Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Favourite movies: Charlie Chan at the Olympics (1937)

Earl Derr Biggers popular fictional detective Inspector Charlie Chan of the Honolulu Police Department sprang from the writer's Hawaii vacation and the newsworthy career of local policeman Chang Apana. Six Chan novels were published between 1925 and 1932. So popular were the novels that the first, The House Without a Key was filmed in 1926 with Japanese actor George Kuwa playing the detective. The Chinese Parrot was filmed the following year with Kuwa in the cast as a different character while Sojin Kamiyama played Chan. E.L. Park was Chan in the first sound adaptation of one of the novels, Behind That Curtain which is a bit of a snorer, of interest only out of curiosity.

Warner Oland
1879 - 1938

Charlie Chan Carries On was directed by Hamilton MacFadden in 1931 and Fox Films fortuitously cast Warner Oland (The Jazz Singer, The Vagabond King, The Mysterious Dr. Fu Manchu) as Charlie Chan. Sadly, the film was lost to us in a studio fire although the plot was recycled as 1940s Charlie Chan's Murder Cruise. Other lost films from the Oland series are Charlie Chan's Chance, Charlie Chan's Greatest Case and Charlie Chan's Courage based on The Chinese Parrot.  1931s The Black Camel directed by Hamilton MacFadden on location in Hawaii is the earliest sound Chan available to fans.

In 1934 with Charlie Chan in London the movie mystery series really hits its stride as the Inspector's world class reputation took him to exotic locales matching wits with a variety of international criminals. 1935s Charlie Chan in Paris took another leap forward with the introduction of Keye Luke (The Good Earth, the Dr. Gillespie series, Gremlins, TVs Kung Fu) as number one son, Lee Chan. Talented and good looking, Luke also had great chemistry and a strong bond with his co-star Warner Oland and their interactions heightened the audience affection for the series.

Warner Oland, Layne Tom Jr., Keye Luke
On set for Charlie Chan at the Olympics

The 1936 Summer Olympic Games were held in Berlin, Germany from August 1st - 16th. Adolf Hitler used the Games as a chance to promote his government's ideology of racial supremacy on the world stage. The world of sports and politics clashed, not for the first or the last time, over the issue of participation in an event hosted by such a divisive nation. Countries which boycotted the Games included Spain and the Soviet Union. Arguments included those with blinders who felt politics and sports shouldn't and didn't mix. The American Jewish Congress saw boycotting as the only viable form of protest. Many in the African-American press saw participation and winning in the Games Some as a potential triumph over the Nazi party. Ultimately, the Games were attended by the largest number of delegates since the inception of the modern movement in 1892.

In May of 1937 Twentieth Century Fox released Charlie Chan at the Olympics directed by H. Bruce Humberstone (I Wake Up Screaming, Sun Valley Serenade, Charlie Chan at the Opera).

Warner Oland, Katherine DeMille
Charlie Chan at the Olympics

Honolulu is the testing site for an aerial guidance system that has drawn the attention of various worldwide political factions, friendly and otherwise. Precautions to preserve security are useless when bribery, blackmail and murder are available tools. The guidance system is stolen, misdirected blame is placed and murder discovered. Nine-year-old Layne Tom Jr. makes his first appearance of three in the series as a younger Chan son. They never did settle on a consistent name for the youngster and here he is referred to as Charlie Jr. The boisterous kid pops up everywhere in the first part of the movie in the time-honoured series tradition of both pestering and assisting his beloved "Pop".

Charlie Jr.'s favourite suspect in the international caper is Yvonne Roland, the "lady with the fox fur coat", played by Katherine DeMille (The Black Room, Unconquered, Banjo on My Knee), adopted daughter of Cecil B. DeMille. The attractive Ms. DeMille, who would marry Anthony Quinn in 1937, makes an elegant and obvious woman of intrigue. Despite Charlie Jr.'s steadfast conviction, there are other suspects in the case. Chief among them is C. Henry Gordon (The Charge of the Light Brigade, Kongo, Charlie Chan in City in Darkness) as Arthur Hughes, a freelance procurer of contraband.  

Jonathan Hale (Inspector Fernak in the Saint series, Mr. Dithers in the Blondie series) is Mr. Hopkins, president of the company backing the aerial guidance system. Hughes is his top suspect and he doesn't trust the police methods. John Eldredge (Meet Corliss Archer) is Cartwright, the inventor behind the system, an easy-going sort who backs up his employer. With no evidence to hold the suspects on the island, Charlie Chan is once again on the road following his leads all the way to Berlin, site of the Olympic games.

Hawaii's Olympian, Duke Kahanamoku

Where, you are probably asking, is our pal Lee during all of this excitement? Following in the footsteps of five time Olympian swimmer Duke Kahanamoku, holder of gold and silver medals in 1912 at Stockholm, two gold in 1920 at Antwerp, one silver in 1924 in Paris, and member of the water polo team 1932 at Los Angeles, Lee Chan is on the Olympic team as a swimmer.

Keye Luke, Pauline Moore
Charlie Chan at the Olympics

The American Olympic team is on an ocean liner headed to Europe and other passengers include the fashionable Yvonne Roland and the mysterious Arthur Hughes. Lee's teammates include track and field athletes Betty Adams played by Pauline Moore (Charlie Chan at Treasure Island, Young Mr. Lincoln) and Richard Masters played by Allan Lane aka Allan "Rocky" Lane (Red Ryder series, voice of TVs Mr. Ed). Betty and Richard provide the romantic subplot for the picture and are worthy pals for Lee.

Making up for the suspect's head start, Chan, Hopkins and Cartwright make their way to Europe aboard the ill-fated dirigible the Hindenburg whose fiery destruction in New Jersey occurred a mere two weeks prior to the film's release.

In Berlin the athletes find themselves the victims of thefts and under suspicion by the police, represented by Frederick Vogeding (Murder on the Blackboard, Mysterious Mr. Moto) as Captain Strasser. Only slightly bull-headed, but largely sympathetic and co-operative, Strasser walks a fine line of deferring to Inspector Chan and upholding the dignity of his office.

Inspector Chan faces one of the most cool and diabolical opponents of his career in diplomat the Honourable Charles Zaraka played by Morgan Wallace (Orphans of the Storm, It's a Gift), a man who stops at nothing to get what he wants. Zaraka stops at nothing short of kidnapping beloved Lee Chan to stop the Inspector's interfering with his plans. The torment of this plot turn for our cherished Chans ramps up the emotional connection to this stellar entry in the series.

Berlin's Olympic Stadium, 1936

Along with being a top-notch entry in the series, Charlie Chan at the Olympics also holds our interest for its historical value. Film of the Hindenburg, airbrushed clean of its swastikas, gives us a glimpse into a way of travel long vanished. Incorporated into the movie are scenes of ceremony and background at the Berlin games and the triumph of America's gold medal winning athlete Jesse Owens. Charlie Chan at the Olympics is set amidst a background of political turmoil, contentious ideology and threats of violence at a sporting event that sees itself in a bubble apart from those things surrounding it. Perhaps that is the celebration that the Games should be, but can never be. The movie is an entertaining visit to the past with an uncomfortable connection to our present.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Classic Movie History Project blogathon: 1945

Visit our movie past as Fritzi of Movies Silently, Ruth of Silver Screenings and Aurora of Once Upon a Screen host the Classic Movie History Project Blogathon on January 12 - 14, 2014.  

The liberation of Auschwitz.  The Yalta Conference.  The Battle of Iwo Jima.  Nineteen-year-old Princess Elizabeth joins the Women's Auxililary Service as a mechanic.  Franklin D. Roosevelt dies and Harry S. Truman becomes President of the United States.  Mussolini is executed.  Hitler kills himself.  Canadian and British troops liberate the Netherlands.  MacKenzie King is elected Prime Minister of Canada for the third time.  The United Nations Charter is signed.  Hiroshima bombed.  Nagasaki bombed.  Japan surrenders.    

1945 was the year the world had been striving toward, the year that would mark the end of World War 2, the global conflict which focused so much of humanity's energy, spirit, flesh and blood.  Europe, Africa, the Pacific and Asia would be freed and enslaved.  Political expediency and political gain would change the map of the world in the rush for a return to a normalcy that didn't exist.  Science would forever place the burden of annihilation on mankind's shoulders.

The tumult that was the war years also heightened the creativity of those who dealt with entertainment.  People can only be bowed down by troubles for so long before they bounce back.  The sun still shines every day and music must be played, jokes must be laughed at and we must reach out to each other through our stories.

Number one on The New York Times Best Selling Novels of 1945 list was Earth and High Heaven by Gwethalyn Graham, the first by a Canadian author to reach that coveted spot.  Readers were talking about George Orwell's Animal Farm.  Reverand W. Awdry published The Railway Series featuring the adventures of Thomas the Tank Engine.  

Byron Nelson was the PGA's top money earner.  Jackie Robinson signed with the Brooklyn Dodgers farm team, the Montreal Royals of the International League.  The Detroit Tigers beat the Chicago Cubs in the World Series.  The Toronto Maple Leafs beat the Detroit Red Wings for the Stanley Cup.

Bing Crosby was the top male vocalist among fans of popular music with hit songs You Belong to My Heart from The Three Caballeros, It's Been a Long, Long Time and I Can't Begin to Tell You from The Dolly Sisters.  Perry Como sang Dig You Later, Temptation and Did You Ever Get That Feeling.  Frank Sinatra wowed 'em with Oh! What it Seemed to Be and If I Loved You from Carousel.  Woody Herman, Benny Goodman, Stan Kenton and Harry James kept toes tapping and Les Brown's girl singer Doris Day let the world know she was here with Sentimental Journey.  Songs from Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein's Broadway show Carousel and movie State Fair were popular on record and in sheet music sales.  The Academy Award for Best Song at the 1945 ceremony went to Swinging on a Star from Going My Way.

Radio programs included variety programs such as the Kraft Music Hall with Bing Crosby and shows featuring singer Kate Smith,  bandleader Benny Goodman, and the Boston Symphony.  Popular comedies included The Jack Benny Program, The Abbott and Costello Show and The Edgar Bergen/Charlie McCarthy ShowDeath Valley Days and The Lone Ranger vied with Lux Radio Theater and Eleanor Roosevelt for audiences.  The Academy Awards presentations were broadcast for the first time with awards going to Going My Way for Best Picture, Bing Crosby for Going My Way and Ingrid Bergman for Gaslight.

The Hollywood machine was working overtime in the 1940s.  In addition to propaganda and morale boosting films, there was money to be made from the cathartic laugh or tear and the Technicolor fantasy.  There was a market for every type of story and every type of filmmaker to provide it in that improbable land where creativity and commerce flourished.

Gary Cooper produced and starred in Along Came Jones, spoofing his laconic image.  Upon completion of Lady on a Train, beloved star Deanna Durbin married that film's director Charles David and retired from the screen.  Billy Wilder took his cameras to NYC to film an unflinching look at alcoholism in The Lost Weekend.  The beauty of leading lady Gene Tierney was matched by the sets and locations of the crime melodrama Leave Her to Heaven.  The inspired Val Lewton unit at RKO gave Boris Karloff one of his greatest screen roles as John Gray, The Body Snatcher.  Double the Danny Kaye enlivened Wonder Man.  Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce starred in three Sherlock Holmes movies for the fans, The House of Fear, The Woman in Green and Pursuit to Algiers.  Roberto Rossellini's neorealistic Rome, Open City won the Grand Prize prize at Cannes.

Let's take a closer look at some of the output of 1945 that found their contemporary audience and are worth the viewer's time and affection to this day.


The Story of G.I. Joe
Robert Mitchum, Burgess Meredith

When director William Wellman was approached by independent producer Lester Cowan about the possibility of taking on a project based on Pulitzer Prize winning journalist Ernie Pyle's Here Is Your War, "Wild Bill" declined the honour in no uncertain terms.  A flyer in WW1, Wellman wanted no part in glorifying the infantry.  It was after spending time with Pyle that the director relented and created a film that he was immensely proud of and that he could never watch.  As related in his 1974 autobiography A Short Time for Insanity, Wellman's goal was to make The Story of G.I. Joe "... the goddamndest most honest picture that has ever been made about the doughfoot."  He wanted to show everyday bravery from everyday kids; the horror and the tedium.  Kids, "old kids" from the 18th infantry, back from Europe, about to be deployed in the Pacific were in the film.  None of them came home, and that's why Wellman could never watch the picture.  Burgess Meredith played Ernie Pyle and Robert Mitchum received his only Academy Award nomination in the supporting role of Walker.

Naval Reserve officer John Ford directed Navy veteran Robert Montgomery, along with Donna Reed and John Wayne, in They Were Expendable.  The story of a PT boat squadron in the Philippines in the early days of the war with Japan.  Montgomery's Lt. John Brickley is the counterpoint of Medal of Honor holder Vice Admiral John Bulkeley.  A story of perseverance in the face of overwhelming opposition, the film is beautifully photographed by Joseph August, Oscar nominee for Portrait of Jennie and Gunga Din.

A Walk in the Sun is directed by Lewis Milestone, who won an Oscar as director of All Quiet on the Western Front.  A fine ensemble cast including Dana Andrews, Richard Conte, Norman Lloyd, Lloyd Bridges, John Ireland, Sterling Holloway, Herbert Rudley and Steve Brodie.  During landing in Italy a platoon's leader is killed, leaving Sgt. Tyne (Andrews) in charge of the men and their objective.  Artistic touches include the inner thoughts of these characters as they deal with the tension of the situation, and a narrative ballad performed by bass baritone Kenneth Spencer.  A thoroughly involving and moving film.


It has been four years since audiences spent time with Nick and Nora Charles.  In Shadow of the Thin Man the couple was mixed up with race track types.  Now it was time to relax, to get back to basics we never could have imagined upon first meeting the couple.  Had we ever really given a thought to Nick Charles' parents?  Here they were in the forms of Harry Davenport and Lucile Watson in The Thin Man Goes Home.  Sycamore Springs is a smallish, idyllic city were old Doc Charles learns to overcome his disapproval of Nick's lifestyle.  As per usual, no one in town believes Nick is there to relax.  He must be on a case.  Of course he is, and long held secrets come to light.  There's some very good work from MGMs stable of character actors, Ann Revere, Leon Ames, Donald Meek, Lloyd Corrigan and young Gloria de Haven.  Wait until you see Nora jitterbug and Nick help her grapple with a collapsible lawn chair.  It's a treat.

The 20th Century Fox release of A Tree Grows in Brooklyn from Betty Smith's best seller was the first feature film for director Elia Kazan.  The sensitively told tale of a family's struggles at the turn of the twentieth century highlights the director's way with actors as pitch perfect performances come from young Peggy Ann Garner as Francie Nolan and Ted Donaldson as Neely.  Joan Blondell steals our hearts as Aunt Cissy and Dorothy McGuire gives us Katie's battered soul.  James Dunn was an Oscar winner in the supporting category as the character who means so much to so many, especially to his imaginative daughter.

A series of vignettes through the changing seasons in a Wisconsin farming community form the basis of Our Vines Have Tender Grapes directed by Roy Rowland from a script by Dalton Trumbo.  Selma Jacobsen played by Margaret O'Brien is a bright and curious seven-year-old beloved by her parents, Edward G. Robinson and Agnes Moorehead.  Young Selma and her cousin Arnold, played by Butch Jenkins, observe life in their town and the adults that surround them.  The life they observe is not always kind, not always easy to understand.  It is the bonds of family in which strength is found.  Favourite quote:  "When you are asking for tolerance how much are you willing to give?"


The Brits always know how to tell a story.  The Archers, Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger, gave us the love story of Joan Webster and Torquil MacNeil.  Joan, played by the incomparable Wendy Hiller, is an unapologetic golddigger who has snagged her millionaire.  She is on her way to a remote Scottish Island to marry the bank account of her dreams.  On leave from the Service is Torquil, played by the altogether too intriguing Roger Livesey.  Call it Fate or Kismet or chemistry, Joan is discovering she has a heart and it doesn't belong to a multinational corporation.  It's not that easy to turn your back on a lifetime's aspiration.  It's not that easy to turn your back on Torquil MacNeil.  Location filming in Scotland, the grand faces of locals, the music of ages and a script as sharp as a tack culminating with the greatest  punchline of all time make I Know Where I'm Going! a movie that inspires and feels like a living breathing thing.

Vacation from Marriage sometimes known as Perfect Strangers is from Alexander Korda's London Films.  Deborah Kerr and Robert Donat star as Catherine and Robert Wilson, a rather dull and unassuming London couple whose lives are turned upside down and inside out by wartime duty.  Away from each other and forced to take what life throws at them, both Catherine and Robert become different people.  They are brighter, happier, more confident individuals, but what will that do to them as a couple?  The story is an always timely one of relationships and the performances are timeless.

Noel Coward's play Still Life is directed by David Lean as Brief Encounter.  It is a quiet and desperate story of love, longing, loss and renewal anchored by the beautiful performance of Celia Johnson as Laura Jesson, an everyday housewife whose emotional life is enlivened and confused by her attraction to a married doctor, Alec Harvey played by Trevor Howard.  That her feelings are ardently returned makes this brief encounter achingly bittersweet.


Scarlet Street
Tom Dillon, Edward G. Robinson, Joan Bennett

In the 1940s crime dramas became moodier and darker in tone and in look in a style that has become known as film noir.  One great exponent of the approach was German born Fritz Lang (M, The Big Heat, House by the River).  In Scarlet Street we are involved in the life of one of life's losers, Christopher Cross played by Edward G. Robinson.  The unhappily married wage slave finds his only outlet in painting.  A series of circumstances bring Chris into the orbit of Kitty March played by Joan Bennett.  Kitty and her snake of a boyfriend Johnny, played by Dan Duryea, know how to use people.  They find a way to use Chris and his art.  It's a recipe for murder.  The body and the soul are destroyed in different ways, as you will find when you walk down Scarlet Street.

It is always impressive to see what can be done with nothing.  Some people can look in an almost empty pantry and make a gourmet meal.  Director Edgar G. Ulmer's pantry was Producer's Releasing Corporation and the pickings were lean on "Poverty Row".  Yet Ulmer managed to create a dour and compelling little noir in Detour that has reached the pantheon of cult status.  Former MGM contractee Tom Neal is Al Roberts, a musician who plans to hitchhike cross country to join his gal Sue, played by Claudia Drake, in Hollywood.  The noir gods place in Al's way a dead bookie and the femme fatale to end all femme fatales.  Ann Savage plays Vera, as tough a broad who ever stepped out of the shadows and from there on, in less than 67 miniutes, Al's life is a nightmare.

One of the great noir directors is Anthony Mann and in 1945 he was beginning his string of great crime pictures (T-Men, Raw Deal, Border Incident).  The Great Flamarion is a showman, an expert marksman played by Eric Von Stroheim.  The egotistic Flamarion is at the top of his game and the top of his world, but he's about to topple from his throne because of a woman.  His assistant Connie played by Mary Beth Hughes would just as soon be rid of her drunken hubby Al, played by Dan Duryea.  Life would be peachy and creamy for Flamarion and Connie if only Al were out of the way.  Flamarion loses it all when Connie throws him over for another man.  Flamarion thought he was so great.  He was just another schnook.


State Fair
Dana Andrews, Jeanne Crain

Composer Richard Rodgers and lyricist Oscar Hammerstein II reinvented Broadway in 1943 with Oklahoma! and the 1945 release State Fair was their first musical written originally for the screen.  An adaption of Phil Strong's popular 1932 novel which was first filmed in 1933 starring Will Rogers, State Fair is the story of the Frake family of Iowa and their life changing visit to the State Fair.  Directed by Walter Lang (The Little Princess, Desk Set, Moon Over Miami), the movie is gloriously filmed in Technicolor by cinematographer Leon Shamroy (Leave Her to Heaven, The Black Swan, The King and I).  Charles Winninger and Fay Bainter are delightful as the parents, as excited by their young adult children at the prospect of the trip to the fair.  Jeanne Crain glows as girl-next-door Margy.  Crowd pleasing vocalist Dick Haymes is her brother Wayne.  Both youngsters are eager for romance.  They will find it in newspaper man Pat Gilbert played by Dana Andrews and singer Emily Edwards played by Vivian Blaine.  Highlights of the heartwarming and enjoyable film include the songs It's a Grand Night for Singing, It Might As Well Be Spring, Isn't It Kind of Fun, That's For Me, and a priceless turn by Donald Meek as the judge of the mince meat competition.

The most popular comedy team of the era was Bud Abbot and Lou Costello, starting with their movie debut in 1940s One Night in the Tropics through to their 1950s run-ins with Universals acclaimed monsters.  In The Naughty Nineties we go back to a time before either world war, a time of show boats and vaudeville turns, and songs everyone used to know such as My Bonnie Lies Over the Ocean and Take Me Out to the Ballgame.  Speaking of ballgames, in this picture Bud and Lou give perhaps the finest performance of their classic routine Who's On First?.  Plenty of laughs and the show boat is saved from nefarious nasties.  What's not to like?

MGM had themselves a Best Picture nominee in Anchors Aweigh, a splashy Technicolor musical that follows two sailors on leave in a backlot Los Angeles.  Gene Kelly was given free reign to display his considerable talents, young Frank Sinatra to sing his way into willing hearts and Kathryn Grayson to look lovely and sing the same.  This is the movie where Gene first combined his dancing ability with the world of animation, performing in tandem with Jerry, the mouse of Tom and Jerry fame.  Pamela Britton, later of TVs My Favorite Martian, is a doll as the gal waiting for Sinatra when Grayson ends up in Kelly's arms.  Dean Stockwell charms as Grayson's kid brother.  The movie engenders a lot of good will through the exuberant talent and likability of the cast.  It's only detriments being a rather meandering script and a running time of 143 minutes.  


One of the delights of attending the movies in an earlier era must have been the fun of watching classic cartoon shorts before they became classic.  Disney Studio's Duck Pimples is a personal favourite of mine.  Donald Duck was put through many surreal adventures in the feature release of The Three Caballeros and the Oscar nominated Donald's Crime, but they pale in comparison to Duck Pimples.  It is a dark and stormy night when spooky radio programs plus a lurid mystery novel put The Duck's nerves on edge.  A visit from a door-to-door salesman sends him into a frenzy of imaginative adventures populated by off-the-wall characters.  A must-see.

Spike is a "noivous wreck" in MGMs Oscar winning Tom and Jerry short Quiet Please!.  If he doesn't get his beauty sleep Spike threatens Tom with a thorough pulverization.  Jerry sees to it that no matter how much effort Tom puts into silence, noise will be the order of the day.  From the Golden Age of Hanna-Barbera's Tom and Jerry series with the resources of MGM behind their vision and the glorious musical highlights from Scott Bradley.

From Warner Bros. Merrie Melodies comes another Oscar nominee, Life With Feathers.  A love-lorn parakeet tries to commit suicide by Sylvester in that cat's film debut.  Unlike many of our well-known toons, Sylvester in his debut is pretty much Sylvester as we have always known him.  He's sneaky, one step behind the rest of the world, slightly on the cowardly side and very funny.

In 1945 the public seemed to have an insatiable appetite for the movies.  What would the post-war years bring?

Winner: Best Classic Movie Article

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Caftan Woman's Choice: One for January on TCM

It is starting out to be quite the chilly January. Perfect weather for a nice, cozy little murder mystery. Perhaps a backstage murder. Something in comforting black and white. Something with one of those great leading ladies from the Golden Age. Something with an amusing and endearing detective. Lots of atmosphere with the familiar faces of favourite character actors popping up in scene after scene. I've got it! Let's watch The Velvet Touch.

The Velvet Touch was the first of five films produced by Frederick Brisson starring his wife Rosalind Russell. Following this 1948 film, their collaborations would include 1953s Never Wave at a WAC, 1955s The Girl Rush, 1962s Five Finger Exercise and 1971s Mrs. Pollifax - Spy from Dorothy Gilman's popular book series.

Rosalind Russell as Valerie Stanton

A spirited and resolute New England gal, Rosalind Russell studied at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts and trained with a repertory group at The Copley Theatre run by E.E. Clive (The Invisible Man, Libeled Lady, the Bulldog Drummond series) before heading to Hollywood where she was signed by MGM in 1934 as a back-up leading lady to keep Myrna Loy in line.

Roz's screen career is a testament to her vitality and versatility.  The light of intelligence was a part of her make-up, but Ms. Russell could be exceedingly glamorous and dramatic or as gawky as all get-out in striving for our laughs. Her dramatic skills were used to great effect in 1936s Craig's Wife and 1937s Night Must Fall. Her comedic talents started to garner notice in 1939 with the comedy-mystery Fast and Loose. In that fabled year, she was cast as Sylvia Fowler in the screen version of The Women, a role that had been played on Broadway by Ilka Chase. The overbearing and hysterically funny Sylvia is just one of the many roles that would become ever associated with Rosalind Russell.

In 1940 Hildy Johnson of The Front Page was reborn as a female for His Girl Friday. The trenchant and still timely Hecht/MacArthur play worked beautifully with estranged couple Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell battling corruption and each other in pursuit of headlines. A lot of big-name actresses including Ginger Rogers and Barbara Stanwyck had turned down the role before Rosalind Russell snapped up the part and made it all hers.

The first of Roz's four Oscar nominations was as Ruth Sherwood in 1942s My Sister Eileen. Shirley Booth had played the role on Broadway. Roz was nominated for the Oscar and the winner that year was Greer Garson in Mrs. Miniver. In 1953 Roz would revive "Ruth" in the Bernstein/Comden and Green Broadway musical version Wonderful Town and she was awarded a Tony. In 1947 the Academy nominated Rosalind Russell for her role as real-life nurse and polio treatment pioneer Sister Kenny. The winner was Olivia de Havilland in To Each His Own.

Rosalind was considered a lock for the award in 1948 for Mourning Becomes Electra, but the award instead went to Loretta Young in The Farmer's Daughter. In 1957 Rosalind Russell won another Tony Award for portraying the open-hearted eccentric Mame Dennis in Auntie Mame. Thankfully, she recreated the role for the screen in 1958 insisting that her stage co-star Jan Handzlik join her as young Patrick. It is a performance for the ages captured for us all. Auntie Mame would give Roz her final Oscar nomination with the award going to Susan Hayward in I Want to Live!.

In 1973 Rosalind Russell was presented with the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award from the Academy. From the desperate Rosemary Sydney in Picnic to the down-to-earth real-life heroine Louise Pierson in Roughly Speaking and all those ladies in between, Rosalind Russell gave us women to inspire, to understand and to make us laugh.

Rosalind Russell as Valerie Stanton
Leon Ames as Gordon Dunning

In The Velvet Touch, Rosalind Russell plays stage star Valerie Stanton. One fateful night her complicated professional and personal relationship with her producer Gordon Dunning played by Leon Ames (Charlie Chan on Broadway, Meet Me in St. Louis, Testament) comes to an end, as does his life. Valerie Stanton had wanted to take her theatrical career away from comedy and her affections away from Dunning to Michael Morrell played by dreamy-eyed Leo Genn (Quo Vadis, The Snake Pit, Moby Dick). Enter Captain Danbury of Homicide played by Sydney Greenstreet (The Mask of Dimitrios, Christmas in Connecticut, The Maltese Falcon). In an appealing Columbo-like manner the Captain insinuates himself into the theatrical world to determine the truths hidden therein.

Rosalind Russell as Valerie Stanton
Sydney Greenstreet as Captain Danbury

As the story unfolds we are treated to the inestimable Claire Trevor (Stagecoach, Dead End, Key Largo) as Marian Webster, a dear friend of the deceased Mr. Dunning. Welcome turns are provided by Frank McHugh (Going My Way, The Roaring Twenties), Walter Kingsford (the Dr. Kildare series), Dan Tobin (Woman of the Year, TVs Perry Mason), Theresa Harris (Baby Face, I Walked With a Zombie) and Caftan Woman Hall of Famer Esther Howard (Born to Kill, Sullivan's Travels). In one of her first credited roles you will spot 24-year-old Martha Hyer (Some Came Running, The Sons of Katie Elder).

Rosalind Russell as Valerie Stanton
Leo Genn as Michael Morrell

The screenplay for The Velvet Touch is by Leo Rosten (All Through the Night, Captain Newman MD). Four-time Oscar nominee and frequent Frank Capra collaborator Joseph Walker (It Happened One Night, Only Angels Have Wings, Theodora Goes Wild) was the cinematographer. The Velvet Touch was the eighth of ten films Walker shot starring Rosalind Russell. Helping Roz to look every inch the glamourous stage star in a series of eye-popping and jealousy-inducing black and white outfits was Travis Banton (Raffles, Tin Pan Alley, Moon Over Miami). This was the seventh film in which he dressed Ms. Russell.

TCM is screening The Velvet Touch on Monday, January 27th at 3:15 pm.  Gently kick the cat out of the favourite chair and settle in with a mug of your favourite warming drink and enjoy a mid-winter treat.


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