Friday, December 12, 2014

A Cozy for Christmas: Cover Up (1949)

Have your copies of Holmes for the Holidays, Christmas Stalkings, Murder at Christmas and The Big Book of Christmas Mysteries reached the stage of yellowed edges and missing pages?  Are you looking for that light, short story of murder and mayhem perfect for a post-shopping sit down with a cup of cocoa (laced with Kahlua)?  You will find the movie equivalent of something from the Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine in 1949s Cover Up.

Dennis O'Keefe
(1908 - 1968)

Sam Donovan:  Now look, Sheriff, I can take a joke as well as the next man, but murder is serious, even in a small town.  Either we co-operate or I go at it my own way.  You'd be surprised what I might find out.

Alfred E. Green (Union Depot, The Jolson Story) is our director, with the screen play is by crime novelist Jerome Odlum (Each Dawn I Die, Dust Be My Destiny) and the film's star Dennis O'Keefe under the name of Jonathan Rix.  Mr. O'Keefe rates very highly around these parts.  Appearing as a youngster with his Vaudevillian parents, Bud Flanagan's energy, talent and experience made him a natural for the screen.  However, it wasn't until years of uncredited bits that he finally broke through with a contract and the chance to show his versatility. My sister Paula and I fight over him long winter evenings.  She really goes for his good-natured humourous roles such as in Brewster's Millions or his young, brash leads for MGM in pictues like Hold That Kiss and Burn "Em Up O'Connor.  I lean more toward the noirish O'Keefe of T-Men, Raw Deal and Walk a Crooked Mile.

William Bendix
(1906 - 1964)

Sheriff Larry Best:  Put that gun away.  You don't want to go around killing anybody; not at Christmastime anyway.

In Cover Up O'Keefe is Sam Donovan, Insurance Investigator.  He's arrived in a smallish city during Christmas week to wrap up a suicide case.  A suicide case where there was no weapon at the scene.  A suicide case where no autopsy was performed and the body has already been buried.  A suicide case of the meanest man in town.  The sheriff, played by William Bendix (Blue Dahlia, Lifeboat, TV and radio's The Life of Riley), is of a philosophical frame of mind and disinclined to assist our visiting investigator.  Sam is advised to nose around by his superior.

Art Baker as Stu Weatherby

Sam is more than happy to remain in town.  He's met a pretty resident on the train returning for the holidays and his interest is returned.  Barbara Britton (Champagne for Caesar, The Virginian) plays Anita Weatherby.  She's a pretty and confident big city career girl, except when she's around Sam and her family.  In fact, Anita can be almost juvenile when goaded into "fighting" with younger sister Cathie, played by Ann E. Todd (Margie, Three Daring Daughters) for Sam's attention.  The entire Weatherby family takes Sam in as sort of a lost soul project for Christmas, although Art Baker (Impact, Spellbound) as Stu Weatherby does seem unaccountably distracted at times.

Dennis O'Keefe, Barbara Britton

Anita Weatherby:  Oh Sam, before you came here our town was like a quiet little haven.  There was never a hint of anything terrible like this.  Now everybody's a murder suspect.  Our lives will never be the same.
Sam runs into dead ends at every turn.  No one knows anything.  Everyone has an alibi.  There is a great lack of interest in whether the town's hated miser killed himself or was bumped off.  They just seem glad he's gone.  The niece played by Virginia Christine (High Noon, The Killers) was eloping with a man her uncle deemed unsuitable.  The newlywed husband played by Russell Arms (The Man Who Came to Dinner, By the Light of the Silvery Moon) had been at the scene, but for a conveniently short time.  He was vouched for by the nervous jeweller and his tight-lipped wife.

Doro Merande plays Hilda

Perhaps the town's retired doctor could shed some light on matters, but the man unfortunately passes away before Sam can reach him.  Watching over the murder, the romance and the Weatherby family is their opinionated maid played with aplomb by Doro Merande (Our Town, The Russians Are Coming, The Russians Are Coming).  She may be a help or she may be a hindrance.  Mr. Weatherby says she's not happy unless she's unhappy.  She is a delight to audiences.

Dennis O'Keefe, Barbara Britton and that tree!

Nicely paced at just over 80 minutes, Cover Up is a cozy mystery by benefit of the small town flavour and the Christmas setting.  The decorations, the shopping for gifts, the talk of dinner plans contrast to the evasiveness of witnesses and the stonewalling of the sheriff.  The puzzle has a logically satisfactory conclusion, if a tad predictable.  The romance progresses naturally with a nice sense of the emotions of the characters.

Continuity issue:  on Christmas Eve the family is seen decorating a tree and its purchase is the point of great discussion, however there has been a tree in the living room since we and Sam first came to visit.  Once the puzzle is wrapped up, the movie wraps up as well.  I liked the characters well enough to have enjoyed spending a little more of the holidays with them.  It might have been fun to see Sam tackle the mystery of that Christmas tree.

Did you know?  In 1955 Cover Up was presented as an episode of Lux Video Theatre with William Bendix reprising his role of Sheriff Larry Best and starring Steve Brodie and Jane Howard as Sam and Anita.  I imagine that was a "slap himself on the back" moment for Dennis O'Keefe, writer.


Monday, December 1, 2014

Caftan Woman's Choice: One for December on TCM

"In everybody there is a certain thing that loves babies, that fears death, that likes sunlight: this thing enjoys Dickens."
- G.K. Chesterton

Charles Dickens' engrossing novels and stories have passed down from the 19th century losing none of their power to move us. The remarkably memorable characters echo through literature and film to become part of our lives.

David Copperfield, published as The Personal History, Adventures, Experience & Observation of David Copperfield the Younger of Blunderstone Rookery (Which He Never Meant to Publish on Any Account) in 1850 after its initial serialization is Dickens' fictional autobiography and had a special place in his heart: "Like many fond parents, I have in my heart of hearts a favourite child.  And his name is David Copperfield."

That fondness has been shared by generations of readers one of whom was producer David Selznick, whose father read the story to his young family. In 1935, after much haggling, Selznick was given the go-ahead by father-in-law Louis B. Mayer to produce the film of David Copperfield. Selznick must have been in a Dickens mood in 1935, for the sterling adaption of A Tale of Two Cities also came under his purview that year.

Charles Dickens

George Cukor (Little Women) directed the film to a Best Picture nomination. Look at the quality competition that year: Mutiny on the Bounty (winner), Alice Adams, Broadway Melody of 1936, Captain Blood, David Copperfield, The Informer, Les Miserables, The Lives of a Bengal Lancer, A Midsummer Night's Dream, Naughty Marietta, Ruggles of Red Gap and Top Hat. Ah, to be a movie-goer in the 30s! 

Hugh Walpole (Kind Lady) adapted the novel and played the small role of the Vicar. The screenplay is by Lenore Coffee (Four Daughters) and Howard Estabrook (Cimarron). Adapting a familiar and well-loved novel for the screen can have its drawbacks as to meeting expectations of fans, but the necessary cuts and telescoping of events, in this case, was done with great care and taste. The movie experience of David Copperfield does not cheat fans of the novel as the characters were brilliantly cast. 

Freddie Bartholomew
David Copperfield

Young David is played by Freddie Bartholomew in his first American feature. Local boys, Jackie Cooper and David Holt had been considered, but Selznick properly wanted a British juvenile for the title character. The ten-year-old actor gives a most winning performance that audiences cannot help taking to their hearts. He is so touching and likeable that it took me years to realize that 30-year-old Frank Lawton as the grown David is not a poor David but, as anyone would be, only a poor substitute for Freddie. David the youngster is beset by troubles that make us long for his rescue. Adult David does not have the luxury of our pity, only the goodwill of our affection.

Elizabeth Allen, Freddie Bartholomew, Basil Rathbone, Violet Kemble Cooper
Mrs. Copperfield, young David, Murdstone, Miss Murdstone 

David's young society is dominated by his tender-hearted mother played by Elizabeth Allen. A young widow she makes an unfortunate second marriage to the loathsome Mr. Murdstone played with cold relish by Basil Rathbone and his equally nasty sister played by Violet Kemble Cooper. Life under the Murdstones is hard for David and his mother with their only protection coming from the endearing nursemaid Peggotty played by Jessie Ralph. David finds an extended family with his nurse's brother, the fisherman Dan Peggotty played by Lionel Barrymore. There his friendships include Dan's daughter Emily and the orphaned Ham. Emily is played by Frances Chaldecott (also in A Tale of Two Cities) as a child and by Florine McKinney as a young woman. John Buckler, the son of actor Hugh Buckler (The Last of the Mohicans), plays the loyal Ham.  

Lennox Pawle, Freddie Bartholomew, Edna May Oliver
Mr. Dick, David, Aunt Betsey

Another bit of perfect casting is Edna May Oliver as David's brusque and eccentric Aunt Betsey Trotwood. She was also cast as Miss Pross in A Tale of Two Cities, another quintessential role. Her companion, the addled Mr. Dick is delightfully played by Lennox Pawle. Through his aunt, David is acquainted with the benevolent but dissolute lawyer Mr. Wickfield played by Lewis Stone and his duplicitous assistant Uriah Heep played by Roland Young. Wickfield's daughter Agnes is played as a child by Marilyn Knowlden. Marilyn's most famous literary to screen character is Cosette in Les Miserables. Madge Evans is Agnes as a young woman.

W.C. Fields, Freddie Bartholomew
Mr. Wilkins Micawber, David Copperfield

Perhaps David's most colourful friend and most famous portrayer is the outlandish Mr. Micawber played by W.C. Fields. Replacing Charles Laughton in the role, Fields, like his castmates, acquits himself admirably, owning the role with his dedication and the force of his considerable personality. 

Herbert Mundin, Freddie Bartholomew, Jessie Ralph
Barkis, David, Peggotty

The details of the story, David's rise from poverty and abuse, his benefactors and enemies, his loves and losses are beautifully told with exquisite attention to a sense of time and place through setting, costume and characterizations.

Each role is so flawlessly cast that alternate actors are unimaginable. Maureen O'Sullivan as Dora, Herbert Mundin as Barkis, Arthur Treacher as a crook, Jean Cadell as Mrs. Micawber, Elsa Lanchester as Clickett, Hugh Williams as Steerforth and Una O'Connor as Mrs. Gummidge.

More than simply a satisfying movie version of a popular tale, 1935s David Copperfield is a truly great movie; a testament to its creators and the studio system. 

TCM is screening David Copperfield on Sunday, December 14th at 10:15 am.  Stop that Christmas baking, delay that Christmas shopping, and give yourself a treat whether for the first or hundredth time.

Friday, November 21, 2014

World Television Day 2014

The United Nations’ (UN) World Television Day was created by a resolution in 1996 and is annually observed on November 21st in many places around the world recognizing that television plays a major role in presenting different issues that affect people.

From the United Nations website:  "World Television Day is not so much a celebration of the tool, but rather the philosophy which it represents. Television represents a symbol for communication and globalization in the contemporary world."

That's all well and good and I admit that my life has been enriched by news, current affairs programs and documentaries available to me on television.  However, I am also a North American baby boomer and it is a wonder that my generation has not evolved into a creature with one square eye in the middle of our foreheads considering the overwhelming presence of television in our lives.  

My celebration of World Television Day is a look at a baker's dozen of my favourite television themes.  It was tough limiting the list, because there are plenty more where these came from.  It is music that instantly recalls my telelvision friends and the real life people who shared the laughter, the tears and the discussion around our viewing.  This is music that, although inextricably wound up in the fictions they represent, still stand on its own.  Many became radio hits.  I understand in more recent history it is radio hits that become theme songs, if there is a theme song at all.  This is an entertainment evolution that makes no sense at all to me.

PERRY MASON (1957 - 1966)
Fred Steiner's Park Avenue Beat grabs you and doesn't let go.

PETER GUNN (1958 - 1961)
Henry Mancini.  'Nuff said.

WAGON TRAIN (1957 - 1965)
Jerome Moross' lovely, stirring theme used from the 3rd season on.  Melody first heard in 1959s The Jayhawkers!

BONANZA (1959 - 1973)
The team of Jay Livingston and Ray Evans (Silver Bells, Mona Lisa, Que Sera Sera) gave us this joyous, iconic theme.

IRONSIDE (1967 - 1975)
Quincy Jones and one of my favourite shows of the 60s/70s.  A perfect combination.

MANNIX (1967 - 1975)
Maybe you like one of Lalo Schifrin's other themes better, but I'm a Mannix gal from way back.

HAWAII FIVE-O (1968 - 1980), (2010 - )
I defy anyone to keep still while listening to Morton Stevens evocative theme.

ROOM 222 (1969 - 1974)
If your life had a theme song wouldn't you have wanted it to be composed by Jerry Goldsmith?

ELLERY QUEEN (1975 - 1976)
Elmer Bernstein being cheeky and cool.

HILL STREET BLUES (1981 - 1987)
It would be too easy to have posted a list of favourite Mike Post themes.

ST. ELSEWHERE (1982 - 1988)
Dave Grusin's theme is irresistible.

JEEVES AND WOOSTER (1990 - 1993)
Anne Dudley perfectly captures the era and the whimsey.

and, the one, the only -

CAR 54, WHERE ARE YOU? (1961 - 1963)

The amusing and memorable song with lyrics by show's creator (and certified genius) Nat Hiken and music by Grammy and Emmy winner John Strauss.

I know you're aching to share your favourite TV themes.  My apologies in advance for pushing you into the time sucking vortex of YouTube, but you know you love it!

Monday, November 17, 2014

What a Character! blogathon: Esther Dale

November 10, 1885 - July 23, 1961

Esther Dale was born in the smallish city of Beaufort, South Carolina in 1885, but it seems her heart was in her father's New England birthplace. As a young woman, Esther studied at the Baptist institution, The Leland Gray Seminary in Townshend, Vermont. Adventurous and determined to succeed in a musical career, Esther pursued vocal training in Berlin, Germany. She enjoyed success as a concert singer specializing in lieder, as well as an educator as the head of the vocal department at Smith College in Northampton, Massachusetts.

Esther's show business career was managed by her husband Arthur J. Beckhard, 14 years her junior, who was also a producer/director/writer. Arthur enjoyed success as a Broadway producer (Goodbye Again), summer stock in Woodstock, New York and the University Players in Falmouth, Massachusetts (incubator for Jimmy Stewart, Henry Fonda, Margaret Sullavan). While none of the eight Broadway shows Arthur and Esther collaborated on proved to be hits, the starring role in 1932s Carry Nation established Esther as a dramatic performer with a new lease on her show business career.

Esther Dale

In Axel Nissen's Mothers, Mammies and Old Maids - Twenty-five Character Actresses of Golden Age Hollywood, published in 2012, actress Blanche Yurka is quoted: "One source of warm comfort to me was the growing friendship and devotion of producer Arthur Beckhard and his wife, the singer Esther Dale. These two sturdy, courageous human beings pulled me through many a trying time in the ensuing years. They had the gift of laughter and an abundance of patience and understanding."  Esther and Arthur sound like people worth knowing.

Esther Dale's Hollywood career began in 1934 with an uncredited role (secretary) in 1934 with Hecht and MacArthur's Crime Without Passion. Her final film role was uncredited (woman at picnic) in 1961s John Wayne hit North to Alaska. In between there were far too many uncredited bits, although Esther had the ability to take even a few seconds of screen time as a housekeeper or prison matron and turn it into something memorable. I feel her acting prowess is directly related to her musicianship. She could take the notes on the page and imbue them with all the emotion intended, plus that indefinable something extra which draws us to certain performers. Let's remember a mix of these roles, the ensemble pieces, and the solos, that have made Esther Dale such a favourite with classic movie fans.

Esther Dale, Shirley Temple, John Boles, Rochelle Hudson

The Shirley Temple vehicle 1935s Curly Top features Esther Dale as wealthy John Bole's warm and dignified Aunt Genevieve. Perhaps this is how Esther's husband Arthur, co-screenwriter of the film, saw her.

Some of those indispensable movie housekeepers, played with aplomb by Esther, include Lilian in the wacky household in Easy Living, Marta in the heartbreaking The Mortal Storm, sympathetic Anna in My Reputation and exasperated Miss Bragg in the Ball of Fire remake, A Song is Born.

James Burke, Esther Dale

Mrs. Fenner in William Wyler's Dead End from 1937 is blowsy, careworn and defiant. She'll steal candy from a baby and talk back to cops. She typifies life in the poor part of town and transcends it with personality. 

Irene Dunne, Cary Grant, Esther Dale

When exes Lucy (Irene Dunne) and Jerry Warriner (Cary Grant) rekindle their romance, shutting out Daniel Leeson (Ralph Bellamy) in 1937s The Awful Truth, poor Dan is left with only one conclusion, "Well, I guess a man's best friend is his mother." Esther Dale plays Mrs. Leeson, dressed to the nines and over-protective of her baby boy. She doesn't trust that Warriner character as far as she can throw him, and she could see right through Lucy from the beginning.

Esther Dale, Jeanne Crain

The 1940s and 1950s bring some of my favourite Esther Dale appearances. Henry King's ever-popular 1946 film Margie is a delightful nostalgic story of high school life in the 1920s. Jeanne Crain stars as Margie MacDuff. Her widowed father (Hobart Cavanaugh) has left Margie in the care of his mother-in-law, Grandma McSweeney. Grandma is a suffragette! And proud of it! Displayed on her mantelpiece is the length of chain she used to chain herself to politician's carriage in protest. Margie is horrified at such unladylike behavior and more than a little taken aback that Grandma's plans for Margie include her becoming the first woman president. Someday Margie will learn what a privilege it is that her grandmother was such a pioneer. During her school days, Margie does appreciate Grandma Sweeney's understanding and tact. A girl needs support as well as inspiration.

Esther Dale

The quietly charming Holiday Affair from 1949 is the story of a young widowed mother played by Janet Leigh deciding between two beaus (Robert Mitchum and Wendall Corey) at Christmastime. Isobel Lennert's screenplay features many truths about relationships, grieving and moving on. The relationship between Connie and her in-laws, played by Griff Barnett and Esther Dale, is heartwarming. Both Mrs. Ennis's are coping with loss and are devoted to their sons, one deceased and one a youngster. Both look to their present and future with the best that it is in them and learn to live with and beyond the past.  

Warner Brothers finest entry in Hollywood's nostalgia sweepstakes were two movies based on Booth Tarkington stories that featured Doris Day, Billy Gray, Leon Ames, and Rosemary DeCamp as the Winfield family in 1951s On Moonlight Bay and 1953s By the Light of the Silvery Moon. Uncredited in On Moonlight Bay, Esther Dale has a delightful "cameo" as Aunt Martha Robertson, whose surprise visit and front porch talk with young Wesley (Gray) smooths troubled waters between father and son.

Isabel O'Magden, Esther Dale, Claudette Colbert

Betty MacDonald's extremely popular novel The Egg and I was brought to the screen in 1947 starring Claudette Colbert and Fred MacMurray. The breakout characters from the movie were Ma and Pa Kettle played by Marjorie Main and Percy Kilbride. Frowzy Ma and lazy Pa were comedic gold and spun off into their own popular series of films. Naturally, every hero needs their archenemy and in Ma's case, her opposite number is Birdie Hicks played by Esther Dale. Where Ma was the epitome of easy-going, Birdie set certain standards as to cleanliness and proper conduct. In order to really enjoy Ma, the series needed Birdie Hicks and you'll find both formidable ladies in 1949s Ma and Pa Kettle, 1952s Ma and Pa Kettle at the Fair and 1955s Ma and Pa Kettle at Waikiki.

Classic TV fans may spot Esther Dale on anthology series of the 1950s as well as episodes of Maverick, Wagon Train, M Squad, The Donna Reed Show, Thriller, The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis and Checkmate.

Esther and Arthur died within months of each other in 1961. Esther Dale's remains were interred in Townshend, Vermont. Esther Dale's acting career is available for us to enjoy through the magic of film.

It's my favourite time of year, the time of the What a Character! blogathon hosted by Kellee of Outspoken and Freckled, Paula of Paula's Cinema Club and Aurora of Once Upon a Screen.  Join in the fun, the memories, the admiration.

Friday, November 14, 2014

THE BRITISH EMPIRE IN FILM BLOGATHON: The Last of the Mohicans (1936)

"The British Army has always adapted a new country to England, Sire."

So speaks Major Duncan Hayward, played by Henry Wilcoxon, in 1936s The Last of the Mohicans.  In a few words the dedicated Major summed up the British Empire. At the time of our story, it is early in the Seven Years War, known in North America as the French and Indian Wars. The end of the conflict would see Great Britain gaining control of New France and the bulk of the North American continent.  

James Fenimore Cooper wrote his Leatherstocking Tales in the 19th century, but his character of "Hawkeye" (Natty Bumpo), a woodsman of the turbulent mid-1700s typified a new American character - confident and independent. Cooper's contribution to the new country's psyche is immeasurable, however, I find his novels a bit of a slog. Nature is singularly important to the stories as the environment determines character and plot, but must we hear of every footfall on every fallen leaf?

The movie's adaptation is by John Balderston (Dracula, The Prisoner of Zenda) with the screenplay by Philip Dunne (The Ghost and Mrs. Muir, How Green Was My Valley). Subsequent treatments, including the popular 1992 version, harken back to Dunne's treatment.

The aforementioned Major Hayward has arrived in Albany with dispatches for Colonel Munro, played by Hugh Buckler, and to become his aide. Duncan is also hoping that the Colonel's eldest daughter Alice, played by Binnie Barnes, has grown fonder of him in his absence. She has not, although her reluctance to succumb to his romantic advances does not deter the Major. The Colonel's younger daughter Cora, played by Heather Angel, is bereaved by the loss of her naval officer fiance.  

Ordered to Fort William Henry on Lake George, Colonel Munro has no qualms about bringing his daughters to the Fort as they are "old campaigners". Munro trusts his top scout Magua, played by Bruce Cabot, to see to his daughter's safety. Munro "had to whip" Magua once, but "it made a man out of him". Magua is a Huron, pretending allegiance to the Mohawk and the British, while he patiently waits for vengeance.

Robert Barrat, Randolph Scott, Philip Reed
Chingachgook, Hawkeye, Uncas

The colonist volunteers have agreed to accompany the British soldiers, but only after heated discussion. The terms are that they must be allowed to return to protect their families when needed. Major Hayward is shocked at the outspoken behavior of these colonists, particularly a woodsman named Hawkeye, played by Randolph Scott. Alice also refers to Hawkeye's arguments as "treasonous". Hawkeye does not see his actions that way. His way is that of his Mohican brothers Chingachgook, played by Robert Barrat, and his son Uncas played by Philip Reed. 

Departing from the main party to take a shortcut, Magua and a group of Hurons kidnap Alice, Cora and Major Hayward. Hawkeye, Chingachgook, and Uncas, who are naturally suspicious of Magua, follow and thwart the plan. After many dangers, they arrive at Fort William Henry which is under siege by the French under General Montcalm played by William Stack. The harrowing journey has opened Alice's eyes and brought her close to Hawkeye. Uncas has fallen for the delicate Cora. Chingachgook is disgusted with both his companions. He admonishes Uncas that "Mohican chief does not wait on squaw" and bemoans the fact that "Hawkeye's heart weak like water."

One thing that holds an empire together, or any group of people, is their rules of conduct or code. There are moving examples of such fidelity to honour in The Last of the Mohicans. It is historically accurate that the British were forced to surrender to the French at Fort William Henry and following the surrender, the Huron raided the fort to be driven back by the French. In our story, Magua is the instigator of the attack and uses the confusion to capture the Munro daughters. True to his sense of honour, Montcalm begs the forgiveness of the fatally wounded Colonel Munro, offering the return of his sword and amnesty to British officers who wish to participate in the search for Alice and Cora. The Colonel is equally gallant in his acceptance of the offer. Try as I might to put a cynical edge to the scene, it moves me still as it did years ago.

Bruce Cabot, Heather Angel
Magua, Cora Munro

The search for the girls separates Hawkeye and Chingachgook from Uncas and Duncan. Magua has taken Alice and Cora to the Hurons with a request to take Cora as his wife and to kill Alice. "This one like warrior, she die by fire." Cora says she would rather perish with her sister and the Chief, (the Sachem) played by William Mong, says that it is her right to choose and she may have until sundown to consider her action. The feisty Alice is contemptuous of Huron law and is put in her place by Sachem.

Sachem to Magua:  My son, she is not willing.  Manitou has given us a law.

Alice:  What kind of a law could you have?

Sachem:  White squaw, listen. Our fathers planted corn, hunted deer in these forests many moons before white man's war canoe crossed great saltwater. Our law is good. It is squaw's right to choose between Magua and fire.

Uncas succeeds in taking Cora from the village. Duncan has waylaid Hawkeye and disguises himself as the woodsman offering himself in exchange for Alice. When the genuine Hawkeye appears, the Sachem settles the dispute with a contest of marksmanship which Duncan comes close to winning. Fortunately (only in the movies!), the fleeing Duncan and Alice come upon colonial volunteers who save Hawkeye from the fire.

Sadly, Uncas and Cora have been pursued to a clifftop by Magua where Uncas is killed and Cora leaps to her death. Chingachgook and Magua, according to tribal laws, battle in hand-to-hand combat to the death. Hayward needs to be cautioned by Hawkeye that it is not their prerogative to interfere. Chingachgook vanquishes Magua, but there is no look of triumph on his face, only sadness at the loss of Uncas.

Ceremonies different in custom, but similar in the search for comfort is the burial of Cora under a cross and Uncas' funeral pyre.

Duncan Hayward:  Father in Heaven, we ask you to receive into your mercy and wisdom this girl who died far from her native shore and the boy who perished to save her.  Amen.  

"Chingachgook:  "Great Spirit, a warrior goes to you swift and straight as an arrow shot into the sun. Let him take his place at council fire of my tribe, for he is Uncas, my son. Now all my tribe is there, but one - I, Chingachgook - last of Mohicans."

Binnie Barnes, Henry Wilcoxon, Randolph Scott
Alice Munro, Major Duncan Hayward, Hawkeye

The Last of the Mohicans is a grand adventure film that wraps up neatly with our romantic leads coming to an understanding, and former adversaries Hawkeye and Hayward reaching mutual respect. Hawkeye even signs up to work for the British cause. We'll talk to him in twenty years to see how he feels about that decision.

For some of the actors in this cast, they played "the" role which always comes first to my mind. No matter how many crazy Russians (Heroes for Sale), murder victims (The Kennel Murder Case), or military men (They Were Expendable) he has played, Robert Barrat is first and foremost Chingachgook in my heart. No matter how many times I have and will watch King Kong, Bruce Cabot will always be the Magua of my nightmares. As for Henry Wilcoxon, someday I may forgive him for arresting Jimmy Stewart in The Greatest Show on Earth

Jeff of The Stalking Moon and Clayton of Phantom Empires have taken over the world! The blogathon world, that is. From November 14th - 17th they host The British Empire in Film blogathon. Day 4 line-up. Enjoy reading about all of the fabulous movies and the mad dogs and Englishmen.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

FAIRY TALE BLOGATHON: Shirley Temple's Storybook - The Little Mermaid (1961)

Fritizi of Movies Silently is hosting the Fairy Tale Blogathon running from November 9 - 11.  Bloggers are looking at filmizations and adaptations of classic fairy tales that have inspired generations of artists and audiences.  Enjoy.

Hans Christian Andersen's story of The Little Mermaid was part of a collection published in 1837 which included The Princess and the Pea, The Emperor's New Clothes and Thumbelina.  The youngest of six mermaid daughters of the ruler of the sea is an introspective youngster who longs to experience the world above the waves.  She become enamoured of a young prince whose life she saves during a storm.  She is also intrigued by the concept of an immortal soul which she can only obtain if a human loves her.  If she becomes human she will lose the long life of a mermaid, but that is something she is willing to trade.  The girl makes a bargain with an evil sea witch giving up her power of speech and song for a draught that will exchange her fish tail for legs.  Each step she takes is excrutiating, but she endures the pain for the sake of the prince and her hoped for soul.  When the prince marries another she is to die upon the morning and this can only be averted by killing the prince with a magic knife.  Refusing to kill her beloved, the mermaid prepares to die, but her good action is rewarded by the daughters of the air who take her as one of their own.  After performing good deeds for humans for three hundred years, a daughter of the air may gain a soul and entry to Heaven.

Children are warned at the end of the story that their bad behavior adds an extra day to the travels of the daughters of the air, while good children lessen their journey by a year.  Such are the stuff of guilty nightmares.

The Little Mermaid has inspired an operas (Dvorak, Tailleferre), ballets (Auerbach) and a number of films including Jules Bass' The Daydreamer (1966), a Russian short from 1968, a Reader's Digest animated short in 1974, Shelley Duvall's Faerie Tale Theatre episode of 1987, Disney's Oscar winning film of 1989 and novels, poems, symphonies, and the internationally recognizable statue by Edvard Eriksen in Copenhagen.

The anthology series Shirley Temple's Storybook aka The Shirley Temple Show ran first on NBC in 1958 with a second season in 1960 - 61.  Classic children's literature was imaginatively adapted for hour long television episodes.  Among the titles included were Beauty and the Beast, The Sleeping Beauty, Rapunzel, Winnie-the-Pooh, Madeline, Babes in Toyland and The Reluctant Dragon.  The episodes were presented with great care in production details.  Especially those in color transported young audiences to fantasy lands come to life with remarkable sets, costumes and guest casts working their charm.  The Little Mermaid, adapted by Oscar nominee (Caged) Bernard Schoenfeld, first aired in March of 1961.

Our lovely hostess, 33-year-old Shirley Temple, appears on screen in a lovely pink, sparkly gown.

Hello.  In just a moment we're going to present one of Hans Christian Andersen's immortal fairy tales.  Our play is based on one of the most beautiful, best-loved stories he ever wrote, The Little Mermaid.  This is a special occasion for me.  Ever since I was a child I've wanted to play the role of the innocent little mermaid who loses her heart to a land prince and tonight my dream has finally come true.

Shirley is the Mermaid who saves the life of a handsome Prince tossed from his ship during a storm.  She falls deeply in love with the human.  In turn, the Prince believes the pretty girl from a nearby sanctuary to be his rescuer and falls in love with her.  She is a Princess under the guardianship of a fussy and domineering keeper played by Nancy Kulp (The Beverly Hillbillies).  Don Harron plays the Prince.  The Canadian actor/writer is probably best known for his comic Charlie Farquharson character.  Francine York, familiar to TV audiences from the 60s to today, is the princess.

Shirley Temple, Cathleen Nesbitt

J. Pat O'Malley (The Adventures of Spin and Marty) is the Merking who loves his daughter and does not understand the depth of her feeling for the prince.  Cathleen Nesbitt  (The Parent Trap) is Granny Mermaid who understands only too well what her Little Mermaid is going through.  Years ago she fell in love with the prince's grandfather, but love between a human and mermaid was an impossible dream.

Ray Walston (Damn Yankees) plays the Sting Ray, an intermediary to the Sea Witch played by Nina Foch (Executive Suite).  They are a malicious pair who offer the Mermaid the means of growing legs and winning her prince.  Payment must be made and the consequences will be great including banishment from the sea forever, almost unendurable pain and, ultimately, death should the Little Mermaid not marry her Prince.

Prolific movie and TV actor John Hoyt (Spartacus) is the prince's aide and only confidant until the Little Mermaid arrives in the kingdom.  She becomes the prince's dearest friend, and a buffer between the prince and his father.  Torin Thatcher (The 7th Voyage of Sinbad) plays the king who cannot fathom his son's fidelity to a girl he saw only once.  Eventually, the prince must acquiesce to an arranged marriage to save his people from war.  His joy is great upon discovering that he is to marry the girl he saw that day on the beach.  She also has loved him since that time.

Granny Mermaid makes a bargain with the Sea Witch by trading 50 of her 400 years for the chance that her granddaughter will live and be happy.  The ideas put forth in the bargaining have stayed with me for years.  Granny says that her granddaughter deserves happiness to which the Sting Ray responds that nobody deserves happiness, and only the lucky get it.  When Granny hesitates at the thought of giving up any of her 400 years she is admonished by the Sea Witch who reminds her that years ago she lost her Prince because of her fear and now her selfishness will do harm to her granddaughter. 

Swimming to the shore, Granny Mermaid gives her Little Mermaid a magic dagger which she must plunge into the heart of the Prince turning him into a Merman.  The couple will live out their 400 years allotted Merpeople under the sea.  Our Little Mermaid cannot do this thing and waits on the shore the next morning to die and become nothing but foam on the sea.

The Little Mermaid:  Neptune, great god of the sea, I am ready to die.

Voice of Neptune:  Beloved daughter of the gods, have no fear.  You are blessed.  Love such as yours is as priceless as the perfumed (unintelligible) on the green sea.  It is only in giving that we receive.  Live.  Return to your family.  Go home to the sea.

Shirley as hostess:  The Little Mermaid returned to her family beneath the sea.  Someday perhaps she would fall in love agian, but already she had learned a profound lesson, that bringing happiness to those you love can be the most important way of loving them.

The story of The Little Mermaid and her sacrifice for love has spoken to generations.  Life and decisions are not easy for anyone and the stories that last are those that speak to our human frailties, fears and greatness.  



Saturday, November 1, 2014

Caftan Woman's Choice: One for November on TCM

...No warmth, no cheerfulness, no healthful ease,
No comfortable feel in any member--
No shade, no shine, no butterflies, no bees,
No fruits, no flowers, no leaves, no birds,
- Thomas Hood

Yes, indeed!  It is that time of year again.  Have you started your Christmas shopping?  No?  Well, get cracking.  Time's a-wasting.  You'd better start on that list of favourite Christmas movies and specials as well.  No need yet to go full-on White Christmas or Scrooge, but ease yourself into the season.  Start with the office Christmas party in Desk Set or the festivities in the psych ward in Captain Newman, MD.  Better yet, enjoy Larceny, Inc. the 1942 film based on Laura and S.J. Perelman's short-lived 1941 Broadway play The Night Before Christmas.

Edward G. Robinson (The Sea Wolf, Double Indemnity) stars as J. Chalmers Maxwell aka "Pressure", a criminal mastermind.  When we meet "Pressure" he has masterminded his gang into Sing Sing.  Said gang consists of Weepy Davis played by Edward Brophy (Dumbo, All Through the Night) and Jug Martin played by Broderick Crawford (All the King's Men, Down Three Dark Streets).  Weepy is the guy who puts Pressure's ideas into action and Jug is the fellow who consistently "takes one for the team".  Once freed from the confines of Ossining and the dubious association of the cold-hearted Leo Dexter played by Anthony Quinn (Requiem for a Heavyweight, Warlock) Pressure and pals are free to pursue their next get-rich-quick scheme. 

Jane Wyman (Here Comes the Groom, Stage Fright) plays Denny Costello.  She is Pressure's unofficial adopted daughter and is determined to see him go straight.  Pressure would be happy to oblige Denny, but he needs capital and banks require a little thing called collateral.  Is there another way to get money out of a bank?  You bet!  Located next to the bank is a luggage shop whose elderly owner played by Harry Davenport (Meet Me in St. Louis, The Ox-Bow Incident) is convinced to enjoy retirement and sell his interests to Pressure.  Once established as merchants it is a simple enough matter for Jug to start digging a tunnel from the shop to the bank. 

Pressure, however, did not reckon on the disruption of customers and his neighbouring shopkeepers, including John Qualen, Fortunio Bonanova and Barbara Jo Allen (Vera Vague).  His efforts to be left alone to deal with his preferred occupation inadvertently makes Pressure a business success and a hero to his neighbours.  Denny does her bit to keep Pressure on the straight and narrow with her new beau, luggage line salesman Jack Carson (Mildred Pierce, The Strawberry Blonde).  Their courting takes place at a local drugstore under the watchful and bemused eyes of a soda jerk played by 25-year-old Jackie Gleason.

Barbara Jo Allen, Broderick Crawford, Edward Brophy
Edward G. Robinson, Jack Carson, Jane Wyman

The question of the banks' security and Pressure's changing heart becomes moot on Christmas Eve when the nasty Leo escapes from Sing Sing and demands his piece of the action.  Christmas and good will mean nothing to someone of Leo's temperament.  Neither does a well-made leather case or the return of Harry Davenport.  It will take nothing less than a Christmas miracle to get the gang out of this mess.

Directed by Lloyd Bacon (Brother Orchid, 42nd Street), Larceny, Inc. features typical Warner Bros. fast-paced quips and an ensemble skilled at creating memorable, likeable characters.  Keep your eyes and ears peeled for Arthur Q. Bryan (Elmer Fudd) near the end of the movie.

TCM is screening Larceny, Inc. on Saturday, November 22nd at 8:30 am.  Not only will it be a nice way to kick off holiday movie season, you may even get some ideas for gifts from Pressure's shop.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

CMBA Forgotten Stars Blogathon: Robert Montgomery

Robert Montgomery

"If you are lucky enough to be a success, by all means enjoy the applause and the adulation of the public. But never, never believe it."

This post is part of the Forgotten Stars blogathon hosted by the Classic Movie Blog Association where names of yesteryear come alive.

The family was watching Bewitched when my father mentioned to my mother, "She's Robert Montgomery's daughter".  The name meant nothing to me then, but by 1974 when That's Entertainment was released and Jimmy Stewart pointed out an "uncomfortable Robert Montgomery" trying his best as a vocalist in Free and Easy, Mr. Montgomery was a very familiar actor.  He was that squealer in The Big House and Joe Pendleton in Here Comes Mr. Jordan, who made me cry, and Lt. Brickley in They Were Expendable

Born to privilege, Robert Montgomery exemplified the young dandies and playboys he was cast as early in his years at MGM in films such as The Divorcee, Our Blushing Brides, Private Lives and When Ladies Meet.  However, Robert Montgomery showed a lot more gumption than some of the callow youths he was asked to portray.  The family fortune was lost and Robert set about making a place for himself in the world giving it the old college try as a railroad mechanic, oil tanker deckhand, short story writer, and settling on actor as the most promising avenue for a satisfying and financially rewarding profession.  Broadway shows in the 1920s with titles like Bad Habits of 1926 and The High Hatters give some indication of the type of roles Montgomery played.  Signed by MGM in 1929 his first job at the studio was as an uncredited "Party Boy" in The Single Standard

In 1928 Robert and British born actress Elizabeth Allen (died 1992) were married.  They met during the run of the 1924 play Dawn.  Their first child, Martha, was born in 1930 and sadly passed at 14 months of spinal meningitis.  Daughter Elizabeth was born in 1933 (died 1995) and son Robert Jr. in 1936 (died 2000).  Elizabeth and Robert's marriage lasted 22 years and they divorced in 1950.

Robert Montgomery, Chester Morris, Wallace Beery
The Big House

Proving himself a more than competent supporting light comic type such as the flirty drunk with a conscious in Norma Shearer's Oscar winner The Divorcee, Montgomery lobbied for grittier stuff.  He got it in 1930s The Big House with its Oscar winning screenplay by Frances Marion.  In the granddaddy of all prison pictures, Montgomery plays another profligate youth.  "Kent" is sent to prison for vehicular manslaughter (drunk driving).  Kent is unprepared for the harshness of life behind bars and he is a coward.  The combination is dynamite behind bars and the role gave possibilities which Montgomery seized, and he delivered a memorable performance.

James Cagney, Robert Montgomery

Montgomery was a born organizer and in the 30s was one of the driving forces behind the Screen Actors Guild, first being their president from 1935 to 1938.  It was through that work that Robert Montgomery and James Cagney became lifelong, stalwart friends. From John McCabe's biography Cagney, published 1997:  The two complemented each other effectively.  Montgomery envied Cagney his elemental toughness and common touch; Cagney admired his friend's easy and natural gentility.  "They were a pair," Willie (Mrs. Cagney) said in her old age.  "One supplied the other with what he had and the other hadn't."

McCabe also quotes Cagney on Montgomery's SAG activities:  Lots of screen actors may well not know how much they owe Bob.  It's sometimes said that Republicans are anti-union.  Malarkey.  Our union, Screen Actors Guild, wouldn't have gained what it did as fast as it did without Bob.  He became our leader in the fight against the producers, and Bob fought them no holds barred, knowing full well he was putting his career right on the line.  It was Bob who bearded those all-powerful producers in their comfortable den.

Robert Montgomery, Rosalind Russell
Night Must Fall

During the 1930s Robert Montgomery made five films with Rosalind Russell, including the Joel and Garda Sloane mystery Fast and Loose, the Robert Louis Stevenson story The Suicide Club as Trouble for Two, and a couple of romantic comedies Forsaking All Others and Live, Love and Learn.  They made a fine screen team and the best of their features is 1937s Night Must Fall based on Emlyn Williams still popular play.  Montgomery is riveting as "Danny", a murderous psychopath who charms and seduces those in his orbit.  Hired as a handyman by a spoiled and wealthy wheelchair bound woman played by Dame May Whitty, Danny intrigues her live-in companion played by Rosalind Russell.  The psychological thriller has a tense atmosphere and bravura performances from Montgomery and Whitty which were nominated in the Best Actor and Best Supporting Actress categories.  Their final scene together in the film is unforgettable.  The awards were given that year to Spencer Tracy in Captains Courageous and Alice Brady in In Old Chicago.  Who am I to cast aspersion on the Academy's choices?  I have read that during filming of Night Must Fall Robert Montgomery took over the directing chores from Richard Thorpe who couldn't quite grasp the material. 

Robert Montgomery, James Gleason
Here Comes Mr. Jordan

Robert would receive another Oscar nomination as Joe Pendleton, the boxer taken before his time in the after-life fantasy Here Comes Mr. Jordan.  The film was popular with the Academy garnering seven Oscar nominations.  It won for Best Original Story and Best Screenplay, but lost in the Picture, Director, Black and White Cinematography and Supporting Actor categories to a little film called How Green Was My Valley.  Gary Cooper would take the Best Actor award for Sergeant York.  Through the years I am troubled but what seem to be logic or plot holes in Here Comes Mr. Jordan, yet retain warm feelings for the film.  The comedy still makes me laugh and the sentiment leaves me bawling.  James Gleason is a riot as trainer Max Corkle and Robert Montgomery as Joe is so single-minded and sincere that I just love him.

After that 1941 release Robert Montgomery was off screen due to involvement in the war effort.  He enlisted as an ambulance driver for the American Field Service in France.  After Dunkirk he joined the Navy.  He served at Guadalcanal and off Cherbourg on D-Day.  He received the Bronze Star for meritorious service.

Ward Bond, Robert Montgomery, John Wayne
They Were Expendable

Robert Montgomery's return to motion pictures was John Ford's 1946 film They Were Expendable based on the true life story of Medal of Honor holder Lt. John Bulkeley and the book They Were Expendable by William L. White concerning the battle for Bataan.  During filming Robert Montgomery defended co-star John Wayne from Ford's perverse bullying of the actor who had not served and, once again, Montgomery took on some of the directing chores when Ford was felled by ill health.  They Were Expendable is a leisurely paced and emotional tribute to those valiantly fighting in the face of impossible odds. 

Robert Montgomery was once again president of the Screen Actors Guild from 1946-1947 and was invited to speak at the the 1947 House Un-American Activities Committee as a friendly witness.  From National Screen Actor, 1998 publication:  He stated that he had become aware, in the late 1930s, of "a very active Communist-front organization" in the film industry and "an organized minority" within SAG. He accused that minority of inciting labor strikes and then strongly opposing their settlement. Montgomery wanted to keep the Guild completely out of politics and "strictly an organization which represented the economic status of the members of our profession."

After all those times pinch-hitting, Robert Montgomery finally got the chance to direct his own feature choosing an adaption of Raymond Chandler's Lady in the Lake.  Philip Marlowe was the perfect character to experiment with the use of the subjective camera.  We see the action unfold through Marlowe's eyes and while I can't say the device is overwhelmingly successful, it is such a game try and the story so fun and convoluted that the movie has become a holiday staple in this family.

Robert Montgomery, Thomas Gomez
Ride the Pink Horse

Also released in 1947 is a film I think can truly be considered a film-noir classic, Ride the Pink Horse based on Dorothy B. Hughes novel and directed by and starring Robert Montgomery.  Montgomery is "Lucky" Gagin chasing his destiny to Mexico, although he doesn't know it.  The atmospheric film of oppressive fate sticks in your gut, especially the Oscar nominated performance of Thomas Gomez which lost to Edmund Gwenn's twinkly Kris Kringle.

In 1950 Montgomery moved into television as producer and host of Robert Montgomery Presents where he gained the reputation as a frugal producer, but also a fighter.  From Cagney:  He had begun his successful series, Robert Montgomery Presents, for NBC in 1950 and was very pleased by the results.  But his future with the TV networks was seriously compromised by their establishing an unwritten law; in order to continue a series, one had to sell 50 percent of the show to the presenting network.  He appealed to the FCC, appeared before Senate committees, and denounced the networks for their monopoly tactics.  This did little good at the time, but it is generally agreed that his testimony before influential boards and committees provided an important stimulus toward freeing the television air.

Elizabeth Montgomery, Robert Montgomery
Robert Montgomery Presents

Robert Montgomery Presents ran from 1950 to 1957 and won one out of three Emmy nominations for Best Dramatic Program.  Montgomery acted in three of the episodes as Alan Squier in The Petrified Forest, Lucky Gagin in Ride the Pink Horse and a spy story, Mr. Top Secret co-starring daughter Elizabeth, who appeared in 30 episodes of the program.  Our producer even got James Cagney to appear in one episode, the 8th season kickoff Soldier from the Wars Returning.  Jimmy discovered that live TV was definitely not his thing.  Predating the image consultants of today, Robert Montgomery advised presidential candidate Eisenhower on how best to present an image on television.  During the 1950s Robert Montgomery turned his hand to directing on Broadway and won the Tony as Best Director for the successful melodrama The Desperate Hours in 1955.

Robert Montgomery, "Bull" Halsey, James Cagney

Robert Montgomery's last film was a labour of love with Montgomery and James Cagney co-producing, Montgomery directing and Cagney starring as Admiral "Bull" Halsey in 1960s The Gallant Hours.  An unusual war film with no battle scenes, the director and actor wanted to portray the complexities and loneliness of leadership.  The Gallant Hours succeeds in creating a memorably  emotional and thoughtful mood.

In 1950 Robert Montgomery married Elizabeth Grant and that marriage lasted until his death from cancer in 1981.  During the 1960s Robert Montgomery's energies were devoted to business, serving on corporate boards such as that of R.H. Macy.  While not a name familiar to the casual movie fan of today, classic fans retain their admiration for Robert Montgomery, a talented actor and director worth remembering or discovering. 


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