Wednesday, December 16, 2015

An Invitation to Classic Movie Christmas Parties



Christmastime is here.  A time of get-togethers and good cheer, at your home, your neighbour's and with some old friends on the screen.  Today I want to share some of my favourite Christmas parties from movies and television. 



THE THIN MAN (1934)

Dashiell Hammett's dark and comic murder mystery was beautifully realized on screen in this adaption by Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett directed by W.S. Van Dyke.  William Powell and Myrna Loy are perfectly cast as Nick and Nora Charles.  Nick, a former private eye now looks after his heiress wife's fortune.  Nora is intrigued by her husband's past and is thrilled at the idea of helping to solve a real live murder!  Their New York hotel suite is the site of a raucous Christmas Eve party.  The revolving door of guests include pug fighters, ex-cons, doxies and dopes.

Nora:  "Oh, Nicky, I love you because you know such lovely people."



A TREE GROWS IN BROOKLYN (1945)

Betty Smith's enormously successful novel about the struggling Nolan family at the beginning of the 20th century was the first directorial credit for Elia Kazan.  The film focuses on the first portion of the novel and stars special Oscar winner Peggy Ann Garner as Francie.  Francie is a bright and imaginative girl trapped by circumstances, and longing for the freedom that comes from education.

Francie adores her father, a singing waiter with big dreams and a big heart.  Francie has to learn to understand and accept her mother who bears the practical burdens of keeping the family together.  The last Christmas Eve spent as a family includes a quiet, companionable party at home with thoughtful and practical gifts from the maternal side of the family.

Francie and her brother Neely's (Ted Donaldson) only hope of getting a Christmas tree to decorate is to hold on to one of the leftover trees tossed by the seller at the close of business.  Their triumph in catching and keeping the tree brings joy and excitement to their family and the entire apartment house.    



SHUBUN aka SCANDAL (1950)

Akira Kurosawa's film tells the story of an artist (Toshiro Mifune) who brings a libel suit against a magazine for publishing a false story about an alleged relationship with a famous singer (Shirley Yamaguchi).  The idealistic artist hires as a lawyer, a rather shady character (Takashi Shimura).  The lawyer's faults are easy for all to see, but his loving wife and devoted daughter who suffers from tuberculosis touch our artist's heart and he sacrifices his own interests to help the little family.

The artist and the singer combine forces to give the ill Masako a simple, but charming Christmas party with decorations, music and food.  The celebration is overwhelming in its sincerity and highlighted by a lovely rendition of Silent Night.



Later that night client and lawyer retire to the dubious charms of a tavern known as The Red Cat where the festivities end with drunken and remorseful patrons raising their voices in an off-key, dirge-like version of Auld Lange Syne.



THE LONG GRAY LINE (1955)

John Ford's film is based on Bringing Up the Brass, the autobiography of West Point athletics instructor Martin Maher, an Irish immigrant played by Tyrone Power.  Maureen O'Hara co-stars as his wife, Mary.  It is an episodic film with healthy doses of humour leavening the reverence, along with the stroll through historic names and events.

The Christmas party scene is short and sweet in its manly sentiment.  It is Marty's first Christmas after the death of his wife and the house is quiet and lonely.  The stillness is interrupted by a few of the cadets bringing all their youthful energy, a tree, some punch, some song and good fellowship in a show of genuine affection.  Actions speak louder than words.



DESK SET (1957)

Katharine Hepburn runs the research department of a TV network.  Spencer Tracy is the consultant hired to computerize many of the network operations, including research.  Things may be changing, but the office Christmas party must go on and this is the best movie office Christmas party ever!  A piano escapes a rehearsal hall, making the rounds of the offices.  Lowly delivery boys get dream tips.  Secretaries and researchers alike get to relax and enjoy a bit of spiked punch.  Conga lines snake the hallways.  Gifts are exchanged.  We laugh, sing and get to watch Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy fall in love.

Richard Sumner to Bunny Watson:  "I'll bet you write beautiful letters."



GUNSMOKE:  P.S. MURRY CHRISTMAS (1971)

Here's a classic TV Christmas party from the 17th season of Gunsmoke.  Jeanette Nolan guest stars as the skinflint manager of an orphanage.  Jack Elam is the handyman who helps the kids in her charge (Patti Cohoon, Jodie Foster, Erin Moran, Josh Albee, Brian Morrison, Willie Aames, Todd Lookinland) run away in search of Christmas that is sorely lacking in the sterile facility.  Riding the rails, the ragtag group makes it to Dodge City where the whole town takes them under their wing.  Eventually it is discovered that the headmistress isn't hard-hearted or the most fearsome "outlady" in the west (Festus is often given to hyperbole), but does the best she can with the little money given for the orphanage.  Forgiveness is the order of the day and the Longbranch becomes the site of a children's Christmas party.  Why, Miss Kitty even gives Matt a kiss on the cheek.


Kitty:  "Merry Christmas, Cowboy."
Matt:  "Merry Christmas, Kitty."






Thursday, December 10, 2015

SINATRA CENTENNIAL BLOGATHON: Frank's Musical Oscar Legacy


Frank Sinatra
(1915 - 1998)

The Sinatra Centennial Blogathon runs December 10 - 13 and is co-hosted by The Vintage Cameo and Movie Classics.  Our thanks to Emily and Judy for this opportunity to celebrate Frank Sinatra.  Day #1 entries HERE.  Day #2 is HERE.  Day #3 is HERE.  Day #4 is HERE.

Frank Sinatra is one of the most successful of the popular singers who turned to acting, proving the depth of his talent.  Previously at this corner of the blogosphere we looked at Bing Crosby's enviable record of introducing 14 film songs that were nominated for the Oscar, including 4 winners, and Doris Day's 6 nominations and 2 wins for songs she introduced.  Frank's film career spans the 1940s to the 1980s and the variety of musicals, comedies and dramas of quality is impressive.  Frank introduced 8 songs into the Oscar nomination roll, with 3 standards in the win column.

Click on the song title links for YouTube performances where available.

Frank made his feature film debut as part of the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra in 1941s Las Vegas Nights.  Funnily enough, the movie features an Oscar nominated song, Dolores by Frank Loesser and Louis Alter sung by Bert Wheeler of Wheeler and Woolsey fame.  Frank appeared singing the Dorsey recording hit I'll Never Smile Again by Canadian Ruth Lowe.  The Oscar of the season went to Kern and Hammerstein's The Last Time I Saw Paris featured in Lady Be Good.




1943s Higher and Higher was adapted from a 1940 Broadway show with music by Jimmy McHugh and Harold Adamson.  RKO purchased the rights for the film to showcase Frank Sinatra and  one of the new songs composed for the film, I Couldn't Sleep a Wink Last Night, was nominated for the Oscar.  The Oscar winner that year was Swinging on a Star from Going My Way.  Among the 12 nominees are The Trolley Song from Meet Me in St. Louis and Long Ago and Far Away from Cover Girl.


MGMs splashy big budget musical of 1945, Anchors Aweigh won George Stoll the Oscar for Best Scoring of a Musical Picture.  The film was also nominated for Best Picture, Best Leading Actor for Gene Kelly, Best Color Cinematography and a Best Song nomination for Jule Styne and Sammy Cahn's ballad I Fall in Love Too Easily.  The song was introduced by Frank as the shy sailor Clarence who pines for Kathryn Grayson while Pamela Britton patiently waits on the sidelines.  The Academy awarded Rodgers and Hammerstein's It Might as Well Be Spring from State Fair.  Other nominees include Accentuate the Positive from Here Come the WAVES, I'll Buy that Dream from Sing Your Way Home and Victor Young's theme to Love Letters.



In 1954 an uncredited Frank Sinatra sang the title track to Three Coins in the Fountain which won the Best Song Oscar for Jule Styne and Sammy Cahn.  The other nominees were Count Your Blessings Instead of Sheep from White Christmas, the theme to The High and the Mighty, Hold My Hand from Susan Slept Here and (my personal choice), Arlen and Gershwin's The Man That Got Away from A Star is Born.  As Judy, who pointed out this early omission on my part noted, surely Sinatra's performance helped sell the number.

The remaining 5 songs on Frank's Oscar list are all composed by Jimmy Van Heusen and Sammy Cahn.  Van Heusen, in particular, was a close friend of Frank's and his swinging lifestyle was an inspiration to the crooner.  Van Heusen was nominated for 12 Oscars.  Johnny Burke was the lyricist on 3 nominations including one win and Van Heusen and Cahn had 3 wins from 9 nominations.  First up -



The theme to the 1955 comedy The Tender Trap was nominated for Best Song losing to Sammy Fain and Paul Francis Webster's timeless theme to Love is a Many-Splendored Thing.  Among the nominees we find Johnny Mercer's Something's Gotta Give from Daddy Long Legs and Unchained Melody, Alex North and Hy Zaret's theme to the prison picture Unchained.





We have ourselves a winner!  The biopic of entertainer Joe E. Lewis is directed by Charles Vidor who had such success with Ruth Etting's story in Love Me or Leave Me.  The winning song, All the Way was not only perfect for the character, but perfect for Frank and became one of his famous signature tunes.  Also nominated that season were the themes from An Affair to Remember, April Love, Tammy and Wild is the Wind.



1958s Some Came Running, based on James Jones novel and directed by Vincente Minnelli, garnered 3 acting nominations for Shirley MacLaine, Martha Hyer and Arthur Kennedy, Walter Plunkett's costumes and the Van Heusen and Cahn theme song, To Love and Be Loved.  The winner for the year was Gigi from the Lerner and Loewe musical.




The 1959 Frank Capra picture A Hole in the Head grows on you with its quirky charm.  In the eyes of his brother played by Edward G. Robinson, Frank's character is a wastrel not doing right by his motherless son played by Eddie Hodges.  The conflict gives rise to many trials and a great musical moment with our second winner.  The imagery in High Hopes makes it popular with children and the positive message a timeless favourite.  The line-up of nominees included themes for The Best of Everything, The Five Pennies, The Hanging Tree and Strange Are the Ways of Love from The Young Land.




Fun? Wow!  Robin and the 7 Hoods spoofs old-time gangster flicks with scene stealing turns from Peter Falk and Bing Crosby.  Van Heusen and Cahn give Frank another one of his signature tunes and Frank's last musical trip to the Oscars.  My Kind of Town competed with the team's own title theme to Where Love Has Gone, Mancini's Dear Heart, DeVol's Hush Hush Sweet Charlotte and they all bowed to the Sherman Brothers winner, Chim Chim Cheree from Mary Poppins.

Frank Sinatra won the Oscar's Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award in 1971, the Best Supporting Acting trophy for From Here to Eternity in 1954 and was nominated in the Best Leading Role category for 1955s The Man with the Golden Arm.  In 1945 Frank was the featured lead and shared in an Honorary Award with Mervyn LeRoy, Frank Ross, Albert Matz, Earl Robinson and Lewis Allen for the short The House I Live In

Saturday, December 5, 2015

The "Try It, You'll Like It!" blogathon: 12 Angry Men (1957)



This post is part of the "Try It, You'll Like It!" Blogathon, hosted by Sister Celluloid and Movies Silently, where we write about "gateway films" that might bring non-classic-film lovers into the fold!  For all entries, click here!

Some of the inflexible reasons given for avoiding classic films.  "I don't watch old movies."  "I don't watch black and white movies."  "I don't like the way they acted back then."  "Movies keep getting better.  Why should I watch something from when they weren't as good as they are now?"  All that's needed to break that logjam is one distinguished and impressive piece of cinema.  All that's needed is 12 Angry Men.

Securing an audience's attention starts with the word, and Reginald Rose strung together some great words for his Emmy winning teleplay for Studio One, Twelve Angry Men in 1954.  The following year he adapted the script for the stage.  The theatrical play has enjoyed many professional and amateur tours and revivals, including a multi-Tony nominated 2005 Broadway production.  In 1957 Rose and star Henry Fonda co-produced the 12 Angry Men feature film version for United Artists.

Former actor and live television director veteran Sidney Lumet (Fail-Safe, Network, The Verdict) made his impressive feature debut with this project, collaborating with the great cinematographer Boris Kaufman (L'Atalante, On the Waterfront, The Pawnbroker).  The visionary artists created a universe inside of a single room.  The black and white cinematography gives an almost documentary-like feel to the proceedings; a sense of the immediacy of a newspaper.  The view of the sparse set, at first a wide empty room that slowly fills to overcrowding humanity pulls the viewer into the atmosphere.  The variety of shot angles and actor placement, combined with the judicious decisions of when or when not to use close-ups guides us subtly through the developments of plot and character.

Over the course of a wet, humid afternoon in New York City, jurors debate evidence given in a first degree murder trial.  By rote, the judge charges the twelve strangers with the fearsome task.  After weeks of testimony a preliminary vote shows that eleven jurors are convinced of a guilty verdict.  Juror #8, however, votes "not guilty" feeling that with the life of the young defendant at stake, some discussion is merited.  Oh so reluctantly, the discussion that ensures reveals much about the trial and much more about the jurors.


Ed Begley, George Voskovec, Lee J. Cobb, E.G. Marshall, Jack Klugman, Jack Warden
Robert Webber, Joseph Sweeney, Henry Fonda, Martin Balsam, Edward Binns, John Fiedler

Such words and such art behind direction deserve a fine ensemble of actors to bring it to life.  The cast of 12 Angry Men was in the enviable position of weeks of rehearsal before shooting so that these professionals could create and truly know their characters.  The last of the ensemble to pass away, Juror #5, Jack Klugman, spoke of the pride they all took in this project.  Such pride of craftsmanship shows in the film.

Juror #1:  Martin Balsam, high school football coach
The foreman is a reasonable man striving to do his duty and keep order.

Juror #2:  John Fiedler
He is not the sort to stand out in a crowd and is easily dismissed by others.

Juror #3:  Lee J. Cobb, owns a messenger service
A man filled with inner rage.

Juror #4:  E.G. Marshall, stockbroker
Prides himself on his clear thinking.

Juror #5:  Jack Klugman
A man from a disadvantaged background who feels the outsider.

Juror #6:  Edward Binns, labourer
An unimaginative working man with a big heart.

Juror #7:  Jack Warden, salesman
The guy that does not want to be there.

Juror #8:  Henry Fonda, architect
Courageous and compassionate observer.

Juror #9:  Joseph Sweeney, senior citizen
In his case wisdom has come with age.

Juror #10:  Ed Begley
Prejudice blinds his thoughts.

Juror #11:  George Voskovec, watchmaker
The European immigrant has a balanced view of the proceedings.

Juror #12:  Robert Webber, advertising man
Bright young executive is all surface.



E.G. Marshall, Henry Fonda, John Fiedler (seated)
Lee J. Cobb, Edward Binns

Juror #8 begins and ends the discussion with the point that he doesn't know if the defendant is guilty or innocent, but given the case as presented, there is room for reasonable doubt.  As they deconstruct the prosecutor's case and the defense's lackluster performance, one by one, other jurors come to sense that reasonable doubt.  Still others, for reasons that eventually become more clear and more personal, stubbornly cling to their original vote.  Hearts and mind are laid uncomfortably bare as these strangers clash and bond.

12 Angry Men is compelling and timeless drama.  Perhaps the timelessness of the film will be the most surprising and welcome aspect to the non-classic film fan.  It may well be a shock for them to discover that although technology, fashion and certain mores have changed, people haven't really changed.  The same principles, fears and behaviors influence our personalities and our interactions.  The powerful and memorable 12 Angry Men will have the non-classic film fan wondering what other films from bygone eras will speak to them.  



Monday, November 30, 2015

Caftan Woman's Choice: One for December on TCM


Disney's 1948 release So Dear to My Heart is a story of nostalgic childhood memories that shaped a life.  During my early school years one of my favourite things was the Scholastic Book Club at school.  Perusing the brochure, making my selection and wait for the big day when the box would arrive at the classroom and the teacher would hand out the books.  Any questions I get correct on Jeopardy! regarding Greek mythology date back to a book I bought in grade 4.  One of the popular books sold by Scholastic was Sterling North's Rascal which Disney filmed in 1969.  So Dear to My Heart is based on another of North's stories, 1943s Midnight and Jeremiah

John Beal (Les Miserables, The Cat and the Canary, My Six Convicts) narrates the story as the adult Jeremiah who returns to the Indiana farm where he was raised by his Granny and tells of his adventures raising an abandoned black lamb.  Beal also sings the lilting movie theme song.  Old scrapbooks found in a farmhouse attic lead to the reminiscence of days past.



Beulah Bondi as Granny Kincaid

Bobby Driscoll (The Window, Peter Pan, The Happy Time), barely 10-years-old, plays the young Jeremiah, a rambunctious and imaginative orphan.  Jeremiah lives with his Granny Kincaid played by Oscar nominee and Emmy winner Beulah Bondi (Remember the Night, The Furies, Track of the Cat).  This "granny" is not the querulous elder of The Southerner, but a strong-minded, hard working woman who genuinely cares for and wants the best for Jeremiah.  She knows her scripture and although may often appear too strict to the youngster, her love and his trust is absolute.

Jeremiah's male influence is his easy-going Uncle Hiram played by Oscar winner Burl Ives (The Big Country, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, The Brass Bottle).  Uncle Hiram has a way with a song or two, and a way around Granny when needs must.  Jeremiah's childhood pal is little Tildy played by Song of the South co-star Luanna Patten.

A great day in the life of Jeremiah and the small village that is his home is when the train stops so a special passenger can get some exercise.  It is the famous trotter Dan Patch and Jeremiah is transfixed with the champion and begins to dream of raising a champ of his own.  When a little black lamb is rejected by its mother Jeremiah begs Granny to let the creature become his pet.  Granny has her doubts and at first wants to simply let nature take its course, but she sees that the boy needs this in his life and relents.  "Danny" soon becomes Jeremiah's main focus.  The hard-headed creature is difficult to train and has destructive tendencies which drives Granny to distraction.  Jeremiah has a lot of work to do, and he'll need help.  Jeremiah gets that help from a wise old owl.




Affirmations fill Jeremiah's old scrapbook - "It's what you do with what you got that counts", "If at first you don't succeed, try, try again".  These little lessons come to life through charming animated sequences featuring a professor owl voiced by Son of the Pioneers Ken Carson.  Each little lesson and song helps Jeremiah groom his Danny into a likely prospect for the stock competition at the County Fair.  However, Granny doesn't see the benefit of attending the fair and it takes Hiram and the kids combined efforts to achieve that hoped for trip.

Raising money for the trip is a problem for Jeremiah until he hears Mr. Grundy, the shopkeeper played by Raymond Bond, tell how the city folks like to pay for wild honey.  Jeremiah wonders how you get wild honey and Grundy smiles, telling Jeremiah to look for a wild bee and and follow him home.  One of my all-time favourite movie quotes is Grundy's response to a customer who asks why he would waste that boy's time.  Pete Grundy:  "What's time to a boy?"  He has encapsulated all our long, lazy childhood summers when time stretched out infinitely before us.




Harold D. Schuster (My Friend Flicka) directed the live-action segments and Hamilton Luske (Lady and the Tramp) the animated sequences.  Among the animated highlights is the delightful County Fair by Bob Wells and Mel Torme (The Christmas Song).  I have seen Mel perform this number on The Rosemary Clooney Show and The Gisele MacKenzie Show

This charmer ends on a high note with the wise and sympathetic judge at the County Fair is played by the wonderful Harry Carey in one of his last screen performances.  

So Dear to My Heart is a particular favourite of my son Gavin.  I will go so far as to say that it is "our" movie.  TCM and Leonard Maltin once again open the Disney vault on Thursday, December 17th with So Dear to My Heart starting off the evening's entertainment.

     




Saturday, November 21, 2015

WHAT A CHARACTER! BLOGATHON: Harry Carey and Harry Carey Jr.


Harry Carey
1878 - 1947
Mr. Smith Goes to Washington

Harry Carey is pictured above in his Academy Award nominated performance (Best Supporting Actor) as the President of the Senate in Frank Capra's classic Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. It is a performance practically free from dialogue, but that is not a problem for the stage actor whose film career dates back to 1910 in the heyday of Biograph Studios and D.W. Griffith. That face eloquently conveys amusement, concern and encouragement for James Stewart's beleaguered rookie senator filibustering his cause on the floor. There is no "mugging"; only pure talent and experience.



Harry Carey - Bright Star of the Early Western Sky

John Ford's dedication to his friend and colleague appears at the opening of 1948s 3 Godfathers. Carey, a semi-pro ball player and aficionado of the American west switched a career trajectory that was to follow his father into the courtroom when he had his first show business success. He wrote a western play entitled Montana and toured as its star. Carey began his screen career at Biograph Studios in the Bronx with D.W. Griffith. Their first collaboration, of 50 total films, was a western short in 1909 called Bill Sharkey's Last Game.

Carey relocated to Hollywood in 1913 where at Universal Studios he worked at a unit run by Francis Ford, making western shorts. Dissatisfied with his directors, Harry Carey took an instant liking to Francis' younger brother Jack who worked as a stunt rider, extra and all-round hand at Universal. The two men, despite their age difference, became friends and Ford learned to become a director working on Carey's "Cheyenne Harry" shorts. Like most of Ford's relationships, the one with Carey was complicated with its love and loyalty as fierce as its jealousies. However, it was a defining one for both.



Harry Carey, John Wayne
The Shepherd of the Hills

Carey's "Cheyenne Harry" character was a regular working stiff cowpoke, not one of the fancy shirted fantasy fellows. He had a very strong following and one of his admirers was the young movie fan who would grow up to be John Wayne with whom Carey worked in four films. The first was 1941s The Shepherd of the Hills, a Technicolor revenge among the hill folk directed by Henry Hathaway. Next up is 1942s The Spoilers, the fourth of five (so far) versions of Rex Beach's novel. Both actors, along with Harry Carey Jr. appear in the 1948 release of Howard Hawks' Red River.

When John Wayne became a producer (Batjac) in 1947, he starred Harry Carey in a most personal project as an old-time marshal called Wistful McClintock in Angel and the Badman. The final shot of Ethan Edwards framed in the doorway in The Searchers features Wayne using a familiar Carey gesture of cupping his hand around the opposite elbow. According to Harry Carey Jr. (Saturday Night at the Movies interview), Duke looked off camera at Harry's widow Olive (Mrs. Jorgensen) before turning to walk out the door.

Harry Carey played the title character Trader Horn in the 1930s first "blockbuster" and endured its arduous location shooting in Uganda, Sudan, Kenya, Mexico and the Congo. He made a lot of B westerns in that decade, including resurrecting "Cheyenne Harry" a couple of times. In 1932 he starred in Law and Order a very interesting western based on the Tombstone legends by W.R. Burnett and adapted by young John Huston. More and more throughout the decade Harry Carey was becoming the respected character actor who could moonlight from his B jobs to A pictures including Howard Hawks' Barbary Coast, John Ford's The Prisoner of Shark Island, Wesley Ruggles Valiant is the Word for Carrie, Michael Curtiz's Kid Galahad, Henry Hathaway's Souls at Sea to that Oscar nomination in 1939.

Some of my personal favourites from the 1940s are Beyond Tomorrow, Happy Land, Air Force and So Dear to My Heart.  During the 40s Harry Carey even returned to the stage.  His picture is among the hundreds of performers to be found at Toronto's historic Royal Alexandra Theatre.  He worked there in a tour of Eugene O'Neill's Ah, Wilderness! as "Nat", the understanding father.



Olive Golden Carey
1896 - 1988

Harry Carey married Olive Golden, the young co-star of his western shorts in 1920. She retired from her career at that time and the couple raised two children, Ella and Harry Carey, Jr. As Olive Carey she later revived her career and is familiar to audiences today as a revered member of the John Ford Stock Company.


Harry Carey Jr.
1921 - 2012
She Wore a Yellow Ribbon

Harry Jr. grew up on his parents California ranch, fashioned from the imagination of his western buff dad, and the skills he learned as a youngster would be put to good use in his career as a character actor during Hollywood's golden era of westerns. Acting, however, was not "Dobe's" first choice as a life course. The nickname, "Dobe" is from adobe, for the lad's pale red coloring. The goal in his heart was music - opera. The world is filled with failed Carusos and Galli-Curcis. We could form quite a club!

Fate and history put the kibosh on a lot of plans and Dobe was no exception, joining the Navy in 1941. He was a medical corpsman in the Pacific until being transferred to the OSS. Specifically, and against his wishes, Dobe was placed in the photographic unit run by John Ford. The details of this experience, and of Dobe's movie career are related in his 1994 memoir Company of Heroes: My Life as an Actor in the John Ford Stock Company. Dobe tells his story with candor and warmth. It is a must-read for fans of the actor and the films of John Ford.



Harry Carey Jr., John Wayne, Pedro Armendariz
3 Godfathers

Dobe's first film role of note is as Dan Latimer, the stuttering cowboy in Howard Hawks' Red River. It is an excellent showcase for the young actor. Harry Carey Sr. also appears in Red River, but sadly their two characters never interact. John Ford's 3 Godfathers, dedicated to Harry Sr., gave Dobe a great co-starring role alongside John Wayne and Pedro Armendariz. In a trial by fire, Dobe was Ford's whipping boy on that picture and found a friend and protector in John Wayne who had been on the receiving end of the "Ford treatment" on Stagecoach. The two became lifelong friends, and frequent co-workers, with Dobe idolizing Duke the way Duke had idolized Harry's dad.

Dobe's best work and roles at this time are as part of Ford's stock company. She Wore a Yellow Ribbon is another fine showcase with Dobe playing a West Pointer with a chip on his shoulder. One of his most popular roles is as "Sandy", the naive recruit in Rio Grande. Sandy's fondness for his newly acquired reply of "yo" is so enjoyed by fans that Dobe used it as part of his e-mail address which he used to reach out to those fans in his later years. Dobe and Ben Johnson share the same character names, and possibly characters, in Rio Grande and Wagon Master. Along with Ward Bond in Wagon Master, these character actors are the stars of this gem from Ford.

In The Searchers Dobe plays the tragic Brad Jorgensen with his mother Olive playing Mrs. Jorgensen. In Two Rode Together he and Ken Curtis are over-the-top nasties. In The Long Gray Line Dobe plays a young Dwight Eisenhower.



David Stollery, Harry Carey Jr.
"Way out here on the Triple R"

Television would play a large part in Dobe's career with hundreds of appearances, particularly on popular westerns such as Have Gun - Will Travel, Gunsmoke, Wagon Train, Bonanza, Laramie, and The Virginian.  There were opportunities to check him out in contemporary fare as well - Perry Mason, Mannix, Run for Your Life, Lassie, Dallas. Many of us have our fondest memories of Dobe from Disney and The Adventures of Spin and Marty serial (and sequels) from The Mickey Mouse Club where he played camp counsellor Bill Burnett.

"We had faces then" said Norma Desmond in Sunset Boulevard. Movies depend on faces; faces that become familiar to audiences in a way that requires no thought, just the recognition factor. Thus, John Ford had his stock company and directors learned that audiences, sometimes subconsciously, demand to see those faces. Dobe Carey had one of those faces that it was a pleasure to see in Joe Dante's Gremlins, Lindsay Anderson's gentle The Whales of August, Robert Zemeckis' Back to the Future III, set in the old west, and in George Cosmatos' epic Tombstone.

  

Dobe and Marilyn
Married 1944 - 2012

Dobe Carey's wife/widow Marilyn is the daughter of another character actor great, Paul Fix (To Kill a Mockingbird, TVs The Rifleman). The Careys raised a family of four and became proud grandparents. Dobe Carey lived to become an elder statesmen in his profession and to know the deep affection of film fans. Harry Carey Jr. has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, is an inductee of the Western Performers Hall of Fame at the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum and the winner of the Golden Boot award.  Yo!


As welcome as the holidays is the What a Character! blogathon hosted by Once Upon a Screen, Outspoken and Freckled and Paula's Cinema Club, this year running on November 21 - 22 - 23.  Thank you, Aurora, Kellee and Paula.
















Thursday, November 19, 2015

CRITERION BLOGATHON: SANJURO (1962)



The epic Criterion Blogathon continues from November 16-21 courtesy of our hosts Aaron of Criterion Blues, Kristina of Speakeasy and Ruth of Silver Screenings.

The movies have given us many ideas and images of manly cool through the years. There's Robert Mitchum "Baby, I don't care." cool. There's John Wayne walking out of the desert with that dog by his side in Hondo cool. There's Fred Astaire whose simple stroll is a dreamy dance cool. And then there is Toshiro Mifune cool, particularly, his disreputable looking, wandering ronin. No one else could make the shrug of a shoulder and a cantankerous glare so downright cool. We first met this character in 1961s Yojimbo, in which the roaming samurai brings warring crime factions to heel, inspired by Dashiell Hammett's Red Harvest.


Adding to the character's cool is his status as a loner. This samurai's sword owes allegiance only to his own code. A natural leader of men, he seeks no followers. Seeking solitude and rest in what appears to be an abandoned building, circumstances find our hero saddled with a gang.

A group of nine very earnest and very naive fellows have met to discuss the corruption they can no longer bear. Their concerns have been brought to the chamberlain, Mutsuta, who sympathizes and cautions that things are not always as they appear. Disheartened by that response they consult the slick Superintendent Kikui who agrees to meet with the group to discuss their valid concerns.

The samurai correctly reads the situation in that the chamberlain is the man to trust and the superintendent is bent on wiping out the simple young men. To save his own skin, the samurai saves the would-be rebels thus creating a nine-headed puppy dog that, despite some hot-headed misgivings, are willing to follow him to the ends of the earth.

The head honcho of the superintendent's syndicate is Hanbei Muroto played by Tatsuya Nakadai and he is a formidable samurai the equal of our hero, though certainly more kempt in appearance.  Measuring the skill and character of each other, it is taken for granted that one day they will meet on the field of honour.


The first order of business is to rescue the chamberlain who is by now surely under the control of the wily superintendent. Too late to save the kidnapped politico, the ragtag group rescues instead Mutsuta's wife (Takako Irie) and daughter (Reiko Dan).

If our hero was perturbed by his unlikely and cumbersome crew, he is quietly fuming about the addition of women to watch over. The older lady is a lady, not used to exertion and given to overly polite behavior in inappropriate situations. She's rather like a Gracie Allen plopped in the middle of an action movie. Like Gracie, she may appear scattered upon first glance, but she is a woman of immense sense with an ability to put things, and people, in their proper place. Mrs. Mutsuta likens her rescuer to an unsheathed sword that glistens from too much use.  "I hesitate to say this after you so kindly rescued us, but killing people is a bad habit."

Our ronin cannot help but agree, but a man's gotta do what a man's gotta do. He curbs his natural inclinations and turns the joke on himself when asked his name. Referring to the profusion of camellias in a neighbouring house where the chamberlain is being held, he says his name should mean 30 year old camellia, but he is actually 40. If that is as straight an answer as he will give, that is what Mrs. Mutsuta accepts.




Retrieving the kidnapped chamberlain will put an end to Kikui's plan to use a false confession of corruption to obtain control of the clan. It will also put the kibosh on Chamberlain Muroto's plan to turn on his master. Mutsuto, however, is too shrewd to bow to his captor's wishes and this causes worry and discord among those who would unjustly usurp power.

The game is now one of trickery, false trails and the excessive violence which Mrs. Mutsuto has feared. Would the chamberlain's plan to handle the situation diplomatically have worked without the interference of his nephew and his friends?  Perhaps. Or do the actions of violent, desperate men demand a solution in the same mode?

The master storyteller Akira Kurosawa gives us this grandly entertaining action and character study in a tidy 96 minutes. The terribly beautiful killings and seriousness of the political plot is leavened by some truly enjoyable humour and heart.

The humour springs from character's actions, reactions and attitudes, ably assisted by the musical score. Each instance that reveals depths of character becomes a favourite scene among many. I have a special fondness for the fate of a kidnapped guard who desperately wants to be considered one of our gang and keeps insinuating himself into the group by coming out of his prison in the closet only to be told with affronted looks to return to his proper place.

There is a popular opinion that perfection is never achieved. I disagree with that. I have had a perfect lemon meringue pie, occasionally worn the perfect outfit and have seen more than one movie which I would easily describe as "perfect".  Sanjuro is such a movie where all the ingredients are blended with precision and care to create the lemon meringue pie of samuai stories.




The Criterion Blogathon
Day 1:  Monday, November 16
Day 2:  Tuesday, November 17
Day 3:  Wednesday, November 18
Day 4:  Thursday, November 19
Day 5:  Friday, November 20
Day 6:  Saturday, November 21








Saturday, November 7, 2015

SWASHATHON: The Son of Monte Cristo (1940)


She's at it again!  Fritzi of Movies, Silently is hosting the "Swashathon", a blogathon devoted to derring-do in classic film.  The festival runs from November 7th to the 9th.

The introduction to 1940s The Son of Monte Cristo takes us to tiny, but proud Lichtenburg, the jewel of the Balkans in 1865.  The country, we are told, is steeped in the ancient traditions of romance and chivalry - so too is our story.



George Sanders, Joan Bennett

Above is the villain of our piece, General Gurko Lanen, menacing the Grand Duchess Zona.  George Sanders plays General Lanen with his usual suave surety, excepting scenes where he lays his heart on the line to the disinterested (putting it mildly) Grand Duchess played by Joan Bennett.  General Lanen is the son of a stone mason who has a dream of becoming master of Lichtenburg and Zona.  The first goal is within his grasp, and he will stop at nothing to achieve the second.  It will take an unusually brave hero to fight General Lanen.  In fact seeing as it is George Sanders, it will take a whole group of heroes before country and crown is rescued.



Rand Brooks, Clayton Moore, Henry Brandon, Louis Hayward

Saint vs. Saint.  George Sanders was a very busy actor in Hollywood in the late 30s and early 40s with series such as "The Saint", "The Falcon" and features that include Confessions of a Nazi Spy, Man Hunt (co-starring Joan Bennett), Foreign Correspondent and Rebecca.  Louis Hayward was the first actor to play Simon Templar on screen in 1938s The Saint in New York.  His swashbuckling Hollywood debut in 1936s Anthony Adverse marked him as a stalwart in such roles, but his diverse career also includes such titles as Ladies in Retirement, And Then There Were None, Repeat Performance, Walk a Crooked Mile and House by the River.

A chance encounter with Zona of Lichtenburg finds our young hero totally smitten.  Being the son of the fabled Count of Monte Cristo, young Edmund has inherited his father's hatred of tyranny and  Dantes Jr. flings himself into the Lichtenburg cause joining a group of underground freedom fighters.

I mentioned a gaggle of heroes, didn't I?  The leader of the group is an army lieutenant Fritz Dorner played by 26-year-old Clayton Moore (The Lone Ranger).  It's Moore's familiar voice, but without a mask, and he's a real baby-face.  A hothead who uses the power of the press is Hans Mirbach played by 22-year-old Rand Brooks (Gone With the Wind).  Within the decade Brooks would don the hero sidekick cowboy hat as Lucky Jenkins in the Hopalong Cassidy series.  Briefly (all too briefly) we see Ralph Byrd (Dick Tracy) as prisoner William Gluck who figuratively spits in Lanen's eye.  Henry Brandon (Babes in Toyland, The Searchers) plays the brave, but doomed Lt. Schultz.  

Hayward, who co-starred with Joan Bennett in 1939s The Man in the Iron Mask wherein he played the dual role of arrogant king and tormented twin brother, here takes on three personas.  In order to get inside the palace, Dantes adopts the guise of a foolish fop who must endure Zona's scorn to appear harmless to Lanen.  He also becomes a masked avenger known as The Torch who has a way with a sword and a way of stirring things up.  The Torch leaves a cryptic note for the General who comments:  "This man is dangerous.  He has a sense of humour."  Love that line.  The Son of Monte Cristo is a fun mix of political machinations, romance, secret tunnels, leaping and sword fighting with an appealing hero and a hissable villain.  Who could ask for anything more?

Excelling among the supporting cast are Florence Bates as the Grand Duchess' confidante, Montagu Love as an honourable prime minister and Ian Mac Wolfe (the only time I've seen Ian Wolfe billed as such) as a two-faced, rat of a spy.  Also, keep your eyes peeled for Dwight Frye as the Russian ambassador's secretary.




Rowland V. Lee directed The Son of Monte Cristo.  You may be familiar with some of these titles from Lee's 25-year film directing career.  Zoo in Budapest starring Loretta Young, The Count of Monte Cristo starring Robert Donat, 1935s The Three Musketeers, One Rainy Afternoon with Ida Lupino and Francis Lederer, Son of Frankenstein with Bela Lugosi as Ygor, Tower of London with Boris Karloff as Mord, and The Bridge of San Luis Rey from Thornton Wilder's novel.  

The Count of Monte Cristo, our feature and Toast of New York with Edward Arnold as Diamond Jim Brady are the three films Lee made with independent producer Edward Small (1892-1977).  Small entered the industry as a teenager by working as an artist's representative.  He began producing films in the 1920s and continued to do so until 1970.  His name is a familiar one to those of us who grew up glued to the television whenever an old movie was scheduled.  Edward Small had a hand in many favourite adventure tales, sci-fi, film-noir and comedies.  Check out these titles:  The Last of the Mohicans, The Corsican Brothers, Brewster's Millions, Raw Deal, Kansas City Confidential, Walk a Crooked Mile, It! The Terror from Beyond Space, etc.  Between 1938 and 1948, Small and leading man Louis Hayward collaborated on seven features, the majority of them being swashbucklers.  I've had the impression that even though movies were his business, Edward Small was one of us - a movie fan.


Sunday, November 1, 2015

Caftan Woman's Choice: One for November on TCM



Henry Hathaway's 1947 feature Kiss of Death is one of a spate of post-war crime dramas from the director, many of which can be classified film-noir, most embodying the popular docu-drama style. In quick succession Hathaway made The Dark Corner, The House on 92nd Street, 13 Rue Madeleine, Call Northside 777 and Kiss of Death. The cinematography, so important to the mood of the films, on 13 Rue Madeleine, The House on 92nd Street and Kiss of Death is by Oscar nominee and Emmy winner Norbert Brodine.

Career criminal Nick Bianco has always played the game by gangland rules. He'll even keep quiet about doing a stretch on the proviso that his wife and two daughters are properly cared for. After three years in Sing Sing, Nick discovers that his pals, represented by Taylor Holmes (Nightmare Alley) as lawyer Earl Howser, may not be strictly above board. A hood named Rizzo has been the cause of Nick's wife suicide and now his children are in an orphanage. It is time to take a deal once offered by Assistant District Attorney Louis D'Angelo played by Brian Donlevy (The Big Combo). Nick is willing to turn informant for the chance to be a father to his girls and more to Nettie played by Coleen Gray (The Killing), a young woman who has long harboured feelings for him. 

Nick is played by the underrated Victor Mature, who was generally the first to deride his career, before the critics had their fun.

"Actually, I'm a golfer. That is my real occupation. I never was an actor. Ask anybody, particularly the critics.". - Victor Mature

I think Victor Mature should have been able to point with pride to his performance here, in the classic My Darling Clementine and in winning comedies such as Footlight Serenade  Mature brings a great deal of that emotion to Nick Bianco. The audience has to root for him, to feel events through him and it is his grounded performance to which Kiss of Death owes much of its success.

"I'm an emotional actor. When I'm doing a scene, I really believe it, I live the part as long as I'm in the scene." - Victor Mature



Victor Mature, Coleen Gray

Coleen Gray (co-star):  "It's the best thing Victor ever did. But I have a feeling that because Richard Widmark was so good Victor may have had a little bit more of a prod."


Fulfilling his deal with the D.A. places Nick in the orbit of an unstable mob enforcer. Kiss of Death may be most notable for the character of Tommy Udo and his portrayer, Richard Widmark (No Way Out). A radio and stage actor for ten years, Widmark made his impressive screen debut as Udo, a man who lives for mayhem, particularly that of his own creation. 



Richard Widmark

Henry Hathaway (director):  "I have a very strange feeling about the part. The only man that I'm scared of is a hophead. I'm nervous around 'em. I'm scared of 'em. I don't know what the hell they're gonna do. They're unpredictable, they're vicious. They're not themselves any more. They're psychotic. They're crazy."

Udo is a maniac. Even audiences who haven't seen the film are familiar with the scene between Widmark and Mildred Dunnock (The Trouble With Harry) which involves a staircase and a wheelchair. It is the stuff of movie legend.

Richard Widmark was nominated for a Best Supporting Actor Oscar for his debut. It would be his only nomination in a distinguished career. The winner of the award at the 1948 ceremony was Edmund Gwenn for Miracle on 34th Street. The other nominees were Charles Bickford for The Farmer's Daughter and, also their only career nominations, Thomas Gomez in Ride the Pink Horse and Robert Ryan in Crossfire.

Elwy Yost (interviewer):  "When I look at you I think of that laugh in Kiss of Death which chilled me and still does all down the years - that terrible laugh. I met someone who said 'he laughs like that'. 

Richard Widmark:  "When we were little my brother and I used to go to the movies in Princeton, Illionois and we'd cut up enjoying the pictures. The audience would say 'Well, the Widmark boys are here.'  We were trouble with bad laughs."


TCM is screening Kiss of Death on Monday, November 16th at 10:00 pm as part of a six film salute to Victor Mature.


Gray, Hathaway and Widmark quotes are from TVOntario's Saturday Night at the Movies.








Thursday, October 29, 2015

THE UNIVERSAL BLOGATHON: Werewolf of London (1935)


The hostesses with the mostesses that we know as the Metzinger Sisters of SILVER SCENES present The Universal Blogathon to commemorate the studios 100th anniversary. The party, which is described as being a howling good time, runs from October 29th to 31st and HERE is your invitation.


Movie buffs have their sacred traditions. Here are some of mine. Christmas Eve belongs to Alastair Sim as Scrooge. St. Patrick's Day is commonly accepted as The Quiet Man Day. October 3rd is Werewolf of London Day to celebrate the shared birthdate of Warner Oland (1879-1938) and Henry Hull (1890-1977), the two character actors with star billing in the 1935 Universal release.



The infection and the antidote.

Dr. Wilfred Glendon (Henry Hull) is a botanist with a single-minded thirst for adventure. He travels to Tibet in search of a rare flower, the mariphasa, which blooms by the light of the moon. The only example of this blossom is in a mysterious valley shunned by all who know of it. Porters refuse to continue on the journey. Glendon insists and persists, and goes where no man has gone before. Dr. Glendon not only finds the flower, but has an encounter with a strange beast that leaves him with a scar and ... something else.

Wilfred secludes himself in his London laboratory with only his aid Hawkins (J.M. Kerrigan) allowed entry. He is trying to coax the mariphasa plant to bloom under manufactured moonlight. He is a driven man who cuts himself off from all society, even that of his pretty young wife Lisa (Valerie Hobson).



A triangle forms.
Henry Hull, Valerie Hobson, Lester Mattews

The Botanical Society presents many of Dr. Glendon's choice plants at an exhibition and tea which he tries to shun. Among the many guests are Paul Ames (Lester Matthews), an old friend and sweetheart of Lisa's. Paul's aunt, the crotchety dowager duchess type, Lady Forsythe (Charlotte Granville). Lisa's Aunt, a society butterfly, Ettie Coombes (Spring Byington) and Dr. Yogami (Warner Oland), a fellow botanist who wishes to consult Dr. Glendon.

Glendon and Yogami have much in common. It was Yogami, transformed into a werewolf, who attacked Glendon in Tibet. Now Glendon faces the same fate of lycanthropy. It is only the sap from the mariphasa plant which provides a temporary antidote to the curse. Yogami is a tortured soul whose own attempts to grow the plant have met with failure. Glendon, who has yet to experience a transformation, is skeptical.



Small talk about Fate and lost souls.
Warner Oland, Spring Byington

Dr. Glendon, like Stevenson's Dr. Jekyll, walks the streets of London transformed into something not wolf and not man, but a satanic creature with the worst qualities of both. This was Dr. Yagami's description and the man knew of which he spoke. A slightly inebriated Ettie Coombs comes face to face with the monster. Ettie survives, but a hapless stroller in nearby Goose Lane is horribly mangled and the case falls to Lady Forsythe's son, the head of Scotland Yard Sir Thomas Forsythe (Lawrence Grant). Paul Ames speaks of a werewolf murder he heard of in South American. Dr. Yogami implores the Yard's assistance in retrieving the last remaining mariphasa from Dr. Glendon or London will face an epidemic that will leave it a shambles. Yogami has a way with words. Forsythe dismisses the supernatural nonsense as "poppycock".



A couple of swells.
Ethel Griffies and Zeffie Tilbury

Wilfred becomes more estranged from Lisa and Lisa grows more attached to Paul. Wilfred attempts to isolate himself in a rooming house. He is without hope and forced to commit yet another horrible murder. The audience, however, is relieved of his singular despair by the best comic relief team in any horror film from any studio. The landlady Mrs. Moncaster (Zeffie Tilbury) and her bosom friend Mrs. Whack (Ethel Griffies) are a couple of nosy old soaks who think nothing of bashing each other about and insulting each other in a most endearing manner.

Fate has decreed the end for both Glendon and Yogami. We can but hope for the well being of those in their midst.



There's a bad moon on the rise.
Henry Hull

I am a fan of the screenplay by John Colton (Rain, The Shanghai Gesture). You can tell by the examples above that Dr. Yagami is prone to be flowery, yet he remains sincere. The humour in the characters is appropriate to their class and backgrounds, be it the flighty Ettie Coombes or the earthy Mrs. Whack and Mrs. Moncaster. Lisa Glendon gets to combine her loving wife side with the headstrong individual she was previous to marriage. Each character is a distinct individual and the cast, even in the tiniest roles, is given due consideration under otherwise unremarkable director Stuart Walker. Karl Hajos provided the moody score for Werewolf of London. The composer/conductor was nominated twice for the Academy Award for the comedy The Man Who Walked Alone in 1945 and the crime drama Summer Storm in 1946.

Jack Pierce's make-up for this early incarnation of the werewolf is less layered and intense than what will come in 1940s The Wolf Man. Wilfred Glendon can bundle up in a hat, scarf and turned up collar and roam the streets of London at will. He is most definitely not human, but just what sort of beast is he?



Nursing the mariphasa lumina lupita.
J.M. Kerrigan

My favourite aspect of Werewolf of London is the cinematography by Charles Stumar. The mariphasa plant glowing against the mountains in Tibet or the darkened London laboratory. The gloom of the den where Glendon first transforms into the creature. There is an hypnotic, almost comforting aspect to the look of the film. It is very familiar to fans as Stumar, who sadly died in a plane crash at age 44 the year of this film's release, was responsible for the "look" of The Raven, The Mummy and other Universal pictures going back through 1923's The Hunchback of Notre Dame. 1923 was Stumar's first year at Universal in a career that began in Hollywood in 1917.

Werewolf of London is a treat any time of year, but I find it works best in the cool of October, for character lead birthdates and Hallowe'en.










THE LUCY AND DESI BLOGATHON: Lucy's Summer Vacation (1959)

Michaela of Love Letters to Old Hollywood is hosting The Lucy and Desi blogathon running on December 1 - 3. Click HERE for all the ...