Sunday, May 31, 2015

Caftan Woman's Choice: One for June on TCM

1950s Woman on the Run is many stories. It is the story of a reluctant witness to a crime fleeing out of fear. It is the story of a police manhunt. It is the story of a reporter on the trail of a story and a murderer to silence a witness. It is the story of a woman's discovery of the truth of her existence. It is the story of a marriage.

Inspector Ferris:  Married?
Frank Johnson:  In a way.

Ross Elliott (The Loretta Young Show, The Jack Benny Program, The Virginian) plays Frank Johnson, an aspiring artist in a failing marriage with a dog to walk. On one of these walks, as he smokes his pipe and contemplates life, Frank is witness to a gangland slaying. Instinctively, he reaches out to the police, but when it becomes clear that his testimony before a grand jury will place him directly in the hit man's sight lines, Frank bolts.

Inspector Ferris:  Who are his friends?
Eleanor Johnson:  I don't know his friends.  The dog is our only mutual friend.

Robert Keith (Here Comes the Groom, Ransom!, Love Me or Leave Me) plays Inspector Ferris who should have a fairly routine task in tracking Johnson. However, the prickly nature of Frank and his wife's relationship leave the police with few immediate avenues to explore. The couple share a name, an apartment and a dog, but precious little else. Ann Sheridan (Angels With Dirty Faces, Nora Prentiss, Come Next Spring) plays the sharp-tongued Eleanor who actively impedes the police, leaving the decision of co-operation entirely up to Frank.

Dan:  To the speedy conclusion of all our troubles - yours, your husband's and mine.
Eleanor:  You've got troubles?  You don't look it.
Dan:  None that I can't solve now that we're partners.

Eleanor is about to learn some things about her husband that will surprise her. The police discover that Frank has a heart condition that requires medication. Knowing Frank kept this information from her has the effect on Eleanor of surprise and guilt. She sets out find him and attracts an unexpected ally. Dennis O'Keefe (Brewster's Millions, Walk a Crooked Mile, T-Men) plays Dan Legget, a reporter wanting to crack the story. Early on the audience becomes aware that Dan is also the hitman, adding to the suspense in the search for Frank.

Eleanor:  Is that the way he sees me?
Mr. Maibus:  Well, it may be a little severe, but it shows he was thinking about you anyway.

Filmed on location in San Francisco, the physical journey takes us up and down the hills, to the waterfront, to bars and to the department store where Frank earns his living. A Chinatown dance team who perform at the Johnson's favourite restaurant played by Victor Sen Yung (The Letter, Charlie Chan at Treasure Island, Across the Pacific) and Reiko Sato (Flower Drum Song, The Ugly American, Kismet) figure prominently and tragically in the search for Frank.

From a co-worker played by John Qualen (The Grapes of Wrath, Casablanca, A Big Hand for the Little Lady), Eleanor learns of the regard with which Frank is held by others, by a life of kindnesses shared. She sees Frank through other eyes and herself through Frank's eyes; the good and the bad.  Her part in their estrangement becomes clear and Eleanor is surprised to realize that Frank still loves her.

Eleanor Johnson takes risks on the streets of San Francisco.

Keeping herself dangerously one step ahead of the police and much too close to Legget brings Eleanor closer to Frank emotionally and able to follow his thinking to his hiding in plain sight at a waterside amusement park (location: Ocean Park Pier, Santa Monica). The false and heightened emotions of a midway at night bring the tensions of the separately motivated manhunts to an exciting climax in Woman on the Run.

Sally Blane and Norman Foster
(1935 - 1976)

Based on a short story by Sylvia Tate called Man on the Run, director Norman Foster co-wrote the screenplay with Alan Campbell. Married to Sally Blane for 41 years, we can assume that Mr. Foster and his wife were able to work out the issues that arise between people who live together.

Dorothy Parker and Alan Campbell
(1933 - 1947, 1950 - 1963)

At the time of this picture, Alan Campbell was in between his marriages to the notably acerbic writer Dorothy Parker. As a successful screenwriting team perhaps we can glimpse something of their actual relationship in films like A Star is Born and Sweethearts. I can't help but wonder at possible parallels in Woman on the Run, produced just before they married for the second time.

Woman on the Run is one of those films that fell into the public domain and the only prints I have seen and owned over the years are of dismal quality. Hopefully, TCM's screening on Friday, June 5th at 10:15 pm, the evening kicking off the Summer of Darkness spotlight, will be of finer condition. At any rate, it is not to be missed.

EDIT 6/6/2015:  These lamps of mine have never before beheld anything as beautiful as the restored Woman on the Run.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Early Morning

The birds of springtime

Chirping in the early morn

Wake me much too soon

Friday, May 15, 2015

National Classic Movie Day - My Favourite Classic Movie blogathon

This post is part of the My Favorite Classic Movie blogathon in celebration of National Classic Movie Day (May 16th).  Click here to view the schedule listing all the great posts in this blogathon for Classic Movie Day created by Classic Film and TV Cafe begins.

Sometime in 1994 I had the following conversation with my mother.  

SHE (offhandedly as she kissed the grandchildren goodbye after a visit):  "Do you have any plans for tonight?"

ME (shocked that she appeared to be unaware of that evening's TV schedule):  "The Thing from Another World is on."

SHE (exasperated):  "Oh, you always watch that "Thing"!"

It's true.  I always watch that "Thing".  I was introduced to this favourite movie by Elwy Yost, the host of TV Ontario's Magic Shadows back in 1974.  My recollection is that it was the first movie shown on Magic Shadows.  The premise of Magic Shadows was that one movie would be shown in four or five parts throughout the week with educational aspects and background of the film provided by former teacher Elwy and guests.  There was a serial on Friday unless the movie ran over.

"We found one! We found a flying saucer!"

My first viewing of The Thing from Another World was piecemeal, but it didn't dim my enjoyment.  Elwy was an enthusiastic friend with whom to share movies.  He made the all-consuming pastime of watching classic movies "okay".  I still get shivers recalling how the first episode break came when the airmen and the scientists spread out to determine the size and shape of the thing under the ice.  Oooh!

John W. Campbell's novella Who Goes There? in which a research team in the Antarctic battles a shape-shifting, telepathic alien was the basis for the 1951 film.  Charles Lederer (His Girl Friday, Ride the Pink Horse) wrote the screenplay with uncredited input from Ben Hecht (The Front Page, Where the Sidewalk Ends) and Howard Hawks.

Robert Cornthwaite, Margaret Sheridan,  Everett Glass
Paul Frees, Norbert Schiller, George Fenneman

A team of scientists on a remote outpost near the Arctic Circle have recorded some unexplained activity which requires the attention of the Air Force.  The scientists are led by Dr. Carrington played by Robert Cornthwaite.  His fellow scientists are played by Eduard Franz, John Dierkes, Sally Creighton, Paul Frees, George Fenneman, Edmund Breon, Everett Glass and Norbert Schiller.  Radio operator Tex is played by Nicholas Byron and the cook, Lee by Lee Tung Foo.  Margaret Sheridan is Nikki, Dr. Carrington's assistant.

"Who wants some coffee?"

James Young, Robert Nichols, Douglas Spencer, Kenneth Tobey

Heading up the Air Force contingent is Kenneth Tobey as Captain Hendry.  His crew is made up of actors Dewey Martin, James Young, Robert Nichols and William Self (in charge of production).  That part in parentheses is for those of us who grew up watching television in the 60s where we read that credit at that end of many programs when Self left acting for a career as a producer.  Douglas Spencer plays "Scotty", a newspaper man hoping there is a story to be had in this expedition to the North Pole.

"I didn't belong at Alamein or Bougainville or Okinawa. I was just kibitzing. And I write a very good obit, obituary to you." 

The elements that were gleaned from Campbell's story are the isolated setting and the imminent threat to mankind.  Through misstep and chance, a humanoid creature found flash frozen under the ice is brought back to the research station where it thaws, creating death and havoc.  Communications are down so the only help for our valiant men and women is what they can do for themselves.  The sleep deprived and overly analytical Dr. Carrington proves to be an adversary to human safety with his single-minded schemes to understand the phenomena from space.

"We owe it to the brain of our species to stand here and die... without destroying a source of wisdom." 

Four years since his start in movies (Farmer's Daughter) and four years prior to the biggest break of his career (Gunsmoke), James Arness was cast as the boogeyman in The Thing from Another World.  From James Arness: An Autobiography published in 2001:

"In all honesty I would have to say that my height and size contributed to the successes I've enjoyed throughout my movie and television career.  They certainly were major factors when I was selected to play the alien monster in RKO's The Thing, produced by the famed Howard Hawks." 

"What can we learn from that thing except a quicker way to die?" 

The Thing from Another World has a look and a sound that contributes to its atmosphere of danger and siege.  The exemplary black and white cinematography is by six-time Oscar nominee (To Kill a Mockingbird, The Great Race, Blackboard Jungle, Hatari!, Hawaii, The Big Sky) Russell Harlan.  Harlan was a former stuntman and actor who turned to the camera in the 1930s and became the lead cinematographer on the Hopalong Cassidy series.  The quality of his work on those films are a big argument for that series popularity to this day.  Russell Harlan would collaborate with Howard Hawks on 7 pictures from 1948s Red River to 1964s Man's Favorite Sport?.

Another frequent Hawks collaborator is composer Dimitri Tiomkin (Only Angels Have Wings, Red River, The Thing from Another World, The Big Sky, Land of the Pharaohs, Rio Bravo).  Tiomkin's score for this movie is both commanding and eerie, making use of the theremin, so appropriate for the imaginative science fiction films of the time.  The score is not among Tiomkin's 17 Oscar nominations from 1939s Mr. Smith Goes to Washington to 1970s Chaykovsky.  His Academy wins are High Noon, The High and the Mighty and The Old Man and the Sea.

The Thing from Another World and The Big Sky are the only two movies from Howard Hawks' production company Winchester Pictures Corporation.  Hawks is the credited producer and, most likely, uncredited director or co-director on The Thing from Another World.  Christian Nyby, Hawks' editor on To Have and Have Not, The Big Sleep, Red River and The Big Sky was given his first directing credit on this picture and subsequently directed much well-remembered television including Perry Mason, Bonanza, Wagon Train, Mayberry R.F.D. and Adam-12.  Over the years different cast members in different interviews recall different versions of who actually directed The Thing from Another World.  Perhaps it depends on which day they were working.  That the movie bears Hawks stamp is no surprise given the close working relationship of all involved.

The Thing from Another World fits the Hawks mold of competent men and women getting on with their jobs.  It is a script laced with humor in the face of risk.  The romantic subplot steers clear of mush, with both characters on an equal footing - when the girl allows it.  The acting ensemble plays together like a well-rehearsed orchestra, clearly enjoying their feisty characters and handling the overlapping dialogue with delightful surety.

The Hawks movie world as presented in The Thing from Another World is one that appeals to me.  In my imagination I would like to display such skill; to be so calm when disaster strikes and casual with my affection.  And I've come pretty close a time or two.  Inspiration and entertainment are the hallmarks of The Thing from Another World that make it my most watched favourite classic movie.

"Watch the skies, everywhere! Keep looking. Keep watching the skies!" 

Monday, May 4, 2015

SHORTS! blogathon: A Laurel and Hardy Double Bill

The fabulous Fritzi of Movies Silently is hosting SHORTS! A Tiny Blogathon on May 2, 3, and 4. Click HERE for the fun contributions.

Beloved comic actors Laurel and Hardy became internationally successful and were, according to Stan Laurel, at their best in short films. Working at Roach Studios, the films relied on the talents of the professionals under contract both behind the scene and onscreen. The stock company of actors that would become familiar to audiences included James Finlayson, Edgar Kennedy, Billy Gilbert, Anita Garvin, Arthur Housman, Daphne Pollard, Ben Turpin, Charlie Hall and Mae Busch. While many of these actors were featured repeatedly in the films, they played different characters, with one notable exception.

Today we will look at a rare occurrence, a sequel in the world of Laurel and Hardy shorts co-starring Mae Busch and Charlie Hall. Charley Rogers directed both films with Stan Laurel and H.M. Walker credited for writing 1934s Them Thar Hills and Stan Laurel and Frank Tashlin for 1935s Tit for Tat.

Poor Ollie is suffering! He has the worst case of gout that Dr. Billy Gilbert has ever seen. Lucky for Ollie he can rely on the solicitude of his good friend Stan. Stan draws unnecessary baths and offers excellent advice. An example of Stan's sagacity is that since gout is caused by high living that they should move to the basement. Dr. Gilbert has a more useful prescription, get away to the mountains and drink plenty of that fresh mountain water. Stan knows where they can rent a trailer for next to nothing, maybe less if they pay cash.

 Val-deri, Val-dera

The mountains are lovely this time of year, but unbeknownst to our travelers, it can also be a place fraught with danger. Ahead on the trail a pitched battle between revenuers and moonshiners is in full swing with the moonshiners getting the worst of it. Frantically they dump as much of their product as they can down a well before being carted off to the pokey.

Ollie:  "It's supposed to taste that way.  It's the iron in it.  That's why the doctor said to drink plenty of it."

It is this garden spot that Stan and Ollie choose as a place to stop and enjoy nature's bounty. The boys are a perfect picture of domesticity as they set about preparing a supper of beans and coffee. Water for said coffee coming from the recently topped up well. As many of us do when going about our kitchen duties, Ollie hums a tune. In this case, the tune is Billy Hill's (The Glory of Love, Wagon Wheels) The Old Spinning Wheel. Stan's unsolicited accompaniment turns the tune into the Pom-Pom Song in a delightful and fondly remembered bit.

Lost in the wilderness.

Who is this coming down the road? Why, it's Mr. Hall and the Missus. He's carrying a can and she is berating him for not listening to her about keeping their car filled up. It's a long way back to the gas station, but luckily here are some folks in a camper who can help. Even without the mellowing influence of the "coffee" Stan and Ollie would be only to pleased to help someone in need. When the parched Mrs. Hall has a sip of water she decides to stay with the boys while hubby returns to the car.


When Mr. Hall returns with his vehicle his ears are greeted with the braying sounds of a drunken orgy of off-key "singing" of The Old Spinning Wheel. He is not impressed! How dare these louts get his wife drunk!


Charlie punches Ollie in the face and dares Stan to do something about it. Stan's mind tends toward bizarre little bits of business at the best of times. Under the influence of the "coffee" his devilish side takes over. Each time Charlie punches Ollie, Stan comes up with another oddball method of retaliation until butter, syrup, scissors, plungers and feathers leave Mr. Hall decimated. The coupe de grace, however, goes to Charlie Hall whose application of gasoline and a match to Ollie's backside causes that worthy gentleman to jump in the well. The film then comes to an explosive ending.

Mr. Laurel and Mr. Hardy, the screen creations, were characters fated to assiduously avoid success. Many a time they set forth in the world hoping to achieve some of the ease and satisfaction they observe in others, only to have the world incomprehensibly keep them from even their tiniest aspirations.

Currently, they are about to open their electrical supply shop (delayed by one day due to Stan's nervous breakdown) and success is in the air. Perhaps it is in the clean lines of the well-stocked store and the well-defined Art Deco signage. Perhaps the good wishes of the cop on the beat. This time - yes, this time fortune will smile upon the boys.

We'll Be Back Soon

Ollie decides it will be a good idea to get acquainted with their fellow shopkeepers on the street. He and Stan place a "We'll Be Back Soon" sign next to the open door of the shop and head next door to Hall`s Groceries after briefly acknowledging a little fellow who enters their shop. They will see this fellow again. Ollie is the soul of good will and bonhomie, yet is greeted with angry glares from Mr. Hall. Stan suddenly remembers that fellow from the mountains. And, brother, does Charlie remember them! And does he tell them where to go! Ollie is determined to rise above all the pent up animosity.

Ollie:  "Oh, don't be like that. Let bygones be bygones. Let's help each other. You have a business, and we have a business. We'll send people to your store, and you send people to our store. What do you say?"

Ollie:  "I've never been in a position quite like that before."

You can well imagine what Charlie says, and he would say more. You can see it in his face. Mrs. Hall is willing to be friendly, but after all, she wasn't humiliated in such outlandish fashion. The destinies of these people turns on the foolish combination of Stan, the sidewalk delivery elevator, a ladder and some light bulbs. When Ollie is precariously placed on the ledge of the neighbouring building his only egress is through the bedroom window of the obliging Mrs. Hall. It is a funny matter to Mae and Ollie. Not so amusing to Charlie who denounces Olivier, cutting him to the quick.

Ollie:  "My reputation: It has been ruthlessly dragged through the mud and mire. Never let it be said that a Hardy's spotless reputation to be so maliciously tread upon."

Hall refuses to apologize and, of course you know, this means war. Stan and Ollie, with a righteous lunacy awesome to behold, perform acts of anarchic vandalism on the premises and persons of Mr. Hall. Mr. Hall retaliates in same at the business premises of Mr. Laurel and Mr. Hardy. During these battle runs Stan and Ollie continually pass that little fellow entering and leaving their shop, but somehow ignore the fact that the stranger is carrying an armload of goods. Eventually, the brazen stranger starts using a convenient wheelbarrow for his larcenous forays into the shop.

What happened?

The campaign of destruction eventually comes to the notice of the local cop who attempts to sort things out. One win for the boys is that the long arm of the law places the blame squarely on Mr. Hall who is forced to apologize to Oliver, and to the Missus. The moral victory has gone to the fair name of Hardy. The goods in the Laurel and Hardy Electrical Supply Shop go to the back of a truck driven by that little fellow. It is the way of life. The only thing Ollie knows for certain is that somehow it must be Stan's fault.

Saturday, May 2, 2015

Bing's Birthday Movie: East Side of Heaven (1939)

It's that time of year again. Time to celebrate Bing Crosby's birthday. Whether the reference book designates May 2nd or 3rd in 1903, let's bake that cake, listen to those records and watch those movies.

East Side of Heaven released in 1939 was another one of Bing's personally produced pictures (following Pennies from Heaven), this time at Universal Studios teaming with actor turned director David Butler. It was a happy pairing and Bing and Butler would go on to make If I Had My Way, Road to Morocco and cameos in two Bob Hope flicks, They Got Me Covered and The Princess and the Pirate.

Denny Martin, the Cruising Troubadour
Bing Crosby

Bing stars as Denny Martin employed as a singer with a telegraph company. Delivering a greeting to millionaire curmudgeon Cyrus Barrett Sr. played by the perpetually outraged C. Aubrey Smith (Four Feathers), Denny interferes in a family squabble and loses his position.

Barrett Sr's daughter-in-law Mona played by Irene Hervey (Destry Rides Again) is an old friend of Denny's and he naturally takes up her side. Cyrus Barrett Jr. played by Robert Kent (Charlie Chan at Monte Carlo) has started drinking and generally misbehaving. Mona plans to leave him in hopes the shock will convince Jr. he needs to straighten up. The father-in-law gets a court order to keep her from taking their child.

Denny and Mary dream about married life.
Joan Blondell and Bing Crosby

Denny fortunately finds another job where he can vocalize. He is the new cruising troubadour for the Sunbeam Taxi Company. He needs the job especially because circumstances have caused Denny and girlfriend Mary to postpone their wedding four times already!

Mary is charmingly played by Joan Blondell (A Tree Grows in Brooklyn). Mary is not as tough a character as Blondell's roles in the earlier part of the decade at Warners, but she's got plenty of sass and spunk, and she and Bing make a great team. They are actually more than a pair, they are a trio. Denny's roommate Nicky is played by Mischa Auer (And Then There Were None) and he is allowed to steal the show to the delight of all. And it is not easy to steal a show from a baby. That's right, a baby!

Baby Sandy

Searching for her husband will take all of Mona's time and energy so she leaves the baby with Denny (well, in his cab) while she follows up a lead on Cyrus Jr.'s whereabouts. Here's where the fun really begins with Denny and Nicky as surrogate fathers. Ten-month-old Baby Barrett is played by Baby Sandy, and that little girl is a cutie. She's playing a boy in the movie because the producers didn't bother to check. Never mind, the kid was a natural. Her father had heard about the casting search and, using his connections as a milkman, included her picture with a delivery for music director Charles Previn. Take that Lana Turner and the soda fountain! Over the next three years, Baby Sandy made seven more pictures and then, like Garbo, disappeared from the screen.

Claudius De Wolfe, radio personality
Jerome Cowan

Lest you think the only villain in the piece is the rich grandpapa, we have Jerome Cowan (The Maltese Falcon) as a radio gossip by the delicious name of Claudius De Wolfe. He lives in the hotel where Mary works the switchboard and is always making unwanted plays for the gal. De Wolfe loathes Denny's singing and takes every opportunity to knock him down. He has his own publicity plans that include the presumed missing Baby Barrett.

Songs in the film are by James Monaco and Johnny Burke. Monaco also has a cute cameo at the beginning of the movie. That Sly Old Gentleman from Featherbed Lane is a lullaby for the baby. East Side of Heaven is a love song to Mary. Sing a Song of Sunbeams nabs the cab company job.

Mary and Nicky get in on the fun!
Joan Blondell, Mischa Auer
Hang Your Heart on a Hickory Limb

Hang Your Heart on a Hickory Limb is the biggest production number. It is a lesson in love sung to Cyrus Jr. at the best restaurant in the movies, The Frying Pan Cafe. Cyrus Jr. has paid some musicians to follow him around playing Melancholy Baby. It's just possible he's feeling a little sorry for himself. Bing sings "Hickory Limb" to liven the mood and is joined by the owner of the cafe, Mrs. Kelly played by singer Jane Jones, whom Bing knew in speakeasy days of yore. In turn, she harmonizes with Rose Valyda and Helen Warner as cooks. The waitresses who join in the chorus are The Music Maids, about to join Bing's Kraft Music Hall radio program. We even get some fancy stepping from Blondell and Auer. It's a dandy!

All's well that end's well.
Bing Crosby, Baby Sandy

Here's Bing with his hated toupee on display. In most scenes, he'd rather be wearing a dashing chapeau like his little co-star. East Side of Heaven was a hit in its day and pleasant escapist fare for current movie fans. You can't go wrong with the terrific cast, swell music and lots of laughs.


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