Caftan Woman

Caftan Woman

Tuesday, October 18, 2016


"An old silent picture director was murdered.  To this day no one knows who did it.  Do his life story and all the characters that surround him.  Lots of old timers.  Sticky, nostalgic stuff about the days of silent pictures." 

Talent agent Mitch Davis (Jim Backus) is trying to dissuade his childhood friend, producer Larry O'Brien (Richard Conte) from digging into a murder mystery from 1929 as the subject for his first west coast picture in 1951s Hollywood Story.  

"Backstage stories are okay. Back camera stories are absolutely no good."

Revered silent picture director Frederick Ferrara was the son of a prominent California family.  He was found murdered in his bungalow on the studio lot on a night in 1929.  Neither the murder weapon, nor bullet were ever found.  Suspects included an alluring actress, her many admirers, the director's mysterious brother and a shady assistant.

An old player piano inspires Larry to reminisce about old movies.
Houseley Stevenson, Richard Conte, Jim Backus

O'Brien's research has brought a lot of old-timers out of the woodwork such as one of actress Amanda Rousseau's lovers (Paul Cavanagh) and the blackmailing assistant (Peter Brocco).  The actress's strikingly similar looking daughter Sally (Julie Adams) wants a stop put to the production.  A police lieutenant (Richard Egan) wants in on what may be uncovered.

Larry O'Brien has gone so far as to hire the writer who worked on Ferrara's movies.  Vincent St. Clair (Henry Hull) hasn't worked in as long as the murder has been a mystery.  Larry is surprised to learn that his partner and money man Sam Collyer (Fred Clark) even had ties to the long ago mystery.  Is that why Collyer originally wanted to veto the plan?

The story and screenplay for Hollywood Story is from Frederick Kohner author of the novel Gidget, Never Wave at a WAC and Oscar nominated for the Deanna Durbin film Mad About Music. Partnered in the story and screenplay is Frederick Brady who wrote Champagne for Caesar, Never Wave at a WAC and dozens of classic TV episodes.  

William Castle directed this film a few years before he began producing and directing his own brand of memorable horror films such as House on Haunted Hill, The Tingler and 13 Ghosts.  Crime was Castle's earlier beat at RKO with such titles as The Whistler, The Crime Doctor's Warning and When Strangers Marry.  Johnny Stool Pigeon in 1949 was the first of a run of pictures Castle directed for Universal - International which includes Hollywood Story.

Actors gossip about O'Brien's project during a lunch break.
Robert Sherman, William Fawcett, Rico Alaniz

The story is narrated by the agent character Mitch.  Narration has proven to be an integral part to many movies, particular crime stories such as Double Indemnity or Raw Deal.  The narration in Hollywood Story is pleasant with the familiar voice of Jim Backus and he gets some sharp and funny lines along the way.  However, it settles the mood of the movie in a Hollywood of just regular folks with jobs and families and obligations.  I feel the story would have been better served by focusing on a Hollywood with an enticingly glamorous and mysterious past.

Larry and Sally breakfasting at the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel
Richard Conte, Julie Adams

Castle took advantage of the story and the location coming together by placing scenes in famous places such as Chaplin Studios, Ocean Pier Park, Ciro's Restaurant and the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel.  However, the use of these locations, and even part of the Hollywood Santa Claus Parade is fairly straight-forward and work-a-day, instead of imbuing these iconic locations with a sense of allure.

Betty Blythe as The Queen of Sheba
1893 - 1972

Cameos by silent film stars excited about being asked to participate in the project is a charming touch.  The actors are greeted at the studio by the old-time guard played by Houseley Stevenson.  Betty Blythe was a buxom flapper whose brief fame in the 20s includes the lead in 1921s lost film The Queen of Sheba.  Betty would switch gears to those of a character actress and appeared in almost 150 films such as Topper, The Women, Letter from an Unknown Woman and My Fair Lady.

Francis X. Bushman in Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ
1883 - 1966

Francis X. Bushman is most famous as the athletic Messala in 1925s Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ.  His career in the sound era extends to The Ghost in the Invisible Bikini in 1966.  Fans of classic TV can catch Bushman performances in everything from Perry Mason to The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet and Batman.

William Farnum
1876 - 1953

William Farnum was the son of a theatrical family who worked on stage before coming to Hollywood in the 1915s where he became a popular leading man.  Injured on a film shoot, he became a character actor busy during those years that followed in pictures such as The Spoilers, The Mummy's Curse and A Woman's Face.

Helen Gibson
1892 - 1977

Helen Gibson was a fearless star of serials starting with The Hazards of Helen in 1914.  I am intrigued by such titles as Fighting Mad, The Wolverine and The Chinatown Mystery.  Her filmography includes hundreds of shorts made between 1912 and 1920.  In the sound era Helen concentrated on stunts and extra work in such films as The Marshal of Mesa City, Horizons West and The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance.

Studio gatekeeper greets stars of a bygone era.
Houseley Stevenson, Betty Blyth, William Farnum, Helen Gibson, Francis X. Bushman

Tracking down clues and suspects leads our hero Larry O'Brien to a movie set where we have another cameo.  This time it is actor Joel McCrea filming a scene with the suspect played by Paul Cavanagh.  A cop would probably just haul the suspect off to the hoosegow, however producer O'Brien let's the actor finish his day's work before continuing his sideline as a detective.  Apparently professional courtesy overrides amateur detecting.

The murder occurred at the studio and the murderer will be caught in the same place.
Richard Conte as producer/director/detective Larry O'Brien

Pursuit of a good movie story brings two people into Larry O'Brien's life.  Romance develops between the producer/director and Sally Rousseau.  Initially at odds over the opening of the case, they are attracted and find their goals meshing rather than clashing.  Richard Egan plays Police Lt. Lennox with an easy-going and wry sense of humour.  The scenes featuring Lennox and O'Brien are entertaining in a way that makes me think changing the focus to a buddy picture would have worked very well.  Eventually, the secrets are revealed and, commendably, the major clue was never withheld from the audience.

The obvious inspiration for Hollywood Story is the unsolved 1922 murder of director and actor William Desmond Taylor.  The motion picture industry was receiving much attention on matters of morality at the time and a sensation murder involved well-known personalities was fresh meat for the press.  Through the years there has been much speculation on the incident.  In the 1960s director King Vidor turned gumshoe and preserved his investigation in a manuscript which was released after his death as the book Cast of Killers in which he purported to have solved the case.  Although his findings are a matter of dispute, I enjoy his account very much.  King Vidor and Colleen Moore donning the caps of Poirot and Marple?  How can you not be on their side?

A good, solid mystery is the best description for Hollywood Story.  It entertains and gives pleasant glimpses into studio life and those who inhabit that world.  However, I do think the premise could have been the basis for a much more compelling and exciting look at that world.

The Classic Movie Blog Association Fall Blogathon, Hollywood on Hollywood runs from October 17 to the 21st.

Friday, October 14, 2016

THINGS I LEARNED FROM THE MOVIES BLOGATHON: The Domestic Arts as Practiced in The Egg and I

Kristina of Speakeasy and Ruth of Silver Screenings are hosting the clever blogathon Things I Learned from the Movies which runs from October 14 to 17.  A cornucopia of movie fans/bloggers are on board with some fun and interesting reading.  Day 1 recap.  Day 2 recap.  Day 3 recap.  Wrap-up.

Author Betty MacDonald's (Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle series) first and greatest success was the humorous semi-autobiographical novel The Egg and I published in 1945.  In 1947 Universal brought the book to the screen starring Claudette Colbert and Fred MacMurray as a couple transported from city life to a chicken farm in the mountains of Washington state.

Apparently, time spent in a foxhole in Okinawa gets a guy to thinking about the real things in life.  For Bob (Fred MacMurray) these real things include his own little chicken ranch.  Presumably, one of the other real things he thought about were love and marriage.  Probably expecting his intended, Betty (Claudette Colbert) to understand him through telepathy, he waits until after they are married to announce that he has purchased the chicken ranch of his dreams and she's going to love it.


Betty, whose hands are used to twice weekly manicures and have never done anything rougher than play the piano, is a good sport and truly supportive of Bob, so off they go to live in the country.  The ranch is nothing more than a ramshackle group of buildings in desperate need of repair.  Bob views the whole thing through possibilities and rose-colored glasses.  Betty is not so optimistic, especially when she first meets the resident stove.

"I don't think it likes me."

"There!  I bet you never looked better in your life."


The victory of a well scrubbed floor.

You follow the instructions, it should work.

Maybe Betty should talk to her friend Ma Kettle.  Ma, Pa and their census taker's delight of a brood live down the road in a place no one would mistake for a photo spread in House Beautiful.


"When I was first married, Dearie, I was as neat as the next one.  I tried to keep my house and kids clean.  But Pa was an awful lazy so-and-so and it was fight, fight, fight all the time.  So I finally give it up.  I says I can't make Pa change and be neat so I'll have to change and be dirty.  Been peace in this house ever since."




"Just a drop of this and a drop of that, mix it together and shove it in the oven."


"I made one of these here quilts every year since we was married.  Got 'em in the closet in the spare room.  I figure it will be somethin' real nice to leave the kids when I die."


Don't worry, folks.  Claudette Colbert and Fred MacMurray co-starred in seven films.  They have the happy ending bit down pat.

Marjorie Main and Percy Kilbride would play Ma and Pa Kettle in seven welcome sequels.  Marjorie would star as Ma in two more Kettle pictures after Kilbride's retirement.  Breakout stars!

What did I learn from the examples of housewifery set before me in this movie?  Well ... let's just say that I'm not as neat as Betty nor as messy as Ma, but I tend toward the casual line when it comes to tending to the old homestead and its occupants.  Yes indeed, very casual

Sunday, October 2, 2016

DUAL ROLE BLOGATHON: The Whole Town's Talking (1935)

Ruth of Silver Screenings and Christina Wehner are hosting the DUAL ROLE BLOGATHON running from September 30th to October 2nd.  Fascinating actors and performances are highlighted and recaps of contributions can be found here:  Day 1   Day 2   Day 3.

"What about the McIntire account?!"

Edward G. Robinson and Edward G. Robinson star in this 1935 release from Columbia pictures based on a story by W.R. Burnett (Little Caesar).  The screenplay is by Jo Swerling (It's a Wonderful Life) and Robert Riskin (It Happened One Night) and the leading lady is Jean Arthur (You Can't Take It With You).  We may be forgiven for expecting Frank Capra's name attached to that pedigree, along with his being the Columbia lot big shot at that time.  John Ford was the man in charge working with frequent collaborator, cinematographer Joseph August (The Informer).  Ford's output for Columbia also includes later pictures The Last Hurrah, The Long Gray Line, Gideon's Day and Two Rode Together.

Eddie G. looked back at the film in his autobiography All My Yesterdays published in 1974:

"As for the director, John Ford, from my first meeting with him to the day the picture was completed I knew I was in the hands of the consummate professional.  I felt safe and secure with him.  If I argued a line of dialogue with him or objected to a bit of business, I can now assure you it was more to assert my ego than it was to attack him.  It turned out he was right and I was wrong.  The main point to be made is that he would sit me down and show me where I was wrong.  He is a totally remarkable director and one of the few deserving a place in the Pantheon.  I'm told he's aging now, and cranky; well, I'm aging now, and cranky, but I bet if the right script came along (and Jo Swerling were still around to write it), John Ford and I could knock the shit out of it."

Robinson is introduced to us as a clerk in the J.G. Carpenter Corporation (don't ask me what they do).  He toils away by day in their accounting department.  He is a dependably loyal employee who hasn't been late to work in his entire eight year career with the company.  By night Arthur Ferguson Jones cuts loose on his typewriter writing stories of adventure in faraway lands.  By day night this Jonesy character pines for the love of his "Cymbaline", his co-worker the quintessential modern gal Miss Clark played by Jean Arthur.  While he barely says "boo" to the girl, Ferguson has gone so far as to steal a photograph of her to frame in honour on his wall.  Arthur Ferguson Jones life is about to become a roller coaster ride.

Jean Arthur, Edward G. Robinson

The notorious gangster "Killer" Mannion has escaped the penitentiary.  It is not warm blood that courses through his veins, but the ice cold kind that allows him to commit mayhem and kill with impunity.  A $25,000 reward on his head has police and civilians alike itching to catch Mannion.  Mild mannered demeanour aside, our shy little clerk Arthur Ferguson Jones bears an uncanny resemblance to the notorious Mannion.  Miss Clark and his co-workers have noted it, and a fellow customer at a diner played by Donald Meek notices the resemblance as well.  He calls the police in hopes of receiving the reward.  About a hundred cops and two hundred sirens descent on the diner and the befuddled Jones and his "moll", Miss Clark are hustled into custody.  Jones is distraught, confused and, by golly, at one point he even faints.  Clark takes it all in stride as a great joke.

Once the turmoil is sorted it, the authorities decide to give Jones a "passport" in the form of a letter on official stationery to avoid his being hassled by the police.  J.G. Carpenter (head of the mysterious to me corporation) played by Paul Harvey (The Horn Blows at Midnight), urged by newspaper report Healy played by Wallace Ford (The Lost Patrol) encourage a lubricated with scotch for the first time in life Jonesy to attach his byline to a phony life story of Mannion.  Good for the paper.  Good for the corporation which will be liberally mentioned.  Good for Jonesy?  Robinson as Jones tasting his first cigar and liquor is a comic delight as his face registers distaste, apprehension and finally succumbs to the Bacchanalia.

Our stars!

It is at this point that we meet Edward G. Robinson as "Killer" Mannion confronting Arthur when he returns home from work.  I will confess at this point that when I first saw this film in my youth and Mannion made his appearance, in the back my mind a little voice said "Here's the real Edward G. Robinson".  Of course, I know and knew he was an actor and in all of his films I probably never saw the real Edward G. Robinson, but my reaction goes to show how pervasive was his gangster persona, despite the number of times (A Slight Case of Murder, Brother Orchid, Larceny, Inc.) he would spoof that image.

The intimidating Mannion has Jonesy shaking in his boots as he is forced to share is lodgings and that official "passport".  It appears that Mannion has Jones and the authorities buffaloed, but he may go too far.  When those he cares for are threatened even a milquetoast like Arthur Ferguson Jones will find a spine.  Or, as Miss Clark says:  "I told you that rabbit had something."

Edward G. Robinson reminds us in this film of his versatility, not only in characterizations, but in an ability to handle comedy.  Cinematographer Joseph August, Oscar nominated for Portrait of Jennie and Gunga Din, gives the film a moody gloss that works well for the split screen scenes of Robinson playing off of Robinson.  Jean Arthur came into her own as the fast-talking, independent professional woman of the 1930s in this film.  The next year would see her light up the screen in Mr. Deeds Goes to Town.

The supporting cast of character actors are perfectly cast and a delight for the audience.  

Arthur Hohl (The Island of Lost Souls) and James Donlan (Belle of the Nineties) are a couple of cops with a gag line I won't spoil for you here.  Arthur Byron (The Mummy) plays a frustrated police chief.  Byron played the role of newspaper editor Randall in the Broadway production of Five Star Final which Edward G. Robinson played in the 1931 film.  J. Farrell MacDonald (Topper) is the prison warden who is never sure when he's confronting Mannion or Jones.  Wallace Ford is Healy, a newspaper reporter of the hard-drinking, don't let the truth get in the way of a good story variety.  Edward Brophy (G Men) is Slugs Martin, a squealer with plenty of reason to be afraid of Mannion.  You'll also spot Joe Sawyer (Christmas Eve) as a henchman, Francis Ford (The Quiet Man) as a reporter, and the ever-popular Bess Flowers in office attire as a secretary.

Despite all of the leading lights in this movie, it is a toss up as to whether it is completely stolen by Donald Meek or Etienne Girardot.

Donald Meek

Donald Meek (Stagecoach) is Hoyt, the man cheated of the reward when the Mannion he spotted at lunch turned out to be Jones.  He dogs the footsteps of the suddenly famous clerk waiting for his chance to become wealthy and famous.  He's the most nervous shamus you ever saw!

Etienne Girardot

Etienne Girardot (Twentieth Century) is Mr. Seaver, the fussy office manager at the J.G. Carpenter Corporation.  Seaver is a fellow who sweats the small stuff and his concern is not entirely for his employee Jones' well-being, but the status of the oft-mentioned McIntire account.  Oh, dear!

Ford has fun with the diminutive statue of the two character actors, and it appears the actors themselves are having great fun with their roles in The Whole Town's Talking

Fans of Edward G. Robinson is not be disappointed by his work in this film as two disparate characters.  Fans of Jean Arthur will enjoy her display of spunk.  Supporting player mavens have almost too much to enjoy.  John Ford fans will appreciate the knack he displays for the wild-paced comedy.  A dual role may be a delightful change of pace for an actor, but it is also an extra kick for fans.

Thursday, September 29, 2016


I have an affinity for the Golden Age of Live Television in the 1950s and two of the talents who contributed much to that era are behind this month's TCM choice, 1964s Dear Heart.  The honest and almost urgent burst of creativity of that time is exemplified in the works of writer Tad Mosel and director Delbert Mann.

Recognition of the excellence in their work as not missing during Mr. Mosel and Mr. Mann's respective careers.  Tad Mosel was the winner of the Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award for his play from James Agee's novel All the Way Home.  He was nominated for the primetime Emmy nomination in 1977 for The Adams Chronicles.  His Writers Guild of America nomination in 1968 was for Up the Down Staircase.  Delbert Mann won the Best Director Oscar in 1956 for Marty.  He was nominated for the Golden Globe for Separate Tables and was nominated for three Primetime Emmys between 1954 to 1979.  The Cannes Film Festival recognized him with two wins and three nominations and the Directors Guild of America with three wins and six nominations.

Tad Mosel's story Dear Heart was born as an episode of Studio One called The Out-of-Towners in 1957.  The episode starred Eileen Heckart as Evie Jackson and E.G. Marshall as Harry Mork.  Our film stars Geraldine Page and Glenn Ford.

Patricia Barry, Glenn Ford

Glenn Ford's Harry Mork is a man who says of himself that he is "coming down to earth".  His friend with benefits, Mitchell played by Patricia Barry (Days of Our Lives), says it is more of a "crash landing".  A traveling salesman for a greeting card company, Mork has hit the wall at the end of the road.  He intends to accept a marketing job at head office and settle down with Phyllis, a widow from Altuna with a young son.  Phyllis is played by Angela Lansbury (The Manchurian Candidate) and her appearance near the end of the movie is a treat worth the wait.  Harry thinks he has life, particularly his own, all sorted out.  He is as confused as someone else we will meet this weekend in New York City.  Evie Jackson is in town for the Postmasters Convention.  These two babes in the woods don't even understand the full import of the term "lunch".

Geraldine Page's Evie Jackson is lonely.  She has a warm heart, but with a touch of desperation she pushes too hard.  It is not that Evie doesn't recognize the truth about herself, it is just that life doesn't give her what she wants and she's not the sort to accept only what she can get.  This includes a fling with a fellow postmaster at a previous convention.  Charles Drake (Harvey) plays the man in question who assures Evie she is still a "good woman".  As Evie says later "Most men say Evie can take care of herself, but once they get married they want to take care of me."

Angela Lansbury, Michael Anderson Jr., Glenn Ford

When Evie and Harry meet we have had time to learn that Harry is not so self-assured as we may have thought.  Harry has met Patrick, his soon to be stepson played by Michael Anderson Jr. (The Sons of Katie Elder).  Patrick is older than the picture provided by Phyllis has led Harry to believe.  Patrick is quirky and full of issues that he wants Harry to resolve.  Harry reacts by stepping out of character with a magazine counter clerk played by Barbara Nichols (Sweet Smell of Success) who has a little business on the side.  Continually, Harry is finding himself drawn to Evie.  She is touched by his attention and eager to share.  Harry is denying the fact that, despite his engagement, he is courting the disarming Evie.

Geraldine Page, Glenn Ford

A romantic drama with trenchant touches of comedy, Dear Heart is a great showcase of fine writing and acting.  Geraldine Page, in particular, is so open to exposing the heart of Evie that I blush from recognition.

Dear Heart is also an incredible showcase for familiar faced character actors including the two Gladys Kravitzes, Alice Pearce and Sandra Gould, Ruth McDevitt, Mary Wickes, Neva Patterson, Patsy Garrett, Barbara Luddy, Maxine Stuart, Pauline Meyers and Richard Deacon, Billy Benedict, Hal Smith, Ken Lynch and Ralph Manza.  It's almost distracting!

The lilting title song by Henry Mancini with lyrics by Jay Livingston and Ray Evans was nominated for the Oscar.  The winner that season was the Sherman Brothers' Chim Chim Cher-ee from Mary Poppins.  Andy Williams hit recording reached #2 on Billboard, Jack Jones topped at #4 and Mancini's  own recording at #14.  Here's Andy's popular record:


I have to love a movie wherein Glenn Ford shouts in all sincerity:  "Emile Zola, put your clothes on!"

TCM is screening Dear Heart on Saturday, October 8th at 12:00 am in an evening they are calling a salute to "Feel Good Romances", preceded by Murphy's Romance and Crossing Delancey.

Friday, September 16, 2016

AGATHA CHRISTIE BLOGATHON: Hercule Poirot finds Evil Under the Sun

Little Bits of Classic and Christina Wehner are hosting The Agatha Christie Blogathon running from September 16 - 18.  Thank you to these two wonderful bloggers for this great event.

Recaps:  Day 1     Day 2     Day 3

Agatha Christie's The Mysterious Affair at Styles published in 1920 marked the introduction to the world of Hercule Poirot, the fussy and eccentric Belgian with amazing detective skills.  Evil Under the Sun published in 1941 marks about the 3/4 mark in Poirot's 35 novel appearances.  The sun in the title shines on a resort island separated from England's coast by a causeway which disappears at high tide.  The merry-makers on this isolated amalgam of sandy beaches and secretive coves may be searching for an escape from their everyday lives, but will soon have those lives laid open by a murder investigation.

Agatha Christie
(1890 - 1976)

A notorious actress, Arlena Stewart Marshall is on the island with her doting husband Kenneth and his daughter Linda.  Arlena's notoriety derives from high profile scandals and her obvious attraction to men other than her husband.  This summer Arlena is seen spending too much time with the handsome Patrick Redfern, much to the dismay of his wife Christine.  The owner of a fashion house, Rosamund Darnley is visibly perturbed by the marital woes of her old friend and sweetheart Kenneth Marshall.   The company includes a too hearty businessman, a fanatical clergyman, an outdoorsy woman and an American couple.  When Arlena's strangled body is discovered on a remote section of the island no one escapes suspicion and no one escapes the keen eye of Hercule Poirot.  

Agatha Christie's stories work not only for their puzzles, but because of her keen eye for characters.  Her ability to reveal with precise observations and deceptive dialogue the oh-so-human nature of those who populate her stories is a continual joy to generations of readers.  Evil Under the Sun is an engrossing read with an unexpected touch of pity for the foolish Arlena.

The 1982 adaption of Christie's novel by Anthony Shaffer (Death on the Nile, Appointment with Death) moves the time period to the late 30s and the British resort to one in the Adriatic with actual filming on Majorca, the home base of director Guy Hamilton (Goldfinger, Funeral in Berlin).

Some characters from the novel are eliminated and/or combined with others for ease of storytelling.  The fashion designer is eliminated, but her connection to Arlena's stoic husband Kenneth Marshall played by Denis Quilley (Murder on the Orient Express, Life at the Top) is rolled over into the innkeeper played by Maggie Smith (Death on the Nile, The VIPs).  The hearty businessman is replaced with a bombastic aristocrat, Sir Horace Blatt played by Colin Blakely (Murder on the Orient Express, The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes).

Peter Ustinov, Colin Blakely, Jane Birkin, Nichol Clay, Maggie Smith, Diana Rigg
Denis Quilley, Sylvia Miles, James Mason, Emily Hone, Roddy McDowall

The clergyman and rustic female are gone, as are the American tourists.  In their stead we have an entertainment chronicler played by Roddy McDowall (Planet of the Apes, Man Hunt) and Sylvia Miles (Crossing Delancey, Midnight Cowboy) and James Mason (Odd Man Out, A Star is Born) as theatrical producers.  Diana Rigg (The Hospital, The Great Muppet Caper) plays the doomed Arlena, Nicholas Clay (Lady Chatterley's Lover, Zulu Dawn) her paramour Redfern and Jane Birkin (Death on the Nile, Blow-Up) his dowdy wife.  Emily Hone plays the put upon stepdaughter Linda Marshall.

Hercule Poirot takes in the sun.

Peter Ustinov (Spartacus, Topkapi) stars in his second of three outings  as one of fiction's greatest detectives, Hercule Poirot.  So vain, so fussy, so overbearing and yet so endearing.  It must have something to do with that Ustinov fellow.

One of the many pleasures of Evil Under the Sun is Anthony Powell's costume design.  He is an Oscar winner for Travels With My Aunt, Death on the Nile and Tess, and a nominee for Pirates, Hook and 102 Dalmatians.  The wealthy on holiday in the 1930s allows for all manner of finery to please the eye.  We expect our rich to be slightly over-the-top, do we not? 

The stroke of genius that gives Evil Under the Sun its special oomph is the use of Cole Porter songs for the score.  Porter's music immediately evokes sophistication and the popping of champagne corks that gives this film its special effervescence.

Arlena Marshall takes the spotlight.

Arlena's talent is somewhat suspect, but her notoriety is assured and is necessary to box office success.  Thus, the producing Gardeners desire her to star in their upcoming play.  Also, she owes them since she left a previous show to hook up with Sir Horace, whom Arlena swindled out of an expensive bauble.  Apparently, he didn't feel their affair was worth it.  Arlena's current husband Kenneth seems to be suspicious of young Redfern.  Redfern's wife certainly has no doubts.  Rex Brewster has written a tell-all on Arlena, but can't get her release to publish.  Innkeeper Daphne goes way back with Arlena and it is not pretty.  Stepdaughter Linda is petulant and we all know teenagers have no boundaries.  When Arlena's corpse is discovered on an isolated beach everyone is a suspect and everyone has an alibi.  Can Hercule Poirot solve this baffling case?

Lives and the business of the inn are at stake, not to mention the reputation of M. Hercule Poirot.  Will this challenge go unmet?  Time to put those little grey cells to work.  None of us turn to our Christie to see the great detective vanquished in his endeavours and the reveal in Evil Under the Sun is an especially satisfying one.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016


Today's post is a proud contribution to Terence Towles Canote's Margaret Lockwood Centennial Blogathon.  Click unto A Shroud of Thoughts for the tributes to this most worthy star.

A.J. Cronin (TVs Dr. Finlay's Casebook) was a Scottish physician and novelist whose popular novels did more than entertain.  The author enlightened readers to important social issues in his works.  Cronin took us on spiritual journeys as well.  If you haven't read his novels, you may be familiar with many films adapted from his works including The Citadel, Vigil in the Night, The Green Years and The Keys of the Kingdom.

The Stars Look Down was published in 1935 and the 1940 film version was adapted by J.B. Williams (We Dive at Dawn) and directed by Carol Reed (Odd Man Out, The Third Man).  The National Board of Review placed the movie on its top ten list of 1941.

Michael Redgrave as Davey Fenwick

Davey Fenwick played by Michel Redgrave (The Lady Vanishes, The Importance of Being Earnest) is a born idealist who learns the harsh lessons of life in his Welsh mining town.  His miner father, Robert played by Edward Rigby (The Happiest Days of Your Life) is a quiet leader who works for the safety of his fellows.  He is an inspiration to Davy who wants to use his university scholarship to go into politics and fight for public ownership of the mines, denying individual owners the right to dominate the workers.

Emlyn Williams as Joe Gowlan

Joe Gowlan played by Emlyn Williams (Night Must Fall, The Corn is Green) is a born capitalist.  Like Davey, he leaves for the bright city lights of Tynecastle, but his only goal is money, and plenty of it.  A smart lad, he is soon operating a bookie operation, but sets his sights on bigger and more legit enterprises.

Margaret Lockwood as Jenny Sunley

Jenny Sunley played by Margaret Lockwood (The Lady Vanishes, The Wicked Lady) is a young woman who knows what she wants and wants it now.  Like Joe and his aspirations, Jenny may not want to be a lady, but she wants to be treated like one.  She has accurately pegged Joe as someone who will get to the top and she assumes their long-standing relationship is going to lead to marriage.  Joe is a boarder at Jenny's place and her mother is most definitely in agreement with this assessment.

What Jenny doesn't realize is that born capitalists like Joe know how to deal with grasping young women, no matter how attractive.  Joe's ladder to success includes cozying up to the bored wife of a rich industrialist.  The couple is played by Linden Travers and Cecil Parker, who can be seen paired in The Lady Vanishes and Quartet as well.  Joe cannot very well put his plan into action with Jenny hanging around his neck and opportunely introduces her to Davey.

Michael Redgrave, Margaret Lockwood

Born idealists like Davey are apt to look at attractive young women like Jenny and fall hopelessly in love, and that is just what happens.   Jenny can't see how Joe is manipulating the situation before it is too late.  Heartbroken and angry at being spurned, Jenny seduces Davey into leaving university a year short of his degree and the promise of a prominent parliamentarian to assist in his career to marry her and return to his hometown to work as a schoolmaster.  If Jenny had a clue in her pretty little head she would have seen where Davey's education and success in government might have taken her.  Destructively, "patience" is not part of Jenny's vocabulary.  Her needs are all immediate and Davey and his family are the ones to suffer.

Away from the domestic aspects of our story we return to the downtrodden miners whose deplorable living conditions are second only to their dangerous working conditions.  The unsafe section of mine that Davey's dad has been fighting against is opened thanks to the greedy mine owner, who is in possession of plans indicating the truth of denied claims.  Our friend Joe Gowan has brokered the deal that will result in the prophesied disaster.  While we cannot lay the blame for the mine cave in on the selfish Jenny, her actions to lead to Joe being able to discredit Davey as an advocate for the miners to the Board of Directors.

The depiction of the fate of the miners is almost heartwrenchingly unbearable as the audience suffers through the torment of living entombment with characters we have come to know including Davey's father, football mad brother, who had been given a tryout with the Tynecastle team, played by Desmond Tester (Sabotage, Drums) and a young student Davey had mentored while teaching.

Margaret Lockwood's Jenny is an unconscious villain in this piece, unlike some of her later characters  such as Hester in The Lady in Grey and Barbara Worth in The Wicked Lady, whose treachery is more well-defined and focused.  Heroine or villain, Margaret Lockwood's talent for bringing the truth of her character to the screen is always admirable and always watchable.

Wednesday, August 31, 2016


Oliver Webb (straight-faced):  "There are no headaches in the theatre."

Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur, looking for a hit to follow-up The Front Page adapted an unproduced play by Charles Bruce Millholland wherein he vented some pent up frustration from having worked for the famous theatrical impressario David Belasco.  Twentieth Century, staged by George Abbott, opened in December 1932 and ran for 152 performances.  Not a bad run, but not particularly great run either.  However, the 1934 film version directed by Howard Hawks is a screwball comedy classic and likely responsible for the subsequent 1950 revival starring Gloria Swanson and Jose Ferrer, and the 1979 musical version by Cy Coleman, Comden and Greene called On the Twentieth Century, starring Madeline Kahn and John Cullum, that racked up tons of Tony Awards.

John Barrymore

Director Hawks and writers Hecht and MacArthur show no mercy in this fast-paced, hysterical send-up of theatrical types.  John Barrymore (Counsellor-at-Law) is breathtakingly funny as Oscar Jaffe, self-proclaimed genius.  Oscar produces, writes, directs, acts, and creates stars.  He is also one of the greatest self-promoters known to mankind.  His latest creation is Lily Garland, the former Mildred Plotka, lingerie model.  Mildred wants to be an actress, and Oscar cajoles, bullies and seduces her into becoming an acclaimed and popular Broadway star.  Carole Lombard (My Man Godfrey) is an amazing whirlwind of verbal and physical energy as Lily. 

Carole Lombard

The match of Oscar and Lily proves to be theatrical gold until Jaffe's possessiveness causes Lily to rebel in a big way.  She leaves him and the "theatah" for (gasp) Hollywood!  Oscar's fortunes take a drastic downturn without his Lily.  Finding they are both traveling on the famous passenger train the Twentieth Century provides Oscar with one chance to get back his career and his girl.  Remember, Oscar Jaffe is a man with no boundaries, especially when he is in the right - which is always.

John Barrymore, Roscoe Karns, Walter Connolly, Etienne Girardot

Oliver is aided and abetted in all of his efforts, successful and otherwise, by the loyal employees he continually fires.  Assistant Oliver Webb is played by Walter Connolly (It Happened One Night) who is the most put-upon fellow you have ever seen.  He suffers indignities with a stoic loyalty that is accepted, but never appreciated.

Perpetually soused publicist Owen O'Malley is played with perfect off-the-cuff timing by Roscoe Karns (His Girl Friday).  He sees all, knows all, and plays the game for all its worth.  Charles Lane (You Can't Take It With You) is wryly humourous as Max Jacobs, the only one who maintains his head while in the Jaffe universe.  Stealing scenes, as he always does, is Etienne Girardot (The Whole Town's Talking) as a mysterious millionaire lunatic with an odd habit for a train passenger.

Lily has had a taste of freedom and success away from her supposed Svengali, yet she keeps a sentimental keepsake of their time together. Can it be love?  Oliver has tried creating another star in Lily's image, but has had suffered the ignominy of failure after failure.  Can it be love?  Neither Force of Nature is willing to give in to the other, so there is a lot of screaming, a lot of high jinks and a lot of confusion before the train pulls into New York.

TCM is screening Twentieth Century on Saturday, September 17th at 11:45.  It is an evening of "The Essentials" themed "All Aboard" featuring such other movie trains as The General, the escape from gangland Chicago in Some Like It Hot and Thelma Todd and Zasu Pitts and a Broadway troupe taking to the rails in a 1932 short called Show Business.

Twentieth Century was placed on the National Film Registry in 2011.