Thursday, October 15, 2020


Virginia of The Wonderful World of Cinema is hosting the 120 Screwball Years of Jean Arthur Blogathon. The October 15 - 17 tribute to the beloved actress begins HERE.

James Buchanan: "Now if you could only cook."
Joan Hawthorne: "Oh, I can cook. I'm a marvelous cook. ... Can you butle?"

Mike Rossini played by Leo Carrillo needs a cook, an exceptional cook. Mike made his money as a bootlegger when prohibition was the law. His current business is no less shady but that shouldn't bother any new employees. An exceptional cook who comes with a butler/chauffeur can find themselves with quarters over the garage and $175 dollars a month, and that, to quote Joan is "real money." 

Joan Hawthorne played by Jean Arthur could use some real money. On her own in New York City, Joan is out of work and has come to a parting of the ways with her landlady. She discusses these matters with James Buchanan as they sit on a park bench. Joan assumes as anyone would, that a fellow sitting on a park bench in the middle of the afternoon is a fellow seeker of employment.
Herbert Marshall, Jean Arthur

James Buchanan played by Herbert Marshall is not exactly on the down and out. He is the chief engineer and CEO of a successful car manufacturing concern. He has walked away from his business on this day because his Board of Directors refuses to go along with his new designs, choosing to play it conservative during the Depression. James is fed up. James is also fed up with his upcoming nuptials. His bride-to-be Evelyn played by Frieda Inescourt is only marrying him for his money and the convenient fact that he is too busy to be involved in her life. James wants the warmth and excitement he expected would come with romance. Silly boy!

James wants to keep the intriguing young woman on the park bench in his life so he tells her his name is Jim Burns and joins her in pursuit of positions with the wealthy Mr. Rossini. Rossini's right-hand man Flash played by Lionel Stander doesn't get all the hype about an "exceptional cook" but he comes in handy for muscle work and moving the plot along with his snooping.

Joan and Jim grow closer during their time as cook and butler, and a "married" couple, but have trouble admitting their feelings. After all, Jim unknown to Joan, still has to deal with a company and a fiancee. This leads to comic complications between the potential lovebirds. When people don't have all the facts - well, anything can happen.

Jean Arthur, Leo Carrillo
Joan proves to be too much of an exceptional cook. Add that skill to her general attractiveness and Joan finds herself in the middle of a love triangle as Mike Rossini tries to steal the girl of his dreams away from her "husband." How the police (!) and a gang of armed thugs (!) get involved in all of this, I will leave you to discover for yourselves. The hubby and I came across this movie one Saturday afternoon with no prior knowledge of it and we were immediately and permanently charmed.

The story for If You Could Only Cook is from the prolific comedic mind of F. Hugh Herbert (Corliss Archer, The Moon is Blue) with the screenplay by Gertrude Purcell (Destry Rides Again, One Night in the Tropics) and Howard J. Green (Blessed Event, Star of Midnight).

Herbert Marshall, director William Seiter, Jean Arthur
Everyone seems to be in on a different joke in this gag photo.

William Seiter had great skill with comedy and over the years many of his films have become personal favourites: Skinner's Dress Suit, Why Be Good?, Diplomaniacs, Sons of the Desert, The Richest Girl in the World, Roberta, The Moon's Our Home, It's a Date, You Were Never Lovelier and others. Jean and Seiter would work again in 1943 for A Lady Takes a Chance

Our Columbia release of 1935 presents three accomplished actors who appear to be having great fun with their characters. Leo Carrillo is especially delightful as a capricious crook confusing his heart with his stomach, although Jean Arthur does have more than her culinary skills to recommend her. Herbert Marshall brings his sophistication and subtle humour and sincerity to create a relatable character.

Jean Arthur had been in films since 1923, bouncing among the studios when Columbia finally noticed her comedic potential in an earlier 1935 release, John Ford's The Whole Town's Talking. While dramas took up most of her output that year, light bulbs finally went on over the heads of the executives, and she shines in If Only You Could Cook. Jean Arthur's tough but sweet personality took flight in this captivating screwball comedy. Audiences of the time must have been pleased with this presentation of the actress as star comedy material. The following year, Jean played Babe Bennett in Mr. Deeds Goes to Town for Frank Capra, and cinema immortality was hers.

Saturday, October 10, 2020


Maddy Loves Her Classic Films is saluting the beautiful and versatile Eleanor Parker with a blogathon running October 10th and 11th. Join the online tributes HERE. My contribution is a look at Between Two Worlds, 1944.

Sutton Vane's play Outward Bound premiered in London in 1923. The fantasy-drama with its hopeful premise of an afterlife found a place with the post-WWI audience. Broadway audiences were equally taken with the play the following year. Warner Bros. filmed Outward Bound in 1930 retaining some cast from the Broadway production. Leslie Howard had played "Henry" on the stage and in the film took the "Prior" role. Beryl Mercer recreated the role of "Mrs. Midget", with Dudley Digges again as "The Examiner."

Of note: Helen Chandler portrayed "Ann" in the 1930 film opposite Douglas Fairbank Jr. and appeared in the Broadway revival of 1938 opposite Alexander Kirkland.

The world was once again at war and Warner Bros. believed a weary audience would be receptive to the downbeat optimism of a revival of Vane's Outward Bound. The screenplay by Daniel Fuchs was rechristened Between Two Worlds. The film was the first of three directing credits for dialogue director Edward A. Blatt. Cast with many solid Warner's contractees Between Two Worlds was moodily filmed by Carl E. Guthrie. Erich Wolfgang Korngold provided an appropriately melodramatic score.

Paul Henreid, Eleanor Parker, George Tobias

Ann Bergner: "Where are we sailing for?"
Scrubby (the steward): "Where are you sailing for? To Heaven, and to Hell. Does that seem strange? You'll soon understand, my dear. In a way, they are really both the same place."

European emigrant Henry Bergner played by Paul Henreid is suffering in London. Trauma from fighting with the Free French weighs heavily on his mind and heart, and he has lost his ability to earn a living as a pianist. Told that the paperwork to take a ship to America would not be forthcoming for at least six months, the depressed Henry chooses suicide as an escape from his depression.

Eleanor Parker plays Ann Bergner, Henry's devoted wife. They are so close that she senses his drastic decision and his resolve. Knowing she cannot change his mind, Ann decides she cannot live without Henry and joins him as the gas fills their flat. Unexpectedly, the couple finds themselves on the very ship upon which Henry was earlier denied access. They remember their deaths and know that they are in some sort of a transition phase in existence.

Onboard are the passengers that Henry saw at the steamship office. They are the same people Ann saw struck by a Nazi bomb. These passengers are not aware of their transitional status. It should come to them when they are ready to accept it.

Dennis King, Sara Allgood, John Garfield, Faye Emerson
George Tobias, Gilbert Emery, Isobel Elsom

John Garfield is Tom Prior, a hot-shot journalist who allowed his cynicism and a chip on his shoulder to drink away his career and prospects. Faye Emerson is Maxine Russell, a wrong side of the tracks gal who hoped show business would be her entree to the good life. She is bitter and has a history with Tom Prior.

Isobel Elsom and Gilbert Emery are Genevieve and Benjamin Cliveden-Banks. She is a social-climbing snob and he is her essentially kindly but a cowed husband. George Colouris is Lingley of Lingley Limited, a business magnate and war profiteer for whom money is his god and protector.

George Tobias is Pete Musick, a merchant marine heading home to a wife he adores and a kid he has yet to meet. Dennis King is Reverand William Duke, a shy clergyman looking forward to expanding his horizons in the wide world. Sara Allgood is Mrs. Midget, a humble woman with a secret and a goal.

Edmund Gwenn

The passengers are served by the steward Scrubby played by Edmund Gwenn. Sydney Greenstreet is The Examiner, who will send each passenger on their allotted way. Be warned that they bring their own Heaven and Hell with them.

Eleanor Parker's Ann is a woman continually on the edge emotionally. In life, she cared for nothing but her husband's peace of mind and was unable to help him attain it. In death, she struggles between trying to be strong in the face of the overwhelming unknown and giving in to the fear that somehow she will be separated from her beloved. 

Henry has become accustomed to his new existence; Ann is by his side and they have no further concerns about the inhumanity of man. His musical skills have returned, and he is open to helping Scrubby with his duties. Henry does not yet realize that it will be his fate, the fate of suicides like Scrubby, to remain on shipboard traveling forever. Ann, being collateral damage to Henry's decision will be allowed to go forward. However, she refuses to leave Henry. In an unprecedented move, Scrubby begs The Examiner to find a way to help the young woman with such deep love. Is there a way?

Warner Bros. kept Eleanor Parker a very busy actress in their organization. During 1944 she appeared in six films including a bit in Hollywood Canteen. Eleanor and Paul Henreid would again co-star in the 1946 version of W. Somerset Maugham's Of Human Bondage. Later, of the eight episodes of the series Bracken's World which Paul Henreid directed in 1969, two would feature Eleanor Parker.

Thursday, October 1, 2020


The Archers 1943 film The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp is a leisurely 2 hours and 43 minutes and you won't want to miss a moment. It is a movie that examines life and history, its long and short views. It examines aging and love in ways you may have thought but never expressed. Perhaps in ways that will be new to you yet will impact your thinking or your feelings.

James MacKechnie, Roger Livesey

Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger set the opening of our film in the contemporary time of 1943. General Clive Wynne-Candy is in charge of the Home Guard and "war begins at midnight." The young officers and men have been told to make the war games like the real thing and they do with a sneak early attack, making the older officers their prisoners. It is a battle between the new and the old with indignant insults being hurled by both sides. Roger Livesey as Clive speaks out, How do you know what sort of fellow I was when I was a young as you 40 years ago?"

Roger Livesey

The movie takes us back to that time 40 years ago. It is 1902 and Clive Candy has been awarded the Victoria Cross after serving time as a POW during the Boer War. Fate, in the form of a letter from a young woman named Edith Hunter, finds him traveling to Berlin in order to foster some sort of diplomatic understanding with the Germans regarding the British actions in South Africa.

Anton Walbrook as Theo and Deborah Kerr as Edith

Clive's visit is not sanctioned by any Embassy, yet he is impelled to go forth. Clive will cause a diplomatic incident, fight a duel and meet people who will become dearer to him than any others, Edith Hunter played by Deborah Kerr and Theo Kretschmar-Schuldorff played by Anton Walbrook.

Deborah Kerr as Barbara

Forward 20 years and Clive Candy is now involved in the war to end all wars. When the Allies win it reinforces his idea that right overcame might in the conflict and always shall. Here he meets nurse Barbara Wynne played by Deborah Kerr and marries her.

Roger Livesey, Anton Walbrook

He renews his acquaintance with Theo Kretschmar-Schuldorff but the shadow of the recent conflict hangs over their friendship. They are from opposite sides of the conflict and see both the war and the peace from differing perspectives.

Anton Walbrook, Roger Livesey

World War 2 brings the widowed Clive and Theo together again. Nazism has blighted the world and the years of experience of the two old men are ignored by that world. The wars they have seen and the lives they have lived have led to different attitudes but both can learn and can share.

Deborah Kerr as "Johnny"

Eventually, as a Home Guard officer, General Wynne-Candy becomes a public relations boon until he isn't. The "old dear" has the affection and loyalty of his young driver Angela "Johnny" Cannon played by Deborah Kerr. He chose her from among 700 applicants. Can you wonder why? Theo does his supportive part as best he can, however, his status as an alien (much like his creator Emeric Pressburger) makes his position that of the outsider.

The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp is one of the most sumptuous and glorious pictures your eyes have ever beheld thanks to the production design of Alfred Junge and the Technicolor cinematography of Georges Perinal. Costume design was by Matilda Etches, Charles R. Beard was the period adviser, and Douglas Brownrigg the military adviser. There is a sense that if the world were Technicolor, we have stepped into those multiple eras of Clive Candy's life.
Cartoonist David Low's satirical reactionary character Colonel Blimp is the inspiration for the physicality of the character portrayed in this movie. The personality and the history come from a line edited out of One of Our Aircraft is Missing, 1942: "You don't know what it's like to be old." Editor David Lean suggested that line was worth its own movie.

I have not written too much detail as to the plots in the story as The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp is a movie to be experienced, whether you are seeing it for the first time or the tenth. The hope here is that your appetite is whetted for the classic. It's moving script, presentation and exemplary performances by our three leads will live with you.

TCM is screening The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp in primetime on Thursday, October 15th as part of their Spotlight: Celebrating 30 Years of The Film Foundation. There is much to enjoy in the worthy lineup for this October spotlight.

Of note:

Ursula Jeans (1906-1973) is charming as Frau von Kalteneck. Ursula and Roger Livesey (1906-1976) were married from 1937 until her death in 1973. They appeared together often on stage, but The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp is only one of two movie collaborations.

Friday, September 25, 2020


Terence Towles Canote at A Shroud of Thoughts is hosting his 7th Annual Rule Britannia Blogathon on September 25, 26, and 27. It is always an informative and entertaining blogathon event in which I am pleased to participate this year with a look at I See a Dark Stranger. Enjoy the articles linked HERE.

Sidney Gilliat and Frank Launder, as a writing, producing, and directing team gave us dozens of films beginning with the screenplay for The Lady Vanishes, through the Inspector Hornleigh series, Will Hay comedies, Night Train to MunichGreen for Danger, The Belles of St. Trinian's, The Happiest Days of Your Life, etc.

For many of us, they presented the best of British humour or the image we have of such humour. Humour in the face of adversity and absurdity, and the ready wit to which we would like to claim ownership. I See a Dark Stranger was the first film produced under their company, Individual Pictures with Frank Launder directing from the screenplay by himself, Sidney Gilliat, and Wolfgang Wilhelm.

Deborah Kerr as Bridie Quilty

Bridie: "I'm 21; I'm me own mistress."
First Irishwoman: "That's an occupation that could change hands overnight."

Deborah Kerr stars as Bridie Quilty. Raised in a small village in the west of Ireland, Bridie took to heart her father's eloquent and frequent retelling of his feats in the Easter uprising of 1916. The people of the village listen with awe to the feats of storytelling, taking it as just that, while Bridie's heart is filled with pride for her brave father and hatred toward the English. She plans to follow in his footsteps as soon as she is of age, and on her 21st birthday, she travels London looking for a way to join the Irish Republican Army.

The Second World War is raging and brings all sorts of disparate people together. Bridie falls in with some Nazis, about whom she hasn't given much thought except that they are keeping the English busy with some other war. She was stymied in her plans to join the IRA, so Bridie is only too happy to assist these friends by virtue of being enemies of her enemy.

The town of Wynbridge Vale has a new worker at the pub and the attractive Irish girl has quite an appeal for the fellows at the local Army barracks. Also, the statue of Oliver Cromwell in the centre of town was vandalized. Something of that nature has never occurred previously. Could the arrival in town of Bridie be connected to the vandalism?

A Nazi spy is being held in a nearby prison and his compatriots must engineer a break-out to discover important information from the spy, or at the very least the whereabouts of the information. Bridie has been helpful in getting the soldiers to talk since her sojourn at the pub.

A young officer on leave checks into the pub/hotel and her Nazi friends have identified Davd Baynes played by Trevor Howard as an intelligence officer. They want to use his attraction to Bridie to keep him occupied. Bridie's handler, Mr. Miller played by Raymond Huntley informs Bridie of her new assignment to keep the officer occupied during the planned escape, and gets an argument from the headstrong girl.

Deborah Kerr as Bridie Quilty, Trevor Howard as David Bayne

Bridie: "You really mean you want me to throw myself at him like a --- I might have known this'd happen! I've half a mind to refuse. I'd never bargained for anything like this!"

It turns out that David is not the intelligence officer the Nazis assumed. He is a scholarly sort of chap who is falling for our Bridie. Meanwhile, the spy is extricated from his captors only to be shot. Also shot is Miller who passes on information to Bridie regarding a certain notebook hidden in a parliament building on the Isle of Man. Before shuffling off this mortal coil, he also instructs Bridie to get rid of his body. Bridie, the corpse, and a wheelchair is a comic movie highlight. The consequence of her actions find Bridie sneaking out of town to complete her mission on the Isle of Man.

Garry Marsh as Capt. Goodhusband and Tom Macaulay as Lt. Spanwick

The escape and the not so easily gotten rid of corpse of her handler have given the authorities a lead on Bridie's whereabouts. They have tracked her to the Isle and military personnel is ordered to pick her up. Military personnel on the Isle of Man are Garry Marsh as Captain Goodhusband and Tom Macaulay as Lieutenant Spanwick. They are amusing characters with many witty exchanges of dialogue. Goodhusband is played as a typical twit and Spanwick, if not a man of action, a man of at least some brains. Trivia has it that Launder and Gilliat wanted their old friends and ours Charters and Caldicott for these roles, but Basil Radford and Naunton Wayne held out for more money than was considered reasonable by the newly independent producers.

Bridie obtains the hidden notebook and when she realizes it contains information vital to the coming invasion of Europe, she suddenly comes face to face with the enormity of her actions. The Nazis are not to be trusted! Wisely and bravely, she burns the item sought by the villains. Assisted by David, who has followed her, they attempt to escape together. David will not shirk his duty of turning Bridie in, but he will not let her deal with the Nazis alone.

It is a wild race across porous borders that sometimes finds our heroes ahead of the Nazis and the British Army, and sometimes with them. A satisfactory ending is awaiting the viewer without bogging us down in unnecessary red tape.

I See a Dark Stranger is threaded throughout with the mystery of French street signs on the Isle of Man and the overactive imagination of Bridie Quilty. The spy story is credibly presented with wry observations from characters in the most unassuming of circumstances. The ensemble is filled with familiar faces including Joan Hickson, Katie Johnson, David Tomlinson, Torin Thatcher, Albert Sharpe, and others I may have missed.

If you think you may be in the mood for a thoughtful and amusing thriller, with the occasional laugh-out-loud moment and a young leading actress of immense talent then I See a Dark Stranger is the movie for you.

Thursday, September 17, 2020

RAY MILLAND ON THE RUN, 1944: Ministry of Fear and Till We Meet Again

Ray Milland stars as Stephen Neale, a man who thinks his long personal nightmare may be over. On the night he is released from a sanitorium, a sentence for the mercy killing of his wife, Stephen Neale faces a new and more immediate nightmare.

Graham Greene's (The Third Man) 1943 novel The Ministry of Fear was adapted to the screen and produced by Seton I. Miller (The Sea Hawk) for Paramount in 1944. Fritz Lang (You and Me) directed with crisp cinematography by Henry Sharp (The Glass Key, 1935).

Stephen was a lucky man at a charity fete with the win of a cake made with real eggs. The cake, however, was not meant for him. It contained microfilm valuable to the Nazis and they are not a group of whom one should run afoul. The train trip to London becomes something more than routine with a not-so-blind traveler, a bombing raid, an attempt on Stephen's life, and a stolen cake.

The charity fete had been held for the Mothers of Free Nations. After hiring a rather seedy private detective played by Erskine Sanford, Stephen checks out the offices of the MoFN and becomes involved with sibling Austrian refugees. Carl Esmond plays Willie Hilfe who finds Stephen's story amusing but is also willing to play along. Marjorie Reynolds plays Carla who hopes to prove their organization blameless, and who also seems to find Stephen attractive.

Stephen and Willi follow a trail that leads to Hillary Brooke as a wealthy socialite, lending her hostess duties to an incongruous seance. The medium seems to know more about Stephen than is humanly possible. A man is murdered. Stephen is on the run and he knows he is being followed. Why has that detective disappeared?

Stephen is in a waking paranoid nightmare; pursued by Nazis and the authorities, he chases the villains to clear his name. There is no one to trust and nowhere to hide. Each safe place turns more dangerous than the last. Dan Duryea, Alan Napier, and Percy Waram are among the suspicious characters that Stephen and Carla must sort out in order to be safe. Yes, our attractive leads have joined forces. Perhaps there is one person who can or must be trusted.

Ministry of Fear is a tidy thriller that puts its cast and its audience through their paces. Shocks and plot twists abound as the race against time and a clever enemy quickens to the finale. Apparently, director Lang was disappointed with this film yet he gives us an extremely accomplished entertainment.

Barbara Britton stars as Sister Clothilde, a novice at a convent in rural France during WW2. She was eight years old and came to the convent after the death of her mother. The convent was a refuge from an abusive father and a haven she never wants to leave.

Lenore Coffee's (Four Daughters) screenplay was directed by Frank Borzage (Three Comrades) with moody cinematography from Theodor Sparkuhl (The Glass Key, 1942). Some location shooting was done on Rhode Island.

Mother Superior played by Lucile Watson knows how good and kind Sister Clothilde is with the children in their care yet still worries for the young woman whom she senses takes too much pride in being safe from the outside world.

The convent is part of the "Underground" helping trapped allied soldiers to escape the Germans. Konstantin Shayne plays Major Krupp who cannot enter the convent yet plays a verbal game of cat and mouse with the brave Mother Superior. Always in the background is the Mayor played by Walter Slezak. Mayor Vitray is not an unfeeling man, but he is afraid and fear rules his actions.

An American flyer with vital information for the allies is the latest to pass through their care. Sister Clothilde knows of his presence and inadvertently makes Major Krupp aware of his presence. She could not lie but her face and actions gave it away. The Nazis make quick work of the unspoken information. The woman who was to act as the flyer's wife to get him past the authorities is arrested. Breaking with protocol, soldiers come to search the convent and kill the Mother Superior. Sister Clothilde takes the place of the underground operative. It is her duty.

During the perilous journey, the flyer and the sister share much and become close. He shares his home life; his wife and son are everything to him. She sees that life outside the walls of the cloister can be a fine thing. She has learned what Mother Superior meant when she said, referring to the cross: "This is our symbol, Sister Clothilde. Why should we be free from suffering?"

Barbara Britton gives a lovely performance of a young woman finding unforeseen courage and understanding. Ray Milland is a very human hero; dutiful toward his cause and grateful for the help that comes his way.

"Only a few days. Only a few miles, but it's been a long journey."

Frank Borzage's films always have for me a moody romanticism and a strong sense of Fate controlling all-too-human characters. 

Wednesday, September 9, 2020

REMAKE AVENUE: The Guardsman, 1931 and The Chocolate Soldier, 1941

Lynn Fontanne, Alfred Lunt
The Guardsman, 1924

New York's Theatre Guild, the post-WWI iteration of the Washington Square Players was looking for a boost to their box office in 1924 to accompany and add to their lustre as the home of theatrical integrity and innovation. The Board's Theresa Helburn suggested Ferenc Molnar's The Guardsman with the stars Alfred Lunt and Lynne Fontanne. The well-known actors were married in 1922 but were not renowned as a team as they would be after The Guardsman.

The Guardsman had not found success in New York in 1911. It needed some tweaking and some actors who could put across the light comedy. In Lunt and Fontanne the Guild found actors who put the play above themselves and were willing to work for the negligible salary afforded by the group. The work they put in with perfecting natural, overlapping dialogue and attention to costuming details paid off with great success. Alexander Woolcott in the New York Sun declared "...those who saw them last night bowing hand in hand, for the first time, may well have been witnessing a moment in theatrical history." 

The Actor, after six months of marriage, is growing suspicious of his wife The Actress. She sighs and sits alone in the dark. Is she longing for past or future lovers? The Actor must know! He works up a disguise, a Russian guardsman who woos The Actress to test her fidelity. When the ruse is discovered at the end of the play we are left to wonder if she knew all along or was his performance as perfect as he imagined. For the audience to care about these characters was up to the actor and actress behind them. The 248 performances, plus tours attest to the Lunts' achievement. Support in the production came from Dudley Digges as The Actor's friend, The Critic, and Helen Westley as The Actress's confidante, Mama.

While on tour with Elizabeth the Queen in 1931 a meeting with Irving Thalberg led to the Lunts signing with MGM to make a film of The Guardsman. The Lunts were paid $75,000, did not have to do any publicity for the film, and had their choice of director between Sidney Franklin or Robert Z. Leonard. Franklin got the assignment of directing Ernest Vajda's screenplay.

Lynn Fontanne, Alfred Lunt

The movie opens with a scene from Maxwell Anderson's Elizabeth the Queen to establish the characters of The Actor and The Actress, and then we are off to the races with the moody Actor bemoaning to his amused friend The Critic played by Roland Young that he has lost his love. Mama played by Maude Eburne encourages The Actress's melancholy by bringing up the "good old day" before her marriage.

Alfred Lunt, Roland Young

Lunt cracks me up as The Actor goes from the depths of despair to the self-satisfied autograph giver, to the manic man in disguise. Fontanne is a delight gowned by Adrian, languorously teasing along her husband's moods as she plays her winning game. Roland Young is a special treat as he discovers what The Actor is planning. Young and Lunt, in his over-the-top guardsman disguise, have a chase through the street that rivals any gallop by Keaton or Chaplin.

Alfred Lunt, Lynn Fontanne

While Mama and the maid Liesl played by Zasu Pitts believe the old days have returned with the mysterious lover and do their best to protect what they believe are The Actress' interests, The Critic watches with interest the chess match going on between the couple. Will The Actor have his worst fears realized or will his fondest hopes come true? What does The Actress know and how long did she know what lurked behind that absurd costume and accent?

Lunt and Fontanne were nominated for Best Actor and Best Actress in a Leading Role for the 1932 Academy Awards. There were three nominees in each category with Fredric March in Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, and Wallace Beery in The Champ tied for the win. Helen Hayes won for The Sin of Madelon Claudet over Lynn Fontanne, and Marie Dressler for Emma.

Disney's Parade of Award Nominees was created for the 1932 Academy Awards with caricatures of the nominees by Disney Legend Joe Grant. Watch it HERE.

Oscar Straus' The Chocolate Soldier based on George Bernard Shaw's Arms and the Man was acclaimed by audiences and critics upon its debut in 1908 and has enjoyed many revivals. The only exception to the operetta's popularity was the notably grumpy (he was probably born that way) GBS.

MGM signed the Metropolitan Opera star Rise Stevens in 1941 and for her film debut teamed her with Nelson Eddy in The Chocolate Soldier directed by Roy Del Ruth. Retaining most of Straus' songs and tossing in some Wagner, Mussorgsky, and Saint-Saens, they used The Guardsman as their "book" in place of Shaw.

Rise Stevens, Nelson Eddy

Instead of dramatic stars, here The Actor and The Actress are Karl and Maria, operetta stars in a popular hit. In addition to Karl's suspicions regarding Maria's fidelity, he also fears she is longing to leave him for grand opera! Why else would she give musical evenings at home trilling Saint-Saens to the applause of invited guests?

Rise Stevens, Nelson Eddy

Nigel Bruce supports as the friend The Critic named Bernard. Florence Bates is Mama or Madame Helene. Liesl the maid is played by Nydia Westman in the same step-behind-the-rest-of-the-world manner of Zasu Pitts.

Driven mad by his desperation to discover a truth he doesn't really want to discover, Karl comes up with the ingenious plan of trapping Maria into doing something he doesn't want her to do. Here, perhaps due to the softening influence of the music or the behest of the production code or the studio's own sensibilities, we are left in no doubt as to Maria's knowledge of the trick being played by her foolish husband. After her first encounter with "the guardsman", she takes one of Karl's 8 x 10s and draws on the ridiculous beard to confirm her suspicions.

Nelson Eddy, Rise Stevens, Chorus

Musical production numbers are integrated into the plot by showing the couple at work. How much you enjoy that sort of thing will determine how much you enjoy this musical version of The Guardsman. I am a fan and enjoyed the playing of the witty plot and the music equally. Rise Stevens looks lovely and must have made a good impression on audiences of the time. Nelson Eddy gives a committed comic performance that is a favourite of mine. My one quibble is that Technicolor would have given the film an extra little boost in terms of zing. You may enjoy the trailer HERE.

Of note

Rise starred in a television production of the original The Chocolate Soldier on NBC opposite Eddie Albert in 1955.

The Fabulous Lunts by Jared Brown
Atheneum, 1988

Tuesday, September 1, 2020


"Sure-Alarm. It's no pushover. It's the latest model."
"It's getting harder to make a living."

Four "professionals" band together for a job. Their profession is burglary and, as mentioned, it is not an easy living. There is underlying desperation among these men that led them to this job at this time.

Jean Servais, Robert Manuel, Jules Dassin, Carl Mohner as
Tony le Stephanois, Mario Ferrati, Cesar le Milanais, Jo le Suedois

Tony (Jean Servais) has just been released from prison after serving a stretch on his last job. He took the fall for his young friend Jo (Carl Mohner). Jo has a wife Louise played by Janine Darcey and kid whom they named Tonio (Dominique Maurin) after Tony. They comprise a tight family group, sharing laughs, playing with the kid, sticking up for each other.

Jo brings Tony in a job that is planned with Mario (Robert Manual), a minor mastermind with an understanding girlfriend named Ida (Claude Sylvain). Mario's plan is a smash and grab of a jewellery store. Nonetheless, both men acquiesce to Tony's idea to turn it into a bigger job; to enter the store at night and make that one last big haul that crooks dream about. A safecracker is required and Mario knows just the fellow. "Ever heard of Cesar the Milanese? They say there's not a safe that resist Cesar, and not a woman that Cesar can resist."

Once Cesar (Jules Dassin) is on board, the personnel is in place and the thorough preparation is undertaken. Timing is paramount as to police patrols and the routine of neighbouring shops. The alarm system is particularly troublesome as to its disarming. 

Marie Sabouret, Jean Servais

The nightclub L'Age d'Or and its denizens are integral to the telling of the story of Rififi. Mado (Marie Sabouret), Tony's former lover has moved on to the owner of the club, gangster Pierre Grutter (Marcel Lupovici). Tony and Mado's relationship is not over, and it is complicated. 

It is at the club that Cesar meets one of those women he can't resist. Singer Viviane (Magali Noel) entertains club patrons with Le Rififi describing the rough and tumble existence of the underworld.

Carl Mohner, Robert Manuel, Jean Servais, Jules Dassin

The job is carried off in an impressive silent 30-minute sequence. Silence is paramount to success as to avoid setting off alarms, mechanical or human. No word must be spoken, no misstep is allowed. It takes hours to gain the necessary access and the four must act as one to achieve their goal. The tension is beautifully built when the pesky police note something out of kilter in the street. The professional crook must be prepared for anything.

The big score is theirs and the London fence on board, but the victory celebration is short-lived. Cesar's fascination with Viviane and Tony's past with Mado bring the Grutter brothers into the gang's orbit in an aftermath of shocking violence and retribution.

Rififi is set in a world of grime; of blacks and whites and greys. Director Dassin and cinematographer Philippe Agostini take us through the nighttime hours and the rain-slicked streets backed by a haunting Georges Auric score.

Signed by MGM in the early 1940s, Connecticut-born Jules Dassin directed some polished entertainments such as The Canterville Ghost and A Letter for Evie. He moved into the dark world of noir with Two Smart People, Brute Force, The Naked City, Thieves' Highway, and Night and the City. Night and the City was filmed in London for Twentieth Century Fox in 1950 and soon Europe would become Dassin's home base after being blacklisted by HUAC. 

Jules Dassin as Cesar

Rififi was adapted from a crime novel by Auguste Le Breton adapted by Jules Dassin and Rene Wheeler. Contract difficulties with the actor originally hired to play Cesar landed the role in the lap of our director.

Rififi would win for Jules Dassin the Best Director Award at Cannes and a Palm d'Or nomination, which went to the film Marty. The French Syndicate of Film Critics named it the best film of the year. The National Board of Review, USA named it the top foreign film, and the New York Film Critics Circle Award gave a special award to director Jules Dassin. 

Tuesday, September 8th the TCM daytime lineup is devoted to heist pictures: Armored Car Robbery, The Asphalt Jungle, High Sierra, Rififi, The League of Gentlemen, Ocean's 11, and Jack of Diamonds.

Warning: Do not look upon these films as instructional.

Note: Rififi is not being shown on TCM Canada. Look for Convicts 4.


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