Friday, February 23, 2018

31 DAYS OF OSCAR BLOGATHON: Best Dance Direction nominee, She (1935)

It's that wonderful time of year! Paula's Cinema Club, Outspoken and Freckled, and Once Upon a Screen are our hosts for the 31 Days of Oscar BlogathonDay 1Day 2, Day 3.  

During his Hollywood career, Merian C. Cooper produced a variety of quality films, but is most revered for the creation of King Kong. 1935s She follows in that adventure mode, being an adaptation of H. Rider Haggard's 1886 lost world novel. The first film version of the story was an 1899 short by Georges Melies, and numerous adaptations have followed including one in 1925 on which Haggard collaborated. Our version from RKO changes the setting from Africa to the top of the world, beyond the ice caps, and was directed by Irving Pichel (The Most Dangerous Game) and designer Lansing C. Holden (The Garden of Allah).

Note: Screen captures are from the colourized version released in 2006 by Legend Films, supervised by Ray Harryhausen. The film was originally designed to be filmed in colour until RKO withheld the funds from the budget.

Nigel Bruce, Samuel S. Hinds, Randolph Scott
An unbelievable story on a dark and stormy night.

On a wild night in England, a wild tale is told by a dying man to his nephew. It is the legend of a long ago, look-alike ancestor who was destroyed after finding the sought for flame of immortality. An ancient letter and a golden statuette are tokens of the truth in the tale. The young man is intrigued and Leo embarks on his own quest retracing the steps in the story. He is accompanied by Professor Horace Holly. On their journey through the inhospitable polar region they pick up a greedy and foolish prospector Dugmore and his adopted daughter Tanya. Only Leo, Holly, and Tanya will reach their goal.

Nigel Bruce, Helen Mack, Randolph Scott
Strangers in a strange land.

Our party reaches the land of Kor and in the cave entrance are beset upon by cannibals. Rescued by the ruler's guards, the trio finds things much different at the palace. The land is ruled by She aka She Who Must Be Obeyed. She has ruled for centuries through terror and imagination. Her will is all.

Helen Gahagan
If She looks familiar, yes, production designer Harold Miles also worked on Walt Disney's 1937 classic Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.

She is convinced that Leo is her lover of time past reincarnated and returned to her side. Upon the advice of her high priest played by Julius Adler, She will allow the outsiders, Leo and Holly, to observe a secret ceremonial dance in the Hall of Kings. Leo and Holly are not aware that the dance culminates with a human sacrifice, and the intended sacrifice is Tanya, of whom the queen is justifiably jealous.

1936 award nominations: Best Dance Direction, Benjamin Zemach for Hall of Kings from She

The set designers at RKO, under Van Nest Polglase, outdid themselves on this production. A breathtakingly beautiful art deco world is ours to enjoy. Eleanor Fieldhouse is credited for the wardrobe which is truly magnificently highlighted by the colour treatment given She. The Hall of Kings is a massive and impressive setting and Max Steiner's score provides an ominous and rhythmic background for the dance created by Oscar nominee Benjamin Zemach.

We begin in the Hall of Kings with masked dancers surrounding a cauldron holding what we assume is symbolizing the Flame of Life. Max Steiner's score of minor chords, draws us into the spectacle and the horror.

Hundreds of dancers are used in the number and their work is mesmerizing.

It is not only the choreography, but the way the dance is shot that adds to its intensity.

I am hoping this shot gives an accurate impression of the massive and impressive set which Benjamin Zemach used and filled to great effect.

A dancer is lowered on a rope into the cauldron where the flame will be retrieved and shared.

An athletic dancer swings from the top of the statues that surround the hall.

The beautifully costumed processional moves to the great entrance to the hall.

As the sacrifice comes closer to her fate, the music quickens in joyous anticipation.

Groupings of dancers in different costumes, with various routines which tell the story behind the dance are presented in the great hall.

Tanya, her identity hidden from Leo and Holly, is brought to the cauldron.

Come the dawn! Leo finally clues into She's plan.
Note: the flames that array the bottom of She's gown.

All Hell breaks loose!


Learn about the fascinating creative life and soul of Benjamin Zemach in these excerpts from the New York Times obituary for She's Oscar-nominated dance director (February 1, 1901 - June 18, 1997).

Benjamin Zemach, 95, Dancer; Worked in Theater and Films

Benjamin Zemach, an American modern dance pioneer who specialized in Jewish themes, but also worked on Broadway, in the theater, and in films, died on June 18 in Jerusalem. He was 95.

Mr. Zemach was a young actor in the Habima Theater of Moscow when the American impresario Sol Hurok brought the company's Hebrew language production of The Dybbuk to New York in December 1926. The troupe founded by Mr. Zemach's brother, Naum Zemach, was reorganized in what was then Palestine after this engagement, but Benjamin remained in New York. He later worked in Los Angeles as a choreographer, play director, and teacher. Among the actors who studied with him were Lee J. Cobb, Alan Arkin, Herschel Bernardi, Sam Jaffe and Adeline Gibbs.

In the late 1920s Mr. Zemach quickly became part of a circle of dancers including Martha Graham and Michio Ito who were involved in experimental productions at the Neighborhood Playhouse in New York. He also went on to work in the commercial theater. In the 1930s he choreographed the musical Pins and Needles and directed plays including Salome at the Pasadena Playhouse. In 1941 he directed Natural Man for the American Negro Theater.

During his first stay in Los Angeles, from 1932 to 1935 he created two dance pieces for the Hollywood Bowl, Fragments of Israel and Victory Ball which aroused debate because of its antiwar message. In 1935 he did the dances for the films She and Last Days of Pompeii.

After working in Los Angeles, Mr. Zemach returned to New York in 1936. While continuing to dance he concerts, he choreographed Pins and Needles and a Max Reinhardt production The Eternal Road. In 1945 he coordinated a festival African Dances and Modern Rhythms which Eleanor Roosevelt attended as guest of honor at Carnegie Hall.

Mr. Zemach was based again in Los Angeles from 1948 until his move to Israel in 1971. In 1989 at the age of 87 he directed and choreographed an English version of Abraham Goldfaden's musical The Witch for the Jewish Repertory Theater in New York. Richard F. Shepard in The Times called it "a treat for the eyes, particularly eyes attuned to graceful movement."

Mr. Zemach is survived by a daughter, Amielle, and five grandchildren.


Oscars Best Dance Direction Award

This was the first year for the category of Best Dance Direction. The category would be dropped after two more film seasons. In 1937 the award was given to Seymour Felix for A Pretty Girl is Like a Melody from The Great Ziegfeld. The 1938 ceremony would see the prize going to Hermes Pan for the Fun House number from Damsel in Distress. Musicals would continue to be an important genre in Hollywood, so I don't see the sense in eliminating such a category. However, the history of the Oscars is filled with bizarre decisions.

Best Dance Direction, 1936 ceremony

Dave Gould for I've Got a Feeling You're Fooling from Broadway Melody of 1936 and Straw Hat from Folies Bergere de Paris

LeRoy Prinz for Viennese Waltz from All the King's Horses and Elephant and It's the Animal in Me from The Big Broadcast of 1936
Bobby Connelly for Playboy of Paree from Broadway Hostess and Latin from Manhattan from Go Into Your Dance
Busby Berkeley for Lullaby of Broadway and The Words Are in My Heart from Golddiggers of 1935
Sammy Lee for Lovely Lady and Too Good to be True from King of Burlesque
Benjamin Zemach for Hall of Kings from She
Hermes Pan for Piccolino and Top Hat from Top Hat

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

THE SMALL SCREEN BLOGATHON: The Snoop Sisters (1972 - 1974)

Maddy Loves Her Classic Films is hosting The Small Screen Blogathon on February 20th dedicated to our favourite television programs. Click HERE to see what everyone is writing about.

The pilot for The Snoop Sisters called The Female Instinct aired on NBC on December 18, 1972. The network may have been inspired by a 1971 telefilm called Do Not Fold, Spindle or Mutilate which starred Helen Hayes, Myrna Loy, Mildred Natwick and Sylvia Sidney as seniors with time on their hands who both cause and solve a murder. There appeared to be a TV market for veteran actresses.

Mildred Natwick, Art Carney, Helen Hayes, Lawrence Pressman, Jill Clayburgh
Hail, hail, the gang's all here.

Theatre legend and two time Oscar winner Helen Hayes was cast as Ernesta Snoop, a successful mystery writer. Mildred Natwick, Oscar nominee for Barefoot in the Park who made her film debut in John Ford's 1940 classic The Long Voyage Home, plays her sister and assistant, Gwendolyn aka "G" Snoop Nicholson. The ladies live in a Gramercy Park townhouse with their driver/handyman, an ex-cop named Barney played by Art Carney. Their nephew Lt. Steven Ostrowski, played by Lawrence Pressman, works for the New York Police Department. Convenience is all in the cozy mystery world!

Mildred Natwick, Helen Hayes
A quiet evening's work.

Ernesta and G are fun gals with whom to spend a lazy hour or two. They truly seem to enjoy everything they are doing, whether it is working on one of Ernesta's novels or keeping their nephew out of their unofficial investigations for his own good. Helen Hayes and Mildred Natwick work well together as the elegant G and the eccentric Ernesta, two very close sisters who can finish each other's sentences.

The 1974 Primetime Emmy Awards saw The Snoop Sisters receiving three nominations and one win. Mildred Natwick won the Emmy for Best Lead Actress in a Limited Series in a category that also featured her co-star Helen Hayes, and Lee Remick for The Blue Knight. Grady Hunt was nominated for Outstanding Achievement in Costume Design and lost to Bruce Walkup and Sandra Stewart for The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman.

Paulette Goddard
Enough presence of mind to leave a dying clue.

The Female Instinct concerns the murder of a famous movie star played by Paulette Goddard in her final screen appearance. Suspects include her estranged daughter played by Jill Clayburgh, some exes played by Kurt Kasznar, Fritz Weaver and Ed Platt, an eccentric writer played by Bill Dana, and a publisher played by Craig Stevens. Throw in Charlie Callas as a pickpocket, Ed Flanders as a private eye, and Kent Smith as an old flame of G's and you've got a lot of fun. There's even a car chase starring the ladies' 1926 Lincoln Model L.

A blistering tell-all by the glamorous star is at the bottom of all the trouble and presumed to be the cause of her murder. Having worked with the actress is the long ago past, Ernesta and G feel obligated to ferret out the answers to the mystery. They are especially emboldened when shots are fired in their direction!

Clips from Paulette's 1940 movie The Ghost Breakers are used in the solution of the case which comes in a classic gathering of the suspects finale.

Four episodes of The Snoop Sisters would follow as part of NBC Mystery Movie series featuring Tenafly with James McEachin, Banacek with George Peppard, and Faraday and Son with Dan Dailey. Banacek, which ran for three seasons, is the only segment of the program with staying power. It is my belief that the network didn't give the shows proper publicity and a solid spot in order to find their audience.

Helen Hayes, Bert Convy, Mildred Natwick
Lt. Steve Ostrowski loves his aunts. Really.

The series replaced two actors from the pilot. Bert Convy became Lt. Steve Ostrowski and Barney, now played by Lou Antonio, is no longer an ex-cop, but a parolee. Corpse and Robbers aired on December 19, 1973. The plot involves the disappearance of an old friend of the ladies, and the confiscation of his toy factory. Sam Jaffe is a very eccentric inventor, Neva Patterson a suspicious character, Donald Moffatt an industrialist, and Logan Ramsay a drunken doctor. Victor Buono is a genial physician, and Geraldine Page a major hoot as a not-so-grieving beneficiary.

Helen Hayes, Lou Antonio, Mildred Natwick
Barney will do anything for the ladies.

Everyone believes the old gentleman who keeps phoning Ernesta actually died some months ago. If Ernesta and G have to disguise themselves as cleaning staff to break into a factory in the middle of the night, then so be it. An amateur detective must do what an amateur detective must do. Luckily, the Ostrowski cavalry arrives in the nick of time.

Helen Hayes, Bernie Casey
A mystery author and a basketball player guest on a talk show.

Fear is a Free Throw aired on January 29, 1974. It guest starred Bernie Casey as a basketball star, Bo Svenson as a friend, Steve Allen as talk show host Steve Allen, and Walter Pidgeon as the team's owner, an old flame of G's.

Walter Pidgeon
He misses the old days. He misses G.

G is a particular fan of this player and team, so it is truly galling when she is a suspect in the attempted poisoning of the sports star. The authorities claim her prior relationship with Walter Pidgeon as a motive. It is up to Ernesta's sharp eyes and instincts to save G from a framing or worse.

Helen Hayes
Ernesta subdues a suspect.

The ladies learn lessons regarding what shoes to wear on a gymnasium floor and who to trust when the stakes are really high.

Lou Antonio, Mildred Natwick
When in Rome...

Who doesn't love a mystery with a hint of the supernatural? The Devil Made Me Do It! aired on March 5, 1974 and concerns a mysterious NYC coven that is involved in murder and drug smuggling. Their latest murder victim had been sitting next to Ernesta on a plane, and had slipped a much sought after relic into her suitcase. The ladies got involved in this case without even trying.

Cyril Ritchard
Supernatural advice? $50 should cover it.

Greg Morris is a police expert on the occult and George Maharis a member of the coven. Cyril Ritchard is a hoot as a purveyor of witchly supplies - eye of newt, anyone? Joan Blondell is a phony fortune teller who puts G on the spot. Alice Cooper is a supposed witch who sings a very boring song while providing a handy clue.

Joan Blondell
She doesn't seem impressed with G.

Perhaps if the ladies had let their nephew, the Lieutenant, in on some of their suspicions earlier, they wouldn't have come so close to disaster. I don't believe if the series had continued, that they would have changed their ways one little bit.

Vincent Price, Helen Hayes, Mildred Natwick
Dracula with the Bride, and the world's shortest Frankenstein's monster.

The final episode, A Black Day for Bluebeard aired March 19, 1974. The era of classic Hollywood provides the background for the story. Vincent Price guests as Michael Bastion, a star of horror films who is hoping a film festival would revive his career. Tammy Grimes is his wealthy wife whose murder puts him in the hot seat. Other suspects include a cousin played by Roddy McDowall, a secretary played by Katherine Helmond, William Devane as the wife's boyfriend, a lawyer played by David Huddleston, and our actor's agent played by Mort Sahl.

Mildred Natwick, Vincent Price's reflection, Helen Hayes
Looks like good news being delivered behind the bars.

Can Ernesta and G solve the case without hurting Michael's feelings? Ernesta has come to the conclusion that the movies they worked on so long ago weren't quite of the quality he believes and actors can be so sensitive. Vincent Price delivers a deliciously hammy performance as Michael Bastion.

Here are our stars of A Black Day for Bluebeard, Helen Hayes and Vincent Price in the 1936 Broadway production Victoria Regina as Victoria and Albert.

Mildred Natwick, Helen Hayes
They just heard that NBC canceled the show.


In 2014 NBC announced they would be rebooting Murder, She Wrote as a vehicle for Octavia Spencer and there was an outcry throughout the land. The idea quietly disappeared. While I would have welcomed and would welcome still, a cozy mystery starring Octavia Spencer, I understand the reaction. Rebooting a show that still has a following and whose beloved star Angela Lansbury is still with us, seemed unnecessary. A popular actress and a strong premise would require no tie-in to an earlier show.

On the other hand, The Snoop Sisters was a show that I don't believe received its due. It could certainly be reworked for another stellar team of actresses, perhaps Octavia Spencer and fill-in-the-blank. If Octavia reads this, don't worry about the age thing. Little old ladies aren't quite what they used to be, if they ever were.

Bonus picture: Ernesta and G rocking their caftans like nobody since Karloff in The Mummy!

Friday, February 9, 2018

O CANADA! BLOGATHON: The Incredible Journey (1963)

Once again, Ruth of Silver Screenings and Kristina of Speakeasy turn the spotlight on Canadian connections to classic movies with the O Canada! blogathon running from February 9th to 11th.  Day 1 lineup  Day 2 lineup  Day 3 lineup  Wrap-up

Sheila Burnford
May 11, 1918 - April 20, 1984

Scottish-born author Sheila Burnford (born Cochrane) was a well-educated and well-traveled young woman when she became a volunteer ambulance driver during WW2. It was during that time that she met and married Dr. David Burnford. Enforced time apart from her husband during this early part of her marriage led to Sheila acquiring a Bull Terrier called Bodger and nicknamed "Bill". The woman and the dog became close companions during the years of blackouts and fear, creating a deep bond.

Dr. Burnford relocated his pediatric practice to Port Arthur, Ontario (Thunder Bay since 1970 amalgamation) in 1949. The Burnford family now consisted of three daughters, Peronelle, Elizabeth, Juliet, along with Bill. During this time the Burnfords acquired a Siamese cat, Simon, who formed a strong connection with Bill. Later, Dr. Burnford brought a Labrador into the fold. When old Bill was losing his eyesight, the young dog would assist him on walks through the woods.

Mrs. Burnford was writing short stories and articles about life in Canada for British publications during this time. She was also received the Ontario Play Puppet Award for scripts written for the Port Arthur Puppeteers.

The Incredible Journey was based on the three beloved pets and is a thrilling story based on Mrs. Burnford's obvious love for the animals and of nature. Published first in Great Britain in 1961, the book was well received, but would receive greater recognition after the release of the Disney film version two years later.  The Incredible Journey was awarded the Dorothy Canfield Fisher Children's Books Award, the Canadian Library Association Book of the Year for Children Award, the American Library Association Aurianne Award, and the International Board on Books for Young People Honour.

Mrs. Burnford's other words include Bel Ria: Dog of War, The Fields of Noon and One Woman's Arctic, detailing two summers on Baffin Island. The Burnford family returned to England prior to her death from cancer at age 65. Long Walk Home, the Incredible Journey of Sheila Burnford is a 2017 documentary tribute to her life and accomplishments.

When Disney acquired the rights to film The Incredible Journey, it would complete the studio's trio of Canadian-based animal stories that began with 1961s Nikki, Wild Dog of the North based on the novel by James Oliver Curwood, and 1962s Big Red by Jim Kjelgaard. All three films were filmed partially in Canada, with the four northern Ontario locations for The Incredible Journey lending authenticity to Burnford's story.

James Algar
June 11, 1912 - February 26, 1998

Disney Legend James Algar adapted the screenplay. Originally an animator at the studio in the 1930s who directed The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad, Algar was later the writer and director of the True Life Adventures.

Rex Allen
December 31, 1920 - December 17, 1999

Singer Rex Allen aka the Arizona Cowboy, star of B westerns for Republic and the TV series Frontier Doctor narrated Algar's script, as he did for 1962s The Legend of Lobo. His recognizable voice told us Disney stories from Charlie the Lonesome Cougar to Run, Appaloosa, Run, and more, including voices at Disneyland attractions. His was the perfect warm and low-key narration.

Fletcher Markle
March 27, 1921 - May 23, 1991

The Incredible Journey was directed by Winnipeg born Fletcher Markle who began his show business career as an actor/host on Canadian radio, adding producer, writer, and director to his career skills. He moved from Vancouver to Toronto, and then to New York City and CBS radio where he took Studio One to television. The bulk of his career from this point is as a producer and director of television. Alongside The Incredible Journey, Markle directed the films Jigsaw, Night Into Morning, and The Man with a Cloak.

Emile Genest
July 27, 1921 - March 19, 2003

Quebec born Emile Genest was featured in all three of these Disney features. Genest balanced a film career with one foot in Quebec and one in Hollywood. He was Gemini nominated for Best Performance by an Actor in a support role for the popular and acclaimed movie Les Plouffes. In addition to American movies such as these from Disney and The Cincinnati Kid, Emile Genest appeared on American classic television programs such as The Virginian, Ironside and Combat!, etc.

The cast of humans in this telling of the story is made of Canadian actors, and actors who immigrated to Canada such as Jan Rubes.

In The Incredible Journey Genest plays John Longridge, a writer who has taken in the three pets of his friends the Hunters. Professor Hunter has been offered a job in the U.K. and while the entire family, including the couple's two children will be traveling, there is the problem of what to do with Bodger the Bull Terrier, Luath the Labrador, and Tao the Siamese cat. In a moment of generosity, Longridge offered to care for the animals.

The self-sufficient cat adapted easily enough. The old bulldog is confused, but appreciates the affection afforded by the new master. The young lab is perpetually anxious for the familiar voices he loves. It is autumn and Longridge will soon be leaving on an annual hunting trip. He considered taking the animals, but there would be much canoe travel and it could become complicated. Mr. and Mrs. Oaks, who care for the house and grounds, have become attached to the pets and they will be well attended during Longridge's absence.

Miscommunication and happenstance come into play as Longridge leaves on his trip, Mrs. Oakridge is late to feed the pets, and Luath takes the lead. Home is calling him and home he must go. Also, he must take his companions along. There is no question as to that, and after some hesitation, it is a trio that sets out into the wilderness.

The journey is fraught with peril: hunger, cold, isolation, injury. Encounters include those with a protective mother bear, and a waterfall. Injured Tao finds respite and a home with a lonely little girl, but instinct leads him away. Luath feels trapped when help is at hand. In an amusing incident our trio almost finds a warm meal with an old hermit, but he has forgotten some of the niceties of hosting our more civilized animal friends.

Through it all the attachment of these three creatures, and of them to their family, is steadfast. So engrossed are we as the adventure unfolds that it is almost a shock to finally meet the Hunters. They have returned from their sojourn, and so has John Longridge. Rangers have been included in the search for the pets, but little hope is to be found that these house reared animals could survive in the vast and dangerous nature.

This is not a spoiler as we all know and relish in the happiness of the ending of The Incredible Journey. Every news story of an animal beating the odds to return home is headlined a "true life incredible journey".

The Incredible Journey, both book and film, is a story of loyalty and perseverance told with a sincere beauty that has been a touchstone for generations. I am sure I am not alone in the belief as a youngster that it was based on a true story. It was heartening to learn it was based on true characters.

"They must have thought the cat kept a diary!"

- Sheila Burnford on reviewers who commented on her convincing writing.

Bonus shout out (after a reminder from Rich) to the 1993 Disney remake, Homeward Bound: The Incredible Journey with the voices of Don Ameche as Shadow, Canadian born Michael J. Fox as Chance, and Sally Field as Sassy.

31 DAYS OF OSCAR BLOGATHON: Best Dance Direction nominee, She (1935)

It's that wonderful time of year! Paula's Cinema Club , Outspoken and Freckled , and Once Upon a Screen are our hosts for the 3...