Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Caftan Woman's Choice: One for October on TCM

There's a blurb in one of the copies of Christianna Brand's Green for Danger floating around my family that mentions that Ms. Brand was inspired to write her first mystery novel when she imagined bumping off an annoying co-worker. It is not easy living or working with some people. Close quarters can often inspire intense feelings. In Green for Danger, published 1944, the close quarters are a military hospital and nerves are frayed by overwork, German bombs and murder.

The 1946 film based on the novel was adapted by Sidney Gilliat and Claude Guerney, and directed by Gilliat whose usual partner, Frank Launder, was producer. The setting is a rural emergency hospital outside of London in 1944. A Tudor mansion has been refurbished to care for patients with outbuildings rigged up as operating theatres. Staff sleep in old coach houses and towers. The intense working hours are not the only reason for stress among staff.  German buzz bombs or V1 rockets are a constant threat.

One of the local postmen is wounded when a bomb falls on a shelter and he requires an operation. Mr. Higgins dies on the table before the cutting begins under troubling circumstances. He had made some comment about the anesthetist Dr. Barnes (Trevor Howard, The Third Man) having some nerve to be doing the job. And whose voice did Higgins recognize before being wheeled into surgery? The new head of administration, Dr. White (Ronald Adam, The Haunting) would like the whole thing to go away, but Dr. Barnes will not co-operate by resigning. 

Sally Gray, Leo Genn, Rosamund John, Megs Jenkins
We discover more about the staff at a jolly party arranged for the good of morale. The surgeon, Mr. Eden (Leo Genn, Quo Vadis), has a reputation with the ladies. Barne's fiance Freddie Linley (Sally Gray, The Saint in London) is being swept off her feet by the dashing fellow from Harley Street. Sister Carter (Wendy Thompson, Stairway to Heaven) is a former flame of Eden's who has been swept aside. Nurse Sanson (Rosamund John, Spitfire) and Mr. Eden go way back. Nurse Woods (Megs Jenkins, Oliver!) is honest to the point of bluntness. There may be some who don't appreciate that characteristic.

A dumped and distraught Sister Carter informs all gathered at the party that murder is afoot and she knows who has done what and can prove it. Poor Sister doesn't get the opportunity. Her stabbed body is found in the operating theatre and this is now a case for Scotland Yard.

Alastair Sim as Inspector Cockrill

"My presence lay over the hospital like a pall – I found it all tremendously enjoyable."

Scotland Yard in Green for Danger is represented by Inspector Cockrill as played by Alastair Sim (Stage Fright, A Christmas Carol, The Belles of St. Trinian's). While the plot, the setting and the fine ensemble of actors make for excellent whodunnit viewing, it is Sim's droll portrayal that places Green for Danger at the very top. Sim would work for/with Gilliat and Launder in 13 films altogether starting with 1939s Inspector Hornleigh on Holiday through to 1959s Left Right and Centre.

The story unfolds through the unobtrusive narration of Cockrill's report to his superior at the Yard. We hear the good Inspector's point of view and we see the Inspector in action. No one is more confident than our Inspector Cockrill. No one more observant. No one more able to strike fear into the hearts of foes. No one is so able at wrapping up a murder case in a matter of days or of outrunning doodlebugs than Inspector Cockrill.

The puzzle pieces are all there for you. Will you be able to fit them together as neatly as the Inspector? Green for Danger is a perfect mystery movie full of delights. Like a perfect solitaire diamond it stands alone, but how you will wish there were sequels filled with Alastair Sim as Inspector Cockrill.

TCM is screening Green for Danger on Sunday, October 5th at 8:15 am and is a great way to start your day. I only hope it is a nice, rainy day for you wherever you are. It will enhance the mysterious atmosphere and the slyly humourous dialogue.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Mickey Rooney is The Comedian (1957)

Opening night. The butterflies. Checking those lines that refuse to stick in your brain. Focus. Focus. Stop thinking about those fifty chores that have to wait. Concentrate on the blocking. You mustn't be an inch out of line. It's not opening night on Broadway. It's opening - and closing - night on television. Live television. Television's Golden Age. Kraft Television TheaterArmstrong Circle TheaterThe Philco Television PlayhouseThe United States Steel Hour. This week, Playhouse 90.

Back:  Edmond O'Brien, Mel Torme
Front:  Constance Ford, Mickey Rooney, Kim Hunter

Announcer: "From Television City in Hollywood, Playhouse 90. Tonight starring Mickey Rooney, Edmond O'Brien, Kim Hunter, Mel Torme, Constance Ford. To introduce tonight's show, Miss Claudette Colbert."

Claudette Colbert:  "Good Evening. Tonight's Playhouse 90 presents The Comedian. The story of a ruthless, but fascinating entertainer. The Comedian is the work of two distinguished writers. The author of the original story Ernest Lehman, who has written the screenplays for such popular motion pictures as The King and I, Somebody Up There Likes Me and Executive Suite. The adapter, Rod Serling whose long list of original television dramas includes the award winning Patterns, Forbidden Area and Requiem for a Heavyweight."

AND - away we go. The director of The Comedian was John Frankenheimer (The Manchurian Candidate, Seven Days in May, The Iceman Cometh). At 27, he was the youngest of the directors associated with Playhouse 90, and its most prolific. At 37, playing the title character was Mickey Rooney, already a stage and screen veteran of 30 years. It was early in the TV portion of Mickey's career which would include 76 credits, 5 Emmy nominations and a win in 1982 for Bill. His first Emmy nomination would be for Actor - Best Single Performance - Lead or Support for playing Sammy Hogarth in The Comedian. John Frankenheimer was nominated for Best Direction - One Hour or More and Rod Serling would win for Best Teleplay Writing - One Hour or More.

The door to the studio reminds everyone who's boss.

Sammy Hogarth, described in the introduction as "ruthless, but fascinating" is indeed all that and it took an actor with Mickey Rooney's legendary brand of energy to bring that character to life. Sammy Hogarth is a star with a star's outsized ego. He's a bully with power. He may have had to struggle to get to the top. He may have buried loneliness and self doubt. However, the day-to-day Sammy is not a nice man.

A special 90 minute comedy special is in the works and the skits don't work. Sammy is not happy, and when Sammy is not happy, nobody is happy. A couple of days before air and the only thing working is the monlogue. Sammy's monologues always work. Some guys do wife jokes. Some guys do mothers-in-law jokes. Sammy has a brother, and that kid brother is a joke. Mel Torme plays Lester, Sammy's devoted lackey. One thing Lester has that Sammy hasn't is Julie played by Kim Hunter. It's not that Sammy hasn't made a play for his sister-in-law, or that she isn't as attracted as she is repulsed, but Julie loves Lester. She wants this constant publicly whipping of her husband to stop. If it doesn't stop, she will leave. Lester is desperate.

Head writer Al Preston is played by Edmond O'Brien. O'Brien is the heart of our story and the actor with most of the screen time. Al is just about dried up as a comedy writer. Secretary Connie played by Constance Ford doesn't care what Al does, she just cares about Al. Al knows his stuff is gone, but out of sentimentality he has kept in his drawer the work of a young writer who died in the war. It's good stuff. Maybe he should pass it off as his own. Anything to make Sammy happy and get him off his back. Al is desperate.

Is Sammy oblivious to how those in his circle really feel or does he like being top dog too much to care? Someone who really irks Sammy is a columnist named Otis Elwell, played by Whit Bissell like Addison De Witt with a dash of Waldo Lydecker. Elwell is looking for a story on Sammy. He doesn't care what it is as long as it's juicy enough to hopefully be a career breaker. No love is lost between these two.

All of this heightened emotion and these secrets swirl around the blustering and magnetic Sammy Hogarth as rehearsals go on and show night nears. King Donovan is The Director and it is a fascinating aspect of the program that we get a glimpse of the backstage atmosphere of live television while enjoying the drama. Who will survive, and how? You might be surprised.

We can see Mickey Rooney at all stages of his career thanks to film. Some of us have the memory of seeing him on stage. It is the same with his castmates in this Playhouse 90 production. Each time we watch a film performance or TV guest spot, these departed performers are alive for us once more, giving us their art and creativity. A performance captured on a night of live television is something extra special, something we can share in a way that is denied us in a movie. We get to share that opening night.

“This post is part of The getTV Mickey Rooney Blogathon hosted by Once Upon a Screen, Outspoken & Freckled and Paula’s Cinema Club taking place throughout the month of September. Please visit the getTV schedule for details on Rooney screenings throughout the month and any of the host sites for a complete list of entries.”


Sunday, September 7, 2014

World War One in Classic Film: Ever in My Heart (1933)

Silent-ology and Movies Silently host World War One in Classic Film, a historical blogathon, on September 6 and 7, 2014.

Byzantine political alliances and colonialism led to the first global conflict in 1914 and today we are still intrigued and horrified by the senseless drama. The 1932 release Ever in My Heart looks at the domino effect of WWI on those who personally or politically clung to isolationism. Beulah Marie Dix (The Squaw Man, The Life of Jimmy Dolan) and Bertram Millhauser (The Perils of Pauline, The Spider Woman) wrote the story and screenplay, and the movie was directed by Archie Mayo (The Petrified Forest, Black Legion).  Spoilers abound in this look at Ever in My Heart.

Mary Archer comes from a family with deep pride in their American roots, if little else. There has long been an understanding between Mary and her cousin Jeff (Ralph Bellamy) and everyone is anticipating a wedding now that Jeff is returning from studies in Europe. Jeff has brought home a friend from German, Hugo Wilbrandt (Otto Kruger) and for Mary and Hugo it is love at first sight. We don't see fireworks and hear a choir of angels. Mary and Hugo look at each other and come together as two halves of a heart that was meant to be one. The family, including brother Sam (Frank Albertson) and various aunts, are scandalized at Mary's attraction and quick engagement to the stranger. To the foreigner. Jeff graciously drops his romantic designs assuring Mary that she will be very happy as Hugo is "a grand fellow". Jeff will be, for a time, their closest friend.

Gentle and loving vignettes show us the passing of time and the growing of the Wilbrandt's love. Their courtship and marriage is defined by "their" song, Du, du liegst mir im Herzen, in English You, you are in my heart. Here is a lovely version of the song on YouTube by Erich Kunz. Stanwyck and Kruger are often filmed with their faces close together heightening our sense of their oneness.

You, you are in my heart
you, you are in my mind.
You, you cause me much pain,
You don't know how good I am for you.
Yes, yes, yes, yes you don't know how good I am for you.

So, as I love you
So, so love me too.
The most tender desires
I alone feel only for you.
Yes, yes, yes, yes I alone feel only for you.

But, but may I trust you
You, you with a light heart?
You, you know you can rely on me
You do know how good I am!
Yes, yes, yes, yes you do know how good I am!

And, and if in the distance,
it seems to me like your picture, 
Then then I wish so much
that we were united in love.
Yes, yes, yes, yes that we were united in love.

Hugo finds a job as a respected and well-liked college professor in chemistry. He and Mary share a comfortable home with a precocious bi-lingual son, Teddy (Ronnie Crosby), a pet dachshund, and a devoted housekeeper (Clara Blandick). The Wilbrandt's share with their friends the joyous occasion when Hugo becomes an American citizen, and those loving friends and colleagues present an engraved loving cup as a gift.

Hugo Wilbrandt
In Commemoration of
His Oath of allegiance
The United States
His Friends and Associates
Rossmore College

The incident in the Balkans and ensuing battles fill the newspapers and the public's appetite for gory details and propaganda is insatiable turning neighbour against neighbour, if that neighbour happens to be of German heritage. When America officially enters the war Hugo loses his position at the college and the loving friends, even family turn out to be of the fair weather brand. The loving cup is empty. Illness and starvation come to the little family, and the tragic death of their beloved son. Even the pet is set upon and killed by youngsters no doubt aping the attitude of their parents.

Eventually, Mary's family step in to return her to her rightful place. They will even find a job for Hugo in the family-run factory if he agrees to change his name. It is too much for the beaten man who blames their lack of compassion for Teddy's death. Hugo sends Mary off with the Archers for her own good, while he returns to Germany. Hugo writes to Mary:

"Think of me and remember that what I do is forced upon me. They let me be a citizen, but they won't let me be an American.

When you get this, I will be on the ocean. I am going where I belong - to fight for my people.


Heartbroken, Mary eventually moves forward by joining the Red Cross as a canteen worker/organizer. Sam and Jeff are also in the military. Most telling is a conversation with Jeff in which he expresses the hope that after the conflict they can resume their earlier relationship. His tone and words are so different from his attitude before the war. Were these ideas buried or were they created anew by circumstance and propaganda?

Jeff:  "You came out of it just the way I thought you would."
Mary: "Had to."
Jeff:  "And now, here we are again just as before."
Mary:  "Just as before.  With time out for a dream."
Jeff:  "Dream is right.  It never would have worked out, Mary."
Mary:  "Why not?"
Jeff:  "Because you're American and he was German.  Don't forget there was 300 years of Archers behind you before Hugo ever came along.  Folks don't get away from what's bred in their blood and bones."
Mary:  "Maybe you're right."
Jeff:  "I know I'm right."


Mary is in charge of a canteen at a major gathering point for reinforcements. Sam is somewhere on the line. Jeff is in charge of the area and wary of German spies. Mary sees a lone soldier, a familiar back and neck seated at a table. The years, the disappointment and hate drift away as she walks through an emotional to Hugo. When Jeff enters the canteen Mary succeeds in diverting his attention from the spy he seeks. It was natural. It was instinct. Hugo comes to Mary's quarters and their reunion is bitter and sweet. She claims to regret her earlier actions. 

Hugo:  "Have you forgotten everything we had together?  The tears and the laughs."
Mary:  "I won't remember.  I mustn't."

Mary remembers. She also has a picture of Sam on her dresser and the sight of American soldiers marching outside her window. Hugo will not be returning to his base with information that night. That night he and Mary rekindle their dream. They toast that lost dream in the morning with wine and with poison. The poison Mary confiscated from canteen volunteers intimidated by propaganda. Mary can't let Hugo carry out his military duty and she can't live without him. As Hugo unknowingly drifts away from life, they share their love and their song. Mary will soon follow. One last time we see those faces close together.

Ever in My Heart works as a quiet domestic drama with a calamitous historical background and a lesson for us all. The melodramatic finale works as well because of the sensitive and sincere work of actors Stanwyck and Kruger who make us feel their hopelessness in the face of overwhelming circumstances. It also works because there was nothing subtle about World War One.


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