A bust of Malta's favourite son in front of his birthplace.
Project intiated in 2005 by 17 year old fan Eman Bonnici.
Joseph Calleia August 4, 1897 - October 31, 1975
Caftan Woman's dilemma: in my series "For Your Consideration" I want to spotlight one special performance of the wonderful character actors of Hollywood's Golden age which was overlooked at award season. However, I cannot settle on the "one" for Joseph Calleia. I will put my three before you - you decide.
Guiseppe Maria Spurrin-Calleja was born and died in beautiful Malta. Wouldn't you like to see a movie whose main character left home as a teenager, a singer and composer who sang in the Cafes and Music Halls of Europe? What an exciting time!
As it comes to all with greasepaint in their veins, Calleia went to Broadway in 1926. For the next ten years he found great success on the Great White Way. His first play was Broadway by Philip Dunning and George Abbot, also featuring Millard Mitchell and Lee Tracy. Next he played reporter Kruger in Hecht & MacArthur's The Front Page. Osgoode Perkins was Walter Burns and Lee Tracy played Hildy Johnson. His next play was the prison hit The Last Mile which brought Spencer Tracy to prominence. In the 1930 adaption of Vicki Baum's Grand Hotel Calleia played the chauffeur and was the general stage manager. You might like to know that Sam Jaffe played Krigelein, Sig Ruman was Preizig and Albert Dekker played the Baron. Next up was the comedy Honeymoon directed by Thomas Mitchell, followed by Ten Minute Alibi and another George Abbot play, Small Miracle. During this time Calleia had featured roles in a couple of New York produced pictures and those itchy feet sent him to Hollywood.
Sinister types were the order of the day in After the Thin Man, Juarez, Algiers (Critic's Award),MarieAntoinette, My Little Chickadee and The Glass Key. Excellent roles followed in For Whomthe Bell Tolls, The Cross of Lorraine and Gilda. And guess who played Papa Anthony in The Caddy, and could probably give Dean Martin a run for his money with That's Amore? In 1936 Calleia co-wrote with director William Wellman, The Robin Hood ofEl Dorado starring Warner Baxter as Joaquin Murrietta.
Joseph Calleia, Lucille Ball
A plane trip to Hell in Five Came Back
The first of the roles that failed to receive an Academy nod, and confounds my decision, is that of Vasquez, the revolutionary, in Five Came Back directed by John Farrow. Of course, 1939 being the stellar year that it was we can forgive any nominating committees. This exciting movie which still packs a punch is a tale of survival in a South American jungle after a plane crash. It has a wonderful ensemble cast with Chester Morris, Lucille Ball, Wendy Barrie, C. Aubrey Smith, Elisabeth Risdon, Kent Smith, Allen Jenkins and John Carradine. Vasquez is a man on his way to prison and execution. He finds unexpected freedom and purpose in the circumstances. He is the heartbreaking hero who touches every viewer of this movie.
Buldeo, the Storyteller
Korda's Jungle Book, 1942
The 1942 version of Rudyard Kipling's Jungle Book starring Sabu as Mowgli is a Technicolor delight. One of its greatest delights is the old man who tells the fantastic story of the boy raised by wolves and the lost city of gold. When that old man is revealed to have been a main player in the story, the sneaking and duplicitous Buldeo, it is also revealed that the audience has been treated to a tour de force from Joseph Calleia.
Pete Menzies, always in the background Touch of Evil, 1958
Orson Welles wanted to work with Joseph Calleia and when they did, it proved a real winner. Touch of Evil is a remarkably audacious film noir treat. In the midst of the lies, the emotions and the wild ride of a story is Calleia's Pete Menzies - a good cop, a loyal friend and an honourable man. His performance is the rock that makes all others possible and plausible. For shame on the Academy for not recognizing Calleia.
Joseph Calleia made more fine movies including Disney's A Light in the Forest, John Wayne's The Alamo and the gangster favourite Johnny Cool before retiring to Malta in 1964. I have read that Mr. Calleia claimed ailing health when declining Francis Ford Coppola's request to play Don Vito Corleone in The Godfather, but I like to think he was enjoying his retirement too much to return to Hollywood.
Malta issued two stamps featuring Joseph Calleia in 1997. Movie fans rejoice when a dvd issue features another performance of this favourite actor from the screen's golden era.
Caftan Woman has been watching movies again, and again she has found a performance overlooked at Award time. This time back in 1952 by prolific character actor Ward Bond.
Nebraska born Bond was attending the University of Southern California when he and a fellow footballer and lifetime friend, John Wayne, spent some larking time at Fox Studios. John Ford was doing a football picture and hired the kids. They worked on Salute starring George O'Brien and worked props. Bond certainly had a talent for acting. You cannot watch classic movies without stumbling across Ward Bond in roles big and small. He's the bus driver in It HappenedOne Night, the doorman in Dead End, an officer in Gone With the Wind. He's cop and thug, hero and coward - he's everywhere.
Many of his best roles were in John Ford movies. Apparently he was a favourite whipping boy of the curmudgeonly director, but thick-skinned enough to do some fine work including the repentant "Yank" in The Long Voyage Home, the gallant Sergeant Major O'Rourke in FortApache, the comic Father Lonergan in The Quiet Man, the trustworthy Rev. Clayton in The Searchers and director "John Dodge" in The Wings of Eagles.
Cagney, Powell, Fonda, Bond & Lemmon The cast of Mister Roberts relaxes. Who wants to be a fly on the wall?
Bond seems able to give any script its due whether it be the cowardly marshal in Frontier Marshal, the villainous Honey Bragg in Canyon Passage or that "family man", Bert the cop in It's a Wonderful Life.
The outstanding role of his career, for me, is in Nicholas Ray's On Dangerous Ground. Robert Ryan stars as an embittered police officer driven to his breaking point. Ordered off the mean city streets to the country in pursuit of a killer, he finds redemption. Bond plays Walter Brent, the father of a murdered girl. Grieving for his loss and suspicious of the cops, he tags along in the hunt for his daughter's murderer. He is looking for vengeance and what he finds gives him no solace. Bond is heartbreaking in this movie and his performance made me realize that I have spent most of my life taking him for granted. It seems his peers did as well by overlooking the performance.
Robert Ryan, Ward Bond On Dangerous Ground
After all his years as a featured player in movies, Ward Bond achieved true stardom as the star of Wagon Train. Major Seth Adams is an image many viewers recall fondly. His last film role was fittingly, as John Wayne's friend, in Rio Bravo. He died unexpectedly of a heart attack in 1960. Ward Bond was married twice. He was inducted into the Hall of Great Western Performers of the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum in 2001. A park was named in his honour in his hometown of Benkleman, Nebraska.
My late father used to say that if he saw Ward Bond's name in the credits there was a good chance he would enjoy the movie. When I started seriously introducing my daughter to classic movies she told me she'd only watch if Ward Bond was in it. Gotcha! He's in everything!