Friday, December 6, 2019

THE HAPPY HOLIDAYS BLOGATHON: Stubby Pringle's Christmas, 1978

Today's article is part of The Happy Holidays Blogathon hosted by the Pure Entertainment Preservation Society. The good cheer runs from December 6th - 8th and you click HERE to enjoy the contributions.

Television's long-running and acclaimed anthology series Hallmark Hall of Fame sponsored by the Kansas City based Hallmark Cards began on radio in the 1940s and began broadcasting stories on the small screen in 1951 with the December 24th live production of Gian Carlo Menotti's written-for-television opera, Amahl and The Night Visitors. The Peabody Award won by the production is just one of the hundreds given to the Hallmark Hall of Fame throughout its history, including the Emmy, the Golden Globe, and the Humanitas.

During my formative years, the prestige of Hallmark Hall of Fame was indicated by a Close-up in the TV Guide highlighting the creative talents both on and off the screen of the current presentation. It was always a highly anticipated television event.

The work of Jack Schaefer (Shane, Mavericks, Monte Walsh) is distinguished by vivid character studies. Each character, be it lead or supporting is presented in a knowing and understanding totality. A word or an action speaks to the reader creating the whole fabric of life.

Jack Schaefer's Stubby Pringle's Christmas was presented on NBC on the evening of Sunday, December 17, 1978. The story was adapted by James Lee Barrett (Shenandoah), directed by Burt Brinckerhoff (Lou Grant) and filmed on location in Colorado.

Beau Bridges plays Stubby Pringle, a young cowboy with big plans. Stubby has been dreaming of attending the Christmas Eve dance in the settlement 25 miles away from the Harper Ranch where he is employed. At last year's dance Stubby kissed a girl, whose name he failed to get. Has this girl been thinking of Stubby all of these months as well? It is an important question that hasn't stopped Stubby from making plans. He has bought presents of dress goods and candy, and he will make the long and cold journey.

Edward Binns as Stubby's fellow ranch hand Red is of the opinion that he personally was never as young as his friend. Their fellow bunkmate Old Hollander played by Strother Martin is of the opinion that Stubby is a selfish fellow for not sharing the candy with him. Stubby is of the opinion that you can't gift a young lady with an already opened box of candy, and there the matter stands.

Mrs. Harper, the boss's wife played by Kim Hunter sees Stubby as an unusually thoughtful and almost poetic young man when he compliments the emotional warmth of her home. She is rooting for the young cowboy and that girl with no name.

On his way to the Christmas Eve dance, Stubby hears the sound of chopping and comes across Georgia Henderson played by Julie Harris. The family was displaced from their Georgia farm and has been working inhospitable land for the past year. Mr. Henderson has become ill and it is left to the harried woman to care for the family which includes a young son and daughter. Stubby stops and finishes the onerous chore.

Mrs. Henderson offers coffee and, all the while professing he has somewhere to be, they share life stories and philosophy. Stubby sees that no Christmas will be awaiting the Henderson children. He chides and then helps Mrs. Henderson to create an unexpected Christmas morning for the family. Stubby's act of kindness takes time. Much time has passed when Stubby reaches the schoolhouse where the dance had been held. Will that kissable young lady be waiting another year?

Back at the Harper ranch, Red and Old Hollander have been waiting to hear of Stubby's night. The young cowboy spins a grand yarn about the dancing and the music, and the food, and all the pretty girls before falling asleep to the sound of sleigh bells in the air. "Santa" Stubby will spend another year of dreaming.

The genuine act of kindness by Stubby Pringle embodies the true spirit of Christmas giving for its own sake. Stubby Pringle's Christmas is a simple, sweet, and memorable story.

Sunday, December 1, 2019


The newspaper game has long been grist for the play and movie mill. The inebriated newshound became a cliche with his first entrance on the stage, along with the overeager "cub" and the noble journalist. All are on display in The Famous Ferguson Case released by Warner Brothers in 1932.

An internationally prominent financier is murdered in his upstate summer home. The police and local officials have no reason to suspect the banker's wife and her friend, but the newspaper lads need a story. After all, they have traveled to this burg and must have something to show for their trouble.

Joan Blondell is top-billed as Maizie Dickson in her first of eight movies with director Lloyd Bacon (Marked Woman). Joan began her film career at Warner Brothers in 1930 and would make 55 movies throughout the decade, ten of them in 1932. Maizie is a young woman, but a seasoned reporter of the "sob sister" type. Her cynicism is struggling with her finer feelings.

Vivienne Osborne

Tom Brown is Bruce Foster, the young sincere-type editor of the Cornwell Courier who breaks the story, bringing the NYC crowd to his town. Foster has stars in his eyes about the big time and maybe this will be his ticket out. His co-worker and girlfriend Toni played by Adrienne Dore has even brighter stars in her eyes when it comes to the big time and the glamorous life she reads about in magazines. 

Grant Mitchell plays Martin Collins, an old-school reporter of the respectable type. Collins and his co-workers have a job to do and choices to make. Do you look for the story or the headline? Sometimes Collins hates his job, but more often he considers it a calling.

Kenneth Thomson plays Bob Parks, a reporter of the hard-drinking type. Parks and his crowd have stories to create. They snoop and badger when they can find time away from their drinking. If they pin the murder on some innocent party, it will all come out in the end, and no harm done.

Vivienne Osborne and Leon Ames are the suspects in The Famous Ferguson Case. Hounded by the press, their lives will never be the same. Nor anyone else's in Cornwell.

Only one of a slate of newspaper stories to come out of the studio in this era, The Famous Ferguson Case is based on a story by Courtney Terrett (Love is a Racket), adapted by Harvey F. Thew (Public Enemy). It is a fast-paced indictment of yellow journalism and well-worth a look for fans of the sub-genre. 

Joan Blondell, Tom Brown

Joan Blondell is the TCM Star of the Month for December. The short-lived Broadway play Penny Arcade attracted the attention of Warner Brothers and they filmed it as Sinner's Holiday, casting two members of the original cast, Joan Blondell and James Cagney. The play also featured Don Beddoe, Paul Guilfoyle, and Millard Mitchell. 

Joan's vibrant personality and versatility were on full display during these years and TCM is screening many of her films from the trenchant comedies to wacky musicals to the sensationalistic drama of The Famous Ferguson Case airing on Friday, December 6th in the early morning of their broadcast day.

Wednesday, November 20, 2019

Book Review: A Treasure from Dan Van Neste

Claire Dodd, Nancy Carroll, Gloria Stuart
Zachary Scott, Gloria Dickson, John Hodiak
Paula Raymond, Edward Norris, Karen Morley
Marian Marsh, Richard Greene, Jean Parker

Our friend Dan Van Neste, author of The Whistler: Stepping into the Shadows and The Magnificent Heel: The Life and Times of Ricardo Cortez, reviewed here, has been thinking of us this festive season.

If you have been wondering what to get the film aficionado in your life, be they burgeoning or fans of long-standing, wonder no longer! That unique and interesting book with a unique and interesting angle has just fallen into your lap. They Coulda Been Contenders: Twelve Actors Who Should Have Become Cinematic Superstars, published by Bear Manor Media also works as the answer when someone asks you what you would like for a gift.

The visions of a successful Hollywood career brought many talented people to the studios. The vagaries of luck, of timing, of "a break" kept many an actor spinning their wheels in the industry; of just coming short of their goal. Decent and respectable careers may have resulted, but they didn't become household names. Known, of course, to fans of the Golden Era of film, we would be hard-pressed to find anyone at the morning bus stop willing to engage in a conversation about Edward Norris or Claire Dodd.

Dan's extensive knowledge along with his respect and admiration for his fascinating subjects is on display in this fascinating page-turner. His thorough research which includes many interviews fills in the blanks and adds to our knowledge of these many actors who command our attention and our curiosity.

They Coulda Been Contenders focuses on the twelve actors pictured on the book cover with biographical details and features a second section with detailed filmographies for our ever-lengthening "must watch" lists. The only problem you will have is how to enjoy the book. Do you skip right to John Hodiak or start on page one and immerse yourself? All problems should be this difficult!

Note: My review copy was received from Bear Manor Media.
They Coulda Been Contenders is available in 3 formats: Kindle, Paperback and Hardcover

Happy shopping!

Friday, November 15, 2019

WHAT A CHARACTER! Blogathon: George Zucco

The annual What a Character! blogathon hosted by Paula's Cinema Club, Once Upon A Screen, and Outspoken And Freckled runs from November 15th to 17th. Thanks, Paula, Aurora, and Kellee for this 8th annual edition of the blogathon!  Day 1  Day 2  Day 3

George Zucco
January 11, 1886 - May 28, 1960

Hi-diddle-dee-dee, an actor's life for me *

George Desylli Zucco was born in Manchester, England the son of a Greek immigrant and a former lady-in-waiting to Queen Victoria. George was raised in London where his mother took her young family after the death of her husband. During his student years, George was an excellent mathematician and played on cricket and soccer teams. In his late teens, George emigrated to the Canadian prairies, eventually working as a clerk in Winnipeg where he pursued an interest in acting. He joined a touring repertory company and made his professional debut in Regina in 1908. By 1913 he had made his way to New York and was appearing in a Vaudeville sketched entitled The Suffragette.

History intervened in the young actor's career and in 1914 George Zucco returned to England and joined the West Yorkshire Regiment, 7th Batallion. Private George Zucco was sent to the frontlines in France where his right arm was wounded, losing the use of two fingers. At war's end, Lieutenant Zucco returned to London and enrolled in the Royal Academy as a means of reviving his theatrical career.

The London stage kept the actor busy for the next decade, including a well-received turn in R.C. Sherriff's World War One drama Journey's End directed by James Whale. During the play's run, George met and eventually married actress Stella Francis (1900-1999). George was 43 at the time and the 29-year-old actress required some convincing. Their marriage would endure for the next 30 years until George's passing in 1960. The couple would have one daughter, Frances (1931-1962).

George began appearing in films in 1931 and his final British film The Man Who Could Work Miracles was released in 1936. By that time George was making an impression on Broadway as Benjamin Disraeli opposite Helen Hayes in Victoria Regina. During the run of the play, George accepted an offer from MGM studios in Hollywood. He and Stella sold their home in England, moved to California, and he became a naturalized United States citizen.

George Zucco's Hollywood career would encompass 90 feature films. The talented actor's filmography is one that never bores the fan. From prestigious productions to poverty row quickies, the actor delights in a variety of roles and genres. Let's look at some of my favourites. First up is a slate of mysteries.

William Powell, George Zucco, Myrna Loy

The first sequel to The Thin Man, aptly named After the Thin Man, 1936 finds society detectives Nick and Nora Charles dealing with family dynamics and history following a New Year's Eve murder on their home turf of San Francisco. George Zucco plays alienist and expert witness Dr. Kammer. "Good heavens, I was right. The man is crazy."

From the MGM B side of mysteries, we find the fast-paced and entertaining London by Night, 1937. George Murphy is a newsman and Rita Johnson is a socialite who thinks it will be fun to track down a murderer in foggy London town. George Zucco is Inspector Jefferson, a professional investigator. George next shows up on the wrong side of the law and Captain Hugh Drummond in 1938 entry in the Paramount series, Arrest Bulldog Drummond.

Phyllis Brooks, Sidney Toler, George Zucco

Charlie Chan in Honolulu, 1938 introduced fans of the 20th Century Fox series to the new father/son team of Sidney Toler as Inspector Chan and Victor Sen Yung as Jimmy Chan. Passengers on a freighter are all murder suspects and Jimmy wants to prove to "Pop" that he can solve the case. You can ask for no more suspicious suspect than George Zucco as Dr. Cardigan. He skulks around the ship pretending to be hard of hearing, looking quite jaunty in a peak cap, and being far more mysterious than he ought.

Basil Rathbone, George Zucco

The following year George has one of his best roles, one for an actor to lick his chops over; Professor Moriarty in The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, 1939 for 20th Century Fox. Adapted from William Gillette's play, the movie is a mash of plot lines and plot holes. Nonetheless, the atmosphere, the cast, and the production values are top-notch.

George Zucco, Henry Stephenson, Nigel Bruce

George Zucco as the nefarious professor is perfect in every way. His masterful arrogance and delight in using Holmes' own obsessive personality against him is a joy to behold. The fun the professor takes in his Sgt. Bullfinch disguise equals Holmes' glee in similar forays. The disdain with which Moriarty treats his underlings is befitting to their station be it teasing his butler Dawes played by Frank Dawson or threatening his criminal cohort Bassick played by Arthur Hohl. Moriarty's contempt is controlled but never less than dangerous.

Let's move into the realm of horror where George careened between budgets and scripts, always bringing a touch of class to the proceedings.

Tom Tyler, George Zucco

George plays Andoheb in The Mummy's Hand, 1940 who becomes obsessed with the back-from-the-dead properties of tana leaves and the continued existence of the rampaging mummy, Kharis. Andoheb causes a lot of trouble and although he is shot at the end of this movie, shows up again in two of the three sequels for Universal, The Mummy's Tomb, 1942 and The Mummy's Ghost, 1944. That's what happens when you replace Eduardo Ciannelli as the High Priest of Karnak. Hey, it's a living!

George Zucco, George Zucco

Sam Newfield directed Dead Men Walk, 1943 for PRC and his brother the producer Sigmund Neufeld. This movie gave George Zucco a dual role, which surely is on many actor's bucket list. Kindly Dr. Lloyd Clayton is beloved by all, except for the brother he murdered! Dr. Elwyn Clayton was a practitioner of the satanic arts who is now a vampire out to destroy his good-hearted twin. Dwight Frye as Zolarr helps his evil master in a plan to turn townsfolk against kindly Lloyd. At stake is the soul of the town and the life, not to mention romance of lovely Gayle Clayton played by Mary Carlisle and pragmatic (no imagination) Dr. David Bentley played by Nedrick Young. How will it all end? Will the powers of evil be defeated? What sacrifice must be made by our hero? I would have enjoyed a more prestigious production for George's kick at the twin can, but you can't have everything in this life -- or the next.

George Zucco, David Bruce

The Mad Ghoul, 1943 for Universal finds George as a scientist experimenting with a nerve gas used by ancient Mayans. George is assisted by David Bruce in these experiments, but things get complicated when they both fall for Evelyn Ankers. Bruce becomes expendable and, believe it or not, a ghoul under the influence of the gas. They both become killers and grave robbers and, as in the best of film noir, neither gets the girl!

It's back to PRC for Fog Island, 1945 where Zucco brings to an isolated island a group of folks who've done him wrong. Will anyone escape the booby traps of revenge? Lionel Atwill, Jerome Cowan, Veda Ann Borg, and Ian Keith are among the victims. Serves them right!

George Zucco, Lucille Ball

The 1947 crime picture Lured, directed by Douglas Sirk is a special favourite of mine. Lucille Ball stars as Sandra Carpenter, a stranded American dancer in London who agrees to work undercover with Scotland Yard to ferret out the murderer of a friend.

The "Poet Killer" leaves clues to taunt the police and the trail our leading lady must follow is filled with adventure and romance, along with Joseph Calleia, Boris Karloff, Cedric Hardwicke, and Alan Mowbray. George Sanders is a prime suspect and prime romantic material. The Chief Inspector played by Charles Coburn gives one of the Yard's men, Officer Barrett played by George Zucco, the duty of keeping our undercover rookie safe.

Zucco is delightful as Officer Barrett and his chemistry with Lucy makes them a crimefighting team made in movie heaven. I enjoy Lured most often on rainy weekends and I help but wish for more. How I would have loved a sequel or two with Lucy and George Zucco running around London solving crimes. Put the kettle on - it's time for the Sandra Carpenter Mysteries and the spin-off, Officer Barrett: On the Job.

George Zucco

George Zucco's last completed film role was for Henry King at Twentieth Century Fox in David and Bathsheba, 1951. While at work on The Desert Fox for Henry Hathaway, strange behavior on the part of the actor led to the diagnosis that he had suffered a severe stroke. After some time caring for George at home, Stella had to place him in the Monterey Sanitarium. He continued to recognize his family and dream of someday performing again. Pneumonia took George Zucco's life in 1960.

My imagination and the film work left by George Zucco makes me believe that it would have been a wonderful theatrical experience to have seen him do Shakespeare or see him in Journey's End or Victoria Regina. We must content ourselves with The Secret Garden, The Black Swan, and The First Legion, and whatever other surprising treats our journey in classic movies will send our way.

Check it out:

Linda Christian, Johnny Weissmuller, George Zucco

George rocks the caftan in Tarzan and the Mermaids, 1948.

* Leigh Harline, Ned Washington

Biographical source:
Sherlock Holmes and the Fabulous Faces, The Universal Pictures Repertory Company
by Michael A. Hoey - Bear Manor Media, 2011

Sunday, November 10, 2019

THE SEND IN THE MARINES BLOG-A-THON: Hail the Conquering Hero, 1944

In celebration of the November 10, 1775 founding of the U.S. Marine Corps. the websites Dubsism and RealWeegieMidget Reviews are hosting The Send in the Marines Blog-a-thon. Click HERE  or HERE to begin reading. 

Aunt Martha (Elizabeth Patterson): "Well, that's the war for you. It's always hard on women. Either they take your men away and never send them back at all, or they send them back unexpectedly just to embarrass you. No consideration at all." 

Only the genius that was writer/director Preston Sturges could successfully spoof heroism, motherhood, romance, and democracy in the middle of a war, moving the audience from cynical laughter to sentimental tears.

From the opening tracking shot that leads from a bouncy up tune and an energetic tap dancer to an elegant singer and backup quartet unironically singing Home to the Arms of Mother, through a crowded nightclub to a dejected civilian, Woodrow Truesmith (Eddie Bracken) kibbitzing with a bartender (George Anderson) we are given a glimpse at the ride Sturges has planned.

Waiter: "Yes, Gentlemen."
Sgt. Heppelfinger: "One Beer."
Waiter: "One beer?"
Sgt. Heppelfinger: "One beer and no cracks." 

Out of the fog come six Marines. Down to their last 15 cents, they try to wrangle eats from the nightclub Manager (Paul Porcasi). He has been through this sort of thing before. Woodrow pays for their food and libations so naturally, they want to thank him. Nothing will be the same.

Woodrow was raised to be a Marine, having been born almost at the moment his father was killed at the Battle of Belleau Wood in WWI, receiving a posthumous Congressional Medal of Honor. Woodrow's new friend, Sergeant Heppelfinger (William Demarest) had been in the same battle and now feels an obligation to his old Sarge's son. One month after enlisting, Woodrow was medically discharged for chronic hayfever. Out of shame, he has delayed his homecoming. Working at a shipyard, Woodrow has let everyone thing he has been on active duty the past year.

Bugsy (Freddie Steele) is one of the Marines befriending Woodrow. Bugsy is an orphan and thinks Woodrow has acted shamefully toward his mother (Georgia Caine). Bugsy phones Mrs. Truesmith at home in Oakridge, California and tells her Woodrow is returning the very next day.

SgtHeppelfinger: "You gotta wear something. You can't come back from the Solomons with nothing. Not the son of Sergeant Truesmith." ... "I don't even remember what I got it for. I think it was for pulling a Frenchman out of a creek."

Sergeant Heppelfinger and the others come up with an ingenious plan to save Woodrow's face. He will be loaned a uniform with medals, and sneak home - mom will be happy and no one will be any the wiser. Woodrow is helpless in the face of this gung-ho's group desire to do him some good.

SgtHeppelfinger: "Lies! Those ain't lies! Those are campaign promises! They expect 'em!" 

Ah, the best-laid plans of mice and men! The entire town is at the railway station. Bands are playing. The mayor (Raymond Walburn) makes a speech. Woodrow's girl Libby (Ella Raines) pretends not to be engaged to the mayor's son Forrest (Bill Edwards). His mother's mortgage is forgiven, a statue is being planned, and the opposition party presses Woodrow to run for mayor. Sergeant Heppelfinger and crew perpetuate the fiction of Woodrow's heroism.

Jake (Al Bridge): "This is a free country. They can vote for whoever they like."
Mayor Noble: "But, that's disgraceful!"

The Sturges stock company of Demarest, Walburn, Bridge, Jimmy Conlon, Esther Howard, et al, are out in full force. Whether he fashioned his dialogue for their talents or it was the other way around or a bit of both, a Sturges film guarantees a myriad delight of language and acting.

Whether it is an intimate scene such as one between the mayor, his campaign manager and a dinner tray or a crowded railway station with four bands and an opera singer (Ida Kitaeva), Sturges is in full control of the movie and what he wants it to say. One viewing is hardly enough to capture all of the wit and the layers in the performances.

The comedy of misunderstanding is Sturges' forte and the misunderstandings and complications, plus the contrasting intentions keep mounting until the expected blowout and the unexpected lump in the throat end. Hail the Conquering Hero is a wild ride.

SgtHeppelfinger: "Give me those six tickets, will you? We still got a little work to do in our own line. So long, kid."
MrsTruesmith (to Bugsy): "Goodbye, dear."
Woodrow: "Will you come back?"
SgtHeppelfinger: "Well, we always come back before. So long, everybody. See youse in church."

The world is full of all types of heroes. Some of them wear uniforms. The raucous and foolhardy marines in our movie are soft enough to help out the son of an old pal. I'm sure their counterparts can be found in real life.

Of note

Freddie Steele, 1936 and 1937 World Middleweight Boxing Champion who played "Bugsy" was inducted into the World Boxing Hall of Fame in 1989.

Veterans Day note

The following members of the Hail the Conquering Hero company served with the United States Army during World War One: Preston Sturges, Raymond Walburn, Franklin Pangborn, William Demarest, Al Bridge, and Robert Warwick.

Friday, November 1, 2019


Perhaps the movies didn't like Clifton Webb or Clifton Webb didn't like the movies, but after a few film appearances ending in 1925, Mr. Webb confined his career to the stage. He made a triumphant return to the screen at the age of 55 as Waldo Lydecker in the 20th Century Fox 1944 production of Laura based on Vera Caspary's novel. The character of the acerbic writer was a role Webb was born to play, and he basically played it again in his follow-up feature The Dark Corner. He then played the snobbish and shallow Elliot Templeton in the film version of Somerset Maugham's The Razor's Edge.

The question now seemed to be whether Clifton Webb's disdainful and witty delivery could be translated into a comedy. Gwen Davenport's 1947 hit novel Belvedere provided just the character test for the actor and his audience.

"Mrs. King, I happen to dislike all children intensely. But I can assure you that I can readily attend to their necessary though unpleasant wants."

Lynn Belvedere is a genius. The King family needs a genius. They simply don't realize it yet. Robert Young and Maureen O'Hara star as Harry and Tacey King. He is a fledgling lawyer and she's a busy housewife. They have three rambunctious children played by Anthony Sydes (Tony), Larry Olsen (Larry) and Raymond C. Hair Jr. (Ronny, the baby). These energetic youngsters have frightened away babysitters and their latest housekeeper is leaving in a huff.

Through correspondence only, Lynn Belvedere is engaged in the position of housekeeper/childcare provider. Mrs. King is shocked to realize her new hirer is not a woman. Of course, it is ridiculous! Whoever heard of such a thing! It can't last, but it does. Mr. Belvedere proves to be perfection in the role of "nanny". Still, questions arise. Why would a genius want to move to ---

"Hummingbird Hill which is a typical suburban community ... where everybody knows a little more than a little about everybody."

Aha, could it be that insight into the life of the typical suburbanite is necessary for Mr. Belvedere's upcoming book? In the course of completing his own goal, Mr. Belvedere becomes an essential and beloved member of the family, and Hummingbird Hill will never be the same.

Maureen O'Hara, Robert Young, Clifton Webb

Sitting Pretty is Domestic Comedy at its most delightful with just a touch of food for thought; not enough to cause indigestion. F. Hugh Herbert was awarded the Writers Guild of America prize for Best Written American Comedy in adapting Ms. Daveport's novel.

You might go into it thinking that Clifton Webb is the whole show, and he is, but don't overlook the rest of the cast. Robert Young and Maureen O'Hara handle their roles with their customary ease which belies the work.

Richard Hadyn, Maureen O'Hara

You'll get a kick out of Ed Begley as Harry's boss, and Louise Allbritton and John Russell as the King's friends. Betty Lynn is a teenager crushing hard on Harry and will be a treat for fans of her work as Thelma Lou on The Andy Griffith Show. If the rest of the cast hadn't stayed on their toes, the whole shebang would have been stolen out from under their noses by Richard Hadyn as the neighborhood snoop, Clarence Appleton.

There would be more comedies in Clifton Webb's movie future (Dreamboat, Mister Scoutmaster), including the sequels Mr. Belvedere Goes to College, 1949 and Mr. Belvedere Rings the Bell, 1951. Walter Lang, the director of our movie and Mr. Webb would work together again in Cheaper by the Dozen, 1950.

Gwen Davenport's character has legs that carried him to a 1985-1990 television sitcom starring Christopher Hewett. Earlier attempts to bring the character to television featured Reginald Gardiner, Hans Conreid, and Victor Buono. Will the genius be revived in the 21st century?

TCM is screening Sitting Pretty on Thursday, November 28th at 8:00 PM on a day devoted to Family Favorites. I think you will find it a pleasant way to spend a couple of hours, and you will adore Lynn Aloysius Belvedere.

Bonus:  Lux Radio Theatre, Mr. Bevedere Goes to College, 1950

Tuesday, October 29, 2019

DARK AND DEEP: THE GOTHIC HORROR BLOGATHON: The Hound of the Baskervilles, novel and 1939 film

Pale Writer Gabriela is giving us a Hallowe'en treat with Dark and Deep: The Gothic Horror Blogathon. Click HERE for your autumn chills.

Arthur Conan Doyle's The Hound of the Baskervilles with illustrations by Sidney Paget was serialized in The Strand Magazine in 1901/1902 and published as a novel in 1902. The Sherlock Holmes mystery has been continually in print and is considered a favourite tale of that most favourite character.

The Gothic setting and nature of this murder mystery tinged with the supernatural reach out from the pages as Dr. Watson recounts the unfathomably suspicious events and the gloomy atmosphere of Grimpen Mire and Baskerville Hall. The dread which weighs on our friend and storyteller makes every footstep in the dark, every flickering candle an object of suspense.

On a brisk evening in October, consulting detective Sherlock Holmes and his friend Dr. John Watson are visited by a Dr. Mortimer of Devon. The recent death of Sir Charles Baskerville of Baskerville Hall has been blamed on heart failure, but was there something sinister behind that heart failure?

Dr. Mortimer relates the legend of the Baskervilles in which an evil ancestor, Hugo, kidnapped and caused the death of a neighbour's daughter. Hugo was then overtaken by a supernatural hound and himself killed, dooming the future line of Baskerville. Sherlock Holmes obliges Dr. Mortimer's request for protection for Sir Henry, the new heir arriving from Canada. He will send Dr. Watson to observe and report. The idea may be too fantastic for a modern man of science, yet Dr. Mortimer has kept secret something he saw on the grounds of Baskerville Hall near Sir Charles' body.

"Mr. Holmes, they were the footprints of a gigantic hound."
- Dr. Mortimer

"A few minutes later we had reached the lodge-gates, a maze of fantastic tracery in wrought iron, with weather-bitten pillars on either side, blotched with lichens, and surmounted by the boars' heads of the Baskervilles."
- Dr. Watson

Watson recounts to Holmes the various people of the household and village in his daily reports to Holmes. This includes the news of an escaped convict evading capture on the moors. Sir Henry proves himself an amiable host, master, and friend. He even has hopes of romance. However, in the gloom and isolation, and mysterious actions among servants and acquaintances, it becomes very easy to believe in the legend of the hound.

"The fellow is wary and cunning to the last degree. It is not what we know, but what we can prove. If we make some false move the villain may escape us yet."
- Sherlock Holmes

"A hound it was, an enormous coal-black hound, but not such a hound as mortal eyes have ever seen. Fire burst from its open mouth, its eyes glowed with a smouldering glare, its muzzle and hackles and dewlap were outlined in flickering flame. Never in the delirious dream of a disordered brain could anything more savage, more appalling, more hellish be conceived than that dark form and savage face which broke upon us out of the wall of fog.
- Dr. Watson

The story is perhaps overly familiar to many of us after all these years, but on a brisk October evening, such as the one on which Dr. Mortimer recited the legend, there is nothing better than to sit in a circle of light with your favourite beverage at your side as you travel with Dr. Watson to the treacherous Grimpen Mire.

The instant popularity of Sherlock Holmes on the page naturally led to popularity and success on the stage and screen. Universally acknowledged as one of Hollywood's finest years, 1939 saw lasting movie magic. One piece of superlative casting occurred when Darryl F. Zanuck of Twentieth Century Fox had the idea that versatile Basil Rathbone would make a perfect Sherlock Holmes. The studio was noted for several worthy literary adaptations and historical dramas such as Kidnapped and Lloyds of London. It was time for The Hound of the Baskervilles.

Holmes was in place, and now they needed a Watson. In Nigel Bruce's unpublished memoir Games, Gossip and Greasepaint (found online), depressed when his 1938 gig in a Broadway play closed too quickly, a telegram from Mr. Rathbone cheered Mr. Bruce. "Do come back to Hollywood, Willie dear boy, and play Doctor Watson to my Sherlock Holmes. We'll have great fun together."

Nigel Bruce, Lionel Atwill, Basil Rathbone, Richard Greene

The outstanding cast surrounding this new team included Richard Greene as Sir Henry, Lionel Atwill and Beryl Mercer as Dr. and Mrs. Mortimer, and Wendy Barrie and Morton Lowery as the Stapletons. John Carradine and Eily Malyon play the Baskerville Hall servants whose names were changed from Barrymore to Barrowman. Barlow Borland is the contentious neighbour Frankland. E.E. Clive is a delight as a London cabbie. The doomed Sir Charles was played by Ian Maclaren, Seldon the convict by Nigel De Brulier, and the wicked Sir Hugo by Ralph Forbes in a flashback/storytelling sequence. Mary Gordon made the first of seven appearances as Mrs. Hudson with Rathbone and Bruce. 

Nigel Bruce, Beryl Mercer, Richard Greene, Wendy Barrie, Barlowe Borland

Ernest Pascal (Lloyds of London) adapted the novel and Sidney Lanfield (Station West) directed. Gwen Wakeling (Samson and Delilah) designed the costumes. Each character looks appropriate for each scene and the gowns for the ladies are beautiful and detailed. Eerie music from 20th Century Fox stalwarts Cyril Mockridge, David Raksin, David Buttolph and Charles Maxwell contributed greatly to the evocative atmosphere of the film.

Baskerville Hall

The movie clocks in at 80 minutes and with not one wasted moment. We are introduced to Holmes and Watson in their Baker Street abode and treated to some exciting and witty London scenes. When the action changes to Baskerville Hall the superb work of art directors Richard Day (Dead End) and Hans Peters (The Picture of Dorian Gray) truly comes to the fore with its Gothic nature. The set for the Dartmoor countryside and Baskerville Hall took up an entire soundstage and is filled with hills, caves, and the dangerous marshland. A persistent fog was created and pumped onto the set, adding to the atmosphere of suspense and dread. Cinematographer J. Peverell Marley (Suez) creates an inky palate keeping us off-guard and looking over our shoulders.

Richard Greene, at 21-years of age, was top-billed as Sir Henry, followed by Basil Rathbone as Holmes. Leading lady Wendy Barrie was next and then Nigel Bruce as Watson. Perhaps this indicates that the studio was not certain if the audience would take to this new team. Certainly, the audience would be more than aware that they were going to see a Sherlock Holmes story. The film proved to be such a great success both at home and internationally that before the year was out, an adaptation of William Gillette's play was underway, and we had Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce as the stars of The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes.

Basil Rathbone, Nigel Bruce

Sherlock Holmes: "Murder, my dear Watson, refined, cold-blooded murder. There's no doubt about it in my mind. Or, perhaps I should say in my imagination. That's where crimes are conceived, and where they're solved, in the imagination."

The team of Rathbone and Bruce would make 12 modern-day set Holmes films for Universal Studios between 1942 and 1946, also performing in a popular radio series. For many of us, these actors were our introduction to the world of Baker Street and the films from 20th Century Fox are a special treat for giving us the characters in their true Victorian/Edwardian setting.

THE HAPPY HOLIDAYS BLOGATHON: Stubby Pringle's Christmas, 1978

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