Tuesday, May 27, 2008

My guy, Wally Ford

Look at that face. It's a nice face. It's the face of your favourite uncle. Maybe the uncle who drinks a little too much and maybe once in a while he gets himself in a spot, but he's your favourite uncle so it's okay. That's the face of Wallace Ford (1898 - 1966) as he appeared in Alfred Hitchcock's classic Shadow of a Doubt (1943). Ford's Hollywood career began in 1930 and the talented actor worked steadily until his death. Lots of programmers under his belt in the 30s and some genuine classics such as Tod Browning's Freaks (1932), John Ford's The Lost Patrol (1934) and The Informer (1935).

Wallace Ford's career in the 40s includes memorable pictures such as the quirky Blues in the Night (1941), the enjoyable The Mummy's Hand and All Through the Night (1941). You like film noir? Check out Black Angel (1946), Crack-Up (1946), Dead Reckoning (1947), T-Men (1947) and The Set-Up (1949).

Well-remembered classics from the 50s featuring our guy (isn't it nice of me to share?) are Harvey (1950), The Furies (1950) which will be released by Criterion this coming summer, The Man from Laramie (1955), He Ran All theWay (1951), Flesh and Fury (1951), The Rainmaker (1956), The Last Hurrah (1958) and Warlock (1959). Television fans could count on seeing Wallace Ford on Studio 57, Father Knows Best, Tales of Wells Fargo, The Dick Powell Show, The Barbara Stanwyck Show and more. His last film role was definitely A level as the alcoholic grampa in A Patch of Blue (1965).

Our guy was born Samuel Jones in Bolton, Lancashire, England on February 12, 1898. At the age of three he was placed in a foundling home by an aunt. At the age of 7, along with 300 other children, he was shipped to the Toronto branch of the home. In the space of 4 years, little Sam lived in 17 different foster homes before striking out on his own. He landed in Manitoba and got work with a vaudeville troupe called The Winnipeg Kiddies. At the age of 16 Sam struck out again, but not alone this time. A pal, Wally Ford, was along and they hopped freight trains to see what life could offer them in the States. Along the way, the pal was crushed to death by a boxcar and young Sam took his friend's name.

Years of trouping in the boondocks paid off in 1918 with a role in Booth Tarkington's Seventeen in Chicago and a move to the Big Apple with the show. Most of Wally's Broadway shows in the 1920s were of the 4 weeks rehearsal for a couple of night's run variety with the exception of a stint in Abie's Irish Rose. In 1922 Martha Haworth became Mrs. Ford and they remained married for the rest of his days with a family of one daughter, Patricia, and two grandsons. 1937 saw a great Broadway success for Wally as he created the role of George in John Steinbeck's adaption of his own Of Mice and Men, staged by George S. Kaufman. Young Broderick Crawford was the unfortunate Lenny.

Wallace Ford had been searching for his mother since he was a teenager and, according to a piece by Jim McPherson in The Toronto Sun, in 1936 he found her.  After calling on help from the Los Angeles Police Department and Scotland Yard, the old woman was located, derelict and living in a trailer with a match seller known as "Blind Dan". An overjoyed Ford told the press: "I'm going to get a little house where my mother and her husband can spend the rest of their days in peace. She has had a hard life." There's a back story there that we can only imagine. There is also a story about a man with a big heart, big enough to forget the neglect he suffered as a child. What a guy! Our guy, Wally Ford.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Porky Pig

The most underrated movie star of this or any other era. Discuss amongst yourselves.

Good ol' Porky. He's been around forever - well, at least since 1935. He made his debut in I Haven't Got a Hat, animated by Bob Clampett and directed by Friz Freleng with the idea of creating a cartoon character along the lines of Chubby from the Our Gang series. The name came from a couple of boyhood pals of Freleng's who were nicknamed Piggy and Porky. Such schoolyard appellations would not be countenanced in this day and age. Grown-ups are so touchy. Actor Joe Dougherty, who was a stutterer, provided the voice.

Porky proved an immediate success despite his stutter being the only consistent characteristic. The flexible pig was put in any and all types of stories. 1937 was a banner year. Mel Blanc was hired to voice Porky as he could harness the stutter and save production costs. Tex Avery put Porky in a 'toon entitled Porky's Duck Hunt teaming him with the riotous Daffy. It was magic! The slimmed-down look and the humourous Blanc gave Porky a new lease on life and endless possibilities within a defined character lay ahead of him.

My favourite Porky period is when Chuck Jones made him the Frank McHugh of the animated set in the late 40s/50s, ably supporting Daffy in such shorts as Drip Along Daffy, Duck Dodgers in the 24th & 1/2th Century, Deduce, You Say, Rochet Squad and Robin Hood Daffy.

Despite protests in the 1990s regarding Porky's stuttering as being inappropriate for the screen, Porky continues as the hard-working character actor he is, currently voiced by Bob Bergen.

1938s Porky in Wackyland, Bob Clampett and Porky Pig's tribute to the bizarre was preserved by the National Film Registry in 2000.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Favourite movies: His Girl Friday (1940)

Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur created their immortal play The Front Page in 1928. It was a smash hit on Broadway starring Osgoode Perkins as ruthless, fast-thinking editor Walter Burns who stops at nothing to keep ace reporter, Lee Tracy as Hildy Johnson, from getting married and leaving the newspaper racket ... that is, the journalistic profession. The 1931 motion picture was also a hit starring Adolphe Menjou and Pat O'Brien. The Academy graced the effort with three nominations: Best Picture, Best Director - Lewis Milestone, and Best Lead Actor - Menjou. It turned out to be a case of it's nice to be nominated.

Inspiration, as it so often did, struck director Howard Hawks and he envisioned "The Front Page" with a romantic angle. Hildy wasn't just to be Burns' ace, she was to be his ex-ever lovin'. The play was adapted by frequent Hawks' collaborator, Charles Lederer (The Thing from Another World, Monkey Business, I Was a Male War Bride, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes). The perfect leading lady Rosalind Russell was given the role by attrition. It had been turned down by Ginger Rogers, Irene Dunne, and Jean Arthur. Feeling just the teeniest bit slighted and not sure of Hawks, it was co-star Cary Grant's friendship and improvisational skill that put Roz at her ease until she realized she did have Hawks' trust. One day she threw her purse at Grant who ducked and responded: "You used to be better than that". It's in the picture, as are some ad-libs from an advertising copywriter Miss Russell hired to help her keep up with the fellas.

Cary Grant, Ralph Bellamy, Rosalind Russell

Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell are a marvelous team in His Girl Friday. So overwhelmingly great are our leads that one almost overlooks the contribution to the movie of Ralph Bellamy as Bruce Baldwin, the other man, offering the simple joys of life out of the fast lane to our heroine. Mr. Bellamy is perfect! His looks are of the tall, protective, comforting type. His talent is unquestioned. The movie is full of wonderful moments of this poor sap, pardon me, fish out of water, having his life turned upside down by the jealous Walter Burns. One almost feels sorry for poor Bruce, one certainly appreciates that few could play that role as well.

Roscoe Karns, Cliff Edwards, Porter Hall, Regis Toomey, Frank Jenks

Classic Hollywood movies are filled with incredibly talented character actors and most of them seem to be in this movie. The reporters awaiting the execution of a railroaded schnook: Porter Hall, Ernest Truex, Cliff Edwards, Roscoe Karns, Frank Jenks, Regis Toomey. The poor schnook: John Qualen. The crooked mayor: Clarence Kolb. His numbskull sheriff: Gene Lockhart. Burns' beleaguered assistant editor: Frank Orth. Irving Bacon as a waiter (just how many waiters did Mr. Bacon play?). Billy Gilbert almost walking away with the movie as the befuddled Pettibone, purveyor of pardons. Abner Biberman as Burns' henchman Louis. Alma Kruger as a respectable almost mother-in-law. Helen Mack has the thankless role of Molly Molloy and plays with conviction. Miss Mack was on the vaudeville stage at the age of ten, a silent film leading lady and eventually a producer and writer for radio. In Hawks' pictures you will often find the finest ensemble work. Part of his knack for bringing the high energy to such scenes is through many rehearsals often aided by a stopwatch, keeping a sharp eye on on his professional cast and the take-no-prisoners dialogue.

No Academy Award nominations were forthcoming for this adaption of The Front Page. However, in 1993 the movie was placed on the National Film Registry along with these outstanding films: Shane, Lassie Come Home, It Happened One Night, Nothing But a Man, Sweet Smell of Success, Yankee Doodle Dandy, and The Wind.

I watch His Girl Friday often. Sometimes I sit back and roar, chuckle and grin. Sometimes I am silent, as I enjoy the pure genius of the thought-provoking, funny script and its execution. I am always energized and awe-struck by this movie classic.

Note: for those into such things, keep your eyes peeled for a Pat Flaherty sighting. If you need a hint, yes, he plays a cop.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Happy Mother's Day


A couple of days ago I was walking along Bloor West Village when I was distracted by the sight of a large white dog and a small grey kitten communing in the doorway of the Hallmark shop. I stopped to watch and noticed that a woman on the other side of the doorway was just as captivated by the scene. With her stylin' 'do, happening shades and tasteful ensemble she was the epitome of older woman chic and cool. Oh, for heaven's sake, it's my mother! Hugs and "what are you doing here?" followed. Passersby might not take us for mother and daughter. For one thing, we hardly look old enough and for another while I have yet to name my particular look, I have pretty much eliminated cool.

Our temperments are often at variance. For instance, she doesn't dig Wodehouse and is at a loss to understand my fondness for westerns. On the other hand, I don't get her thing for Anderson Cooper and refuse to understand her liking for NASCAR. One thing we do have in common is a healthy admiration for baritones - especially this guy. Happy Mother's Day!


Thursday, May 1, 2008

Bing Crosby

1903 - 1977

Well, folks, May 3rd is here. The day all fans celebrate the birth of Bing Crosby. Let the merriment be unconfined. Let there be cake, and listening to records and watching of movies, and searching of YouTube. How is this different from every other day of the year? Oh, yes, the cake!

Favourite Christmas Special: The one where he sang "White Christmas". The one where Kathryn and Mary Frances wore green. The one when Harry played the guitar. The one where Nathaniel stopped wearing short pants.

Favourite ballad from a Technicolor feature: It's a tie! "The Kiss in Your Eyes" from "The Emperor Waltz" (1948) and "True Love" from "High Society" (1956).

Favourite ballad from a Black and White feature: It's a tie! "Moonlight Becomes You" from "Road to Morocco" and "Let's Take the Long Way Home" from "Here Come the Waves" (1944).

Favourite movie traditionally aired at Christmastime not starring Alastair Sim: It's a tie! "Holiday Inn" (1941) and "Going My Way" (1944).

Favourite cheeky narration of a classic cheeky cartoon: "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow" (1949).

Favourite Oscar winning performance that stands the test of time with its low-key genuineness: Father O'Malley in "Going My Way" (1944).

Favourite performance that shoulda won the Oscar, though Brando was fine too: Frank Elgin in "The Country Girl" (1954).

Favourite movie co-starring Jane Wyman: It's a tie! "Here Comes the Groom" (1951) and "Just for You" (1952).

Favourite gag appearance in a Hope flick: "My Favourite Brunette" (1947).

Favourite Frank Capra remake of a Frank Capra movie: "Riding High" (1950).

Favourite record: "It's Been a Long, Long Time" (1945) with Les Paul.

Favourite performance of a title tune: the title song from "Rhythm on the River" (1940).

Favourite books: It's a tie! Gary Giddens - "Bing Crosby: A Pocketful of Dreams, The Early Years 1903 - 1940" and Kathryn Crosby - "My Life With Bing" (the autographed copy).

Favourite sites: "The Official Home of Bing Crosby" (bingcrosby.com) and "The Bing Crosby Internet Museum".

I'm a fan!



Terence Towles Canote at A Shroud of Thoughts is hosting The 8th Annual Favourite TV Show Episode Blogathon . The popular blogathon is runn...