Monday, May 23, 2011


Our host, Elwy Yost

Beginning in 1974, TVOntario's Saturday Night at the Movies presented to residents of Ontario and Western New York, a double bill of classic films uncut and commercial free, along with elucidating interviews relating to the subject of movies in general and specifically to the subject of the movies being screened. Contemporary viewers used to the proliferation of specialty channels may not realize what a boon it was for film fans to see movies uncut and commercial free, but let me tell you, it was as if we had died and gone to cinema heaven.

Elwy Yost was born in Ontario in 1925 and now lives in retirement in Vancouver. A former high school teacher who hosted for the CBC and a true film buff, he was the perfect host for Saturday Night at the Movies. Originally a producer of the program as well, he eventually handed the executive producing job to the inestimable Risa Shuman, who is held in great esteem by film fans of Ontario. However, it was Elwy who was the face of the show.

Imagine the thrill of tuning in each Saturday night for the likes of Dodsworth, I Know Where I'm Going!, Gun Crazy, Reap the Wild Wind, The Devil and Miss Jones, The Devil and Daniel Webster, Western Union, Mrs. Miniver, Act of Violence, The Informer, The Prisoner of Shark Island, Charlie Chan at the Circus, It Happens Every Spring, The Letter, Moulin Rouge and so on.

Elwy was our guide through the history of classic film. His unbridled enthusiasm for the subject made it alright for us to be movie lovers. He interviewed historians and experts, writers, directors, actors, cinematographers, set designers, composers, costumers, stunt men and foley artists.

I remember Greer Garson, both grand and twinkly, coming across as a lady who'd be pleased to put the kettle on and make you feel at home. Olivia de Havilland, all polite smiles. Bette Davis, all gruff annoyance. Joan Fontaine, trying to take charge and eventually relaxing. Vibrant and fun Betty Garrett. P.D. James discussing mysteries. A non-cooperative Robert Mitchum almost becoming human by the end of the interview. The intense and sharp Richard Widmark. Henry Fonda, cool and confident. The charm of Jimmy Stewart. Self-effacing Joel McCrea explaining that he was never anyone's first choice except for Preston Sturges, and that was enough. Keye Luke proclaiming the artistry in Warner Oland's portrayal of Charlie Chan. A friendly and seemingly shy Dana Andrews. Edward Dmytryk explaining that the lighting in his noirs was motivated by budget, not art. Jack Elam talking about playing chess with Duke Wayne and drinking too much with Sam Peckinpah. Michael Wayne taken aback and then grinning when told he was starting to look like his dad. Harry Carey Jr. getting misty talking about his dad. Noah Berry Jr. responding to Elwy's story of growing his first moustache because he was inspired by Noah Sr. with a choking "I wish I could tell him." So many fabulous and enlightening moments.

The interviews were donated to the Motion Picture Academy upon Elwy's retirement.

The sister program to Saturday Night at the Movies was Magic Shadows which ran weeknights at 7 and showed one movie per week split into four parts with a serial episode on Friday. The first movie shown was The Thing from Another World. The first part ended with the scientists and airmen at the crash site spreading out to determine the size and shape of the thing. Oooh! The number of times I have seen the movie since are lost in family legend. The following is an actual conversation with my mother some 15 years ago.

She (offhandedly while kissing the grandkids): Do you have any plans for tonight?
Me (incredulously): The Thing from Another World is on.
She (dismissively): Oh, you always watch that thing!

Sometimes a film would run the entire five nights and we would loose out on the serial. Such a movie was Sands of Iwo Jima. One episode ended with John Agar meeting Adele Mara at a dance. When we returned to the set/movie room Elwy looked at us and said "Ah, romance rears its ugly head." An immortal line used by our family to this day for the many movies that make that misstep.

Elwy - whose name was a source of curious amusement to a booming Otto Preminger.

Elwy - whose shock at guest Pierre Berton's disdain for John Ford movies matched my own.

Elwy - who, if he is a packrat has a copy of a movie quiz I gave him years ago. A copy of one I had made for my dad.

Elwy - who kept his son home from school with a note of excuse explaining that he was tired because Citizen Kane had been on the late show.

Elwy - whose apparent garbled relating of the plot of the movie Runaway Train inspired his screenwriter son Graham to write Speed, which Elwy proudly presented in 1999 on his final evening of hosting Saturday Night at the Movies.

Elwy - who was made a Member of the Order of Canada in 1999.

Elwy - who created an atmosphere of appreciation for film for generations of fans.

Maybe someday you will be in Toronto for a film-related event like the Toronto International Film Festival. Perhaps you will become aware that some of the attendees are native to the town and if they are "between 40 and death" (Auntie Mame), stroll over and mention the name "Elwy". Watch for the smiles on their faces.

Addendum: Elwy passed away on July 21, 2011 at the age of 85. The internet became a place of sharing memories of "Saturday Night at the Movies", "Magic Shadows" and inspiration.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

CMBA Movies of 1939 Blogathon - Five Came Back

Whether it was due to a special alignment of the stars or something in the martinis, few will deny that the late 30s in Hollywood was a time of incredible vitality and creativity. No greater evidence exists than the timeless entertainments released in 1939. Cast and crews working on top-budgeted dramas or fan-favourite series and everything in between did more than their best.

One of RKO's outstanding projects for the season is from a Richard Carroll story with the spoilerish title of Five Came Back. The diverse talents behind the screenplay were Jerry Cady (Call Northside 777), Dalton Trumbo (A Guy Named Joe), and Nathanael West (Lonelyhearts). Directing duties were ably handled by Naval veteran and screenwriter John Farrow (The Big Clock) with a seamless and sure hand. Farrow would revisit this story in Back from Eternity, 1956.

Five Came Back is a contemporary adventure/melodrama that concerns a fateful plane trip for a disparate group of passengers. For the movie's brisk 74 minutes we live with a brittle showgirl, a playboy running away with his secretary, an elderly professor and his wife, a revolutionary being escorted to his home country to face death and a gangster charged with caring for his boss' child. All lives are in the hands of our duty-bound pilots when a storm forces a crash landing in a South American jungle. Out of radio range and off their registered flight plan, survival and escape are paramount.

It is when we are under pressure that we really know ourselves and so it is with this group of strangers who must now rely upon each other. The dithery professor is quite a bright fellow and his worrying wife a practical and kind woman. The tough gal has a heart. The playboy reveals he has nothing to reveal. The anarchist is a builder.

The studio-bound set excellently creates the atmosphere of claustrophobia as characters are trapped by the jungle and its' surrounding danger while their spirits soar with unimagined freedoms. Nothing is wasted as the story unfolds because our characters have no time to waste. Life must be lived to the fullest as we race to our heart thumping, heart breaking conclusion in Five Came Back.

Five Came Back is a film on my personal list of favourite ensemble casts - a cast that works together contributing to a single effect. Like the characters in the movie, the actors are thrown together for a brief period of time with one goal. Where did they come from? Where are they going? How did the experience impact their lives?

Chester Morris (1901-1970) played pilot Bill Brooks.

Chester was born to show business parents and made his Broadway debut while a teenager under the auspices of the legendary George M. Cohan. He was nominated for an Oscar for Alibi, and some of his outstanding movies include The Big House and 3 Godfathers. From 1941 - 1949 he starred as Boston Blackie in a popular series of 13 movies which even gave him a chance to show off his skill as a magician.

Chester died by his own hand after receiving a cancer diagnosis.

Lucille Ball (1911-1989) played showgirl Peggy Nolan.

Jamestown, NY born Lucy is a tribute to perseverance as she carved out her place in show business from her beginnings as a model/showgirl to an actress always-on-the-cusp of stardom to a legendary and beloved comic star. The assistant director of Five Came Back, Argyle Nelson, would later be the production manager of Lucy's TV hits and the costume designer Edward Stevenson would give Lucy Ricardo her timeless fashion style.

Wendy Barrie (1912-1978) played secretary and future bride Alice Melbourne.

Wendy was born in Hong Kong to a King's Counsel, raised in a convent school in London and attended a Swiss finishing school. Born Jenkins, she took the name of her godfather, Sir James M. Barrie the creator of a famous "Wendy", for her professional name. Outstanding titles include The Private Life of Henry VIII and Dead End. It is said that her career stalled due to her romantic involvement with gangster Bugsy Siegel, however, her winning personality found a niche on television as a talk show host in the 1950s. Wendy's last years were spent in a nursing home after a stroke.

John Carradine (1906-1988) played Crimp, a government agent.

The voice. An artist and bohemian, born of the same and parent of same. Featured player in classic movies such as Stagecoach and Les Miserables and player who made films classic by his presence. With over 300 movie and TV roles to his credit there is a favourite Carradine performance for everyone from The Prisoner of Shark Island to The Grapes of Wrath to The Shootist.

Allen Jenkins (1900-1974) played Pete, an unlikely gangster/nanny.

Like co-star Chester Morris, Jenkins was born into a family of performers. He served at the Brooklyn Navy Yard during WWI and was a graduate of The American Academy of Dramatic Arts. The always busy actor was the father of three. Catch him in Destry Rides Again, Pillow Talk, Ball of Fire and as a cop in 3 episodes of I Love Lucy.

Joseph Calleia (1897-1975) played Vasquez, an anarchist.

Joseph Calleia was born in Malta and as a teenager traveled Europe as a singer/musician. It was in the late 1920s that he arrived in the States and found work on Broadway prior to his Hollywood career. Most familiar for gangster roles as in The Thin Man, Mr. Calleia gave us outstanding performances in Five Came Back, The Jungle Book and Touch of Evil. Apparently, Coppola wanted him for Vito Corleone, but poor health intervened or maybe he was enjoying his retirement in Malta too much. The Maltese government has issued two sets of stamps in his honour.

C. Aubrey Smith (1863-1948) played Professor Henry Spengler.

If you were to ask any classic movie fan to picture their idea of a typical Englishman, I imagine the majority of thoughts would first go to Sir C. Aubrey Smith. The Cambridge educated cricketer was given the Order of the British Empire in 1938 and Knighted in 1944 for his contribution to Anglo-American relations.

Smith began his acting career past the age of 30. Character actors require a lot of seasoning, but they are in it for the long haul. Among his famous titles are The Four Feathers and And Then There Were None.

Kent Taylor (1907-1987) played co-pilot, Joe.

Good looking Iowa farm boy Louis Weiss discovered the stage while in high school. A later move to California where he worked in his family's business brought about an introduction to director Henry King and a career in film which included over 130 roles in movies and television.

Co-star Chester Morris was the movies' Boston Blackie and Kent was television's Boston Blackie for two well-remembered seasons. Kent and his wife of 57 years, Augusta, were the parents of three children.

Patric Knowles (1911-1995) played Judson Ellis, wealthy ne'er do well.

The first in his family to enter show business, attempting to run away to the theatre as a teen, Patric Knowles ease in front of the camera is evident in such classic films as How Green Was My Valley, The Adventures of Robin Hood and The Charge of the Light Brigade. Why he never became a top leading man is one of those mysteries of the ages.

During WW2 Knowles achieved the rank of Sergeant-Instructor in the Royal Canadian Air Force and later was a civilian instructor with the US Army Air Force at Miraloma Academy. Patric was married for 60 years to Enid Percival and the father of two. In his later years, he was a proud and involved grandfather, and a tireless worker for charities for elderly actors.

Elisabeth Risdon (1887-1958) played Elizabeth Spengler.

Versatile Elisabeth Risdon was a graduate of London's Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts. She appeared in early silent films in England and made her Broadway debut in George Bernard Shaw's Fanny's First Play in 1912. Decades of Broadway appearances followed, and tours of North America with George Arliss. On-screen Elisabeth could be patrician as in The Canterville Ghost or shrewish as in Tall in the Saddle. Fans remember classic roles in High Sierra, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Theodora Goes Wild, and as Aunt Della in the Mexican Spitfire series.

Dick Hogan (1917-1995) played steward, Larry.

Dick was a nightclub singer whose gigs included working with Glenn Miller. His film career includes 40 roles, many uncredited, and a few mirroring his experience as a WW2 veteran, including So Proudly We Hail and Action in the North Atlantic. By the 1950s Dick left Hollywood for his Arkansas birthplace and entered the insurance field.

Casey Johnson played Tommy Mulvaney.

Casey Johnson had a brief career as a child actor appearing in 12 movies between 1939 and 1946. Popular titles include Boom Town, One Foot in Heaven and This Land is Mine.

Five Came Back was a few weeks work for these actors in 1939. A paycheque? Fulfilling a contract? The desired role? A hopeful stepping stone? A daily chore? A pleasure to get to work? A forgotten blur in a long career? A fond memory? Five Came Back may have been all of these things.

Five Came Back is an eternal treat for movie fans to this day. An adventure film with heart that stands the test of time with a magical glow.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Thrills! Thrills! Thrills!

Coming soon to your computer!

The Classic Movies of 1939 Blogathon

40 esteemed bloggers - 40 classic movies

Relive the greats of yesterday.
Discover new film treasures.
Be part of the action.

Don't miss The Classic Movies of 1939 Blogathon!
See the Classic Movie Blog Association for details.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Friday, May 6, 2011

Hollywood Haikus Competition Entry #5

Sons of the Desert

Two brains worked as one

devising shenanigans

to fulfill their oath

This is an entry for the Best For Film Hollywood Haikus blogging competition. Enter now.

Contest results:

Hollywood Haikus Competition Entry #4

His Girl Friday

A breaking story

And a broken engagement

Walter always wins

This is an entry for the Best For Film Hollywood Haikus blogging competition. Enter now.

Contest results:

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Bing Sings the Oscar Songs

Each year at Bing's birthday (May 2nd? May 3rd? Oy!) I blog about my favourite entertainer of the 20th century. Today let's look at one of Bing Crosby's phenomenal show business records. During the course of his movie career, Bing introduced fourteen original songs that were nominated for the Best Song by the Motion Picture Academy and four of these were awarded statues.

The first of these songs was a tune we associate with another popular performer.  Jack Benny's theme Love in Bloom by Ralph Rainger and Leo Robin was first sung by Bing in 1934s She Loves Me Not was one of three nominated songs in the first year of the category.  The others were The Carioca from Flying Down to Rio and the winner, The Continental from The Gay Divorcee.  In She Loves Me Not Miriam Hopkins stars as a nightclub singer on the lam from gangsters hiding out at Princeton University where she's helped by students Bing Crosby and Edward Nugent.  The movie was remade as How to Be Very, Very Popular in 1955 starring Betty Grable, Sheree North and Robert Cummings.

Next was a nomination for the title tune from 1936's Pennies From Heaven. Bing's character is this movie saw himself as a modern day troubadour, footloose and fancy free, until he got mixed up with a kid (the marvelous Edith Fellows), an old man (Donald Meek) and an uptight social worker (Madge Evans). Prominent in the cast was Bing's good friend Louis Armstrong. The nomination for Arthur Johnston and Johnny Burke's song must have been especially gratifying because Bing was one of the producers of the movie released through Columbia Studios. Truly a case of being nominated is honour enough as the winner for Best Song was Kern and Fields The Way You Look Tonight from Swingtime.

1937's Waikiki Wedding, with its breezy good humour and sumptuous cinematography by Karl "Sunrise" Struss was a top box office draw the year it was released and featured the lovely Blue Hawaii by Ralph Robin and Leo Rainger. Blue Hawaii was overlooked by the Academy in favour of Harry Owens lullaby Sweet Leilani. Bing had heard the song by bandleader/composer Owens while on vacation in Hawaii in 1936. The song's inclusion in the film was at Bing's insistence and he set up a trust fund for the royalties to go to Harry's daughter Leilani for whom the song was written. Sweet Leilani won over competition that included the Gershwin's They Can't Take That Away from Me from Shall We Dance and Fain & Brown's That Old Feeling from Vogues of 1938.

I highly recommend 1940s Rhythm on the River to those who have yet to to see it. Basil Rathbone is an absolute hoot as a famous composer who has lost his stuff. He "collaborates" with a lyricist played by Mary Martin and a composer played by Bing. Eventually the two dupes discover the truth and set out on their own. Throw in Oscar Levant for the wisecracks and Wingy Manone for the trumpet and you have a winner.

Rhythm on the River features my all-time favourite Bing Crosby title track from a movie, but that peppy number didn't find favour with the Academy. It was Monaco and Burke's destined-to-become-a-standard Only Forever that was nominated. In another case of losing to a classic, the winner was Leigh Harline and Ned Washington's When You Wish Upon a Star from Pinocchio.

Bing Crosby, Marjorie Reynolds

Recognize the scene pictured above? Jim Hardy and "I'm Linda Mason" introduce Irving Berlin's White Christmas to the world in 1942s Holiday Inn. The song is such a part of our lives that I often forget that it also received the honour of an Oscar.

There were a few goodies among the nominees that year: Styne & Kahn's It Seems to Me I've Heard That Song Before from Youth on Parade, Warren & Gordon's I've Got a Gal in Kalamazoo from Orchestra Wives, Churchill & Morey's Love is a Song from Bambi, Lane & Freed's How About You? from Babes on Broadway, Kern & Mercer's Dearly Beloved from You Were Never Lovelier and Lucuono & Gannon's title theme from Always in My Heart.

1944s Going My Way was an Oscar juggernaut winning Best Picture, Director, Actor, Supporting Actor, Story, Screenplay and Best Song for Swinging on a Star performed by Bing as Father O'Malley with the Mitchell Boys Choir. The peppy favourite won over such perennial ballads as McHugh & Adamson's I Couldn't Sleep a Wink Last Night introduced by Frank Sinatra in Higher and Higher, and Styne & Cahn's I'll Walk Alone from Follow the Boys.

The 1944 release Here Comes the WAVES starring Bing as a Sinatra-type balladeer and Betty Hutton as twins was nominated in the Best Song category for the Oscars of 1946. Perhaps this was due to the late December 1944 release of the movie. The song was the Arlen & Mercer rouser Accentuate the Positive. Among the competition was Aren't You Glad You're You from 1945's popular Going My Way sequel The Bells of St. Mary's. Both songs could have stayed home that night because the award went to Rodgers & Hammerstein's lovely It Might As Well Be Spring from State Fair.

In 1946 Holiday Inn co-stars and composer, Bing, Fred Astaire and Irving Berlin reunited for Blue Skies.  The Technicolor musical was a look at the career and romantic complications of two song and dance men and featured a lot of Irving Berlin favourites plus a new song, You Keep Coming Back Like a Song which was nominated for an Oscar.  The other nominees were Hoagy Carmichael's Ole Buttermilk Sky from Canyon Passage, Monaco and Gordon's I Can't Begin to Tell You from The Dolly Sisters and Kern and Hammerstein's All Through the Day from Centennial Summer.  The winner was Harry Warren and Johnny Mercer's On the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe from The Harvey Girls.

The final winner in Bing's cannon of Oscar songs was written by Hoagy Carmichael and Johnny Mercer. In the Cool, Cool, Cool of the Evening rightfully became a standard and a lot of it may have to do with its staging in Here Comes the Groom. Director Frank Capra decided to forgo using playback and asked his stars to sing the song while cavorting live on set. Were Bing and Jane Wyman game? You bet they were. The number is only one of the highlights in an immensely enjoyable movie.

1952's Just for You reunited Bing and Jane in the story of a widowed Broadway producer coping, not very well, with his children and finding romance with a musical comedy star. Oscar nominated Zing a Little Zong by Harry Warren and Leo Robin tries to capture some of the joy of the previous year's In the Cool, Cool, Cool of the Evening and comes pretty darn close. Worthy of the nomination, the song would lose to one of the most famous movie songs of all-time, Dimitri Tiomkin and Ned Washington's theme to High Noon.

Rosemary Clooney, Bing Crosby

1954's Curtiz directed Christmas perennial White Christmas gave us some favourite familiar Irving Berlin songs and a nomination for a new one as Rosemary Clooney and Bing sang Count Your Blessings Instead of Sheep. The Academy voters awarded Styne and Cahn's popular theme to Three Coins in a Fountain, overlooking not only Irving, but Arlen & Gershwin's The Man That Got Away from A Star is Born.

The 1957 Academy Awards saw another duet nominated for "Best Original Song" when Bing and Grace Kelly introduced Cole Porter's lovely True Love in High Society, the entertaining musical remake of The Philadelphia Story. Livingston and Evans were the winners with Que Sera Sera from The Man Who Knew Too Much.

The 1960 Blake Edwards comedy High Time saw Bing as a retired millionaire taking the time out to get a college degree and experience a life he had missed as a younger working man.  He falls for a lovely French teacher played by Nicole Maurey and sings the Jimmy Van Heusen and Sammy Cahn Oscar nominated The Second Time Around.  Other tunes in the Best Song category were The Green Leaves of Summer from The Alamo, Faraway Part of Town from Pepe and the title song from The Facts of Life.  The winner was the very popular title track, Never on Sunday.

I feel pretty safe in saying that Bing's record of introducing 14 Oscar nominated and 4 winning songs will never be equaled.

Sunday, May 1, 2011


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