Caftan Woman

Caftan Woman

Saturday, July 30, 2016

CAFTAN WOMAN'S CHOICE: ONE FOR AUGUST ON TCM



I may have mentioned this before, but my mom used to have a thing for Mark Stevens.  I knew her for over 50 years before I discovered this little fact that only came out when she asked to borrow my copy of 1946s The Dark Corner.  It still makes me shake my head.  You think you know a person!


Kathleen:  "I've never been followed before."
Brad:  "That's a terrible reflection on American manhood."

Private Investigator Brad Galt (Mark Stevens) has problems.  He can't turn around in his NYC office without some copper checking up on him due to a prison record back in California.  He has an ex-partner who framed him.  Hell, he has enemies he hasn't even met yet.  It's a good thing his secretary Kathleen (Lucille Ball) is a girl with brains, a big heart and good legs.



Stauffer:  "I need two yards, powder money."

Galt learns of his current trouble when he's being tailed by hired muscle (William Bendix).  His name is Stauffer, but we'll call this character "White Suit" pursuant to his sartorial choice for following guys at night.  The ex-partner Tony Jardine (Kurt Krueger) is more than a part of Brad's shady past.  Jardine has been creating crime and deceit right here in NYC.  His less than honourable actions with wealthy women has not gone unnoticed by gallery owner Hardy Cathcart (Clifton Webb), nor have his charms been lost on Cathcart's young and beautiful wife Mari (Cathy Downs).  How the paths of these disparate character criss and cross over the landscape and close in on the hapless Galt is the story of The Dark Corner.



Cathcart:  "The enjoyment of art is the only remaining ecstasy that is neither immoral nor illegal." 

Among the supporting cast you will enjoy Constance Collier (Stage Door) as a wealthy art patron, Reed Hadley (I Shot Jesse James) and his voice, as a police detective, and an unbilled John Russell (TVs Lawman) as a uniformed officer.

Based on a story by Leo Rosten (Captain Newman, M.D.) with a screenplay by Jay Dratler (Pitfall, Laura) and Bernard Schoenfeld (Phantom Lady, Down Three Dark Streets), The Dark Corner bristles with 1940s slang and snappy one liners.  The moody cinematography is from one of my favourite purveyors of the art, Joe MacDonald (My Darling Clementine, Panic in the Streets).

Director Henry Hathaway specialized in nifty noir during this period of his long and varied career.  Whether it be the docudrama style of The House on 92nd Street, 13 Rue Madeleine and Call Northside 777 or the more melodramatic crime stories like Kiss of Death and The Dark Corner, they all feature a grittiness served by location filming.

The Dark Corner takes its audiences from crowded penny arcades to exclusive art galleries, from crowded walk-ups to swanky penthouses, through nightclubs and office buildings as our story takes place.



Brad:  "There goes my last lead.  I feel all dead inside.  I'm backed up in a dark corner, and I don't know who's hitting me."

For music, Cyril Mockridge reached into the 20th Century Fox vault for Alfred Newman's Street Scene for the theme.  It takes you directly where you need to be by dropping you right in the middle of the city streets.  The background music played by orchestras, radios and recordings is a mix of Harry Warren standards and, in what I think is a cheeky move considering what happens to Stauffer's white suit, Duke Ellington's Mood Indigo.

A special treat in the movie is the appearance, too briefly, of jazz pianist/composer Eddie Heywood appearing as himself in a nightclub scene playing his Heywood Blues.

   

Of Lucy's dramatic pictures, I believe this and the following year's Lured are her only mysteries.  As much as she shone in other dramas and especially in her comedies, I like her in this murky world.  She is both of it and above it - a most interesting dichotomy.



Kathleen:  "What's done to you is done to me."

Fans, you don't have to wait long for this film-noir treat.  TCM is screening The Dark Corner on Tuesday, August 2nd at 8:00 PM as part of the Summer Under the Stars salute to Lucille Ball.






Monday, July 25, 2016

BROADWAY TO HOLLYWOOD starring Shirley Booth, Joan Blondell and special guest star Katharine Hepburn



Two actresses born on August 30th share a career and two roles.  Both were born in New York City and started Broadway careers in the 1920s.  One was whisked away to Hollywood in 1930 and appeared in over 90 films.  The other only made a handful of movies, the first one in 1952.



Shirley Booth
(1898-1992)

When fans think of Shirley Booth it is likely their first image is of Hazel, the sitcom maid based on Ted Key's comic in the Saturday Evening Post, which ran 1961 to 1966, and then in syndication for kids to catch after school.  Perhaps Lola Delaney in Come Back, Little Sheba or Dolly Levi in The Matchmaker.



Joan Blondell
(1906-1979)

When fans think of Joan Blondell, whose film and TV work is more extensive, their first image may run the gamut from Lottie, the saloon keeper on Here Come the Brides which ran from 1968 to 1970 or the saucy, naughty gal of Warner Brothers 1930s output.  The studio kept her very, very busy.  At first glance the two actresses have little in common, but let's look a little bit closer.



William Lynn and Shirley Booth
Three Men on a Horse

Opening in 1935 George Abbott and John Cecil Holm's comedy Three Men on a Horse was a major hit that ran for over 800 performances.  It is the story of a simple writer of greeting card verses with a knack for choosing winning race horses.  Two denizens of that world take advantage of our hero, Erwin, keeping him from hearth and home to fatten their pocketbooks.  The scheme's mastermind has a ditzy girlfriend named Mabel who is enthralled with Erwin's poetic nature.  Oh, if his wife ever found out!  Shirley Booth starred as Mabel.


Before the play finished its run in New York, Warner Brothers released the film version of Three Men on a Horse.  Sam Levene came from the New York Company and Joan Blondell played the very scatterbrained Mabel.  Joan's sister Gloria, played a hotel maid in the Broadway show.  Three Men on a Horse is an exceptional farce that has enjoyed many Broadway revivals, most recently in 2011.  Joan Blondell's characterization is outside the normal wisecracking dame that the studio usually handed her, and she's great fun.



Joan Blondell as Aunt Cissy

Betty Smith's 1943 novel A Tree Grows in Brooklyn was a great popular success and the 1944 film release from Twentieth Century Fox was the film directing debut of Elia Kazan.  Joan Blondell played the character of the beloved Aunt Cissy; warm and loving, tough and practical, vulnerable Cissy.  Miss Blondell's work is exemplary and how she managed to avoid an Academy Award nomination is a mystery.



Shirley Booth as Aunt Cissy

In 1951 a musical version of A Tree Grows in Brooklyn with songs by Arthur Schwartz and Dorothy Fields and starring Shirley Booth as Cissy.  Shirley had won the second of three Tony Awards the previous season for Come Back, Little Sheba.  An Oscar would come her way for the same role shortly.


Katharine Hepburn
(1907-2003)

Shirley Booth and Katharine Hepburn also shared a journey on their career paths.



Frank Fenton, Joseph Cotten, Katharine Hepburn, Van Heflin, Shirley Booth

The 1939 Philip Barry play The Philadelphia Story ran for over 400 performances and gave Katharine Hepburn a great personal success starring as Tracy Lord.  Shirley Booth co-starred as Elizabeth Imbrie, the photographer played by Ruth Hussey in the film with Hepburn.






In 1952 Shirley Booth won the Tony Award starring in The Time of the Cuckoo by Arthur Laurents.  Katharine Hepburn was nominated for an Oscar starring in the film version entitled Summertime in 1955 directed by David Lean.  The play and film is the moving story of the unexpected romantic adventure of a spinster traveling in Italy.






Opening in 1955 and running for almost 300 performances, Shirley Booth starred as Bunny Watson in The Desk Set.  The office comedy and romance centers on the threat of automation to clerical staff.  The 1957 movie Desk Set co-starred Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy and featured Joan Blondell.

Three unique actresses of great skill crossing paths on that road from Broadway to Hollywood and back again.






Monday, July 18, 2016

A trip to the ROAD HOUSE (1948)


On TVs Leave It to Beaver, Ward asked his eldest son Wally why he hung out with the often overly slick Eddie Haskell.  After thinking it over Wally replied "Gee Dad, a guy's gotta have a best friend."

I guess all of us have that friend that leans a little toward the psycho side.  In the case of Pete Morgan (Cornel Wilde) in Jean Negulesco's Road House that friend is "Jefty" - Jefferson T. Robbins (Richard Widmark).

Jefty is the scion of the first family of their middle-sized city somewhere outside of Chicago and not far from the Canadian border.  What Jefty doesn't own isn't worth talking about.  The hub of the social life of the area is "Jefty's" road house - a combination restaurant, nightclub, bar, sporting goods retailer and bowling alley.  Kids looking to connect and cut loose and guys looking to get drunk make up most of the clientele.  And there is musical entertainment.  In his travels Jefty finds and supports female talent by hiring them for his place and striking up personal relationships.  While Jefty floats, Pete does the grunt work as manager of the joint.  Pete is in charge of everything from cash to sweeping up.  He's also in charge of personnel and that includes quietly getting rid of Jefty's hired acts when they have worn out their welcome.  You can imagine Pete is less than thrilled when another songbird ends up on his doorstep.  It's the old routine all over again.  Or is it?



Pete and Lily
Do you think this will lead to anything?

Lily Stevens (Ida Lupino) is nobody's fool and nobody's pushover.  It took her a long time and a lot of living to become her own woman and she is protective of the achievement.  Jefty senses the something different in this one and is intrigued.  Pete is not so quick to warm to this difference and Lily has to take him down a peg or two.  Now, that catches his attention.  On one hand that's a shame because gal pal Karen (Celeste Holm), who works at the club has been Pete's fallback girlfriend, but sadly she reads the writing on the wall.  Jefty is not so astute.

Jefty's absence of a week leaves Pete and Lily free to explore their feelings for one another and those feelings run deep.  They flirt and fight to the strains of bluesy jazz in the nightclub.  They reveal their inner thoughts and kiss the kiss of commitment to the sound of classical music on the radio.  It's the real deal.



Pete, Lily and Karen
Caught in a trap.

There had been nothing serious between Lily and Jefty so Pete is blissfully unaware of any problems in their path.  Lily has noted the off-kilter look in Jefty's eyes and his mood swings.  She has felt the undercurrent of something manic in his conversation.  Lily anticipates nothing but trouble.  Karen gets it.  It's a girl thing.  We can see a psycho for miles.

Jefty is all smiles and good cheer at the news about his friends.  He's just tickled.  They want to leave town - no problem.  It's a free country.  Only it is tough to leave town when you've been framed for stealing from the road house.  Tough to leave town when the court convicts.  Tough to leave town when Jefty pleads with the judge to be lenient with his friend Pete.  Release him, your honour, in my custody.  A big man like Jefty can pull strings like that and Pete's probation and Lily's Purgatory is  set.


Pete, Lily and Jefty
A quiet evening at home among friends.

Jefty's needling starts to wear cracks in Pete and Lily's resolve.  Jefty is a master at driving these two to distraction with his hints and his demands.  Pete naturally feels the brunt of Jefty's sly anger, but Pete is only the means to torture Lily.  Lily will be forever changed by Jefty's psychopathic need for revenge.  A quiet trip to his hunting lodge not far from the Canadian border with Pete, Lily and Karen sets the stage for a night of drunken taunts and temptation.  How far is too far when you are bent on torment?



Standards like Harold Arlen and Johnny Mercer's One for My Baby showcase Ida's talents as a song seller along with Higgins and Overstreet's There'll Be Some Changes Made.  20th Century Fox composer Lionel Newman would compose two songs for the film, The Right Kind with Charles Henderson and lyrics by Don George, and the soon to be a standard Again with lyrics by Dorcas Cochran.

Road House is a moody treat for the noir fan.  Even in the sunlight this rural setting is a dark world compliments of cinematographers Joseph LaShelle (Laura, Marty) and uncredited Norbert Brodine (Kiss of DeathSomewhere in the Night).  The movie delivers true tension and a kick to the gut in the performances of Ida Lupino as the world weary Lily and Richard Widmark as the demented Jefty.  








Saturday, July 9, 2016

HOT AND BOTHERED - The Films of 1932 Blogathon: The Beast of the City


Wowza! HOT AND BOTHERED - The Films of 1932 blogathon is here!  Aurora of Once Upon a Screen has today's contributions.  Tomorrow check out Theresa of CineMaven's Essays from the Couch for more steamy goodness.

I swear one of these days I am going to add up how many times I have seen George Chandler play a newspaper man.  George is once again a reporter in 1932s The Beast of the City from MGM.  The story is by W.R. Burnett (This Gun for Hire, The Asphalt Jungle) with dialogue by John Lee Mahin (Scarface, Down to the Sea in Ships).  The director is Charles Brabin who took MGM out of its comfort zone with The Mask of Fu Manchu.

WARNING:  SPOILERS AHEAD

Working the crime beat for the papers in this city keeps one busy indeed.  There's always something crooked and rotten going on as the town is the grip of crime boss Sam Belmonte (Jean Hersholt).  The night we enter the picture some guys known as the Dopey Brothers who were trying to muscle in on Belmonte are found dead.  Chief Detective Jim Fitzpatrick (Walter Huston) drags Belmonte to HQ, but his lawyer springs him  in no time.  Fitzpatrick is an embarrassment to the likes of the Captain of Police and the Mayor as he's an honest cop who wants to clean up the town while the politicians are busy lining their pockets.

Jim Fitzpatrick:  "I hate Belmonte and that crowd because they're behind everything in this town that's rotten.  I mean to wipe 'em out if it takes hot lead." 

A hard-nose on the job, Jim is a pussycat at home teasing his twin pre-teen daughters (Betty Mae and Beverly Crane), roughhousing with son Mickey (Mickey Rooney) and enjoying sweet, quiet moments with his wife Mary (Dorothy Peterson).



Jean Harlow, Wallace Ford

Jim's kid brother Ed (Wallace Ford) is on the Force, but he doesn't take it so seriously.  This job is just 9 to 5.  Jim, with all the fondness of a big brother, sees great things in the kid if he will just learn to focus.  Well, Ed has focus alright and he's focused on a the comely Daisy, a "stenographer" who travels in Belmonte circles.  Ed makes her acquaintance only half-heartedly telling himself he's scoping out information on Belmonte.  For her part, Daisy thinks it will be worth her while to have an "in" with the police.

Daisy:  "I never thought I'd have a yen for a copper.  Are you gonna try and reform me, huh?"
Ed:  "What for?"



Jean Hersholt, Wallace Ford, Jean Harlow, J. Carroll Naish

Demoted to a precinct in the 'burbs, Jim has a sudden rise to glory when he deals with a brazen bank robbery.  The papers and the reformers want a shake up at police headquarters.  The old captain is out and Jim is in.  Relying on old partners Tom (Warner Richmond) and Makowski (Sandy Roth), Jim hopes to weed out the bad apples while cracking down on crime.  Ed feels that with his big brother in charge, he is a cinch for a promotion, but Jim tells him to prove himself first.  This doesn't sit well with Ed who is living beyond his means to please Daisy.  He begins tipping off Belmonte for a price and when an assignment guarding a bank transfer comes his way Ed is too free with information to Daisy.  She sets a robbery up with Belmonte underling Cholo (J. Carroll Naish).  

The robbery goes horribly wrong resulting in the death of an innocent child bystander and Detective Makowski.  Fitzpatrick picks up the crooks and, through judicious interrogation, they are only too happy to spill.  Ed has to stand trial along with two of the gang.   Belmonte fixes things the proceedings with a crooked lawyer and intimidation tactics.  If you like courtroom fireworks, it is a glorious thing to watch Tully Marshall's impassioned plea to the jury.  The crooked lawyer acts as if he alone is responsible for the not guilty verdict, not the dirty doings of his gangland boss.



Walter Huston, Warner Richmond

Belmonte is riding high.  He has proven in a Court of Law once and for all who runs this town.  Jim Fitzpatrick is true to his word about using hot lead if it comes to it.  At the mob's post-trial celebration  a chastened Ed goads Belmonte into believing he is about to crack to the cops while Jim and a dozen personally selected men raid the nightclub.  Belmonte has a choice of coming along quietly, but every man there knows it is a suicide assignment.  The head-to-head shootout that follows is incredible.  The air is filled with gunsmoke and mobsters and coppers alike are cut down, including the wrong-place-at-wrong-time Daisy.  Wowza!

The story is told with a rat-a-tat, fast-paced rawness.  You can feel the heat in Daisy's small apartment, both from the overheated environs and the overheated blonde beauty and her infatuated copper.  You can smell the meal at the dinner table in the Fitzpatrick's homey abode.  You can sense the overwhelming anticipation and resignation in the final confrontation between the good and evil factions.  The Beast of the City has a ripped from the headlines feel accented with over-the-top emotions.



Walter Huston (1883-1950) born right here in Toronto was an extremely busy actor.  In Hollywood in 1932 alone, along with The Beast of the City, he appeared in Frank Capra's American Madness, recreated his stage role of Flint in Kongo (Broadway, 1926), played the uptight Rev. Davidson in Rain, and a famed gunfighter in the western classic Law and Order (son John worked on that screenplay from W.R. Burnett's novel).  In a couple of years he would head back to Broadway to star in Dodsworth opposite Fay Bainter.  He would receive the first of four Oscar nominations for playing that role in the 1936 film.



Jean Harlow (1911-1937) is justly famous for her stunning looks, but has stayed in fans hearts because of what we sense of her personality, a combination of vulnerability and gumption.  We have the opportunity to follow her career from bit parts to stardom and her development as an actress.  In 1931 there is her awkward performance in Public Enemy and her slightly more assured, though again miscast, turn in Frank Capra's Platinum Blonde.  Three Wise Girls gives us a hint of her genuine star quality and The Beast of the City shows us someone really getting into a role.  This same year she positively steals Red Dust amid the company of Clark Gable and Mary Astor, and takes on prisoners in Red-Headed Woman.  By the next year, she confidently spoofs her own life in Bombshell and outshine many of the stars of Dinner at Eight.  Jean Harlow was a wonder.

Wallace Ford (1898-1966), like Huston, was a stage veteran when he entered film in the 1930s playing important roles for MGM in Possessed, Freaks and Employees' Entrance.  Straddling the line between leading man and character star, Ford's career would take the turn to character roles in such films as The Lost Patrol and The Informer.  He would create the role of George in the 1937 Broadway production of Of Mice and Men, co-starring Broderick Crawfod as Lennie.  By the 1950s he was a welcome presence in support in westerns and comedies and his last film A Patch of Blue in 1965 was a fine showcase for a genuine talent.

Jean Hersholt, for whom the Academy's humanitarian award is named, is generally a screen presence associated with kind characters such as his Dr. Christian series, Skyscraper SoulsGrand Hotel, etc.  Here he gives us a powerful and rotten crime boss.  Tully Marshall's career includes silent film classics like Intolerance and The Trail of  '98 to film-noir This Gun for Hire and Moontide.  I particularly enjoy his creepy principal in the Hildegarde Withers flick, Murder on a Blackboard.   Dorothy Peterson was the movies go-to gal for the supportive and self-sacrificing wife/mother in such movies as  That Hagen Girl and the Five Little Peppers and Henry Aldrich for President.



George Chandler

Familiar faces popping up in The Beast of the City include Nat Pendleton, Murray Kinnell, J. Carroll Naish, Warner Richmond, Ed Brophy and, of course, George Chandler as a gentleman of the press.








Sunday, July 3, 2016

Olivia de Havilland Centenary blogathon: The Male Animal (1942)





Today's article is a happy contribution to the Olivia de Havilland Centenary blogathon hosted by Phyllis Loves Classic Movies and In the Good Old Days of Classic Hollywood.  Thank you, ladies.  The internet celebration of Ms. de Havilland's 100th birthday on July 1st runs until July 3rd and you can join the party HERE.  

Playwright/director/actor Elliot Nugent starred in The Male Animal during its successful Broadway run of 243 performances.  He was the co-writer of the play with his college friend James Thurber.  Nugent would return to Hollywood to direct the feature film based on the play.  Also coming west from the play were Don DeFore (One Sunday Afternoon, TVs Hazel) as Wally Myers and Ivan Simpson (Captain Blood, Maid of Salem) as Dr. Damon.  Gene Tierney who played Pat Stanley was in Hollywood working on another film and that role is played by Joan Leslie (Jubilee Trail, The Sky's the Limit).

The romantic-comedy mix-ups of the film are fresh and funny today.  Unfortunately, the political angle has not worn with age either.

Hot-headed student Michael Barnes played by Herbert Anderson (Battleground, TVs Dennis the Menace) has published an editorial in his Midwestern University's literary magazine decrying the firing of three professors accused of being communists and praising his English professor for scheduling a class reading of a letter written by executed anarchist Bartolomeo Vanzetti.  Professor Tommy Turner played by Henry Fonda (The Lady Eve, Fort Apache) is including other letters written by non-professional writers in his lesson on composition, but this particular example starts a row.  The Board of Trustees led by Ed Keller played by Eugene Palette (My Man Godfrey, Topper) are on a witch hunt.  They are out to get the "reds", and if they can't find any, they'll go after the "pinks".  Professor Turner's career is suddenly on the line.



Olivia de Havilland, Henry Fonda

Professor Turner's marriage is also at a fork in the road.  Outside of his Ivory Tower, the big doings on campus center on a championship football game, the rally and returning heroes.  One of the returning heroes is Joe Ferguson played by Jack Carson (The Strawberry Blonde, Mildred Pierce).  Joe just happens to be a former beau of Mrs. Ellen Turner played by Olivia de Havilland (The Heiress, Hold Back the Dawn).  Tommy can sense lingering feelings between the former couple which exacerbates Ellen's frustration with Tommy's unwillingness to back away from a fight with the Trustees.

The ongoing triangle among the married folks is mirrored by the love life of Ellen's younger sister Pat who is torn between the academic Michael and the football hero Wally.  This makes Tommy and Michael kindred spirits even though it is the latter's article which has gotten the prof into all this hot water.  The voice of the droll observer belongs to Ivan Simpson as Dr. Damon, the school's Dean.  The voice of support amidst the commotion belongs to Cleota played by Hattie McDaniel (Gone With the Wind, The Mad Miss Manton).



Henry Fonda, Jack Carson

Nothing is going well for Professor Turner this weekend.  Former beau Joe recalls Ellen's birthday with a gift.  Absent-minded Tommy forgot about the date, but remembered that Cleota's birthday was coming up.  Joe and Ellen look lovely dancing together.  Tommy doesn't like to dance.  Former cheerleader Ellen is excited about the game and the rally.  All that business is lost on Tommy.  Ellen wants Tommy to bow down to the Trustees for the sake of his job.  Tommy is not political by nature, but refuses to be pushed around.  Jealousy and worry get the best of Tommy.  While Ellen is out having a good time with Joe, Michael and Tommy get soused.  The inebriated Tommy turns his philosophical bent to the true nature of the male animal and what he must do to protect his mate.  It all leads to a shameful and very funny bout of fisticuffs between Tommy and Joe.  Poor Joe is so confused by the mixed signals he gets from both Tommy and Ellen that he doesn't know which end is up.

If you want to know who ends up with whom, what happens in Tommy's class and who wins the big game be sure and watch The Male Animal when you have the opportunity.  Henry Fonda is always particularly fine in comedy and there is a lot for him to work with in the role of Professor Turner.  Any scene between Tommy and Cleota is a gem.



Henry Fonda, Olivia de Havilland

I do not know how Ms. de Havilland felt about the wifely role in this comedy, even with its Thurber and Nugent Broadway pedigree.  Perhaps it was one of those last straws that drove her to instigate her successful legal battle against the studio's strangle-hold on an actor's career.  Speaking strictly as an audience, Olivia de Havilland glows as Ellen Turner, expertly alternating between funny and playful, and devoted and thoughtful.  She's immensely attractive and likable, running the household and keeping her sometimes slightly vague husband on track.  Her excitement about the game and seeing Joe is girlish and sweet.  Her worry for Tommy is as genuine as her bewilderment at Tommy's mercurial change of attitude toward Joe and his sudden standing up to the Trustees.

The Male Animal with its clever and amusing script and polished performances is a classic movie treat for fans and a special part of Olivia de Havilland's filmography.  TCM is screening the film on Friday, July 29th at 4:00 am as part of the Star of the Month salute to Olivia de Havilland.