Caftan Woman

Caftan Woman

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

'Tis the Season - Part III

The title card is an invitation to - murder!

'Tis the season to take it easy, to get together with like-minded folks and enjoy a bit of cheer. Even hard-boiled fellas like Philip Marlowe need to kick back every once in a while.

1947s Lady in the Lake is based on Raymond Chandler's novel with a screenplay by Steve Fisher. Fisher wrote the popular novel I Wake Up Screaming, the play Susan Slept Here and movies and television including the Bogie flick Dead Reckoning, Song of the Thin Man, and episodes of Jane Wyman Theatre, Have Gun Will Travel and Fantasy Island.

Lady in the Lake was the first official directorial credit for actor Robert Montgomery. He had been honing the skill for a while, even taking over the directorial chores for Richard Thorpe for 1937s Night Must Fall. Montgomery was nominated for an Oscar for his chillingly real performance as a psychopath in that film. Oscar winning cinematographer for Battleground, Paul Vogel assists in creating the moody, noirish atmosphere. Other of his crime pictures include High Wall, Black Hand and The Tall Target.


The poster advises or warns patrons this is not the usual fare.

Allowed to cut loose on the project, Montgomery decided to shoot the film through the subjective eye of the camera and his character. It's certainly the correct project for such an approach as part of the fun of Chandler's work is the running commentary provided by Philip Marlowe as the reader tags along on another of his ventures into a society of the depraved and the misleading.

We get an opening shot of Montgomery/Marlowe inviting us to hear of his latest case and establishing his look before we are off to the races. Things happen quickly for Marlowe. He gets a case. He gets knocked around. Everybody wants him off the case. He won't back down because now he's mad or...maybe he's fallen for some skirt. That's the other thing about Marlowe, he may have been kicked around and should know better, but he wears his heart on his sleeve.


Montgomery sets the shot.
Audrey Totter as Adrienne Fromsett.

In this case, the gal is his latest client. Her name is Adrienne Fromsett and she's played by one of film noir's greatest and favourite actresses, Audrey Totter. Miss Fromsett has been kicked around by life and does not, most definitely not, wear her heart on her sleeve. She hires Marlowe to find her publisher boss's wife so he will be free to divorce her and move on. Things, of course, get complicated with gigolo boyfriends, unfriendly cops, crazy women with guns and with Adrienne.


Marlowe to Adrienne: "Imagine you needing ice cubes".

All of these complications are set to the background of the Christmas season with office parties and Christmas trees and carol singing. Is it the time of year, the brush off from the boss, or his own unique charms that have the steely Miss Fromsett falling for our guy?


Marlowe gets a look at himself after stepping on official toes.

The subjective camera takes a little getting used to. The first time I saw this film years ago I found it distracting and almost annoying. Later on, I sat back and enjoyed the off-beat rhythm it created. After all, life isn't a play with all the characters in neat groupings. When people look at us what exactly do they see?

The cast is rounded out by Leon Ames as the publisher, Dick Simmons in a fun turn as the gigolo, Jayne Meadows as a mysterious flirt and Tom Tully and Lloyd Nolan as a couple of small town cops.

Tom Tully, Lloyd Nolan - friends or foes

Montgomery includes a raucous car chase supported by a choral music background. He would use voices again in the score for his 1960 film The Gallant Hours.

In the midst of the whirlwind that is Marlowe's Christmas week he and Adrienne do have some down time. Christmas morning is spent with Marlowe recuperating from injuries while they share life stories and listen to a radio broadcast of A Christmas Carol. Private Eyes are people too, you know.



A lot of movies, especially detective movies, are like a lot of other movies and that is part of their charm. Lady in the Lake tries to be just a little bit different and that is part of its charm. It has made its way into my perennial holiday must-watch list. Persistent fellow that Marlowe.






Thursday, November 25, 2010

'Tis the Season - Part II



Whodunit? That's the question on everyone's mind. Of course motive and method are important, but only insofar as they are necessary to solve the puzzle. The classic whodunit should not be weighed down with psychological quirks and ramifications. As to method, we will leave the gory details to the television of the 21st century. If I had wanted to be an autopsy surgeon, I would be an autopsy surgeon.

The comedy-mystery film can be one of the most delightful ways to spend time, but the style is fraught with pitfalls. It takes the right touch from all involved to pull one off successfully. 1945s Lady on a Train is a comedy-mystery that works. It is based on a story by Leslie "The Saint" Charteris with a screenplay by Edmund Beloin who wrote everything from Bob Hope's Christmas classic The Lemon Drop Kid to episodes of television's Family Affair.

The movie was directed by Charles David, a career producer/production manager who has two directing credits to his name. The other is also based on a Charteris story, 1945s River Gang starring Universal's criminally under-valued Durbin back-up, Gloria Jean. Charles David married his leading lady, Deanna in 1950 and they remained so until his death in 1999.


Lady...with a book...on a train

Deanna Durbin stars as Nikkie Collins, heiress. She is not the madcap heiress of 30s comedies, but a determined young lady with an acute case of Nancy Drew Syndrome. On her way to NYC from San Francisco to spend Christmas with an aunt we never meet, Nikki looks up from her mystery novel and witnesses a murder through her train window. In the natural course of events desk sergeant William Frawley has no time for dizzy dames and suggests she consult the author of the fiction she's reading to help with the fiction she has brought to the authorities.


Dan Duryea, Deanna Durbin, Ralph Bellamy
Suspects and sleuth on the set

Nikki needs ploys-a-plenty to solve this case. She finds ways to ditch her "keeper", Haskell of the New York office, who proves totally inept in his assignment to keep her safe and secure. She convinces the befuddled and bemused mystery writer that he must help her. She convinces the heirs of the murder victim that she was the late millionaire's night club singer paramour.

Suspects include disinherited nephews Bellamy and Duryea, a proud sister, Elizabeth Patterson, a sinister underling, George Colouris, a mug, Allen Jenkins and a lawyer, Samuel S. Hinds. A gloomy mansion, a fancy nightclub and a deserted warehouse complete the atmosphere.


Jacqueline deWitt, wise-cracking secretary
David Bruce, author about to have life turned upside down
Deanna Durbin, girl detective

David Bruce, usually seen as the best friend or a stalwart office gives an assured, appealing performance as the romantic lead in this picture. However, I'm one of those gals who has eyes for no one else when Dan Duryea is on the screen. Here Duryea is a wastral nephew with an eye to increasing his fortune.


Everyone's favourite, Edward Everett Horton
Haskell of the New York office

Deanna's lovely voice is showcased beautifully and naturally in this movie. She sings a tender Silent Night over the long distance telephone to her father. When put on the spot by the baddies at the night club she gives out with a cute-sexy rendition of Gimme a Little Kiss. Later in the club Deanna's sultry Night and Day is a highlight.


Bill Frawley is annoyed.

Lady on a Train also abounds in Christmas trees. There is the tree the sergeant is delicately decorating at the police station. There is a big, friendly tree in the mystery author's spacious apartment. There is an elegant tree in Nikki's hotel suite. There is a partially decorated tree at the mansion. It is believed the deceased millionaire fell from a ladder while decorating his tree. We can also spot a tree behind a fellow who thinks he is shaving in the privacy of his own apartment, but comes face to face with Nikki seeking the room she spotted from the train.


Lady on a Train offers a satisfying puzzle, moments of true suspense, and comedy that comes from character without becoming frantic. All that plus Dan Duryea and Christmas trees. Thank you, Santa.









Wednesday, November 17, 2010

'Tis the Season - Part I


I adore the Christmas season. I love the music, the baking, the decorations. The days grow short and the nights are long and dark with the darkness of mystery and crime and film noir. Enough light seeps between the cracks in my venetian blinds to remind that life, filled with jolly revelers, is going on outside my door. I curl up with a steaming brew (dolloped with something special) and lose myself with the tough guys and gals of classic cinema.

First up, 1944s Christmas Holiday starring Deanna Durbin and Gene Kelly. A movie with that title and those stars leads the mind to a Lake Placid resort featuring a tap dance on skates to Jingle Bells and a heartwarming Ave Maria solo. No. The musical side of my soul must seek elsewhere for that sort of entertainment. A Somerset Maugham story was the basis for Herman Mankiewicz's screenplay, a story of deceit and obsession. Noir master Robert Siodmak directed and this places among his best in that time-honoured style, The Killers, Criss Cross, Phantom Lady and Cry of the City.



Deanna Durbin (Jackie/Abigail) and Gene Kelly (Robert)

Reliable "everyman" Dean Harens plays Lt. Mason, a young soldier about to be sent overseas. On the eve of what he thought was to be his wedding a "Dear John" letter spurs him to thoughts of revenge. A storm detours his plane to New Orleans where he is befriended by drunken (aren't they all?) newspaperman Simon Fenimore played by future director (Champagne for Caesar, TVs My Three Sons) Richard Whorf. Fenimore thinks the lieutenant needs to drown his sorrows and takes him to a dive run by Gladys Cooper who introduces him to jaded gal singer Jackie Lamont played by Durbin.

Jackie has her own troubles. Let's start with the fact that her real name is Abigail and she's running from something, running from herself. She fell in love with a charmer by the name of Robert Manette played by Kelly. Manette, in turn, had his own issues with narcissism, gambling and mother. Mother is played by Gale Sondergaard so you know off the bat that something is off kilter in the family tree.


Deanna Durbin with Dean Harens (Lt. Mason)

The rain-soaked Christmas Eve and Christmas Day Lt. Mason spend with Abigail as she recounts life with a murderous hubby and imperious mother-in-law prove to be life changing for the young man and intriguing storytelling for the viewer.

Gene Kelly channels his famous energy and charm into the wastrel Manette. His attraction for lonely Abigail is understandable. Deanna Durbin's trademark perkiness is nowhere in view as we see her tentatively reaching for happiness and shutting down when life slaps her in the face. Her perfunctory delivery of Frank Loesser's Spring Will Be a Little Late This Year when we first meet her in the nightclub shows us her weariness. The later rendition of Irving Berlin's Always is a heartfelt glimpse into her pining heart.

I am struck when watching Christmas Holiday how so many private things occur in such very public places. Abigail and Robert meet and fall in love in the upper gallery of a crowded concert hall. The final crash of the safe world Abigail thought she had found is in a courtroom filled with spectators. It is in church on Christmas Eve that Abigail finds the strength to start to break down. What private calamities and victories will be going on around us during this busy season?


Monday, November 8, 2010

J. Farrell MacDonald Movie Quotes

J. Farrell MacDonald
June 6, 1875 - August 2, 1952


Connecticut born J. Farrell MacDonald had a career or three in show business. He began as a minstrel performer and by the teens was directing for L. Frank Baum's Oz Film Manufacturing Co. and making a name for himself as a reliable character actor.

Working until the last few years of his life, MacDonald's face can be spotted in hundreds of movies as a cop, a doorman, a doctor - always in support, but always more than a "bit". Outstanding roles include Mike Costigan, one of John Ford's 3 Bad Men who break your heart in 1926. The sympathetic Windy in 1936's Show Boat. The junk man in 1946's A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. In 1935's Our Little Girl when runaway Shirley Temple encounters a hobo, we know it will be alright when "Mr. Tramp" is played by J. Farrell MacDonald. He worked, and he worked with the best.

Movie fans all have our favourite moments from our years of watching classic movies. Maybe they're not always the ones that make the AFI lists, but nonetheless they touch us. Three of my favourite movie quotes all came out of the mouth of J. Farrell MacDonald.



MacDonald made 25 pictures with John Ford starting in the silent era. What times they must have had! No. 1 on my JFM countdown is from Ford's first post-war film, My Darling Clementine. In speaking with other western fans I know that I'm not the only one who anticipates the small exchange between Henry Fonda's Wyatt Earp and MacDonald's barkeep.


Victor Mature (Doc Holliday), J. Farrell MacDonald (Mac)

Wyatt: Mac, have you ever been in love?
Mac: No. I've been a bartender all me life.


In his real life MacDonald was married to actress Edith Bostwick (1882-1943). They appeared together in silent films and were the parents of a daughter, Lorna.



Preston Sturges was a writer/director who knew a good character actor/actress when he saw one, and he used them well. He used J. Farrell MacDonald in 8 of his pictures from The Miracle of Morgan's Creek to The Sin of Harold Diddleback.



In The Palm Beach Story, MacDonald is cast in the familiar guise of a cop. One look at that mug and you can feel his aching feet. It's no wonder Joel McCrea's character refers to him as "Mulligan". The response "The name happens to be O'Donnell if it's all the same to you" speaks volumes. His admonishment to bickering couple McCrea and Claudette Colbert is #2 on my countdown:

"Why don't you two learn to get along together? I had to."




It's the time of year when all thoughts turn to Frank Capra's first post-war project, It's a Wonderful Life. The trio of directors represented here all had their "stock companies" and that use of character greats maybe one of the factors that give their films such lasting qualities. MacDonald has three Capra pictures to his credit, including "Sourpuss" in Meet John Doe.




In It's a Wonderful Life the newly not born George Bailey is seeking evidence of his existence. He goes looking for his car, which was last seen smashed into a tree. The substantial citizen of Pottersville who owns the tree is rightly suspicious of the overwrought stranger in his yard. Sizing up the situation and taking a whiff of Stewart's breath JFM sums up the situation with #3 on my list:

"You must mean two other trees."

Gems all! What other J. Farrell MacDonald gems are waiting for me in classic movie land? Were they gems on paper or did they become so in the hands of the right actor? What do you think?










Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Choir Cookies


I have renamed my traditional chocolate chip cookies Choir Cookies in honour of their success at a recent fundraiser for said choir. When I touted them to potential customers as the "finest chocolate chip cookies in the land" one lady replied that she made the "finest chocolate chip cookies in the land". Instead of coming to blows we accepted our individual claim to the title and marveled that we should meet under such circumstances.

These cookies have a nice, soft cake-like texture.

3/4 C of softened butter
1/2 C sugar
3/4 C brown sugar (lightly measured, do not pack)
2 eggs
1-1/2 tsp vanilla extract
2-3/4 C flour
1-1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
A cup or so of chocolate chips.
1/2 C of chopped pecans (optional) with milk chocolate chips
1/2 C of chopped walnuts (optional) with semi-sweet chips

Blend the butter and sugars
Add eggs and vanilla
Sift dry ingredients once and gradually blend into butter/sugar mixture
Add chocolate and nuts (if desired)

Roll about a tablespoons amount of cookie dough into a circle and pat flat (not too flat) on cookie sheet.

Bake in pre-heated 325 degree oven for 15 minutes. If your oven is anything like mine, you can lop a minute of each succeeding batch. Makes about 4 dozen delicious Choir Cookies. Enjoy!

For more treats on this blog check out:
Clare's Black & White Squares (December 14, 2009)
Robert Golden's (R.G. Armstrong) Chocolate Chip Cookies (April 7, 2009)

Upcoming for the Etobicoke Centennial Choir

The Big Sing, November 28th at Roy Thomson Hall
1000 voices of combined choirs accompanied by organ and brass ensemble

Our annual Sacred Traditions
An exciting evening of sacred music from the African, Jewish and Christian repertoire. Our special guests will be Nutifafa African Performance Ensemble and High Park Children's Choir. Traditional Christmas favourites and a carol sing as well!
Saturday, December 4 at 7:30
Humber Valley United Church
76 Anglesley Boulevard

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Remake Faux pas

Robert Preston as Professor Harold Hill
"I always think there's a band, kid."

Director Morton Da Costa's 1962 screen version of Meredith Willson's stunningly successful Broadway play The Music Man is one of the screen's most joyful musicals. Preserved for audiences is Robert Preston's Tony winning role of "Professor" Harold Hill. It's a colourful, brash homage to small towns, quirky characters and the love of music. It's a fun, touching and inspiring movie. I know that my many viewings as a youngster inspired my love of musical theatre.

Shirley Jones (Marian, the librarian) and Robert Preston
Love conquers all.

Above all it is a very funny movie, and that makes it a fun movie to watch. Paul Ford as Mayor Shinn gives a master class in the art of scene stealing. Hermione Gingold as Mrs. Shinn is every bit his equal. The script adapted by Marion Hargrove is sly without stooping to condescension. There are pleasures and delights around every corner of River City, Iowa circa 1912.


Kristen Chenowith and Matthew Broderick
The Music Man (TV, 2003)
The production was nominated for 5 technical Emmy awards.
It was filmed in Ontario, Canada.


In 2003 the Disney corporation retooled the classic as a "Music Man for the 21st Century". It didn't work. It should have worked. It's The Music Man. Two Broadway musical veterans led the cast, but Matthew Broderick was woefully lacklustre in the role of a vibrant con man and lovely, adorable Kristen Chenowith came off as a psycho spinster, perhaps compensating for Broderick's lack of spark. Mayor Shinn in the hands of adaptor Sally Robinson and the usually reliable Victor Garber was not in the least funny. He became a cardboard cutout villain.


"I've never been to the footbridge with a man in my life."


The worst offense was messing with my favourite line of the original. You will recall that Harold has lured Marian to the footbridge because he has "come up through the ranks in this skirmish and he's not resigning without his commission". Harold's compatriot Marcellus (Buddy Hackett) needs to get the romantic rogue's attention because "a crazy anvil salesman has been running all over town spilling the beans". Heeding Marcellus' beckon, Harold turns to Marian and explains he is "expecting a telegram from (pause, still playing the game, what would impress this gal?) Rudy Friml", implying a close relationship with the famous composer. It's subtle and funny. It always makes me smile. For some reason, in the TV movie Harold says he's expecting a telegram from "Hector Berlioz". Not even Hec Berlioz, but Hector Berlioz who passed away in 1869. Perhaps, unbeknownst to the audience, Marian was a devotee of spiritualism and would be duly impressed with Harold's influence. If so, it was too subtle for me.


Thursday, September 30, 2010

Favourite movies: True Grit (1969)


I have lost track of how many times I have seen True Grit. It is one of those films that is committed to memory. Marguerite Roberts' screenplay is filled with some of moviedom's most delicious dialogue as she drew heavily on Charles Portis' remarkably fine novel. The tone is one of dramatic authenticity with a dark sense of absurdity at situation and character, particularly Mattie's intractable world view. It is the adventure of a lifetime.


John Wayne as Rooster Cogburn and Kim Darby as Mattie Ross

Rooster Cogburn: Why, by God, girl, that's a Colt's Dragoon! You're no bigger than a corn nubbin, what're you doing with all this pistol?
Mattie Ross: It belonged to my father, he carried it bravely in the war, and I intend to kill Tom Chaney with it if the law fails to do so.
Rooster Cogburn: Well, this'll sure get the job done if you can find a fence post to rest it on while you take aim.

I was a 12 years old when I saw True Grit for the first time in 1969. A 12 year old who had grown up in an era of television westerns and Audie Murphy features at our local theatre. I loved the drama, the action and the morality, sometimes ambiguous, in those stories. True Grit was the same, yet it was different. Western fans play the game of "measuring up". We would stand up to Ryker. We would not refuse Will Kane's request for help. We would know a skunk when we saw one. In True Grit, it wasn't the tall man in the hat to whom I had to measure myself, it was a girl. It was 14 year old Mattie Ross seeking justice, seeking vengeance for the killing of her father. It was Mattie Ross standing up to a world of adults who wanted to brush her aside. It was Mattie dealing with her sorrow and pain, yet determined to have her voice heard. It was the world around her that would have to measure up to Mattie.


John Wayne, Kim Darby, Glen Campbell (La Boeuf)

The viewers go on a journey with the spunky girl as she deals with the frustrations of bureaucracy and the societal expectations of children. Mattie knows she is capable and she knows what she must do. Her journey leads her to Rooster Cogburn, a marshal of skill and dubious reputation. A Texas Ranger played by Glen Campbell becomes part of the team which is an uneasy alliance. Musician Campbell does well enough considering it is a tyro effort, but how I wish an experienced actor had been cast in the role. I always pictured Doug McClure.

True Grit is filled with interesting characters and interesting character actors which gives the film its depth. Jeff Corey (Little Big Man) is the murderer Tom Chaney. Hank Worden (The Searchers) is a sympathetic undertaker. Edith Atwater (The Body Snatcher) is a pretentious boarding house landlady. Alfred Ryder (T-Men) a bombastic defense attorney. Donald Woods (A Tale of Two Cities) is cast as the district attorney, but sadly only has one line in the film.

Strother Martin (Cool Hand Luke) is Colonel Stonehill, a horse trader whose scenes with Kim Darby are one of the highlights of the movie.
Mattie Ross: Do you know a Marshal Rooster Cogburn?
Col. G. Stonehill: Most people around here have heard of Rooster Cogburn and some people live to regret it. I would not be surprised to learn that he's a relative of yours.

Jeremy Slate (The Sons of Katie Elder) and Dennis Hopper (Hoosiers) are two unfortunate criminals who cross paths with Rooster. Robert Duvall (The Godfather) is 'Lucky' Ned Pepper, as determined an outlaw as Rooster is a lawman.

John Fielder (The Odd Couple) is Mattie's lawyer, J. Nobel Daggett.
Mattie Ross: They're in this story together. Now, I've got business across the river and if you interfere with me you may land up in court which you don't want to be. I've got a good lawyer in J. Noble Daggett.
Rooster Cogburn: [to LaBoeuf] Lawyer Daggett again.
LaBoeuf: She draws him like a gun.



Mattie Ross: Who's the best marshal they have?
Sheriff: Bill Waters is the best tracker. The meanest one is Rooster Cogburn, a pitiless man, double tough, fear don't enter into his thinking. I'd have to say L.T. Quinn is the straightest, he brings his prisoners in alive.
Mattie Ross: Where would I find this Rooster?



Rooster Cogburn is who Mattie feels will get the job done for her, but is she ready for the realities in store? How will the violence and hardships to come shape her character? Is it Mattie's determination and her vulnerabilities that will shape her destiny and her relationships? The novel presents the events as a memory, the story of an adventure. The movie's viewpoint is from the young girl that is Mattie Ross. We are swept up in her journey of discovery and her adventure with the force of nature that is Rooster Cogburn.


Rooster Cogburn: Baby sister, I was born game and I intend to go out that way.

John Wayne won an Oscar for True Grit. He had been nominated once before for Sands of Iwo Jima. Personally, if I were the Academy I would have given Duke nods for She Wore a Yellow Ribbon, The Searchers and Island in the Sky, but I'm not the Academy.

It is impossible to say how many John Wayne movies I had seen to that point in my life. He was, to me, a true movie star and he epitomized the West, with a capital W, as it had grown in my imagination. Since that time, my main movie cowboys have become Randolph Scott and Glenn Ford, but John Wayne is still an actor who gives me great joy.

John Wayne carried a legacy of classic western portrayals of close to 40 years when he played the character of Rooster. The marshal was a man who hadn't just seen much, he had done much. However, his world was turning fast. His previous autonomous ways were becoming accountable to courts and now to a youngster, and not just any youngster, a young lady. A young lady with as keen a sense of self as his own. Their clash of wills would lead to understanding, respect and affection that neither would experience again.

Henry Hathaway directed True Grit on location in Colorado instead of the novel's actual setting of Arkansas. Although that decision may annoy purists, it mattered little to a Nova Scotian girl who marveled only at the vast and magnificent scenery against which the tale was told. Award winning cinematographer Lucien Ballard breathtakingly captured the magnificent scenery, making it another character in the story. Elmer Bernstein's score is one of his "rousing" variety and pushes all the right buttons.

When I think of great female performances of the 1960s it is not the Academy Award winners or the glamour queens of the era that come to mind. It is Kim Darby's valiant, heartbreaking and inspiring Mattie Ross.


Supplemental viewing on YouTube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0EUP9rOLf30
"True Grit Then and Now" will bring you to a fan video of locations used in the filming of the movie.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Introducing June and Art

Hello, friends. I want to direct your attention to a new blog on my "following" list. A special project from an IMDb Classic Film Board friend, lee-109 and sister, "The Story of June and Art" is a loving tribute to their parents and a time and place in their lives.

Enjoy!

Monday, September 13, 2010

As the World Turns, 1956 - 2010


1956 to 2010. That's quite an astonishing run for a television program. It is a feat to be applauded. It is an entertainment legacy to celebrate. However, as with last year's cancellation of (The) Guiding Light, the ending of the program leaves a bitter taste for fans.

Also created by Irna Phillips, As the World Turns was, along with The Edge of Night, the first of the soaps to be broadcast in 30 minute episodes. The Hughes, the Stewarts, the Lowells captured hearts and imaginations, and dedicated viewers for generations.


Kathryn Hayes (Kim), Don Hastings (Bob), Greg Marx (Tom), Hillary Bailey Smith (Margo)
Don McLaughlin (Chris), Helen Wagner (Nancy)
Julianne Moore (Franny) and Scott DeFreitas (Andy)

Soap fans appreciate a strong cast. By necessity, personalities drive many of the stories. Even the best of writers are going to dry up when trying to provide episodes for an hour (the show went to an hour in 1975), 5 days a week. A solid mix of experienced performers and youngsters who can take the opportunity and run with it make for exciting - almost theatrical television.



Note the Christmas tree in this cast photo. The weddings, the births, the funerals and the holidays made the characters and their travails important moments in the days of viewers.


Isn't this a fabulous photo? Who else remembers Lisa's Mom and Susan's Mom? Our "Aunt" Charlotte used to say "Oh, that John Dixon is a devil!" We all agreed and we all loved Larry Bryggman.

It's a rare thing to see a "soap" get a TV Guide cover. Apparently, the time of day in which a program aired was important in the hierarchy of entertainment. That would change with the advent of VCRs when people could choose their own timing.

However, that change in viewer's habits frightened television and program executives. They ran scared and in an effort to gain a new viewership, ignored the old. Ratings slipped and viewers were blamed for deserting the show. A look at any internet message board would have told them that the fans were still there, but the fans had had enough. Fans practically begged for stories where history of plot and consistency of character were honoured. Fans practically begged for a glimpse of cherished, veteran performers.

What we got were recasts in name only ("we're going in a different direction with the character), promises of storylines for veterans (Bob gets sick on Tuesday and forgotten about by Thursday). Gimmicky summer mysteries (a slasher on the loose at a camp for teens!) and SORAS'ed (soap opera rapid aging syndrome) teenagers making out at the Snyder pond.

I believe it is the lack of listening to the fans, and the proliferation of SPOILERS that have brought about the decline in viewership. There is still a place for the continuing story arc in entertainment. Most of the popular primetime series of today emulate that model.




Eventually the bitterness will fade and fans will check out clips on YouTube to relive favourite stories and moments that are as real to us as anything we've experienced. However, right now, during the last week of As the World Turns we hang on every last moment and curse the people who took a cherished storytelling legacy and let it die.

Farewell Lisa, Bob, Kim, Susan, James, Barbara, Lucinda, John, Tom & Margo, Lily & Holden. Good-bye to the all the stories told and all the stories untold.


Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Monday's Child is Fair of Face



Born to Tracey Nolan and Jim Clayton of Toronto, a daughter on August 16, 2010, Eileen Agnes Clayton. It looks like the happy couple will get along with their new boss.



Eileen Agnes Clayton

Babies born under the sign of Leo are the happiest children of the Zodiac. They respond positively to love and tenderness. They are blessed with the qualities of nobility, generosity, self-reliance, leadership and magnanimity. They possess an understanding beyond their age, love adventure and are naturally idealistic.



"Lenny"

The Leo child acts from motives of the heart, not the brain and are quickly moved by an emotional appeal. They are better leaders than followers. They are imaginative and quick-tempered, vital and fun to be around.



"Lenny" too

The lucky little girl has been given the middle names of her doting grandmothers. Government forms and teachers may refer to this child as "Eileen", but her parents affectionately call her "Lenny".

Eileen from the Greek means "light". Agnes from the Greek means "pure". Lenny is a form of Leo from the Latin for "brave", also from contemporary television for incessant wisecracker.

Welcome to the world, little one. Your family knows one truism in raising children - there is no such thing as too much love.






Thursday, August 12, 2010

The poet Burns, Ben Franklin and Gandalf



O would some power the giftie gie us to see ourselves as others see us.

Robert Burns



Apparently the healthiest thing about me are my eyes, and even they need help. It is said that Benjamin Franklin invented that rite of passage for the middle-aged, the bifocal, because of his own advancing years. I think that, like me, old Ben was a secret chorister who couldn't juggle looking at both the music and the conductor. It is time.

I was drawn by two pair of frames in the shop. One was bold and black. The other was pretty with crystals or something on the arms. I needed to put on my reading glasses to check it out properly.

First I tried on the bold and the black frames.

"Cool!" I remarked.
The saleslady tilted her head and said "H'mm. Those are very popular now with the..."
"The younger type?" I offered.
"H'mm. The arty type."
"Perfect! I'm the arty type."
The saleslady tiled her head the other way and said "H'mm".
Well, I am, I thought. Anyway, I'm the only one at the laundromat who's working on a novel.

My mind wandered back a few years, to 1984. I had taken my youngest sister Tracey to the Royal Alexandra Theatre to see Ian MacKellan in his show Acting Shakespeare. During intermission we observed the milling throng in the lobby. The well-heeled in pearls and suits sipping their wine. The comfortably dressed yet intense individuals also sipping their wine. I nodded toward the fashion-forward crowd and said "You can certainly pick out the actors in the crowd." My ten year old sister commented, "If you have to dress like one, you probably aren't."

I chose the pretty glasses with the crystals or something on the arms. I don't have to dress like I'm arty, I am arty. Just ask the folks at the laundromat.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Favourite Guest Star: Morgan Woodward


Tall, rugged Texan with a booming voice, all Morgan Woodward has to do is show up, but he's also a fine actor.

Born September 16, 1925 in Arlington, this veteran of the Korean War, musically inclined former law student entered show business in the 1950s and television fans are the better for that decision.

In the era of episodic television it was possible to see a favourite actor stretch those muscles with varied and interesting portrayals. With more of today's programs are going for the "soap opera" or continuing story arch such feats are less noticeable. For instance, Woodward scored high with his appearances as Johnny Renko on Hill Street Blues (And, by the way, where's his Emmy nomination?), the identification with a core character meant we were denied having him come back as a hard-line police captain or a crime kingpin.

When a season of programming meant 30 plus episodes a year you could count on seeing that familiar face in an unfamiliar situation. Gunsmoke (see my post of April 25, 2008) was a quality series for 20 seasons and used a roster of fine actors to great effect, Mr. Woodward more than most, but it was a happy time if Denver Pyle, Victor French, Royal Dano, Shug Fisher, Jacqueline Scott, Jeanette Nolan, Louise Latham and Nora Marlowe were listed in the TV Guide.

Watching a good actor do their thing is like watching a ballplayer accomplish something amazing. So today, let's look at some of the great catches, amazing slides and inside-the-parkers Morgan Woodard pulled off on Gunsmoke.

Vengeance (1967)
A two-part dramatic episode written by Calvin Clements Sr. and directed by Richard Sarafian. It will leave you depressed for days. As Zack Johnson, Woodward dies slowly and movingly after being shot by town boss Parker leaving his son, James Stacey, hurting for vengeance.

Death Train (1967)
In this episode written by Ken Trevey and directed by Gunnar Hellstrom, Woodward is a millionaire whose private railway car harbours a plague. His money and power are helpless when confronting a germ.

Lyle's Kid (1968)
Woodward is a bitter, crippled gunman who uses his son, Sam Melville as an instrument of revenge in this episode written by Calvin Clements Sr. and directed by Bernard McEveety.

Lobo (1968)
Another one of those compelling downers written by Jim Byrnes and directed by Bernard McEveety. As Luke Brazo, loner and mountain man teams up with Matt to track down a wolf that has become a hazard to cattle. Two of a kind- Brazo and the wolf. Brazo rampages against the town when the wolf's carcass is not afforded dignity, placing Matt in an untenable position.

Stryker (1969)
This episode written by Herman Groves and directed by Robert Totten features Woodward as Josh Stryker, the former marshal of Dodge City. Released from jail he's looking for Matt to pay.

Hackett (1970)
Woodward plays Quentin Sargent, a farmer whose former criminal associate, Earl Holliman, is a little bit on the psycho side in this story by William Kelley directed by Jack Miller. Woodward is quite convincing as a frightened coward.

Luke (1970)
Woodward is dying again. An old-time outlaw seeks to makes amends with his saloon hostess daughter played by Katherine Justice. The episode was written by Jack Miller and directed by Bernard McEveety.

A Game of Death...An Act of Love (1973)
Written by Paul F. Edwards and directed by Gunnar Helstrom this two-parter is one of the long-running series best. Woodward is Bear Sanderson whose wife was murdered, but was it by the Indians now held in the Dodge jail. Matt is not so certain as the townsfolk and convinces a part-Indian lawyer played by Paul Stevens to champion their cause. There is a lot of intense emotion in this episode.

Matt Dillon Must Die (1974)
Woodward is Adam Wakefield in a "Most Dangerous Game" scenario involving Matt.

A bonus for fans is the made-for-TV movie from 1992, Gunsmoke: To the Last Man featuring Pat Hingle as a cattle baron and Morgan Woodward as a sheriff.

Honoured with Lifetime Achievement Awards from the Texas Arts Council and the Wild West Film Festival, Morgan Woodward also has the admiration and affection of fans.





Monday, June 14, 2010

Pretty Pauline Moore

Pauline Moore
June 14, 1914 - December 7, 2001

Born in Harrisburg, Pa., Pauline Moore had a busy and vibrant career as an actress and model in the 1920s and 30s. That she never made the "big time" in Hollywood is one of the unfathomable mysteries of the era. Her attractiveness cannot be questioned. Her throaty, quirky voice was appealing and her talent evident. In a 1990 interview, Pauline remarked "I was the girl who was always being discovered by the press. 'Watch this girl', a reviewer would say, and then forget to. The trouble was, if you were any good at all at doing B movies, then the more B movies you did." B movies, however, have a way of winning a place in fan's hearts that is unassailable.

Pauline's modeling career boasted of covers for Ladies Home Journal, Cosmopolitan and McCalls. Her image graces one of the collectible Coca Cola trays from 1934. She is the "Hostess Girl".

Pauline earned her acting stripes with the Edna Preston Players touring in repertoire throughout the eastern seaboard. Her Broadway debut in 1921 was in a David Belasco revival of Eugene Walter's The Easiest Way. Many non-hits came her way as in Eugene O'Neill's The Fountain which ran for 28 performances in 1925 and the anarchist's delight Ernst Toller's Man and the Masses which had a 32 night run in 1924. It must have been joyous to have a hit when Earl Carroll's Murder at the Vanities opened in 1933. The show ran for 207 performances and was filmed in 1934 by Mitchell Leisen. Her last play was 1934s Dance With Your Gods by Kenneth Perkins. Running for a scant 9 performances, it has the distinction of introducing a young Lena Horne.




Pauline's movie career began as one of Valerie Hobson's uncredited bridesmaids in 1931s Frankenstein. Better roles came Pauline's way later in the decade after signing with Fox although not in A level pictures with the deserved publicity build-up. 1938s Three Blind Mice is a comedy from the three girls on the hunt for rich husbands formula. Loretta Young's career did nothing but gain momentum and she would win an Oscar and television fame as well. Marjorie Weaver, like Pauline, would enliven B pictures such as Charlie Chan's Murder Cruise and Mike Shayne Private Detective.


Roy Rogers, Pauline, Gabby Hayes in 1940s Young Buffalo Bill

Young western fans probably took no notice of the talent behind the stock characters setting up the longed-for action sequences, but this trio knew their business and always gave one hundred percent. Pauline could almost give Dale Evans a run for her money, appearing with Roy in 5 pictures between 1939 - 1941: Days of Jesse James, Young Buffalo Bill, The Carson City Kid, Colorado and Arkansas Judge. Also unafraid to work with children, Pauline is featured with Jane Withers in Wild and Woolly and The Arizona Wildcat, and with the Dionne Quintuplets in Five of a Kind.




If you don't happen to be a fan of westerns or quintuplets you will find Pauline an incandescent Lady Constance in 1939s The Three Musketeers opposite Don Ameche and the Ritz Brothers. She's a sympathetic teacher in 1937s Heidi starring Shirley Temple, and the personification of a dream as Ann Rutledge in Young Mr. Lincoln.



Pauline's first of three Chan features is 1937s Charlie Chan at the Olympics. It is a gold medal winner featuring archival footage of the Berlin games. Pauline is athlete Betty Adams, a teammate of Keye Luke's Lee Chan and the romantic interest for Alan "Rocky" Lane. She's a strong rooter of Jesse Owens and a great one for screaming for help when a kidnapping is in progress. Foreign spies will stop at nothing to get their hands on an aviation remote control device, but they have another thing coming when they decide to use a nice American girl as an unwitting smuggler!




The second Chan to star Sidney Toler, 1939s Charlie Chan in Reno is great fun. What a grand double bill it would make with The Women for your next movie night. Pauline plays Mary Whitman who needs old friend Charlie's help when she's accused of murdering the woman who broke up her marriage. Catty gals, great fashions and just the right amount - not too much - of laughs from Sen Yung and Slim Summerville give this picture major oomph.




As backstage murder mysteries go, Charlie Chan at Treasure Island also from 1939 (what was in the water those Hollywood folks were drinking that year?!) is one of the best. Pauline is Eve Cairo, mind reader. Her boyfriend, a reporter played by Douglas Fowley and boss, a magician played by Caesar Romero are out to unmask a phony psychic and maybe find a murderer. Twists, turns and interesting character actors make it a must-see for newcomers to the series and an honoured favourite among fans.


It may have been a combination of roles drying up and family responsibilities taking over, but whatever the reason the twice-widowed mother of three was off the screen for a decade before a smattering of television work in the 1950s including Studio 57, Medic and The Littlest Hobo. Pauline lived her later years close to family in Sequim, Washington and passed away from ALS in 2001.

Pauline Moore's enchanting presence in much-loved genre films keeps her alive for generations of classic movie fans.