Thursday, September 29, 2016

CAFTAN WOMAN'S CHOICE: ONE FOR OCTOBER ON TCM



I have an affinity for the Golden Age of Live Television in the 1950s and two of the talents who contributed much to that era are behind this month's TCM choice, 1964s Dear Heart.  The honest and almost urgent burst of creativity of that time is exemplified in the works of writer Tad Mosel and director Delbert Mann.

Recognition of the excellence in their work as not missing during Mr. Mosel and Mr. Mann's respective careers.  Tad Mosel was the winner of the Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award for his play from James Agee's novel All the Way Home.  He was nominated for the primetime Emmy nomination in 1977 for The Adams Chronicles.  His Writers Guild of America nomination in 1968 was for Up the Down Staircase.  Delbert Mann won the Best Director Oscar in 1956 for Marty.  He was nominated for the Golden Globe for Separate Tables and was nominated for three Primetime Emmys between 1954 to 1979.  The Cannes Film Festival recognized him with two wins and three nominations and the Directors Guild of America with three wins and six nominations.

Tad Mosel's story Dear Heart was born as an episode of Studio One called The Out-of-Towners in 1957.  The episode starred Eileen Heckart as Evie Jackson and E.G. Marshall as Harry Mork.  Our film stars Geraldine Page and Glenn Ford.



Patricia Barry, Glenn Ford

Glenn Ford's Harry Mork is a man who says of himself that he is "coming down to earth".  His friend with benefits, Mitchell played by Patricia Barry (Days of Our Lives), says it is more of a "crash landing".  A traveling salesman for a greeting card company, Mork has hit the wall at the end of the road.  He intends to accept a marketing job at head office and settle down with Phyllis, a widow from Altuna with a young son.  Phyllis is played by Angela Lansbury (The Manchurian Candidate) and her appearance near the end of the movie is a treat worth the wait.  Harry thinks he has life, particularly his own, all sorted out.  He is as confused as someone else we will meet this weekend in New York City.  Evie Jackson is in town for the Postmasters Convention.  These two babes in the woods don't even understand the full import of the term "lunch".

Geraldine Page's Evie Jackson is lonely.  She has a warm heart, but with a touch of desperation she pushes too hard.  It is not that Evie doesn't recognize the truth about herself, it is just that life doesn't give her what she wants and she's not the sort to accept only what she can get.  This includes a fling with a fellow postmaster at a previous convention.  Charles Drake (Harvey) plays the man in question who assures Evie she is still a "good woman".  As Evie says later "Most men say Evie can take care of herself, but once they get married they want to take care of me."



Angela Lansbury, Michael Anderson Jr., Glenn Ford

When Evie and Harry meet we have had time to learn that Harry is not so self-assured as we may have thought.  Harry has met Patrick, his soon to be stepson played by Michael Anderson Jr. (The Sons of Katie Elder).  Patrick is older than the picture provided by Phyllis has led Harry to believe.  Patrick is quirky and full of issues that he wants Harry to resolve.  Harry reacts by stepping out of character with a magazine counter clerk played by Barbara Nichols (Sweet Smell of Success) who has a little business on the side.  Continually, Harry is finding himself drawn to Evie.  She is touched by his attention and eager to share.  Harry is denying the fact that, despite his engagement, he is courting the disarming Evie.



Geraldine Page, Glenn Ford

A romantic drama with trenchant touches of comedy, Dear Heart is a great showcase of fine writing and acting.  Geraldine Page, in particular, is so open to exposing the heart of Evie that I blush from recognition.

Dear Heart is also an incredible showcase for familiar faced character actors including the two Gladys Kravitzes, Alice Pearce and Sandra Gould, Ruth McDevitt, Mary Wickes, Neva Patterson, Patsy Garrett, Barbara Luddy, Maxine Stuart, Pauline Meyers and Richard Deacon, Billy Benedict, Hal Smith, Ken Lynch and Ralph Manza.  It's almost distracting!

The lilting title song by Henry Mancini with lyrics by Jay Livingston and Ray Evans was nominated for the Oscar.  The winner that season was the Sherman Brothers' Chim Chim Cher-ee from Mary Poppins.  Andy Williams hit recording reached #2 on Billboard, Jack Jones topped at #4 and Mancini's  own recording at #14.  Here's Andy's popular record:

  

I have to love a movie wherein Glenn Ford shouts in all sincerity:  "Emile Zola, put your clothes on!"

TCM is screening Dear Heart on Saturday, October 8th at 12:00 am in an evening they are calling a salute to "Feel Good Romances", preceded by Murphy's Romance and Crossing Delancey.









Friday, September 16, 2016

AGATHA CHRISTIE BLOGATHON: Hercule Poirot finds Evil Under the Sun



Little Bits of Classic and Christina Wehner are hosting The Agatha Christie Blogathon running from September 16 - 18. Thank you to these two wonderful bloggers for this great event.

Recaps:  Day 1     Day 2     Day 3

Agatha Christie's The Mysterious Affair at Styles published in 1920 marked the introduction to the world of Hercule Poirot, the fussy and eccentric Belgian with amazing detective skills. Evil Under the Sun published in 1941 marks about the 3/4 mark in Poirot's 35 novel appearances. The sun in the title shines on a resort island separated from England's coast by a causeway which disappears at high tide. The merry-makers on this isolated amalgam of sandy beaches and secretive coves may be searching for an escape from their everyday lives, but will soon have those lives laid open by a murder investigation.



Agatha Christie
(1890 - 1976)

A notorious actress, Arlena Stewart Marshall is on the island with her doting husband Kenneth and his daughter Linda. Arlena's notoriety derives from high profile scandals and her obvious attraction to men other than her husband. This summer Arlena is seen spending too much time with the handsome Patrick Redfern, much to the dismay of his wife Christine. The owner of a fashion house, Rosamund Darnley is visibly perturbed by the marital woes of her old friend and sweetheart Kenneth Marshall.  The company includes a too hearty businessman, a fanatical clergyman, an outdoorsy woman and an American couple. When Arlena's strangled body is discovered on a remote section of the island no one escapes suspicion and no one escapes the keen eye of Hercule Poirot.  

Agatha Christie's stories work not only for their puzzles, but because of her keen eye for characters. Her ability to reveal with precise observations and deceptive dialogue the oh-so-human nature of those who populate her stories is a continual joy to generations of readers. Evil Under the Sun is an engrossing read with an unexpected touch of pity for the foolish Arlena.




The 1982 adaption of Christie's novel by Anthony Shaffer (Death on the Nile, Appointment with Death) moves the time period to the late 30s and the British resort to one in the Adriatic with actual filming on Majorca, the home base of director Guy Hamilton (Goldfinger, Funeral in Berlin).

Some characters from the novel are eliminated and/or combined with others for ease of storytelling. The fashion designer is eliminated, but her connection to Arlena's stoic husband Kenneth Marshall played by Denis Quilley (Murder on the Orient Express, Life at the Top) is rolled over into the innkeeper played by Maggie Smith (Death on the Nile, The VIPs). The hearty businessman is replaced with a bombastic aristocrat, Sir Horace Blatt played by Colin Blakely (Murder on the Orient Express, The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes).



Peter Ustinov, Colin Blakely, Jane Birkin, Nichol Clay, Maggie Smith, Diana Rigg
Denis Quilley, Sylvia Miles, James Mason, Emily Hone, Roddy McDowall

The clergyman and rustic female are gone, as are the American tourists. In their stead we have an entertainment chronicler played by Roddy McDowall (Planet of the Apes, Man Hunt) and Sylvia Miles (Crossing Delancey, Midnight Cowboy) and James Mason (Odd Man Out, A Star is Born) as theatrical producers. Diana Rigg (The Hospital, The Great Muppet Caper) plays the doomed Arlena, Nicholas Clay (Lady Chatterley's Lover, Zulu Dawn) her paramour Redfern and Jane Birkin (Death on the Nile, Blow-Up) his dowdy wife. Emily Hone plays the put upon stepdaughter Linda Marshall.



Hercule Poirot takes in the sun.

Peter Ustinov (Spartacus, Topkapi) stars in his second of three outings as one of fiction's greatest detectives, Hercule Poirot. So vain, so fussy, so overbearing and yet so endearing. It must have something to do with that Ustinov fellow.

One of the many pleasures of Evil Under the Sun is Anthony Powell's costume design. He is an Oscar winner for Travels With My Aunt, Death on the Nile and Tess, and a nominee for Pirates, Hook and 102 Dalmatians. The wealthy on holiday in the 1930s allows for all manner of finery to please the eye. We expect our rich to be slightly over-the-top, do we not? 

The stroke of genius that gives Evil Under the Sun its special oomph is the use of Cole Porter songs for the score. Porter's music immediately evokes sophistication and the popping of champagne corks that gives this film its special effervescence.



Arlena Marshall takes the spotlight.

Arlena's talent is somewhat suspect, but her notoriety is assured and is necessary to box office success. Thus, the producing Gardeners desire her to star in their upcoming play. Also, she owes them since she left a previous show to hook up with Sir Horace, whom Arlena swindled out of an expensive bauble. Apparently, he didn't feel their affair was worth it. Arlena's current husband Kenneth seems to be suspicious of young Redfern. Redfern's wife certainly has no doubts as to the ongoing affair. Rex Brewster has written a tell-all on Arlena, but can't get her release to publish. Innkeeper Daphne goes way back with Arlena and it is not a pretty relationship. Stepdaughter Linda is petulant and we all know teenagers have no boundaries. When Arlena's corpse is discovered on an isolated beach everyone is a suspect and everyone has an alibi. Can Hercule Poirot solve this baffling case?

Lives and the business of the inn are at stake, not to mention the reputation of M. Hercule Poirot. Will this challenge go unmet?  Time to put those little grey cells to work. None of us turn to our Christie to see the great detective vanquished in his endeavours, and the reveal in Evil Under the Sun is an especially satisfying one.










Tuesday, September 13, 2016

THE MARGARET LOCKWOOD CENTENNIAL BLOGATHON: THE STARS LOOK DOWN (1940)



Today's post is a proud contribution to Terence Towles Canote's Margaret Lockwood Centennial Blogathon.  Click unto A Shroud of Thoughts for the tributes to this most worthy star.

A.J. Cronin (TVs Dr. Finlay's Casebook) was a Scottish physician and novelist whose popular novels did more than entertain.  The author enlightened readers to important social issues in his works.  Cronin took us on spiritual journeys as well.  If you haven't read his novels, you may be familiar with many films adapted from his works including The Citadel, Vigil in the Night, The Green Years and The Keys of the Kingdom.

The Stars Look Down was published in 1935 and the 1940 film version was adapted by J.B. Williams (We Dive at Dawn) and directed by Carol Reed (Odd Man Out, The Third Man).  The National Board of Review placed the movie on its top ten list of 1941.



Michael Redgrave as Davey Fenwick

Davey Fenwick played by Michel Redgrave (The Lady Vanishes, The Importance of Being Earnest) is a born idealist who learns the harsh lessons of life in his Welsh mining town.  His miner father, Robert played by Edward Rigby (The Happiest Days of Your Life) is a quiet leader who works for the safety of his fellows.  He is an inspiration to Davy who wants to use his university scholarship to go into politics and fight for public ownership of the mines, denying individual owners the right to dominate the workers.



Emlyn Williams as Joe Gowlan

Joe Gowlan played by Emlyn Williams (Night Must Fall, The Corn is Green) is a born capitalist.  Like Davey, he leaves for the bright city lights of Tynecastle, but his only goal is money, and plenty of it.  A smart lad, he is soon operating a bookie operation, but sets his sights on bigger and more legit enterprises.



Margaret Lockwood as Jenny Sunley

Jenny Sunley played by Margaret Lockwood (The Lady Vanishes, The Wicked Lady) is a young woman who knows what she wants and wants it now.  Like Joe and his aspirations, Jenny may not want to be a lady, but she wants to be treated like one.  She has accurately pegged Joe as someone who will get to the top and she assumes their long-standing relationship is going to lead to marriage.  Joe is a boarder at Jenny's place and her mother is most definitely in agreement with this assessment.

What Jenny doesn't realize is that born capitalists like Joe know how to deal with grasping young women, no matter how attractive.  Joe's ladder to success includes cozying up to the bored wife of a rich industrialist.  The couple is played by Linden Travers and Cecil Parker, who can be seen paired in The Lady Vanishes and Quartet as well.  Joe cannot very well put his plan into action with Jenny hanging around his neck and opportunely introduces her to Davey.



Michael Redgrave, Margaret Lockwood

Born idealists like Davey are apt to look at attractive young women like Jenny and fall hopelessly in love, and that is just what happens.   Jenny can't see how Joe is manipulating the situation before it is too late.  Heartbroken and angry at being spurned, Jenny seduces Davey into leaving university a year short of his degree and the promise of a prominent parliamentarian to assist in his career to marry her and return to his hometown to work as a schoolmaster.  If Jenny had a clue in her pretty little head she would have seen where Davey's education and success in government might have taken her.  Destructively, "patience" is not part of Jenny's vocabulary.  Her needs are all immediate and Davey and his family are the ones to suffer.

Away from the domestic aspects of our story we return to the downtrodden miners whose deplorable living conditions are second only to their dangerous working conditions.  The unsafe section of mine that Davey's dad has been fighting against is opened thanks to the greedy mine owner, who is in possession of plans indicating the truth of denied claims.  Our friend Joe Gowan has brokered the deal that will result in the prophesied disaster.  While we cannot lay the blame for the mine cave in on the selfish Jenny, her actions to lead to Joe being able to discredit Davey as an advocate for the miners to the Board of Directors.

The depiction of the fate of the miners is almost heartwrenchingly unbearable as the audience suffers through the torment of living entombment with characters we have come to know including Davey's father, football mad brother, who had been given a tryout with the Tynecastle team, played by Desmond Tester (Sabotage, Drums) and a young student Davey had mentored while teaching.

Margaret Lockwood's Jenny is an unconscious villain in this piece, unlike some of her later characters  such as Hester in The Lady in Grey and Barbara Worth in The Wicked Lady, whose treachery is more well-defined and focused.  Heroine or villain, Margaret Lockwood's talent for bringing the truth of her character to the screen is always admirable and always watchable.






THE JOAN FONTAINE CENTENARY BLOGATHON: Kiss the Blood Off My Hands (1948)

Crystal of In the Good Old Days of Classic Hollywood and Virginie of The Wonderful World of Cinema are co-hosting The Joan Fontaine C...