  "Bull" is about to put a bullet into the back of what appears to be a young man by the body when Lee removes her hat revealing her true self.  Immediately "Bull" is struck by what he has almost done.  Lee looks up to "Bull" and the others as her saviors and from that moment on that is what they truly become.  "Bull" is not only a man on the run from the law.  He is looking for the man, as yet unknown, who took his baby sister, Millie, from home.  Until "Bull"he finds Millie, Lee becomes that sister who needs his protection.

A great moment for the trio is when Sheriff Hunter tries to put the moves on Lee once they hit town.  Hunter discloses the identities of the three and Lee stands up for them as "her men".  It will be a while yet before "Bull" realizes his Millie is also in this very town.  Currently working on the Lee situation, "Bull" determines that they should find her a husband.  A comic search attempt for such a creature carried out by Mike and "Spade" does not yield any likely candidates.  "Bull", however, runs into the scrappy Dan who is fighting for Millie's honour at the local saloon.  Lee and Dan let the fellows think they are truly Cupid's helpers. 

Tom Santschi as "Bull"
Priscilla Bonner as Millie

The Hunter group murder an old prospector for the information he holds as to the location of a gold strike.  The settlers have had enough and in the course of fighting back there is a fire in the saloon.  The sheriff exhorts his band to retaliate by burning a newly built church.  Millie rushes to warn the preacher and women at the church and his fatally injured in the attack.  "Bull" channels his grief into vengeance.

The Land Rush sequence.  This is not CGI.

The Carltons have the map to the gold mine as a legacy from the murdered prospector.  Layne Hunter and his cutthroats stick close to the Carlton's during the land rush with nothing but destruction and thievery on their minds.  It is up to 3 Bad Men to become avengers and protectors, and redeem their souls.

Three Guardian Angels

3 Bad Men is an epic western from Ford, whose work at Fox in these days ranged from quickies to the opportunity to truly stretch his artistic muscles.  The film moves physically and emotionally.  It has grand adventure, with the land rush sequence being particularly memorable.  It has heart and humour and romance - just the right amounts of each, for a dazzling entertainment on its own and a glimpse into future treasures from John Ford.

The Silent Cinema blogathon (October 24 - 26) is co-hosted by Crystal of In the Good Old Days of Classic Hollywood and Lauren Champkin.  Click HERE for a treasure trove of fabulous films.


Tuesday, October 20, 2015

CMBA Fall blogathon - Planes, Trains and Automobiles: Sleepers West (1941)

The Classic Movie Blog Association is proud to present Planes, Trains and Automobiles, running from October 19th to the 24th. Please turn to this site for the blogs and dates listed to travel around the world through classic film!

All aboard!

Sol Wurtzel was the executive in charge of the 20th Century Fox B unit in the 1930s and 1940s.  Beginning with the company as an assistant to William Fox, Wurtzel relocated from New York to Hollywood in 1917.  He is credited with "discovering" John Ford, who gave the eulogy at Wurtzel's 1958 funeral.  20th Century Fox's pictures during this era included starring vehicles for Shirley Temple and Will Rogers, lavish musicals like Alexander's Ragtime Band, historical epics like In Old Chicago and respected dramas like Young Mr. Lincoln.  All of these were supported by the finest B unit in Hollywood under Sol Wurtzel's supervision.

Seems like old times.
Lloyd Nolan, Lynn Bari

Efficiently produced and entertaining series with established characters such as Charlie Chan, Mr. Moto and Michael Shane were profitable for the studio and provided a testing ground for young acting contractees, directors, writers and cinematographers.  The low budget fare can boast the same attention to quality of production values as their higher budgeted siblings.  To this day the films from this B unit retain their individuality and power to entertain.

Uncooperative witness.
Lloyd Nolan, Mary Beth Hughes

Earl Derr Bigger's Charlie Chan and J.P. Marquend's Mr. Moto did the heavy serial lifting in the 30s with Brett Halliday's (real name Davis Dresser) private eye Michael Shayne coming aboard in 1940.  Popular player Lloyd Nolan first brought Shayne to life on screen.  Born in San Francisco, Nolan cut his acting teeth at the Pasadena Playhouse and in 1929 made his Broadway debut in the ensemble of a revue called Cape Cod Follies.  It closed in less than a month.  That early start would be repeated a few times before he made a success as Biff Grimes in James Hagan's One Sunday Afternoon.  In 1954 he would return to Broadway as Lt. Commander Queeg in Herman Wouk's The Caine Mutiny Court Martial.  In 1955 he would win a Primetime Emmy Award for his performance of that role on Ford Star Jubilee.

How do they expect the train to get in on time with all these delays!
Ralph Dunn, Oscar O'Shea

1935's G-Men was Lloyd Nolan's first film, but his professionalism and ease in front of the camera made him a natural.  Lloyd Nolan is fondly remembered for performances in A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, Bataan, The Street With No Name and hundreds of television roles including his Emmy nominated role of Dr. Chegley in the television milestone Julia.  In 1940 he signed on for Michael Shayne: Private Detective, one of 10 pictures Lloyd Nolan released in that year.  He made the wise-cracking, lives-by-his-own-code PI a most appealing character combining toughness, street smarts and humour.

Trains are great places for snoops - I mean, investigative reporters.
Lynn Bari

Sol Wurtzel produced a 1934 film based on Frederick Nebel's successful novel Sleeper's East starring Preston Foster, Wynne Gibson and Mona Barrie.  Nebel, along with Dashiell Hammett, was the king of the hard-boiled crowd that graced the pulpy pages of Black Mask.  Sleepers East was published in 1933 and was very well received.  It is not a straight-forward mystery, but a Grand Hotel-esque tale of disparate characters thrown together on a train including a mobster's lawyer, a private eye, the railroad dick, a reluctant witness, and a runaway husband.  The second of seven Michael Shayne movies released in this series is a 1941 reworking of Sleepers East entitled Sleepers West.  Eugene Ford, director of half a dozen Chan pictures, plus the Jeeves series and three of the Shayne entries handled that chore for Sleepers West.

Trains are great incubators for rumours.
Sam McDaniel, Charles R. Moore, Fred Toones, Jesse Graves, Edward Brophy

The No. 10 aka The Comanche is loading passengers at the Denver train station for its trip to San Francisco.  Mike Shayne, private detective, appears to be traveling alone, but is secretly escorting a surprise witness to an important trial.  An ex-con is being railroaded by a crime boss with political connections and ambitions.  Mary Beth Hughes (The Great Flamarion) is the little lady who can bust the case wide open.  Also on the trip is Lynn Bari (Orchestra Wives) as Kay Bentley, a reporter based in Denver.  She and Mike go way back, each having left the other at the altar more than once.  They share the comfortable and sarcastic bantering so common in films of the era.  The affectionate insults are handled with a surety that is a joy to see and hear.  Kay is accompanied by her fiance Tom Linscott played by Donald Douglas (Murder, My Sweet).  He is a lawyer employed by that ambitious San Francisco politician mentioned earlier.  Things could get complicated.

Secrets can be hidden or exposed during a train wreck.
Lynn Bari, Lloyd Nolan

Once the train gets underway, we are joined by late arrivals and emergency pick-ups.  The railroad detective played by Edward Brophy (Dumbo) has been called in to work at the last minute.  He has no idea what his assignment entails, but imagines it must be something big.  A shady PI played by Don Costello (Another Thin Man) is on the job for that ambitious San Francisco politician who keeps popping up.  Complication upon complication.  Louis Jean Heydt (The Great McGinty) is a straight arrow looking for adventure.  Brother, you have come to the right place!

Department of missed opportunities:  The No. 10 is graced with a number of porters, among them is top-billed Ben Carter and uncredited Mantan Moreland.  If vaudevillians Carter and Moreland performed their incomplete sentence routine for Sleepers West, it was left on the cutting room floor.  If they weren't even provided the opportunity then it was a rare false step by the Wurtzel unit.

These passengers with their secrets and agendas, collide and confuse each other with threats and tricks.  With a man's life at stake in a San Francisco courtroom and relationships in the balance Sleepers West is one wild and memorable movie train ride.

BONUS TRACK:  ("Track."  Get it?  Ha!)

Ben Carter and Mantan Moreland do their incomplete sentence act in two of the Chan pictures from Monogram, 1945s The Scarlet Clue and 1946s Dark Alibi, assisted by sly Sidney Toler and befuddled Benson Fong.

The Classic Movie Blog Association e-book Planes, Trains and Automobiles is available for free on Smashwords or $ .99 on Amazon with proceeds going to film preservation.