Caftan Woman

Caftan Woman

Monday, July 25, 2016

BROADWAY TO HOLLYWOOD starring Shirley Booth, Joan Blondell and special guest star Katharine Hepburn

Two actresses born on August 30th share a career and two roles.  Both were born in New York City and started Broadway careers in the 1920s.  One was whisked away to Hollywood in 1930 and appeared in over 90 films.  The other only made a handful of movies, the first one in 1952.

Shirley Booth

When fans think of Shirley Booth it is likely their first image is of Hazel, the sitcom maid based on Ted Key's comic in the Saturday Evening Post, which ran 1961 to 1966, and then in syndication for kids to catch after school.  Perhaps Lola Delaney in Come Back, Little Sheba or Dolly Levi in The Matchmaker.

Joan Blondell

When fans think of Joan Blondell, whose film and TV work is more extensive, their first image may run the gamut from Lottie, the saloon keeper on Here Come the Brides which ran from 1968 to 1970 or the saucy, naughty gal of Warner Brothers 1930s output.  The studio kept her very, very busy.  At first glance the two actresses have little in common, but let's look a little bit closer.

William Lynn and Shirley Booth
Three Men on a Horse

Opening in 1935 George Abbott and John Cecil Holm's comedy Three Men on a Horse was a major hit that ran for over 800 performances.  It is the story of a simple writer of greeting card verses with a knack for choosing winning race horses.  Two denizens of that world take advantage of our hero, Erwin, keeping him from hearth and home to fatten their pocketbooks.  The scheme's mastermind has a ditzy girlfriend named Mabel who is enthralled with Erwin's poetic nature.  Oh, if his wife ever found out!  Shirley Booth starred as Mabel.

Before the play finished its run in New York, Warner Brothers released the film version of Three Men on a Horse.  Sam Levene came from the New York Company and Joan Blondell played the very scatterbrained Mabel.  Joan's sister Gloria, played a hotel maid in the Broadway show.  Three Men on a Horse is an exceptional farce that has enjoyed many Broadway revivals, most recently in 2011.  Joan Blondell's characterization is outside the normal wisecracking dame that the studio usually handed her, and she's great fun.

Joan Blondell as Aunt Cissy

Betty Smith's 1943 novel A Tree Grows in Brooklyn was a great popular success and the 1944 film release from Twentieth Century Fox was the film directing debut of Elia Kazan.  Joan Blondell played the character of the beloved Aunt Cissy; warm and loving, tough and practical, vulnerable Cissy.  Miss Blondell's work is exemplary and how she managed to avoid an Academy Award nomination is a mystery.

Shirley Booth as Aunt Cissy

In 1951 a musical version of A Tree Grows in Brooklyn with songs by Arthur Schwartz and Dorothy Fields and starring Shirley Booth as Cissy.  Shirley had won the second of three Tony Awards the previous season for Come Back, Little Sheba.  An Oscar would come her way for the same role shortly.

Katharine Hepburn

Shirley Booth and Katharine Hepburn also shared a journey on their career paths.

Frank Fenton, Joseph Cotten, Katharine Hepburn, Van Heflin, Shirley Booth

The 1939 Philip Barry play The Philadelphia Story ran for over 400 performances and gave Katharine Hepburn a great personal success starring as Tracy Lord.  Shirley Booth co-starred as Elizabeth Imbrie, the photographer played by Ruth Hussey in the film with Hepburn.

In 1952 Shirley Booth won the Tony Award starring in The Time of the Cuckoo by Arthur Laurents.  Katharine Hepburn was nominated for an Oscar starring in the film version entitled Summertime in 1955 directed by David Lean.  The play and film is the moving story of the unexpected romantic adventure of a spinster traveling in Italy.

Opening in 1955 and running for almost 300 performances, Shirley Booth starred as Bunny Watson in The Desk Set.  The office comedy and romance centers on the threat of automation to clerical staff.  The 1957 movie Desk Set co-starred Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy and featured Joan Blondell.

Three unique actresses of great skill crossing paths on that road from Broadway to Hollywood and back again.

Monday, July 18, 2016

A ROAD HOUSE (1948) Visit

On TVs Leave It to Beaver, Ward asked his eldest son Wally why he hung out with the often overly slick Eddie Haskell.  After thinking it over Wally replied "Gee Dad, a guy's gotta have a best friend."

I guess all of us have that friend that leans a little toward the psycho side.  In the case of Pete Morgan (Cornel Wilde) in Jean Negulesco's Road House that friend is "Jefty" - Jefferson T. Robbins (Richard Widmark).

Jefty is the scion of the first family of their middle-sized city somewhere outside of Chicago and not far from the Canadian border.  What Jefty doesn't own isn't worth talking about.  The hub of the social life of the area is "Jefty's" road house - a combination restaurant, nightclub, bar, sporting goods retailer and bowling alley.  Kids looking to connect and cut loose and guys looking to get drunk make up most of the clientele.  And there is musical entertainment.  In his travels Jefty finds and supports female talent by hiring them for his place and striking up personal relationships.  While Jefty floats, Pete does the grunt work as manager of the joint.  Pete is in charge of everything from cash to sweeping up.  He's also in charge of personnel and that includes quietly getting rid of Jefty's hired acts when they have worn out their welcome.  You can imagine Pete is less than thrilled when another songbird ends up on his doorstep.  It's the old routine all over again.  Or is it?

Pete and Lily
Do you think this will lead to anything?

Lily Stevens (Ida Lupino) is nobody's fool and nobody's pushover.  It took her a long time and a lot of living to become her own woman and she is protective of the achievement.  Jefty senses the something different in this one and is intrigued.  Pete is not so quick to warm to this difference and Lily has to take him down a peg or two.  Now, that catches his attention.  On one hand that's a shame because gal pal Karen (Celeste Holm), who works at the club has been Pete's fallback girlfriend, but sadly she reads the writing on the wall.  Jefty is not so astute.

Jefty's absence of a week leaves Pete and Lily free to explore their feelings for one another and those feelings run deep.  They flirt and fight to the strains of bluesy jazz in the nightclub.  They reveal their inner thoughts and kiss the kiss of commitment to the sound of classical music on the radio.  It's the real deal.

Pete, Lily and Karen
Caught in a trap.

There had been nothing serious between Lily and Jefty so Pete is blissfully unaware of any problems in their path.  Lily has noted the off-kilter look in Jefty's eyes and his mood swings.  She has felt the undercurrent of something manic in his conversation.  Lily anticipates nothing but trouble.  Karen gets it.  It's a girl thing.  We can see a psycho for miles.

Jefty is all smiles and good cheer at the news about his friends.  He's just tickled.  They want to leave town - no problem.  It's a free country.  Only it is tough to leave town when you've been framed for stealing from the road house.  Tough to leave town when the court convicts.  Tough to leave town when Jefty pleads with the judge to be lenient with his friend Pete.  Release him, your honour, in my custody.  A big man like Jefty can pull strings like that and Pete's probation and Lily's Purgatory is  set.

Pete, Lily and Jefty
A quiet evening at home among friends.

Jefty's needling starts to wear cracks in Pete and Lily's resolve.  Jefty is a master at driving these two to distraction with his hints and his demands.  Pete naturally feels the brunt of Jefty's sly anger, but Pete is only the means to torture Lily.  Lily will be forever changed by Jefty's psychopathic need for revenge.  A quiet trip to his hunting lodge not far from the Canadian border with Pete, Lily and Karen sets the stage for a night of drunken taunts and temptation.  How far is too far when you are bent on torment?

Standards like Harold Arlen and Johnny Mercer's One for My Baby showcase Ida's talents as a song seller along with Higgins and Overstreet's There'll Be Some Changes Made.  20th Century Fox composer Lionel Newman would compose two songs for the film, The Right Kind with Charles Henderson and lyrics by Don George, and the soon to be a standard Again with lyrics by Dorcas Cochran.

Road House is a moody treat for the noir fan.  Even in the sunlight this rural setting is a dark world compliments of cinematographers Joseph LaShelle (Laura, Marty) and uncredited Norbert Brodine (Kiss of DeathSomewhere in the Night).  The movie delivers true tension and a kick to the gut in the performances of Ida Lupino as the world weary Lily and Richard Widmark as the demented Jefty.  

Saturday, July 9, 2016

HOT AND BOTHERED - The Films of 1932 Blogathon: The Beast of the City

Wowza! HOT AND BOTHERED - The Films of 1932 blogathon is here!  Aurora of Once Upon a Screen has today's contributions.  Tomorrow check out Theresa of CineMaven's Essays from the Couch for more steamy goodness.

I swear one of these days I am going to add up how many times I have seen George Chandler play a newspaper man.  George is once again a reporter in 1932s The Beast of the City from MGM.  The story is by W.R. Burnett (This Gun for Hire, The Asphalt Jungle) with dialogue by John Lee Mahin (Scarface, Down to the Sea in Ships).  The director is Charles Brabin who took MGM out of its comfort zone with The Mask of Fu Manchu.


Working the crime beat for the papers in this city keeps one busy indeed.  There's always something crooked and rotten going on as the town is the grip of crime boss Sam Belmonte (Jean Hersholt).  The night we enter the picture some guys known as the Dopey Brothers who were trying to muscle in on Belmonte are found dead.  Chief Detective Jim Fitzpatrick (Walter Huston) drags Belmonte to HQ, but his lawyer springs him  in no time.  Fitzpatrick is an embarrassment to the likes of the Captain of Police and the Mayor as he's an honest cop who wants to clean up the town while the politicians are busy lining their pockets.

Jim Fitzpatrick:  "I hate Belmonte and that crowd because they're behind everything in this town that's rotten.  I mean to wipe 'em out if it takes hot lead." 

A hard-nose on the job, Jim is a pussycat at home teasing his twin pre-teen daughters (Betty Mae and Beverly Crane), roughhousing with son Mickey (Mickey Rooney) and enjoying sweet, quiet moments with his wife Mary (Dorothy Peterson).

Jean Harlow, Wallace Ford

Jim's kid brother Ed (Wallace Ford) is on the Force, but he doesn't take it so seriously.  This job is just 9 to 5.  Jim, with all the fondness of a big brother, sees great things in the kid if he will just learn to focus.  Well, Ed has focus alright and he's focused on a the comely Daisy, a "stenographer" who travels in Belmonte circles.  Ed makes her acquaintance only half-heartedly telling himself he's scoping out information on Belmonte.  For her part, Daisy thinks it will be worth her while to have an "in" with the police.

Daisy:  "I never thought I'd have a yen for a copper.  Are you gonna try and reform me, huh?"
Ed:  "What for?"

Jean Hersholt, Wallace Ford, Jean Harlow, J. Carroll Naish

Demoted to a precinct in the 'burbs, Jim has a sudden rise to glory when he deals with a brazen bank robbery.  The papers and the reformers want a shake up at police headquarters.  The old captain is out and Jim is in.  Relying on old partners Tom (Warner Richmond) and Makowski (Sandy Roth), Jim hopes to weed out the bad apples while cracking down on crime.  Ed feels that with his big brother in charge, he is a cinch for a promotion, but Jim tells him to prove himself first.  This doesn't sit well with Ed who is living beyond his means to please Daisy.  He begins tipping off Belmonte for a price and when an assignment guarding a bank transfer comes his way Ed is too free with information to Daisy.  She sets a robbery up with Belmonte underling Cholo (J. Carroll Naish).  

The robbery goes horribly wrong resulting in the death of an innocent child bystander and Detective Makowski.  Fitzpatrick picks up the crooks and, through judicious interrogation, they are only too happy to spill.  Ed has to stand trial along with two of the gang.   Belmonte fixes things the proceedings with a crooked lawyer and intimidation tactics.  If you like courtroom fireworks, it is a glorious thing to watch Tully Marshall's impassioned plea to the jury.  The crooked lawyer acts as if he alone is responsible for the not guilty verdict, not the dirty doings of his gangland boss.

Walter Huston, Warner Richmond

Belmonte is riding high.  He has proven in a Court of Law once and for all who runs this town.  Jim Fitzpatrick is true to his word about using hot lead if it comes to it.  At the mob's post-trial celebration  a chastened Ed goads Belmonte into believing he is about to crack to the cops while Jim and a dozen personally selected men raid the nightclub.  Belmonte has a choice of coming along quietly, but every man there knows it is a suicide assignment.  The head-to-head shootout that follows is incredible.  The air is filled with gunsmoke and mobsters and coppers alike are cut down, including the wrong-place-at-wrong-time Daisy.  Wowza!

The story is told with a rat-a-tat, fast-paced rawness.  You can feel the heat in Daisy's small apartment, both from the overheated environs and the overheated blonde beauty and her infatuated copper.  You can smell the meal at the dinner table in the Fitzpatrick's homey abode.  You can sense the overwhelming anticipation and resignation in the final confrontation between the good and evil factions.  The Beast of the City has a ripped from the headlines feel accented with over-the-top emotions.

Walter Huston (1883-1950) born right here in Toronto was an extremely busy actor.  In Hollywood in 1932 alone, along with The Beast of the City, he appeared in Frank Capra's American Madness, recreated his stage role of Flint in Kongo (Broadway, 1926), played the uptight Rev. Davidson in Rain, and a famed gunfighter in the western classic Law and Order (son John worked on that screenplay from W.R. Burnett's novel).  In a couple of years he would head back to Broadway to star in Dodsworth opposite Fay Bainter.  He would receive the first of four Oscar nominations for playing that role in the 1936 film.

Jean Harlow (1911-1937) is justly famous for her stunning looks, but has stayed in fans hearts because of what we sense of her personality, a combination of vulnerability and gumption.  We have the opportunity to follow her career from bit parts to stardom and her development as an actress.  In 1931 there is her awkward performance in Public Enemy and her slightly more assured, though again miscast, turn in Frank Capra's Platinum Blonde.  Three Wise Girls gives us a hint of her genuine star quality and The Beast of the City shows us someone really getting into a role.  This same year she positively steals Red Dust amid the company of Clark Gable and Mary Astor, and takes on prisoners in Red-Headed Woman.  By the next year, she confidently spoofs her own life in Bombshell and outshine many of the stars of Dinner at Eight.  Jean Harlow was a wonder.

Wallace Ford (1898-1966), like Huston, was a stage veteran when he entered film in the 1930s playing important roles for MGM in Possessed, Freaks and Employees' Entrance.  Straddling the line between leading man and character star, Ford's career would take the turn to character roles in such films as The Lost Patrol and The Informer.  He would create the role of George in the 1937 Broadway production of Of Mice and Men, co-starring Broderick Crawfod as Lennie.  By the 1950s he was a welcome presence in support in westerns and comedies and his last film A Patch of Blue in 1965 was a fine showcase for a genuine talent.

Jean Hersholt, for whom the Academy's humanitarian award is named, is generally a screen presence associated with kind characters such as his Dr. Christian series, Skyscraper SoulsGrand Hotel, etc.  Here he gives us a powerful and rotten crime boss.  Tully Marshall's career includes silent film classics like Intolerance and The Trail of  '98 to film-noir This Gun for Hire and Moontide.  I particularly enjoy his creepy principal in the Hildegarde Withers flick, Murder on a Blackboard.   Dorothy Peterson was the movies go-to gal for the supportive and self-sacrificing wife/mother in such movies as  That Hagen Girl and the Five Little Peppers and Henry Aldrich for President.

George Chandler

Familiar faces popping up in The Beast of the City include Nat Pendleton, Murray Kinnell, J. Carroll Naish, Warner Richmond, Ed Brophy and, of course, George Chandler as a gentleman of the press.

Sunday, July 3, 2016

Olivia de Havilland Centenary blogathon: The Male Animal (1942)

Today's article is a happy contribution to the Olivia de Havilland Centenary blogathon hosted by Phyllis Loves Classic Movies and In the Good Old Days of Classic Hollywood.  Thank you, ladies.  The internet celebration of Ms. de Havilland's 100th birthday on July 1st runs until July 3rd and you can join the party HERE.  

Playwright/director/actor Elliot Nugent starred in The Male Animal during its successful Broadway run of 243 performances.  He was the co-writer of the play with his college friend James Thurber.  Nugent would return to Hollywood to direct the feature film based on the play.  Also coming west from the play were Don DeFore (One Sunday Afternoon, TVs Hazel) as Wally Myers and Ivan Simpson (Captain Blood, Maid of Salem) as Dr. Damon.  Gene Tierney who played Pat Stanley was in Hollywood working on another film and that role is played by Joan Leslie (Jubilee Trail, The Sky's the Limit).

The romantic-comedy mix-ups of the film are fresh and funny today.  Unfortunately, the political angle has not worn with age either.

Hot-headed student Michael Barnes played by Herbert Anderson (Battleground, TVs Dennis the Menace) has published an editorial in his Midwestern University's literary magazine decrying the firing of three professors accused of being communists and praising his English professor for scheduling a class reading of a letter written by executed anarchist Bartolomeo Vanzetti.  Professor Tommy Turner played by Henry Fonda (The Lady Eve, Fort Apache) is including other letters written by non-professional writers in his lesson on composition, but this particular example starts a row.  The Board of Trustees led by Ed Keller played by Eugene Palette (My Man Godfrey, Topper) are on a witch hunt.  They are out to get the "reds", and if they can't find any, they'll go after the "pinks".  Professor Turner's career is suddenly on the line.

Olivia de Havilland, Henry Fonda

Professor Turner's marriage is also at a fork in the road.  Outside of his Ivory Tower, the big doings on campus center on a championship football game, the rally and returning heroes.  One of the returning heroes is Joe Ferguson played by Jack Carson (The Strawberry Blonde, Mildred Pierce).  Joe just happens to be a former beau of Mrs. Ellen Turner played by Olivia de Havilland (The Heiress, Hold Back the Dawn).  Tommy can sense lingering feelings between the former couple which exacerbates Ellen's frustration with Tommy's unwillingness to back away from a fight with the Trustees.

The ongoing triangle among the married folks is mirrored by the love life of Ellen's younger sister Pat who is torn between the academic Michael and the football hero Wally.  This makes Tommy and Michael kindred spirits even though it is the latter's article which has gotten the prof into all this hot water.  The voice of the droll observer belongs to Ivan Simpson as Dr. Damon, the school's Dean.  The voice of support amidst the commotion belongs to Cleota played by Hattie McDaniel (Gone With the Wind, The Mad Miss Manton).

Henry Fonda, Jack Carson

Nothing is going well for Professor Turner this weekend.  Former beau Joe recalls Ellen's birthday with a gift.  Absent-minded Tommy forgot about the date, but remembered that Cleota's birthday was coming up.  Joe and Ellen look lovely dancing together.  Tommy doesn't like to dance.  Former cheerleader Ellen is excited about the game and the rally.  All that business is lost on Tommy.  Ellen wants Tommy to bow down to the Trustees for the sake of his job.  Tommy is not political by nature, but refuses to be pushed around.  Jealousy and worry get the best of Tommy.  While Ellen is out having a good time with Joe, Michael and Tommy get soused.  The inebriated Tommy turns his philosophical bent to the true nature of the male animal and what he must do to protect his mate.  It all leads to a shameful and very funny bout of fisticuffs between Tommy and Joe.  Poor Joe is so confused by the mixed signals he gets from both Tommy and Ellen that he doesn't know which end is up.

If you want to know who ends up with whom, what happens in Tommy's class and who wins the big game be sure and watch The Male Animal when you have the opportunity.  Henry Fonda is always particularly fine in comedy and there is a lot for him to work with in the role of Professor Turner.  Any scene between Tommy and Cleota is a gem.

Henry Fonda, Olivia de Havilland

I do not know how Ms. de Havilland felt about the wifely role in this comedy, even with its Thurber and Nugent Broadway pedigree.  Perhaps it was one of those last straws that drove her to instigate her successful legal battle against the studio's strangle-hold on an actor's career.  Speaking strictly as an audience, Olivia de Havilland glows as Ellen Turner, expertly alternating between funny and playful, and devoted and thoughtful.  She's immensely attractive and likable, running the household and keeping her sometimes slightly vague husband on track.  Her excitement about the game and seeing Joe is girlish and sweet.  Her worry for Tommy is as genuine as her bewilderment at Tommy's mercurial change of attitude toward Joe and his sudden standing up to the Trustees.

The Male Animal with its clever and amusing script and polished performances is a classic movie treat for fans and a special part of Olivia de Havilland's filmography.  TCM is screening the film on Friday, July 29th at 4:00 am as part of the Star of the Month salute to Olivia de Havilland.


Thursday, June 30, 2016

Caftan Woman's Choice: One for July on TCM

"Welcome to California, Mrs. Leslie."

About Mrs. Leslie is a romantic drama from 1954.  It was the second feature for Broadway star Shirley Booth, who won an Oscar two years earlier for recreating her Tony winning role in Come Back, Little Sheba for the screen.  Shirley Booth's other acting awards include two Primetime Emmys for the sitcom Hazel, a featured actress Tony for Goodbye, My Fancy and another leading actress Tony for The Time of the Cuckoo.  The lady's great talent was appreciated in her lifetime.

Pulitzer winner for drama (Look Homeward Angel) Ketti Frings adapted the screenplay from Vina Delmar's novel.  Cliff Aliperti of Immortal Ephemera wrote an interesting look at Ms. Delmar earlier this year which you can read here.  The image of a book is used to introduce or highlight the flashback sequences of the film.  Daniel Mann, director of the stage and screen versions of Come Back, Little Sheba directed About Mrs. Leslie.  You have probably enjoyed some of his other films including I'll Cry Tomorrow, The Last Angry Man and For Love of Ivy.

Shirley Booth plays Vivian Keeler, a former nightclub entertainer and dress shop owner who, when we meet her, is a Beverly Hills boarding house landlady who goes by the name of Mrs. Leslie.  The neighbours gossip that she was never really married at all and the neighbours are correct.  However, everyone has a story and in this movie we discover Mrs. Leslie's story.  We will also learn something of her neighbours and her current borders.  Next door is a teenage girl, Pixie (Eilene Janssen) who displays the self-absorption of some youngsters with an added touch of mean-spiritedness, at least where Mrs. Leslie is concerned.  Mr. and Mrs. Poole (James Bell and Virginia Brissac) are faced with the health crisis of their only child.  Nadine Roland (Marjie Millar) came to Hollywood to become an actress, became a door mat and is at a crossroads.  Lan McKay (Alex Nicol) also has show business aspirations and a lot of baggage from his wealthy family.

I believe the Nadine character is meant to parallel Mrs. Leslie's path with her reckless lifestyle.  However, Ms. Millar's rather prim depiction of the character and cut scenes featuring Amanda Blake as a goodtime gal pal rather lessen its effectiveness.  

Philip Ober, Robert Ryan, Shirley Booth

Vivian recalls a time prior to WW2 when she is introduced to George Leslie in a nightclub.  Singing I'm in the Mood for Love, she dallied and joked with men in the audience.  Sensing George's discomfort, she left him alone.  Later, one of the company at the table invited her over and she and George had a pleasant talk.  The outgoing entertainer and the reticent businessman clicked and plans were made to see each other again.

Robert Ryan stars as George Leslie Hendersall, wealthy industrialist and lonely man.  On paper and at first glance Ryan and Booth seem a unlikely film pair.  Their combined acting ability helps us to see past those expectations.  Ryan here creates a mysterious man, yet a touching portrait of loneliness.  His career at this time in the early to mid-50s saw him portraying the noir "victim" in the searing Inferno, the bigot who causes all the trouble in the tough-minded Bad Day at Black Rock and a romantic headmaster in the comedy Her Twelve Men.   

Unexpectedly, Mr. Leslie asks Vivian to come away with him to California for a six week vacation.  It would cost her a lot in terms of her work life, but instinctively she knew he needed her.  It was in a lovely house by the ocean that Vivian was first called Mrs. Leslie by the chauffeur Jim and housekeeper Camilla (Ike Jones and Maudie Norman).  It was also that that love blossomed and would continue to grow for six weeks every year to come (think of Bernard Slade's Same Time, Next Year).  Certainly Vivian realized she was living in a world of make-believe.  George's "other" life was something she couldn't face.  It was the things they shared about each other and with each other, the laughter and the world they created that was enough - it would have to be.  Shockingly, she learns the truth about George's other world which includes a wife, two sons and a role of importance in the war effort.  It was one thing to know and another thing to know

Shirley Booth, Robert Ryan

By this time George had arranged for Vivian to become a partner in a dress shop for her security.  In an attack of conscious she tried to break it off and return his monetary investment, but their feelings for each other were too strong.

How Mrs. Leslie came to the position of landlady you may well guess, but I will leave it for you to see for yourself in the movie.  It is an emotional story and one perfectly performed by Shirley Booth, who was an actress of subtle power and intense sympathy.  

TCM is screening About Mrs. Leslie on Monday, July 11th at 8:00 pm.  I first saw this movie when I was a young teen and it made a great impression on me; the emotional back story of someone you would pass on the street without notice, the philosophies of the characters and the humour in their attitudes and dialogue have stayed with me for decades.

Sunday, June 26, 2016

TODAY'S COZY: The Bishop Misbehaves (1935)

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

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

Lucile Watson, Maureen O'Sullivan, Edmund Gwenn

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

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

Norman Foster, Maureen O'Sullivan

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

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


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

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

Friday, June 17, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

Gloria Marlowe and Bruce Blair
Immortal Lovers of the Silver Screen

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

Anne Francis, Jeffrey Hunter

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

Elsa Lanchester, Clifton Webb

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

Clifton Webb, Ginger Rogers, Travilla gown

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

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

Van Heflin, Cornel Wilde, Fred MacMurray, Clifton Webb

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

June Allyson, Cornel Wilde

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

Arlene Dahl, Van Heflin

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

Lauren Bacall, Fred MacMurray

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

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

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