Tuesday, November 29, 2016

THE CARY GRANT BLOGATHON: The Talk of the Town (1942)

An idea whose time has come! Phyllis Loves Classic Movies is hosting The Cary Grant Blogathon from November 29th to December 1st:  Day 1 - Day 2 - Day 3

Nora Shelley played by Jean Arthur is the prettiest little schoolteacher ever to grace a 1942 comedy/drama. Nora Shelley also owns the prettiest little out of the way cottage for rent. The renter for the summer is Professor Michael Lightcap played by Ronald Colman. Lightcap is a noted law professor who has a lot on his mind. He is writing a book and he is in line for an appointment to the Supreme Court. The professor has lived a musty life of theories and tomes. His eyes are about to be opened to what is around him. How can it not be, living in a pretty little cottage owned by a pretty little schoolteacher? A schoolteacher with a fugitive for a friend.

Leopold:  "Stop saying "Leopold" like that, tenderly. It sounds funny. You can't do it with a name like Leopold."

Cary Grant plays Leopold Dilg, a natural born agitator who has been accused of arson and murder. His innocence is no matter to the business and political forces poised against him, but it does matter to Nora Shelley. She allows Dilg to stay at her cottage in the guise of a gardener. The professor and the malcontent duke it out in the fields of politics, law and romance.

Leopold:  "With these indoor habits of yours, you've got the complexion of a gravel pit."

Michael:  "You know, Joseph, you're no oil painting yourself."

George Stevens' The Talk of the Town was nominated for seven Academy Awards including Best Picture, Best screenplay by Irwin Shaw and Sidney Buchman, Best Original Story by Sidney Harmon, Best Black and White Cinematography by Ted Tetzlaff, Best Art Direction, Editing and Scoring. The film won not one of those categories, but it is sure to win you as a fan if this is your first time viewing the picture.

A romantic comedy that features political discussions? How would that work? It works just fine. The ideas put forth are the timeless ideas that all generations grapple with and the actors presenting these thoughts are pure class. Cary Grant and Ronald Colman are more versatile than their images project. Grant's work with George Stevens alone is a testament to his skill. The 1939 adventure classic Gunga Din, the sentimental Christmas favourite from 1941 Penny Serenade and this outstanding feature are films to point to with pride.

Michael:  "Miss Bush, I wonder if I might have the pleasure of taking you dancing tonight?"

Regina:  "The pleasure! Well, say now, that's really something. I don't know what to say. It takes my breath away. Why, you're real cute. Listen, you blow your horn at seven tonight, right outside, Sonny."

The Talk of the Town features many delights in its supporting cast. Edgar Buchanan is the sly and, possibly the smartest man in the room, as Sam Yates. Rex Ingram, playing beyond his years, is the professor's devoted servant Tilney. Devotion is a difficult thing to play, but Ingram was a master of his craft. Glenda Farrell outrageously steals her scenes as a manicurist with knowledge that can save the beleaguered Dilg. The shy Professor Lightcap's attempted seduction of the lady is something worth watching over and over again.

Leopold:  "Well, it's a form of self-expression. Some people write books. Some people write music. I make speeches on street corners."

Back to pretty schoolteacher Nora Shelly. She has to choose between Cary Grant and Ronald Colman. What would you do? Watch the movie and you'll spend delectable years mulling over that conundrum.

Monday, November 21, 2016



I don't think I ever had a totally clear picture of how I would spend my "golden years", but I'm pretty sure attending a dialysis clinic three times a week didn't crack the top ten.

Instead of a movie buff, today think of Caftan Woman as an old gal rocking on the front porch regaling passersby with the gory tale of her health.

Years ago (beginning in 2001) I was engaged in a long battle to beat colorectal cancer which involved two rounds of chemotherapy, radiation and multiple surgeries.  Once they start tinkering with you, it seems there is no end.  In my case my kidneys found all of these procedures rather trying. For many years my wonderful nephrologist and her team helped me to stave off dialysis with medication, hydration and monitoring.  This summer, however, brought about a new normal.

Fortunately, the clinic is located in my neighbourhood and each station comes equipped with televisions to help the hours speed by.  They even get TCM!  Gee, how tough is this going to be?

I understand that for many dialysis patients and their doctors there is a period of adjustment regarding form of treatment, etc.  I am one of their number.  This involved one week wherein I was subjected to four surgical procedures, three of them in two days.  A rather wearing experience, even for one perpetually teased for being a "Cockeyed Optimist".

Driving Miss Paddy Lee

However, I wasn't about to let the timing (during the run of the "EX") of these Universal Horror Lab experiments keep me from enjoying the Nolan Girls annual visit to the Canadian National Exhibition.  My sister Maureen rented a wheelchair for the invalid and my daughter Janet took special care of me.  Above I am protecting ice cream from a bump in the road.

Nolan Girls out and about.
Paula, Tracey with Lenny, CW and #1 Daughter

The rarely seen Maureen, who is usually behind the camera.
Yes, she's a Yankees fan. There's one in every family. Two in ours.

Anyway, this is now life for Caftan Woman and I wanted to share it with the special friends I have made over the years.  I hope it doesn't reflect in my writing.  If you catch me getting maudlin, just give me a friendly kick.

Current Catch 22:  My hemaglobin is low and my body reacts poorly to iron pills and drips.  If we can't fix this I will not be eligible for the transplant list.  Like Gilda said, "It's always something."

It's a good thing I like Franz Waxman because every time they hook me up to the infernal machine my mind goes to his score for The Bride of Frankenstein.  The soaring and sentimental Peyton Place?  No.  The cool and jazzy Rear Window?  No.  The Bride of Freaking Frankenstein.

Sunday, November 13, 2016

AT THE CIRCUS BLOGATHON: Charlie Chan at the Circus (1936)

Critica Retro and Serendipitous Anachronisms are hosting the At the Circus Blogathon running from November 11 to 13. Click HERE for all the fun and excitement under the big top!

Lt. Macy:  "How did the snake get in here?"
Holt:  "How did the ape get out of the cage?"

Questions, questions, so many questions when Charlie Chan went to the circus in 1936. Warner Oland had been playing Chan since 1931 and had become more than a popular film star, he had become an international sensation. Oland and his wife Edith had visited China where he was greeted by friendly mobs of fans and addressed as "Mr. Chan". Acclaim indeed! For an adoring public, Warner Oland had become Charlie Chan.

A night out with the Chan Family
14 free passes to the circus!

One of the outstanding features of the character of Chan, as opposed to many other fictional crime-solvers, is the fact that he is a family man. A family man in a big way with 12 offspring. During the course of the series, he even becomes a grandfather (Charlie Chan in Honolulu). We don't generally see a lot of granddads going head to head with the criminal class.

The continuity of quality in the Chan series may be attributed to the prolific screenwriting team of Robert Ellis and Helen Logan. They are responsible for Charlie Chan in Egypt, Charlie Chan's Secret, Charlie Chan at the Olympics, Charlie Chan's Murder Cruise, Charlie Chan on Broadway, Charlie Chan at Monte Carlo, Charlie Chan at the Racetrack, City in Darkness and - ta-da! - Charlie Chan at the Circus. You may be familiar with some of these popular titles from the pair as well:  Hello Frisco, Hello, Tin Pan Alley, Sun Valley Serenade, Four Jills in a Jeep and Footlight Serenade.

Charlie Chan at the Circus was director Harry Lachman's first Chan picture and he would go on to direct four others later in the series.

Circus people vs. the police
Warner Oland, Olive Brasno, Francis Ford, George Brasno
Shirley Deane, Hal Blake, Maxine Reiner, Boothe Howard, J. Carroll Naish

In our film the entire Charlie Chan family is on vacation when an unexpected treat arrives in the form of free passes to the Kinney and Gaines Traveling Circus. The Kinney (Paul Stanton) half of the partnership has been receiving threatening letters and wishes to consult with our hero. The original owner of the circus, Mr. Gaines (Francis Ford) had used the infusion of cash from his new partner to keep the circus going. Mr. Gaines is behind in his payments and is in danger of losing the circus to his much-disliked partner.

Mr. Gaines does have one person in his corner in the form of lovely aerialist Marie Norman (Maxine Reiner). The couple is engaged and Marie does her best to see that others appreciate the good side of Gaines. She is not successful. Gaines is most proficient at hiding any good side. Marie's sister Louise (Shirley Deane) and her beau John (Hal Blake), who works with the animals, are only sticking with the poor working conditions under Kinney to support Marie.

Charlie gets a tour of the circus including the big cats.

Wardrobe mistress Nellie Farrell (Drue Leyton) has a past with Gaines which is none too pleasant. Her brother Dan (Boothe Howard) the head animal trainer has a bad attitude and a nasty scar from one of the circus' main attractions, a rambunctious ape. Tom Holt (J. Carroll Naish) does just about every job at the circus. He's a snake charmer, a porter on the train and helps out with the animals. He came to the circus with Gaines. What is their relationship?

The evening at the circus barely comes to an end before the body of the despised Kinney is discovered in the locked business wagon. The local police in the form of Lt. Massey (Wade Boteler) is determined to hold the circus in town until the case is solved. This will not bode well for the livelihood of the intrepid entertainers. Charlie Chan in convinced to take a hand in the investigation and in turn he convinces the police to let the circus continue on its route. The plan is to trap the murderer while he or she goes about their usual routine. This is usually a sure-fire trick of the renowned inspector, but will it work this time?

Shia Jung as Su Toy

Prominent among the guest players are the charming Shia Jung as Su Toy, a sideshow contortionist who catches the romantic eye of number one son Lee played by Keye Luke. Shia Jung was born in Hong Kong and in the 1940s returned there and was featured in a Tarzan series. Luke joined the series in 1935s Charlie Chan in Paris and this was his third entry in the series. Keye Luke added a lot to the Chan pictures in humanizing his detective Pop, and was a draw for the young ladies in the audience.

On the job - incognito!
George Brasno, Keye Luke

George and Olive Brasno were a successful brother and sister Vaudevillian team. The singing and dancing Little People were featured in this and other movie roles including The Mighty Barnum, Little Miss Broadway and Carnival. In Charlie Chan at the Circus, they play a married couple, Colonel Tim and Lady Tiny and perform a marvelous dance routine. Lady Tiny is instrumental in persuading Inspector Chan to take up their cause. Colonel Tim becomes a willing cohort to Lee Chan's detecting efforts.

One of the thrilling aspects of the movie is that it was filmed on the winter location of The Barnes Circus and utilized the sights, sounds, people and animals from day-to-day circus life. The entertaining clowns, the giant man, the sideshow exhibits and the myriad of exotic animals bring a colourful atmosphere to the murder mystery core of Charlie Chan at the Circus.

Friday, November 11, 2016


Steve of MovieMovieBlogBlog is hosting The 2nd Annual One of My All-Time Favorite Cartoons Blogathon. I'll never forgive myself for missing the first one, but you can click HERE to enjoy all of the contributions this time around.

October has turned into a month-long celebration of Hallowe'en and is a traditional time to indulge in our favourite ghost stories. It is in December, however, that the greatest ghost story of them all holds sway over much of the world's imagination. Time has not dimmed our fascination with Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol which first appeared in 1843. Readings, live performances, radio adaptations, and multiple films and parodies have entertained in the centuries following the story's debut.

We still enjoy hearing and watching Ebenezer Scrooge go through his yuletide transformation as much on our 30th or 60th encounter with the tale as with our first. One thing that may be missing is the thrill of the ghostly encounters which is so potent when we are young or hearing the story for the first time.

The supernatural aspect of the story is made clear from the opening credits of

Richard Williams'
Production Of

A Christmas Carol
Charles Dickens

A Ghost Story
Of Christmas.

The credits run over scenes of a Victorian Christmas in a grey London with a choir of children's voices singing God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen.


Richard Williams, Chuck Jones

This Oscar winner for Best Short Subject, Animated Films elegantly and eerily takes us back to the true haunting of Scrooge. 1971s A Christmas Carol co-produced by Chuck Jones and director Richard Williams was created for television, but theatrical showings allowed for its Oscar nomination.

Legendary Richard Williams is a Toronto born artist, animator and former jazz musician. His other Oscar acknowledgments include work on Who Framed Roger Rabbit and a nomination last year for Prologue. Fellow legend Chuck Jones, whose influential entertainments range from his years at Warner Brothers and beyond, received three career Oscar nominations, one win for The Dot and the Line: A Romance in Lower Mathematics and an Honorary Award.

The actors are more than usually suited to their voice-over tasks. Michael Redgrave (The Lady Vanishes, The Importance of Being Earnest), with his rich, distinctive and oh-so-British voice is the narrator; confidently drawing us into the world of the story.

Cast as Scrooge and Marley is Alastair Sim (Green for Danger, Stage Fright), whose portrayal of the character in the 1951 film release rates among the favourite of that character for many fans. That earlier film has become such a tradition that hearing Sim recreate the role here feels natural and familiar. It is Scrooge as he should be. Michael Horden (A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, The Spy Who Came in from the Cold) was the tragic Marley's Ghost to Sim's Scrooge in 1951 and recreates that role here. It is a perfect pairing. You can also see Horden playing Eb himself in a BBC production from 1977.

The original musical score by Tristram Cary (The Ladykillers, Five Million Years to Earth) creates a chilling and insistent mood of the mysterious forces at work in the story.

The character animation suits the descriptions of the author and the early illustrations of John Leech. Tiny Tim is adorable without being cloying. Marley's Ghost is a frightening aberration. Old Fezziwig is a darling and the Christmas spirits are embodied perfectly matching our imaginations. Animation is the perfect medium for creating a Spirit of Christmas Past according to Dickens' description.

The scenes move swiftly from one to the next, without lessening the impact of each moment. We see the brightness of young Scrooge's imagination in his lonely schoolroom, the lovely green garden where the adult Scrooge spurns love, the grim, rat-infested hovel of the pawnbroker, the grey wild sea at night.

The emotional impact of A Christmas Carol is retained and enhanced in this compact yet artistic retelling. A perfect companion on a snowy December day, and one of my all-time favourite cartoons.

Friday, November 4, 2016


Joel McCrea
November 5, 1905 - October 20, 1990

The Joel McCrea Blogathon is hosted by Toby Roan of 50 Westerns of the 50s.  Click HERE to enjoy all the contributions to the celebration.

Handsome and athletic Joel McCrea entered the movies as an extra in the late 1920s and by the early sound era he was proving himself a valuable and versatile young leading man.  Dramas include The Lost Squadron, These Three and Dead End.  Adventure films such as The Most Dangerous Game and Bird of Paradise.  A leading man adept at comedy, McCrea showed his chops in Woman Chases Man, The More the Merrier and the Preston Sturges classics Sullivan's Travels and The Palm Beach Story.  Along with Sturges, top flight directors George Stevens, Alfred Hitchcock, William Wyler, Howard Hawks, C.B. DeMille and William Wellman knew what a treasure they had in Joel McCrea.

The man who listed his profession as "rancher" instead of actor was also particularly at home in the western.  Early in his career the opportunities in that genre were surprisingly few, but of top quality including Barbary Coast, Wells Fargo co-starring wife Frances Dee, Union Pacific, The Great Man's Lady and Buffalo Bill.  Today's focus is on The Virginian.  After playing the title character McCrea would turn his attention exclusively to westerns.  Even his cameo in Hollywood Story indicated by costume that actor McCrea was involved in the making of a western.

Owen Wister's 1902 novel The Virginian is a story, as they say, with legs, creating template basis for many of the western based stories which followed.  Shortly after its successful debut the story was adapted as a play by Wister and Kirk LaShelle that ran on Broadway twice, in 1904 and again in 1905, both times starring Dustin Farnum in the title role.  Farnum would recreate that role on screen in 1914 in one of Cecil B. DeMille's early directing forays.  The film packs the story of the maturing of a good-natured youth through love and tragedy into a brisk 54 minutes.  Less than a decade later, the story would again hit the screen starring Kenneth Harlan and Russell Simpson (The Grapes of Wrath) as villain Trampas. 

Sound came to the movies in 1927 and to The Virginian in 1929 with Victor Fleming directing a dream cast of Gary Cooper as The Virginian, Richard Arlen as the feckless and doomed Steve Andrews and Mary Brian as Molly Wood.  Walter Huston is an outstanding Trampas.  Sounds of a cattle drive and singing are heard over the opening credits, but the rest of the film is scoreless.  There is however some nice use of sound in touches such as the clicking of a gun barrel and the whistle of a quail.

PS:  There's a George Chandler sighting for those into that sort of thing.

It is not a surprise that Paramount would revisit the story in 1946 and feature McCrea in the lead.  The screenplay was by the team of Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett, the well-regarded team behind It's a Wonderful Life, The Dairy of Anne Frank, The Thin Man and Seven Brides for Seven Brothers.  Their version was adapted from Howard Estabrook's screenplay for the 1929 film.  Estabrook was a former actor and prolific screenwriter who won the Oscar for Wesley Ruggles' 1931 version of Cimarron.  Other notable titles include Hell's Angels, David Copperfield, The Shopworn Angel and The Human Comedy.

McCrea was 40 when he was cast as the Virginian.  His maturity shows, but not to a disadvantage.  While we don't see the onscreen antics that bond this "man with no name" and his friend Steve we understand it through their interactions.  Sonny Tufts plays Steve and, as he could from time to time, acquits himself quite well in this important supporting role.  A dreamer and a follower, Steve is led into a life of crime by Trampas which leads to tragedy for the Virginian and his friend.

The "smile when you call me that" scene.
Joel McCrea, Brian Donlevy

Brian Donlevy often played sympathetic or comical characters, but when he came up against McCrea there was always onscreen conflict in Barbary Coast, Union Pacific, and The Great Man's Lady.  Donlevy as Trampas is as nasty and craft as they come, and dressed all in black just so we don't miss it. 

Molly and The Virginian
Barbara Britton, Joel McCrea

Barbara Britton makes an attractive and feisty Molly Wood, the Vermont born schoolteacher who travels west for adventure.  Her stubborn pride almost gets in the way of the romance that comes her way, but the Virginian is just as stubborn so this part of the plot plays out as it should.  Barbara Britton would find herself a TV pitchwoman in the 1950s as well as starring in Mr. and Mrs. North with Richard Denning.  Her film career includes Champagne for Caesar, the 1955 version of The Spoilers, I Shot Jesse James, Cover Up and Gunfighters, Albuquerque and Captain Kidd with Randolph Scott.

The Virginian was the first feature directed by Stuart Gilmore, Oscar-nominated editor for The Andromeda Strain, Airport and The Alamo.  He would return to that career after directing four other films in the early 50s, four westerns and the B sci-fi classic Captive Women.  Gilmore directs a who's who of supporting players including Fay Baiter, William Frawley, James Burke, Joe Crehan, Henry O'Neill, Tom Tully, Paul Guilfoyle and Marc Lawrence.  

The Virginian was filmed in startling Technicolor, as was Paramount's way at the time.  It makes for an almost hypnotically beautiful film, but in some ways also sanitizes the grit that could be found in the story.  Nonetheless, The Virginian always holds interest for an audience no matter how familiar with the tale.  Joel McCrea is particularly appealing in the role and the movie holds a special place in his filmography as the stepping off to years of satisfying western entertainment for generations of fans.  

PS:  There's an Esther Howard sighting for those into that sort of thing.

I mentioned the story had legs, didn't I?  We can also enjoy a 2000 Made-for-TV version directed by and starring Bill Pullman.  James Drury, star of the popular television series adapted from the novel (1962-1971) makes an appearance in this one.  There is a 2014 video re-imagining starring country singer Trace Adkins and Ron Perlman as Judge Henry.  The IMDb also has the title listed in development.


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