Thursday, June 30, 2016

Caftan Woman's Choice: One for July on TCM

"Welcome to California, Mrs. Leslie."

About Mrs. Leslie is a romantic drama from 1954. It was the second feature for Broadway star Shirley Booth, who won an Oscar two years earlier for recreating her Tony-winning role in Come Back, Little Sheba for the screen. Shirley Booth's other acting awards include two Primetime Emmys for the sitcom Hazel, a featured actress Tony for Goodbye, My Fancy, and another leading actress Tony for The Time of the Cuckoo.  The lady's great talent was appreciated in her lifetime.

Pulitzer winner for drama (Look Homeward Angel) Ketti Frings adapted the screenplay from Vina Delmar's novel. Cliff Aliperti of Immortal Ephemera wrote an interesting look at Ms. Delmar earlier this year which you can read here. The image of a book is used to introduce or highlight the flashback sequences of the film. Daniel Mann, director of the stage and screen versions of Come Back, Little Sheba directed About Mrs. Leslie. You have probably enjoyed some of his other films including I'll Cry Tomorrow, The Last Angry Man, and For Love of Ivy.

Shirley Booth plays Vivian Keeler, a former nightclub entertainer and dress shop owner who, when we meet her, is a Beverly Hills boarding house landlady going by the name of Mrs. Leslie. The neighbours gossip that she was never really married at all and the neighbours are correct. However, everyone has a story and in this movie, we discover Mrs. Leslie's story. We will also learn something about her neighbours and her current boarders.

Next door is a teenage girl, Pixie (Eilene Janssen) who displays the self-absorption of some youngsters with an added touch of mean-spiritedness, at least where Mrs. Leslie is concerned. Mr. and Mrs. Poole (James Bell and Virginia Brissac) are faced with the health crisis of their only child. Nadine Roland (Marjie Millar) came to Hollywood to become an actress, became a doormat, and is at a crossroads. Lan McKay (Alex Nicol) also has show business aspirations and a lot of baggage from his wealthy family.

I believe the Nadine character is meant to parallel Mrs. Leslie's path with her reckless lifestyle. However, Ms. Millar's rather prim depiction of the character and cut scenes featuring Amanda Blake as a good time gal pal rather lessen its effectiveness.  

Philip Ober, Robert Ryan, Shirley Booth

Vivian recalls a time prior to WW2 when she is introduced to George Leslie in a nightclub. Singing I'm in the Mood for Love, she dallied and joked with men in the audience. Sensing George's discomfort, she left him alone. Later, one of the company at the table invited her over and she and George had a pleasant talk. The outgoing entertainer and the reticent businessman clicked and plans were made to see each other again.

Robert Ryan stars as George Leslie Hendersall, a wealthy industrialist and lonely man. On paper and at first glance Ryan and Booth seem an unlikely film pair. Their combined acting ability helps us to see past those expectations. Ryan here creates a mysterious man, yet a touching portrait of loneliness. His career at this time in the early to mid-50s saw him portraying the noir "victim" in the searing Inferno, the bigot who causes all the trouble in the tough-minded Bad Day at Black Rock and a romantic headmaster in the comedy Her Twelve Men.   

Unexpectedly, Mr. Leslie asks Vivian to come away with him to California for a six-week vacation. It would cost her a lot in terms of her work life, but instinctively she knew he needed her. It was in a lovely house by the ocean that Vivian was first called Mrs. Leslie by the chauffeur Jim and housekeeper Camilla (Ike Jones and Maudie Norman). It was also there that love blossomed and would continue to grow for six weeks every year to come (think of Bernard Slade's Same Time, Next Year). Certainly, Vivian realized she was living in a world of make-believe. George's "other" life was something she couldn't face. It was the things they shared about each other and with each other, the laughter, and the world they created that was enough and would have to be. Shockingly, Vivian heartbreakingly learns the truth about George's other world which includes a wife, two sons, and a role of importance in the war effort. It was one thing to know and another thing to know

Shirley Booth, Robert Ryan

By this time George had arranged for Vivian to become a partner in a dress shop for her security. In an attack of conscious, she tried to break it off and return his monetary investment, but their feelings for each other were too strong.

How Mrs. Leslie came to the position of landlady you may well guess, but I will leave it for you to see for yourself in the movie. It is an emotional story and one perfectly performed by Shirley Booth, who was an actress of subtle power and intense sympathy.  

TCM is screening About Mrs. Leslie on Monday, July 11th at 8:00 pm. I first saw this movie when I was a young teen and it made a great impression on me. The emotional back story of someone you would pass on the street without notice, the philosophies of the characters, and the humour in their attitudes and dialogue have stayed with me for decades.

Friday, June 17, 2016

A Clifton Webb and Claude Binyon Double Bill: Dreamboat (1952) and Woman's World (1954)

Producer and director of 1944s Laura, Otto Preminger is quoted in Rudy Behlmer's Behind the Scenes regarding the casting of Clifton Webb as Waldo Lydecker:

"...he (casting director LeMaire) said" "You can't have Clifton Webb for this part.  He flies." I said: "What do you mean? I didn't even understand what he meant. I already knew that Clifton Webb was a little effeminate, but that didn't bother me at all. I said I would like to make a test with him."

As any movie buff can tell you, the test was made and Clifton Webb, noted stage star with a few silent films under his belt, became at age 45 a most unlikely movie star with a string of hits in the 1940s and 1950s. Popular films include Sitting Pretty which introduced the Mr. Belvedere character and sequels, The Dark Corner, The Razor's Edge, Cheaper by the Dozen, Stars and Stripes Forever as John Philip Sousa and Titanic.  

In 1952s Dreamboat Clifton Webb was not only an unlikely movie star, he played an unlikely movie star. Reporter Claude Binyon went from writing about entertainment for Variety to writing for the screen in the 1930s. An ear for a great line and for flawed relateable characters was his hallmark. You have probably enjoyed If I Had a Million, The Princess Comes Across, Sing, You Sinners, Too Many Husbands, and Holiday Inn.

Gloria Marlowe and Bruce Blair
Immortal Lovers of the Silver Screen

Clifton Webb in Dreamboat plays Thornton Sayre, a staid, respected, and often mocked by his students, professor of literature. Some twenty years earlier, the professor went by the name of Bruce Blair and was a silent screen sensation, a "dreamboat". Unbeknownst to the bookish teacher and his equally bookish daughter Carol played by 21-year-old Anne Francis, Bruce Blair has made a comeback. His old co-star "Glorious" Gloria Marlowe played by lovely Ginger Rogers has been hosting their films on television sponsored by a perfume company. They are a hit! The faculty is dismayed. The student body is in stitches. Carol is embarrassed. Professor Sayre heads to NYC to stop this intrusion on his life only to find it is not that easy to stop a money-making venture. In fact, he will have to take the matter to court and even there take matters into his own hands.

Anne Francis, Jeffrey Hunter

Fred Clark plays the agent who can't understand his old friend's objections to publicity. Thornton/Bruce finds he still has feelings for his former leading lady and Gloria is one determined gal. Carol is kept busy by a young executive played by Jeffrey Hunter who opens her eyes to a life outside of academia. The roles for the young people are woefully underwritten, but a pleasant enough showcase for the up and comers. We're really here for Clifton Webb, Ginger Rogers, and Elsa Lanchester.

Elsa Lanchester, Clifton Webb

Elsa plays Dr. Mathilda Coffey, the head of the college where Thornton had been so happy for the last twenty years. Dr. Coffey is a confused woman. On one hand, she admires Thornton and wants him to remain at the school. On the other hand, she has long harboured feelings of a most delicate nature toward motion picture star Bruce Blair. Her pursuit of romance is very funny. Also very funny are the glimpses we have of Bruce and Gloria's heyday in bogus clips from their films.

Clifton Webb, Ginger Rogers, Travilla gown

The script manages to spoof movies, television, education, movie fans, the law, and love without losing a sweetly good-natured touch. And you have to see Ginger in the Travilla gold dress that will be redone for Marilyn Monroe in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes.  

Woman's World from 1954 is another Claude Binyon script. It is filled with the characteristic wit that gave the world the headline "Wall Street Lays an Egg" to announce the Great Depression. However, this picture is a glossy soap opera directed by Jean Negulesco (The Best of Everything, Road House, The Mask of Dimitrios). Negulesco and Webb also worked together on Three Coins in a Fountain, Titanic, and Boy on a Dolphin.

Van Heflin, Cornel Wilde, Fred MacMurray, Clifton Webb

As Ernest Gifford, Webb is both a character and the narrator of our story of corporate intrigue. Gifford is the largest stakeholder in a family-run motor vehicle company whose top honcho has expired (shades of Executive Suite). The search is on for the right man to fill that top position. Webb as Gifford holds our attention with his biting wit and power. Throughout the trials that follow we also get a sense of the importance of the task. It is not for the wealth alone that proper leadership is required, it is also a question of the Gifford family legacy. The field has been narrowed to three branch managers and they, and their wives, have been summoned to NYC for the once over. We meet these couples and learn about their hopes, ambitions and fears. It  is more than a simple question of which of the men is most suitable for the job. Which wife will be the right fit?

June Allyson, Cornel Wilde

Arriving from Kansas City are Bill and Katie Baxter played by Cornel Wilde and June Allyson. Bill is bright and independent. The couple is crazy about each other, yet Bill has not let his wife know how much he really wants this opportunity. Katie is very much the homebody. New York is a nice place to visit, but she wouldn't want to live there. She worries about the kids at home. She puts her foot in her mouth at every opportunity. She's a fish out of water and she knows it, but is she as dumb as she lets on?

Arlene Dahl, Van Heflin

Jerry and Carol Talbot played by Van Heflin and Arlene Dahl have come from Texas where Jerry was recently promoted to district manager. Jerry exhibits a quiet sort of leadership and intensity. Carol knows in her bones that she was born for this, for New York and the pinnacle of society. Jerry plans to get ahead on his own merits. Carol sees herself as the moving force behind the "great man" and will do anything to see that Jerry will get ahead.

Lauren Bacall, Fred MacMurray

Sid and Elizabeth Burns are played by Fred MacMurray and Lauren Bacall. Sid worked on the factory line when he was a kid and has worked his way up to managing the Pittsburgh branch. He puts everything into the job to the point of neglecting his family and his health, as his ulcer attests. Liz has come with him on this journey for the sake of his career, but in her eyes, their marriage is over and has been for a long time.

We tour the boardrooms and the bedrooms of these characters navigating the corporate waters and the woman's world - the expectations of 1950s society vs. the personal wants and needs of the wives. Filmed in sumptuous Technicolor and filled with gorgeous haute couture gowns, the movie is a feast for the eyes, a fascinating history lesson and a satisfying melodrama.

I'll leave you with the theme song It's a Woman's World by Cyril Mockridge and Sammy Cahn which charted on Billboard for The Four Aces during the autumn of 1954.

Friday, June 10, 2016

ORDER IN THE COURT! The Classic Courtroom Drama Blogathon: The Winslow Boy (1948)

ORDER IN THE COURT!, The Classic Courtroom Drama Blogathon hosted by Theresa of CineMaven's Essays from the Couch and Lesley of Second Sight Cinema is running from June 10th to the 13th. Look for contributions HERE.

Terence Rattigan's The Winslow Boy premiered on the London stage in 1946 and was filmed by Anthony Asquith in 1948. Based on a true incident, the story, set in Edwardian England, expertly touches on matters of family, honour, philosophy, justice and the class system. What cost is too high to pay for ones' beliefs?

The following look at The Winslow Boy is, by necessity, spoilerish in nature. I hope that if you have yet to see the film or a production, that it does not deter you from doing so. It is a play dear to my heart that grows more precious with each viewing.

Margaret Leighton, Sir Cedric Hardwicke, Neil North
Marie Lohr and Jack Watling

Cedric Hardwicke (The Hunchback of Notre Dame, I Remember Mama) plays Arthur Winslow, a recently retired banker of well-off, yet modest means. Mrs. Winslow played by Marie Lohr (Pygmalion, Went the Day Well?) is happy with her husband's change in status and pleased he will be able to "take things easy" as worsening arthritis is becoming troublesome.

The Winslow children are daughter Catherine played by Margaret Leighton (The Best Man, The Holly and the Ivy), a mid-20s spinster aligned with the suffragette cause who has a reason for hope in the matrimonial department. An army officer played by Frank Lawton (David Copperfield, The Invisible Ray) has moved next door. Dickie played by Jack Watling (A Night to Remember, Under Capricorn) is a student at Oxford majoring in the latest dance crazes. Young Ronnie played by Neil North (Tom Brown's Schooldays) is the pride of the family having been accepted at the Royal Naval College.

Prior to the passage of one college term, Arthur becomes more reliant on his cane, Catherine has come to an understanding with her Army officer, and Ronald is expelled. Ronnie Winslow is charged with the theft of a 5 shilling postal order, found guilty, and sent home in disgrace. Mrs. and Miss Winslow are full of sympathy. Dickie thinks the Navy is being rather high-handed as fellows pinch things all the time. Mr. Winslow only asks Ronnie if he did it, and asks for a truthful answer. Ronnie avows his innocence to his father and life will never be the same.

Calmly, yet persistently Arthur Winslow sets about to clear his son's name. He is immediately, and it is thought ultimately, blocked in his goal by the red tape surrounding the military bureaucracy. To wit, there is irrefutable proof and it cannot be revealed. One course is left open to Arthur Winslow which he discovers through consulting the family solicitor Desmond Curry played by Basil Radford (The Lady Vanishes, Dead of Night), who has long harboured tender feelings for Catherine.

Although the act of suing the King is fraught with its own blockades, that is precisely Arthur Winslow's intent. The Admiralty is part of the government and the monarchy, which falls under the Divine Right of Kings so the Attorney General must agree to a Petition of Right for the litigation to proceed. To this end, Winslow enlists the aid of his local Member of Parliament.

 Robert Donat, Margaret Leighton

The most-noted barrister of the day, Sir Robert Morton played by Robert Donat (The 39 Steps, Vacation from Marriage) agrees to take on the case after a rigid cross-examination of young Ronnie. Sir Robert is eloquent, principled, and a thorn in the side of Parliament. His reputation and his high-handed manner do not create a winning impression on Catherine, although she agrees with her father that no better man could handle their case.

Kathleen Harrison

"The Winslow Boy" becomes a cause-celebre, spoofed by music hall entertainers (Cyril Ritchard, Stanley Holloway) and a draw for international headlines. Mona Washbourne (My Fair Lady) is delightful as a scattered sob sister more interested in decor than honour. She played the reporter's role in the original stage production. Also repeating her stage role is Kathleen Harrison (Night Must Fall, A Christmas Carol) as Violet, the Winslow's maid of a quarter of a century.

Over two years of fighting this good fight wreaked havoc with the family's savings and with Arthur Winslow's health. The staff has been cut. Dickie has had to leave Oxford. Mrs. Winslow has adapted courageously all the while dismissing it only as stubborn pride. Catherine's disapproving prospective father-in-law makes it an issue of inheritance thus placing the marriage on the line. Catherine stands by her ethics and her family. Catherine is determined to see the maxim "Let right be done!" carried out. An ailing Sir Robert makes his own sacrifices in pursuing the case of "The Winslow Boy".

Terence Rattigan's plays are renowned for their craftsmanship and beauty. This story of the collision of family and national values set among a class of people who prized their privacy is a joy. The emotions, always under the surface, are communicated with superb language, deep eloquence, and lovely, dry humour.

Robert Donat

The scenes which play out in the House of Parliament when the petition is in question are a reminder that politics/parliament/people haven't changed much from what we consider the long ago past. The government often places the protection of the status quo above the people. That Mr. Winslow must reach back to Magna Carta for redress, and that even that is frowned upon by his betters speaks to a never-ending battle.

Sir Robert: "The House of Commons is a peculiarly trying place you know - far too little ventilation and far too much hot air."

The trial, with the overly polite exchanges between the Defense and the Attorney General, the droll comments from the Judge, and the preening of the witnesses remind us why courtrooms and courtroom dramas continue to fascinate audiences. As spectators of The Winslow Boy, we do not see the outcome of the trial. It is breathlessly reported to us by Violet, the family maid, in a manner so enthusiastic that we, and the Winslows, live that moment far more than if we had been present.

The thoroughly polished and professional cast of the film is equal to the script by playwright Rattigan  (Separate Tables, The Browning Version) and director Asquith (Pygmalion, The Importance of Being Earnest). A classic story and a classic courtroom drama, The Winslow Boy is a play for the ages.

Saturday, June 4, 2016

Athletes in Film blogathon: Lou Gehrig in Rawhide (1938)

Aurora of Once Upon a Screen and Rich of Wide Screen World are hosting the Athletes in Film blogathon running June 4th and 5th.  DAY 1.  DAY 2.

Lou Gehrig's life was relatively short, being stricken with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis at the age of 36 in 1939.  The degenerative muscle disease which has commonly become known as Lou Gehrig's disease took the athlete's life in 1941.  Lou's baseball career was one of great accomplishments.  Even non-baseball fans are aware of his automatic entry into the Hall of Fame, his world series play and the New York Yankees' legendary status as the "Iron Horse" with the long-held record of 2,130 consecutive games.  

Relatively fewer fans know of Lou's connection to the movies beyond the 1942 biography Pride of the Yankees and Gary Cooper's Oscar-nominated performance as Gehrig.  Cooper paints a disarmingly diffident portrait of the baseball star.  In 1938s Rawhide, a B western release from producer Sol Lesser, audiences get to see Lou Gehrig as an actor.  Well, maybe not so much an actor, but a lovable character called Lou Gehrig.

Popular jazz singer and one of the earliest of the movies' singing cowboys Smith Ballew is top-billed as Larry Kimball.  Give a listen to Ballew's version of Dream a Little Dream of Me.  In our movie Smith plays a lawyer trying to assist ranchers fighting a protection scheme in a place called Rawhide, Montana.  The trouble is that the ranchers have been intimidated into backing away from a fight.  Enter a renowned first baseman.  

Evelyn Knapp as Lou's sister Peggy

The New York press kids Lou along as he departs the Big Apple for the quiet life on a western ranch he has bought with his sister played by Evelyn Knapp (The Perils of Pauline, The Lone Wolf Takes a Chance).  The reporters are sure Lou will change his tune when the Yanks concede to his contract negotiations.  However, the big lug insists he is serious about a life on the range far away from the crowds and noise of the major leagues.    

Growing up watching old B westerns on TV gave me an appreciation for western songs and singers, well choreographed barroom brawls, and rackets.  Seems to me in these flicks there is always some mook in a suit finagling his way around the legal system to do somebody or other out of their ranch.  In this case the mook is a guy named Saunders played by Arthur Loft.  He has wrested control of the Rancher's Protection Association away from a nice old guy named MacDonald played by Lafe McKee, who specialized in playing nice old guys in B westerns.  A disgraced doctor is slowly poisoning the old guy while Saunders takes over the business.  Saunders' henchmen, led by B western baddie Dick Curtis, beat up ranchers, burn wagons of supplies, and do so with impunity.  Cy Kendall is the sheriff who turns a blind eye for a fee.  It's a pretty tidy set-up for Saunders until Lou Gehrig shows up. 

Lou Gehrig, Smith Ballew
After the Brawl is Over

Lou and his sister have no intention of falling for Saunders' guff and when their hired hand played by Si Jenks gets plugged (Don't worry, kids, he'll be fine.) Lou is only too happy to help lawyer Kimball take down the villains.  Peggy is only too happy to help out the handsome lawyer as well.  Peggy and Kimball will make eyes at each other in the romantic subplot of the flick.

The taking down of the baddies is managed in under an hour and is accompanied by four songs, a couple of brawls, and plenty of riding and shooting.  It is fun to watch Lou clean out a mess of hombres by chucking billiard balls at them.  He's got a good arm and a good eye.

Lou Gehrig

Lou is also a real good sport about learning to ride a horse and dress like a "real" cowboy.  He has the amateur habit of shouting his lines, but overall the Lou Gehrig we meet in Rawhide comes across the screen as a genuinely nice and friendly guy, who is having a lot of fun playing cowboy.  If time had been on his side, it would have been pleasant to see Lou attempt another film.

Wednesday, June 1, 2016


The plan for June is to spend some time with Buster Keaton. Buster the dreamer and Buster the doer.  Buster the ambitious and Buster the romantic. It is time to watch Buster as 1928s The Cameraman.

Buster, the character in this movie, is a NYC photographer; an artist in tintype. The photo produced on tin had its heyday in the late 19th century. Rumpled little Buster and his career seem an anachronism in the late 1920s, an era most remembered for its fast-paced jazz sound-tracked antics.

Life is about to take a sudden change for our hero. He has met a girl. Correction.He has met THE girl. Miss Sally, played by lovely Marceline Day is the Girl Friday for the MGM Newsreel Department. The smitten Buster is encouraged by Sally's kind advice regarding how to break into this modern form of photography. His life savings go toward a second-hand (maybe third or fourth hand) moving picture camera. It will only be a matter of the right breaks (please not the office window again!) and he'll be in business. See Buster in Yankee Stadium! Too bad the team was in St. Louis.

Buster Keaton, Marceline Day

Miss Sally is also kindly encouraging regarding their personal relationship. She lets it be known that she may possibly be free on Sunday. See Buster break the bank for a pocketful of dimes with which to show the young lady a good time. See Buster brave the sitting area of the women's residence while waiting for his date. See Buster drive a cop played by Harry Gribbon positively goofy in a running (in more ways than one) gag throughout the movie. See Buster at the municipal pool sharing a changing locker with rotund Edward Brophy (Dumbo). See Buster lose his swimwear in the attempt to impress his date. See Buster catch a cold. 

Josephine, Buster Keaton

Sally tips Buster to a celebration in Chinatown that might make for good copy. When a Tong war breaks out Buster is Johnny-on-the-spot, along with a new companion in Josephine the famous Capuchin Monkey (The Kid Brother) of the movies. Josephine is an adorable scene-stealer who both hinders and helps Buster as he records and creates news in Chinatown. Josephine is also instrumental in wrapping things up quite nicely in the amorous section of our story. In the best heroic and comedic fashion, Buster succeeds on all levels, as does the movie.  

The Cameraman was directed by Edward Sedgwick and Buster Keaton, two compatible comedic souls who found each other at MGM. Sadly, their creativity was not utilized at its best by the studio in the coming sound era, but that does not negate the pleasure to be found in their best work. The Cameraman was placed on the National Film Registry in 2005.  

TCM is screening The Cameraman on Wednesday, June 15th at 6:00 am, kicking off a day of movies about photographers. I will confess to not being a fan of the score provided on the TCM copy of The Camerman, but it may be just your thing. Live accompaniment by William O'Meara at a Silent Revue screening a few years ago was much more to my liking.


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