Caftan Woman

Caftan Woman

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

CMBA FALL BLOGATHON, HOLLYWOOD ON HOLLYWOOD: Hollywood Story (1951)


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

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

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


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



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

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

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

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

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



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

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


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

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


Betty Blythe as The Queen of Sheba
1893 - 1972

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



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

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


William Farnum
1876 - 1953

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


Helen Gibson
1892 - 1977

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



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

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



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

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




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

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

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

The Classic Movie Blog Association e-book Hollywood on Hollywood is available for free on Smashwords or $ .99 on Amazon with proceeds going to film preservation.



















27 comments:

  1. This type of article is interesting and fun to read. I love reading and I am always searching for informative info click here

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  2. Honestly, I am not familiar with this film but it sounds fascinating in the low budget Hollywood kind of way, and anything with Richard Conte in it, for me,is worth seeing. Thanks for bring this to light.

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    1. Conte is always great. There are, in particular, small moments in this which stand out for me. The off-hand way he replies "yeah" to a question. It sounded so real. A benefit I guess of the narration was that it allowed me to step back and observe Conte rather than see him.

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  3. Damn you, CW! Yet ANOTHER film you introduced that is new to me and now I have to see!!!!!! If anyone is looking for me, I am catching up on my CW-inspired viewing. You're the best!

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    1. My job will never be done!

      We'll be going around and around like the flying dutchman of movie buffs.

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  4. You uncovered another great movie I haven't seen. I'm looking forward to watching it. Jim Backus is an underrated actor and all of the silent movie cameos sound fascinating.

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    1. A very enjoyable movie, suitable for a late rainy night or a bright Sunday afternoon.

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  5. You uncovered another great movie I haven't seen. I'm looking forward to watching it. Jim Backus is an underrated actor and all of the silent movie cameos sound fascinating.

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  6. Aha! As I was reading your post I was wondering of the script was based on William Taylor's death.

    This sounds like a compelling movie, especially the scenes around Hollywood and the cameos from silent movie stars. I'm another one who needs to see this fascinating film!

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    1. Richard Conte is a compelling hero and there are lots of characters to enjoy and compare to real Hollywood types.

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  7. I've never heard of this one but it sounds interesting. Richard Egan would be a draw for me. It's hard to imagine a portrayal of 'regular folks' and their lives in and around Hollywood. I also am a fan of nostalgia and would enjoy seeing more silent stars having an another chance in front of the camera. Thanks for bringing this to us!

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    1. My pleasure. I'm an Egan fan as well. A sequel with our police lieutenant and our amateur detective would have suited me just fine. After all, there must be more than one mystery in Hollywood.

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  8. This sounds like a blast!! ON MY LIST! As always you're writing is a pleasure to read. I had no idea Castle directed these crime pictures. I might have to watch JOHNNY STOOL PIGEON too.

    Aurora

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    1. I know! Could there be a cooler title than "Johnny Stool Pigeon"!

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  9. A great selection Caftan Woman and one I've never seen. It sounds like a great cast and material for the film buff. And by the way Frederick Kohner was also Gidget's father.

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    1. Inspiration in your very own home. Who knew kids could come in so handy?

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  10. I've been trying to get my hands on a copy of this film for a few years now and haven't had any luck. William Castle + crime dramas has always captivated my attention, and your review has certainly put this back as a priority find. Thanks!

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    1. There's a TCM DVD release Dark Crimes, Volume 2 which is just what you are looking for.

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  11. The horribly generic title definitely did this film no favors, but it's definitely piqued my interest now. Thanks for sharing!

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    1. Yeah. No bonus for the title guy on this one.

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  12. Dang, I have to join the list of those who've never seen this one. Thanks for another great post - - and saving the little-seen gems from obscurity for us.

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    1. Thanks.

      It seems like I have a calling in life. How humorous are the movie gods.

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  13. I've been watching a lot of William Castle films recently, but I have not seen this one. It's got a fun cast (and I love Julie Adams). It's now definitely on my -want-to-see list.

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    1. Castle is certainly a fascinating guy, and there are some touches in Hollywood Story you will appreciate.

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  14. Subsequently, after spending many hours on the internet at last We have uncovered an individual that definitely does know what they are discussing many thanks a great deal wonderful post music place. drake mp3 download

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  15. thanks for this great and wonderful post, i will bookmark this site for easy access. thank you

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