Tuesday, October 15, 2019

CMBA 2019 FALL BLOGATHON, ANNIVERSARIES: Stray Dog, 1949


The Classic Movie Blog Association (CMBA) celebrates its 10th anniversary with the Fall 2019 blogathon, a salute to film anniversaries. HERE is the link to the contributions.


Stray Dog was my introduction to Akira Kurosawa; an introduction that occurred far later than it should have or, perhaps in the grand scheme of things, when the timing was right. The groundbreaking Japanese film is 70 years old this year and is a perfect time capsule of an era and startling fresh filmmaking. Kurosawa and frequent collaborator Ryuzo Kikushima first wrote Stray Dog as a crime novel before turning it into a screenplay.

The contemporary (1949) crime drama could easily be subtitled The Coming of Age of a Cop. A stifling heatwave has the entire population on edge, no one more so than rookie Homicide detective Murakami (Toshiro Mifune). The necessary urban scourge of public transportation put strangers in uncomfortably close quarters, both cops and crooks. The result of Murakami's transit journey finds his department-issued Colt revolver pinched. The former soldier presents himself to his superior in abject disgrace, expecting the worst for his transgression.

Toshiro Mifune

Murakami's employers have more understanding than the young man has for himself. He is quickly forgiven and offered guidance with the investigation. Experienced department heads and fellow workers in records and forensics give practical sympathy and point promising avenues to follow. Those avenues will include much pounding of the beat.

"apres guerre"
The French term for the post-war years used by Chief Detective Sato when discussing Murakami's situation.

The post-war Japan setting presents the opportunity to present two sides of the young returning veteran. Detective Murakami saw much beastly behavior and upon returning to Tokyo had his knapsack stolen. Bitterness filled his heart yet he turned his face toward justice and his current career. An introverted young man named Shinjiro Yusa (Isao Kimura) was traumatized by the war and by the theft of his belongings upon returning to Tokyo. He turned to crime. Eventually, he would come into possession of Murakami's pistol and use it in increasing violent robberies, culminating in murder.

Noriko Sengoku, Toshiro Mifune

One of the pickpocket gang was a "middle-aged lady" and the mug shots lead to Ogin (Noriko Sengoku). While the pickpocket and Officer Ichikawa (Reikichi Kawamura) reminisce about their old days, the young detective observes and learns. Anxious to discover more about his gun from the tight-lipped Ogin, Murakami follows her. Filmed on city street locations, it is a chase that is amusing for the detective's doggedness in the face of Ogin's increasing frustration. Eventually, the pickpocket joins the ranks of the protective superior officers at headquarters. She offers the tired young detective a cold beer and the benefit of good advice for the next phase of the investigation.

Murakami sets out to find those who deal in contraband firearms. He becomes a down-and-outer, roaming the back alleys with a desperate and haunted look, waiting for someone to reach out with an illicit offer. Once more, Kurosawa and cinematographer Asakazu Nakai film the seedier sections of Tokyo capturing the atmosphere, the faces, and even evoking the smells of the underworld. Murakami's headstrong anxiety about his stolen gun clouds his judgment and in arresting a contact, misses his man. A victim is wounded by the gun in a robbery and Murakami feels he must resign.

Lt. Nakajima (Gen Shimizu): "Bad luck either makes a man or destroys him. Are you gonna let it destroy you? Depending on how you take it, bad luck can be a big break."

Toshiro Mifune, Takashi Shimura, Keiko Awaji

Murakami is placed on a team with Chief Detective Sato (Takeshi Shimura), a much-respected officer with many commendations. Sato's reputation has Murakami's built-in respect and the relationship between the two characters flourishes.

Once more Kurosawa takes his camera to a unique setting as a gun-runner named Honda (Reizaburo Yamamoto) is traced to Korakuen Stadium. Filming an actual baseball game must have been interesting for film and baseball fans of the day, nostalgic for a later generation, and interesting history for still later viewers. It makes for a tense and exciting incident in the film.

The investigation takes a deeply emotional turn as Sato turns to murder during a break-in. The grief of the victim's husband wounds Murakami deeply. Sato tries to help his young protege navigate the pitfalls of becoming too involved with crime victims or alternately hardening your heart against any emotion. The necessities of investigating citizens at such a vulnerable time must be dealt with as the team learns about Yusa's home life and background. They discover the soft spot in his heart for childhood friend Harumi Namika (Keiko Awaji). Harumi is a young chorus girl and this avenue brings varied and quirky show business characters into the officer's circle.

Murakami is asked to "tough it out" on a rainy night as the tumultuous mother/daughter relationship between Harumi and her single mother may lead to Yusa's whereabouts. Sato investigates a possible lead at a hotel. He has left his gun with Murakami and must face the frightened Yusa alone.

Toshiro Mifune, Isao Kimura

Detective Murakami thrives and matures during the incident of his stolen pistol. He uses his head when confronting Yusa, yet his heart still feels the pain.

Detective Murakami: "They say there is no such thing as a bad man. Only bad situations. Come to think of it, you have to feel sorry for Yusa."

Chief Detective Sato: "Oh, no. Thinking like that won't get you anywhere as a cop. It is easy to develop delusions, chasing criminals all day. We can't forget the many sheep a lone wolf leaves wounded."

Whatever the future holds for Detective Murakami, he will be a different cop from the one who lost his pistol on that crowded streetcar. His lessons and experiences will mold him. In some ways, he will be like his mentors, but in other ways, the war years will continue to shape his character.

The familiar mean streets of film-noir are waiting for you in Stray Dog with the added cinematic experience of stepping into another place and time through the artistry and technical skill of Akira Kurosawa.





Congratulations to founder Rick Armstrong and the Classic Movie Blog Association on the milestone of its 10th Anniversary.
















Friday, October 11, 2019

THE SECOND SPENCER TRACY AND KATHARINE HEPBURN BLOGATHON: Keeper of the Flame (1942)


Michaela of Love Letters to Old Hollywood is co-hosting with Crystal of In the Good Old Days of Classic Hollywood The Second Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn Blogathon. The celebration runs from October 11 - 13. Check out the interesting contributions HERE.


The 1942 release Keeper of the Flame is an intellectual thriller that relies on its sterling cast and atmospheric filming to maintain the audience's attention. The political nature of the script was unusual for MGM at the time. While war movies of a morale-boosting nature were among their output, only The Mortal Storm in 1940 stands out as facing harsh political realities.

I.A.R. Wylie
1885-1959

Donald Ogden Stewart, Oscar-winner for The Philadelphia Story, adapted the 1942 novel by I.A.R. Wylie. Ida Wylie was an Australian-born author whose Hollywood career began in 1915 and ended in 1950s television. It is assumed that the genesis for Ms. Wylie's story was the infamous "Business Plot" of 1933. A retired Marine General brought claims to the House Committee on UnAmerican Activities of an attempted Fascist Coup attempt against Franklin Roosevelt. Major General Smedley Butler said that he had been approached by wealthy businessmen eager to create a fascist veteran's organization with him as the figurehead. No prosecutions arose out of the allegations.

Keeper of the Flame was the second film starring Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn following their success with the romantic comedy Woman of the Year. The resulting film shows a struggle between the political theme vs. the romance. However, director George Cukor, working for the first time with Tracy and the 6th with Hepburn, obviously had a way with the actors and the talkie material. Cinematographer William H. Daniels created a fine moody backdrop for the unfolding tale of deceit and secrets.

Robert Forrest has lost his life in a tragic accident. Robert Forrest was an honoured veteran of WWI and a political force who founded the America Forward Association. Robert Forrest was the idol of thousands of youngsters and a beacon of light for many lost adults. One such adult is reporter Steve O'Malley played by Spencer Tracy. O'Malley has been covering the war in Europe and now he is in the small town which houses Forrest's estate to write the life story of that great man. O'Malley wants to keep the beacon burning bright.

Audrey Christie, Stephen McNally

Gloom permeates the town now crowded with newspaper reporters. Gloom is in every headline, and gloom on the faces of the people. Everyone seems to be caught up in the Robert Forrest mystique. Only reporter compatriates Jane Harding played by Audrey Christie and Freddie Ridges played by Horace (Stephen) McNally keep the detached attitude necessary to do their job.

Steve O'Malley befriends the young son of the Forrest Estate's groundskeeper, and this is his entre to the widow of Robert Forrest. Young Jeb Rickards is played by Darryl Hickman and the youngster is wracked with guilt that he didn't stop the accident. His father is played by Howard da Silva, who served with Forrest in the war and seems strangely bitter.

Katharine Hepburn, Spencer Tracy

Christine Forrest played by Katharine Hepburn is by turn oddly aloof and effusively forthcoming. The dynamics of the household are a puzzle as Forrest's secretary played by Richard Whorf seems to hold uncommon sway, while also answering to unseen forces. Among those who lead Steve O'Malley down unexpected and terrifying revelations is a philosophical cabbie played by Percy Kilbride, a clear-eyed doctor played by Frank Craven, an angry young cousin of Christine's played by Forrest Tucker, and Margaret Wycherly as Robert Forrest's quite mad mother. These many subplots are given short shrift which tends to give the film a lopsided feel, but the core mystery retains its interest to the end.  

The chemistry between Tracy and Hepburn lights up the screen, while the romance between Steve and Christine is underplayed for the sake of the tension and secrecy. The true nature of Robert Forrest and his political ambitions will not be revealed without tragedy and loss. Steve O'Malley will write an entirely different story than the one he started out to produce.

Keeper of the Flame is, sadly, a most timely story of the manipulation of the masses for nefarious goals. The film tells its story with great polish and an atmosphere of dread that should engross many viewers.












Friday, October 4, 2019

THE UNEMPLOYMENT BLOGATHON: Gold Diggers of 1933


Steve at MovieMovieBlogBlogII is hosting The Unemployment Blogathon. We've all been there, and so have the movies. Check out how many right HERE.


The Warner Brothers Studio output in the early 1930s had a gritty and realistic touch that extended from their crime pictures and dramas to their musicals; backstage fare like 42nd Street that highlights the precarious and competitive existence of the troupers, gypsies, and vaudevillians.

Aline MacMahon, Joan Blondell, Ginger Rogers, Ruby Keeler

Carol King (Joan Blondell), Trixie Lorraine (Aline MacMahon), and Polly Parker (Ruby Keeler) are our Gold Diggers of 1933, out of work chorus girls. They had a job, or they thought they had a job. The show was about to open but a legal attachment to collect for credit has put producer Barney Hopkins (Ned Sparks) out of business, and everyone dependent on the show out of luck.

Barney: "This is our dress rehearsal. I got a great show. It opens tomorrow night. You can't do this to me. Just because I don't pay a few bills. When the show opens I will pay up."

It's the way of the world, isn't it? A little more time and a little more money and everything will work out, but time and money always seem to be in short supply.

Carol, Trixie, and Polly have been through this routine before. So have hundreds of other girls. It's a tough world in 1933 with U.S. unemployment at 25 percent and the closing of 5000 banks. As if the show business wasn't enough of a struggle!

Trixie: "I can remember when that alarm clock used to ring. Those were the good old days when you had to get up. Come on, let's get up and look for work."

Life goes on. Girls have to eat, even if it means stealing the neighbour's milk bottle. And, of course, romance will play its little games. Polly and songwriter Brad Roberts (Dick Powell) have been exchanging longing looks and witticisms. When Barney comes to commiserate with the girls he gets an earful of Brad's songs and the producer is inspired for another show. If only they could get their hands on the dough. 

Dick Powell, Ruby Keeler

Money, apparently, is no problem for struggling songwriter Brad who offers to front the show if they keep his name out of it. Brad's struggles have nothing to do with the practicalities of life as experienced by his newfound friends. Brad's struggles are with his snobby, and terribly rich, Back Bay family who object to his show business aspirations. The secret of his familial shame leads Trixie to convince everyone that Brad is a crook who is backing the show with ill-gotten gain.

Where Brad came by his money is a decent complication, but Gold Diggers of 1933 add to it when Brad's family catches up to him. Older brother J. Lawrence Bradford (Warren William) is tasked with bringing the errant musician back to the Arrow shirt collar fold. The stiff-necked Mr. Bradford is accompanied to New York by Faneul H. Peabody (Guy Kibbee), who is overtaken by nostalgia for a youthful dalliance with a chorus girl. More complications are coming our way.

Joan Blondell, Warren William

J. Lawrence Bradford mistakes Carol for Polly, the "hussy" who is luring kid brother away from his rightful place in society. The gang lets the deception continue in order to teach J. Lawrence Bradford a thing or two. Lawrence falls for the Carol, the phony Polly, and Carol, sap that she is, falls for the stubborn millionaire.

Aline MacMahon, Guy Kibbee

Meanwhile, Trixie takes "Fanny" Peabody to her heart and pocketbook. He's looking to recapture his youth and she's looking for a little security. They are a perfect pair. Brad and Polly were always fated and, with not a minute to spare before the big finale, all romantic entanglements are untangled.

The trenchant dialogue by David Boehm (Employee's Entrance) and Ben Markson (What Price Hollywood?) is a pleasure to the ears under these actors directed by Mervyn LeRoy. The musical aspects of Gold Diggers of 1933 has the finest of pedigrees with production numbers created by Busby Berkeley and songs by Harry Warren and Al Dubin.

Ginger Rogers

The movie opens with Miss Fortune (Ginger Rogers) singing The Gold Diggers Song (We're in the Money) in Pig Latin. The lovely melody of Shadow Waltz is set to a mesmerizing choreographic display. The risque Pettin' in the Park is the epitome of pre-code cheek. I've Got a Right to Sing a Torch Song would become a studio staple in the coming years featured both instrumentally and vocally in a number of other features. All of these incredible musical numbers lead up to the highlight of this film of highlights, Remember My Forgotten Man.

Etta Moten

Harry Warren's driving melody and Al Dubin's downbeat lyrics paint a picture of true-life despair and desperation. Joan Blondell gives an aching performance along with featured soloist Etta Moten, who dubs Blondell for the final verse in Remember My Forgotten Man. The imagery of marching soldiers and cheering throngs followed by humiliation and breadlines must have spoken all too clearly to the audience of the day as it speaks all too clearly to the audience today.





The National Film Preservation Board, USA placed Gold Diggers of 1933 on the National Film Registry for culturally, historically or aesthetically significant films in 2003.













Wednesday, October 2, 2019

THE SHELLEY WINTERS BLOGATHON: Wagon Train, The Ruth Owens Story (1957)


Erica D. of Poppity Talks Classic Film and Gill of Realweegiemidget Reviews are co-hosting The Shelley Winters Blogathon running from October 1 - 3. Day Day Day 3


Ward Bond stars in this western anthology series as Major Seth Adams, leader of a wagon train filled with many stories. Drought and secrets and vengeance plague Adam's wagon train in The Ruth Owens Story. Shelley Winters is the Special Guest Star in this episode from the first season of the series written by Robert E. Thompson (They Shoot Horses, Don't They?) and directed by Robert Florey (Outpost in Morocco).

Kent Smith and Dean Stockwell co-star as the husband and the younger brother of the former Ruth Drew. It is Ruth's past as a "fancy woman" in St. Joseph, Missouri that is the secret that weighs her down, and the cause of a murder at her brother's hand.

Ruth and her brother grew up in a poor and abusive household. Ruth was the protector of her brother Jimmy until her father threw her out. She married her sweetheart who died of camp fever his first week in the Civil War. Left with a baby girl to care for Ruth turned to work at the notorious Silver Slipper.

Ward Bond, Shelley Winters

Ruth is traveling with her daughter, and her husband Paul, a teacher to whom two things are important, honesty and his love for his wife. When the naive Jimmy Drew comes to the wagon train in search of his sister he openly admits to one of the men that his sister used to work as a waitress at a place called the Silver Slipper. The man teases him about the type of woman his sister is and when Jimmy challenges him, Lank Carr pulls a knife on the kid, who shoots in self-defense. The only witness is the dead man's blind uncle played by Ralph Moody.

Dean Stockwell, Ward Bond

Russell Simpson is Carr's father and he demands justice/vengeance to the point of asking his other son played by Ross Elliot to conceal Lank's knife. A lynching is in progress when Major Adam's timely help arrives thanks to Ruth who ran from the camp to find him. The Major believes Jimmy's story of self-defense and arranges for a fair trial the following night. Observing Jimmy and Ruth together, the Major also becomes the holder of secrets. This secret may lead to another death. Ruth wants to keep her past hidden, and Jimmy, now knowing the truth, doesn't care what happens to him.

Kent Smith, Shelley Winters

The wagon train is still dealing with the unprecedented drought which is keeping everyone on edge. When the verdict is guilty, Ruth speaks up and pleads convincingly and heart-wrenchingly for her brother's life by confessing her past and reminding these travelers that they are all trying to leave something behind. Mr. Carr is forced to give up the incriminating knife when the blind uncle unburdens his secret that he heard Lank threaten Jimmy with "I'm going to cut you up!"

Paul tells Ruth that she could have told him anything as he loves her, and invites Jimmy to join their family as they head toward the new start that means so much to so many.

Wendy Winkelman, Shelley Winters

The opening of this episode features a charming scene where Shelley sings the spiritual Poor Wayfaring Stranger to her daughter played by Wendy Winkelman. She has a lovely, controlled voice and a sincere interpretation of the lyrics. 

I'm just a poor wayfaring stranger
Traveling through this world of woe
And there's no sickness, no toil, nor danger
In that fair land to which I go

I'm going there to see my mother 
I'm going there no more to roam
I'm just a-going over Jordan
I'm just a-going over home

Shelley has no film credits in between 1955 and 1959, but plenty of television occupied her career, including seven guest appearances in 1957 including Wagon Train. Shelley, as one of my sisters aptly said, "never phones it in", and she certainly maintained her standard in The Ruth Owens Story. She honestly portrays the characters kind impulses, fear, and guarded optimism. The scene of her confession sneaks up on you and breaks your heart.

Shelley's performance of Poor Wayfaring Stranger can only be heard in The Ruth Owens Story but this version on YouTube by Burl Ives comes close to the charming heartfelt simplicity of her version.
















Monday, September 30, 2019

CAFTAN WOMAN'S CHOICE: ONE FOR OCTOBER ON TCM


"Choose the least important day in your life. It will be important enough." That which is eternal in Emily Webb Gibbs tries to heed the advice of that which is eternal in Mother Gibbs, to discover that "Earth, you're too wonderful for anybody to realize you."

Martha Scott, Frank Craven, John Craven
Emily Webb, The Stage Manager, George Gibb
Broadway, 1938

Thornton Wilder's play Our Town was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 1938. Martha Scott made her Broadway debut as Emily Webb in the production which ran for 336 performances. Understudies in the role were Dorothy McGuire who went on to her own hit play Claudia, and Teresa Wright who would originate the role of Mary Skinner in Life With Father.

Thornton Wilder's insightful presentation of daily life in Grover's Corners at the turn of the 20th century reflects life in all our towns in all our centuries. Since its debut, it has been popularly revived, adapted, and the first theatrical experience for generations of high schoolers.

Martha Scott, William Holden
Emily Webb, George Gibb

Frank Craven, the narrator/stage manager from the theatre, becomes the narrator/tour guide for the movie audience in the 1940 film produced by Sol Lesser (Tarzan series) and directed by Sam Wood (Goodbye, Mr. Chips). Craven also collaborated with playwright Wilder on the screenplay. Aaron Copland wrote the second of his seven film scores, following Of Mice and Men. He was nominated for the Oscar for both scores. Bert Glennon (The Rains Came) was the cinematographer, and it is a shame that the film fell into the public domain and most of us see only a shadow of what his artistry created. 

The facts of the New Hampshire town as to topography and population are wryly provided and we are invited to become voyeuristic observers of the commonplace, which mirrors our own experience. We are asked to study our own life, with all its hopes and trials, and inevitable end. Quietly and unexpectedly our relationship to the Gibbs and the Webbs, and others in Grover's Corners is cemented by sharing the big moments that come out of the small.  

The film is charmingly cast with Fay Bainter, Thomas Mitchell, William Holden, Beulah Bondi, Guy Kibbee, Stuart Erwin, and other familiar faces. Martha Scott, Frank Craven, Doro Merande and Arthur Allen reprise their Broadway roles. 

Our Town would not win any of the six Oscars for which it was nominated. However, the National Board of Review would award their Best Acting of the season to Martha Scott and William Holden.

Martha Scott, Fay Bainter
Emily Webb Gibb, Julia Gibb

The film presentation of Our Town is a sensitive and memorable adaption of a stage classic. The perceptive screenplay elicits unexpected emotional responses from an audience unused to seeing itself reflected in the mundane and magnificent. 

The film ending to Our Town is controversial to purists. The result was reached through the collaboration of Thornton Wilder and producer Sol Lesser. Hollywood in 1940 could not seem to imagine that audiences of movies and audiences of theatre were one and the same. An upbeat conclusion was required and the author adapted.

"Emily should live. In the theatre they (the characters) are halfway allegory. In the movie, they are very concrete. Let her live. The idea will have been imparted anyway." - Thornton Wilder 


Monday, October 21st the TCM daytime lineup features films taking place in smaller New England communities. Our Town takes centre stage at 12:30 EST.














Saturday, September 28, 2019

HOLLYWOOD'S HISPANIC HERITAGE BLOGATHON: A Pedro de Cordoba Sampler


Aurora is celebrating Hispanic Heritage Month at her site Once Upon a Screen with her sixth edition of the Hollywood's Hispanic Heritage Blogathon on September 29th. Begin your journey HERE.


Pedro de Cordoba
September 28, 1881 - September 16, 1950

Patrician Pedro de Cordoba was born in New York City enjoying the combined cultural heritage of a French mother and Cuban father. He trained as an actor and made his Broadway debut performing in a 1902 production of Hamlet. Shakespeare provided a lot of his work at this time: The Taming of the Shrew (Hortensio), Twelfth Night, The Winter's Tale, The Merry Wives of Windsor, Othello, As You Like It, The Merchant of Venice, and Julius Caesar (Brutus). Fellow performers in these productions include Harry Davenport, Sydney Greenstreet, Basil Rathbone, Leonard Mudie, Katharine Cornell, Jane Cowl, Constance Collier, Henry Kolker, Ferdinand Gottschalk, Tyrone Power Sr., John Litel, and Charles Coburn.

Other productions in his 48 play Broadway career between 1902 and 1935 include Lady Windermere's Fan, Vanity Fair, The Blue Bird (Fire), Marie Antoinette (Count Fersen), The Rivals (Faulkland), Candida (Rev. Morell), and Arms and the Man (Sam Abramovitch).


Pedro de Cordoba made his motion picture debut in Cecil B. DeMille's 1915 version of Carmen alongside opera star Geraldine Farrar in the title role and Wallace Reid as Don Jose. During the next decade, Pedro de Cordoba would appear in 23 films including The New Moon as Prince Michael and When Knighthood Was in Flower as the Duke of Buckingham. The actor with the mellifluous and commanding voice would re-enter film in 1935, again for DeMille as Karakush in The Crusades.

Geraldine Farrar, Pedro de Cordoba

The toreador Escamillo is taken with the gypsy woman Carmen. On his way to Seville to take advantage of the opportunity to become renowned in his profession, Escamillo wants to share his good fortune with the tempestuous and beautiful Carmen. Carmen enthusiastically returns his regard and will accompany him to the city and to glory. However, first, she must assist her smuggler friends by seducing the naive soldier Don Jose. The thrill of Escamillo's success and its glory do await the couple in Seville, and more.



Sidney Toler's fourth outing as Inspector Charlie Chan places our hero in Paris, a City in Darkness in 1939 as the world moved inexorably toward war. Paris is practicing blackout drills as desperate people flee and others spy for foreign entities or take advantage of the confusion about them.

Pedro de Cordoba as Antoine

Pedro de Cordoba plays the role of Antoine, a wounded veteran of the First World War who is employed as the valet of a wealthy industrialist played by Douglas Dumbrille. Antoine is a patriot, even more so as his only son is about to become involved in the current inevitable conflict. Antoine is elegant and thoughtful; a man of honour and of keen observation.

During this time in Hollywood when an A list picture took on Hitler and the Nazis, it was controversial, yet the B units such as those producing the Chan pictures could confront the politics head-on and gave us this excellent entry in the series.



Alfred Hitchcock's 1942 thriller brought WW2 to America's homeland. A munitions factory worker played by Robert Cummings is sought by authorities and by the genuine saboteurs responsible for the destruction and murder for which he is blamed. On the run with a sometimes willing/sometimes unwilling accomplice played by Priscilla Lane, the pair will meet many who will help and may who will hinder.

Priscilla Lane, Robert Cummings
Anita Sharp-Bolster, Pedro de Cordoba

Help comes to our couple from a traveling carnival. Pedro de Cordoba plays Bones aka The Human Skeleton. The assistance is not obtained easily, but democratically.

Bones: "In this situation, I find a parallel to the present predicament. We stand defeated at the outset. You, Esmerelda, have sympathy yet you're willing to remain passive. I have a belief, and yet I'm tempted to let myself be over-ridden by force. The rest of you, with the exception of this malignant jerk, are ignorant of the facts, and, therefore, confused. Thank heaven we're still members of a democracy. We'll vote."



Pedro de Cordoba is front and center in this grouping from the 1939 Hopalong Cassidy feature Law of the Pampas. It was his second Hoppy picture that year following Range War. Pedro plays Jose Valdez, the subject of a plot to separate him from his land. It's a good thing Hoppy is on his way. And, yes, that is "Chan", Sidney Toler next to the kid.



My time machine wish includes more comedy for Pedro de Cordoba pictured here with Cary Grant and Gail Patrick in My Favorite Wife in 1940. Dr. Kohlmar is one very confused psychiatrist in this secretive marital mix-up.

The IMDb lists 115 feature film credits for Pedro de Cordoba. You never know when you will be pleasantly surprised by his appearance as a revered rancher, a dignified Native, an ambassador, a general, or perhaps the classiest head waiter ever! Keep your eyes peeled in Comanche Territory, For Whom the Bell Tolls, Captain Blood, The Falcon in Mexico, The Sea Hawk, Anthony Adverse, Blood and Sand, Green Dolphin Street, and Five Came Back.

Pedro de Cordoba was at one time the president of the Catholic Actors Guild of American. He was married from 1928 to his passing in 1950 to Eleanor Nolan and their family included six children.


Bonus:

Pedro de Cordoba in Technicolor!
With Monty Banks in Blood and Sand, 1941













Monday, September 16, 2019

REMAKE AVENUE: The Racket, 1928 and 1951


Many of our excursions to Remake Avenue begin on Broadway and today's is no exception.

Bartlett Cormack's play The Racket had a run of 119 performances at the Ambassador Theatre in the 1927/28 season. Cormack (1898-1942) was a graduate of the University of Chicago, with experience in theatrical public relations. Passing at the early age of 44, Bartlett Cormack left many exciting and interesting screenplays for classic movie fans: Gentlemen of the Press, The Green Murder Case, The Front Page (adaption), The Phantom of Crestwood, Four Frightened People, Cleopatra, Fury, Sidewalks of London, and Unholy Partners.

The success of The Racket coincided with and promoted the beginning of the gangster cycle in entertainment. The three-act play is set entirely in a quiet precinct outside of Chicago where a single-minded police captain battles a mob and crooked politicians while wise-cracking reporters keep the pot boiling.

G. Pat Collins as Patrolman Johnson

G. Pat Collins (White Heat) played the pivotal role of Patrolman Johnson in both the play and the 1928 movie. On stage, reporters were played by classic movie stalwarts Willard Robertson (Heat Lightning) and Norman Foster (Skyscraper Souls). Edward G. Robinson was also featured as "An unidentified man". Could he possibly have played a gangster?


The Racket was among the first Oscar Best Picture nominees in 1929, losing to Wings. Our director, Lewis Milestone won the award for Best Director, Comedy Picture for Two Arabian Knights, beating out Ted Wilde for Speedy. The Academy dropped the Director for a Comedy category by the next season. 

Independent producer Howard Hughes brought The Racket to the big screen, and it was distributed by Paramount Studios. Thomas Meighan starred as Captain McQuigg whose feud with gangster Nick Scarsi played by Louis Wolheim impacts everyone around them. Note: Director Milestone and actor Wolheim collaborated on Two Arabian Knights, The Racket, Tempest, and All Quiet on the Western Front

Louis Wolheim, Thomas Meighan

Chicago is a tough town and it is split right down the middle. On one side is the political machine which controls the rackets and bootlegging gangsters like Nick Scarsi and Spike Corcoran. Honest cop Captain James McQuigg may seem like a lone figure in this battle, but he is obviously getting under the skin of the crooks for he is banished to the quiet suburbs, at least until after the upcoming election.

The one-set play was opened up to establish the antagonism between McQuigg and Scarsi. The audience is witness to a vicious street fight between rival bootleggers. A riotous party in a speakeasy gives us a taste of the high life enjoyed by the criminals.

The party is in celebration of Scarsi's kid brother Joe played by George E. Stone. The young man has graduated from college and is looking for a good time. He is attracted to singer Helen played by Marie Prevost, but Nick puts a stop (he thinks) to that as "women are poison." Helen resents Nick's insult and decides to go after Joe for kicks and revenge.

 Marie Prevost, John Darrow

All of these disparate characters and their conflicting intentions come together in the quiet burg that is now Captain McQuigg's stomping ground. On a fateful night, Helen is the witness to Joe's homicidal hit-and-run and his arrest by Patrolman Johnson. Skeets Gallagher plays a perpetually soused member of the press, who keeps the news and the tensions heightened. A naive rookie reporter played by John Darrow catches Helen's eye, and vice-versa. Nick is anxious to get Joe out of the slammer and to get revenge on those who crossed him. The double-crossers will come to include the "old man" who controls the rackets.

McQuigg is able to manipulate the circumstances put in place by Nick's anxiety over Joe, the political machinations, and an unexpected and blatant murder. Much is on the line and mistakes will be made. There is a semblance of justice at the conclusion, but the racket continues.

Thomas Meighan brings a weary stoicism with an underlying wit to the role of McQuigg. Louis Wolheim is as tough a mug as you'll see in this genre of film, yet we still get the picture of the sweat it took to reach his position, plus the affection he holds for his brother. Marie Prevost is a dream as Helen. We see her performing in the speakeasy, confidently handling the rambunctious Joe, falling in a sweet way for the rookie reporter, standing up to Nick and even sending a little sympathy the Captain's way.

The Racket has a runtime of just under 90 minutes and every minute moves the story of graft and violence forward through startling images and fine performances.

Thomas Meighan, Jim Farley

McQuigg: "I'd like a little sleep but by the time I get through with the coroner and the rest of the public servants it will be time to go to mass."



Boldly Begins Where the Senate Crime Committee Left Off!

The 1950 United States Senate Special Committee to Investigate Crime in Interstate Commerce chaired by Senator Estes Kefauver captured the public's imagination through television broadcasts and is the obvious inspiration for Howard Hughes to revive and remake his earlier hit, The Racket. Perhaps some bright producer is considering a 21st century take on the story. Crooks and grafters never seem to go out of style.

The film was directed by John Cromwell who, in another lifetime, played the protagonist Captain James McQuigg in the original Broadway production. William Wister Haines (Command Decision) and W.R. Burnett (High Sierra) wrote the screenplay from Bartlett Cormack's play placing an emphasis on a newly formed Crime Commission in an unnamed city. The syndicate wishes to run their business as a business and are not only at odds with investigators and police but with Nick Scanlon. Nick is an old school gangster played by Robert Ryan. While the "old man" in charge wants to use non-violent ways to deal with issues, Nick is more psychotic and entrenched in nature and intends to continue running things his way.

Robert Mitchum, Robert Ryan

When Nick goes against orders and bumps off a squealer, it opens up an entirely new avenue for honest cop McQuigg played by Robert Mitchum. McQuigg has been bounced around the precincts to keep him out of hot spots, but now the hot spot has come to him.

On the personal front, Nick has put a lot of time and money into the gentrification of his kid brother Joe played by Brett King and does not approve of his involvement with a nightclub singer Irene played by Lizabeth Scott. As in the earlier versions, these characters are central to the circumstances which will result in Nick's downfall but are far less compelling in this screenplay.

William Talman, Virginia Huston

The movie gives our Captain McQuigg a home life and a wife played by Joyce McKenzie. The same is done for Patrolman Johnson here played by William Talman (Armored Car Robbery). Virginia Huston plays his loving wife. The young cop is a veteran Marine and an honest man. He would follow McQuigg into Hell and is not afraid of confronting the mob. Maybe he should be.

Robert Hutton plays the naive reporter Dave Ames, who was in the Marines when Patrolman Johnson was his Sergeant. His old Sarge lets the newshound in on the case where everyone seems to know that District Attorney Welsh played by Ray Collins is syndicate's latest front for a judge and that Sergeant Turk played by William Conrad is the syndicate's trouble-shooter. The emotional young reporter becomes easily distracted when he falls for singer Irene. 

Robert Mitchum, William Talman, William Conrad

Both the 1928 and 1951 films run just under 90 minutes, with this feature having more characters and more action sequences. Nonetheless, when it came time for the finale, Haines and Burnett went back to the original concept with the violent murder and double-crosses taking place in the precinct.

Added to the exciting finish is some unnecessary moralizing from Captain McQuigg and some even more unnecessary happy conclusions to a couple of subplots. It is my feeling that the more satisfying film experience was released in 1928.

Robert Ryan and Robert Mitchum have given us their share of both good and bad characters over the years and the casting here would seem appropriate. However, after a couple of viewings, I feel like each actor might have done better in the other's role. Ryan's over-the-top antics and Mitchum's laid back persona came across more as boredom to me. Also, the movie was stolen from everyone by William Talman as Patrolman Johnson. Perhaps they sensed it.

Captain McQuigg: "Rest? Yeah, but tomorrow it starts all over again."


Connections:

Ray Collins as Lt. Arthur Tragg and William Talman as Hamilton Burger, District Attorney
Perry Mason (1957)


The Racket falls one short of the Crossfire, 1947 trio of Robert Young, Robert Mitchum, and Robert Ryan. See Mitchum and Ryan also in The Longest Day, 1962 and Anzio, 1968.


Fans take noteThe Racket, 1951 has an excellent Pat Flaherty sighting. At 54, he still made a good movie cop.












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