Thursday, December 29, 2016


Alfred Hitchcock was a funny guy. Certainly he was a master at setting up a movie thrill and keeping us on the edge of our seats, but it is the sly humour that permeates his best work that sets him above other directors in the field. When our heroes find themselves in dire straits they invariably resort to cracking wise. The self-deprecating, deadpan humour in the scripts for The 39 Steps, The Lady Vanishes and The Man Who Knew Too Much very much align with the personality Hitch presented to the world.  It was that droll personality that made the director such a popular host of TVs Alfred Hitchcock Presents and The Alfred Hitchcock Hour.

Many of his villains display this wonderfully wry sensibility from Paul Lukas in The Lady Vanishes to Herbert Marshall in Foreign Correspondent to Ray Milland in Dial M for Murder to James Mason in North by Northwest. There are times during the pictures where we almost root for the rotters!

British author Jack Trevor Story's novel The Trouble with Harry was published in 1949. Story was a prolific writer in a number of genres and went on to be a television writer and personality. John Michael Hayes wrote the screenplay, one of four collaborations with Hitchcock during this period including Rear Window, To Catch a Thief and The Man Who Knew Too Much. In The Trouble With Harry Hitch and Hayes made a cinematic drink of dry, nonsensical British humour and served it to the American public straight, no chaser. Box office success did not follow and the film would not find its audience for quite a while. Firstly, this was one of the legacy picture lost to public viewing until the 1980s and secondly, the joys of British humour courtesy of PBS, etc. had finally found its niche in America.

The beautiful and tranquil Vermont village, stunningly filmed in Technicolor by Hitch's favourite collaborator Robert Burks, is populated by a most quirky citizenry. Upon first meeting these individuals you may find yourself shaking your head and wondering about their sanity. However, by the end of the picture you will find yourself in accord with their off-kilter worldview. It may not even take that long as you are helped along by Saul Steinberg's amusing opening credits accompanied by Bernard Herrmann's cheeky score, his first with Hitchcock.

Arnie: "I'll try not to see him tomorrow."

A young boy, Arnie played by Jerry Mathers, discovers a corpse in the midst of the multi-coloured fallen leaves. This discovery does not leave the kid traumatized as he is a kid and his mind switches to other things of interest quickly. However, he is prescient enough to inform his mother, Jennifer played by Shirley MacLaine in her screen debut, of the man in the woods. Jennifer, instead of being disturbed by the occurrence, seems rather pleased. 

Arnie:  "You think she's pretty, you should see my slingshot."

A retired sea captain (more or less), Albert played by Edmund Gwenn, believes himself to be inadvertently responsible for the death of the stranger through a hunting accident. A local artist (modern), Sam played by John Forsythe, endeavours to assist the captain in his attempts to avoid any difficulties with authority figures. This assistance leads Sam to the lovely young mother and his interest increases.

Miss Gravely:  "What seems to be the trouble, Captain?"

Meanwhile, the captain also becomes involved in an unexpected romance with Miss Gravely played by Mildred Natwick. The spinster has her own reasons for suspecting she is at the heart of the matter plaguing this assembled band of conspirators. It is all so annoying!

Mildred Dunnock plays storekeeper Mrs. Wiggs. She knows everybody. She thinks she knows everything, but she's not in on the Harry business. After all, her son Calvin, played by Royal Dano, is a deputy sheriff. When you are trying to hide a murdered man, it does not pay to have a deputy sheriff hanging about. 

Miss Gravely:  "I wanted to be certain it would fit a man."

The acting ensemble expertly handles the silliness of the appearing and disappearing body of Harry Worp, the man who will not stay buried. So many things might go wrong. Can Arnie be trusted to keep his mouth shut? Will pride stand in the way of Sam actually making a sale? What about that teacup Miss Gravely purchases? What about Jennifer's short fuse? 

The Trouble with Harry makes me laugh and, in many ways, is a thoughtful and comforting movie. Prepare your eyes for a feast of Technicolor and your funny bone for a tickling that will last long after the movie has ended.

TCM is screening The Trouble With Harry on Sunday, January 1st at 4:30 am. It ends a full day of Hitchcock films that begins at 6:00 am with Rope. Remember, in the world of TCM a day is begins at 6 am and ends the following morning, same time. In the outside world, we might consider it 4:30 am on Monday the 2nd of January. If you are confused, The Trouble With Harry will not help you!

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

FAVOURITE MOVIES: The Holly and the Ivy (1952)

Wynyard Browne's play The Holly and the Ivy premiered in 1950 at the Duchess Theatre in London. It tells the story of the Gregory family and the Christmas that taught them lessons about life and each other. The play was filmed in 1952 by director George More O'Ferrall, a pioneering BBC drama producer. 

The Holly and Ivy is still a popular play with community theatre groups and has long been a favourite of the Nolan sisters. It used to play yearly on local CBC television but disappeared from their lineup long ago. Thanks to a recent internet find I was able to share it with my daughter for the first time. It was a wonderful experience for both of us.

A fine ensemble of top British actors was cast to play the various members of the Gregory clan. The Rev. Martin Gregory (Ralph Richardson) was widowed the previous spring and this will be the first Christmas without the lady of the house. Daughter Jenny (Celia Johnson) has been caring for her father and dutifully sends on the invitations, as usual, keeping up the tradition.

Invited will be her grand maternal Aunt Lydia (Margaret Halstan) and gruff paternal Aunt Bridget (Maureen Delaney). Both actresses played the roles in the stage production. A cousin by the name of Richard Wyndham (Hugh Williams) is an expected guest. He is also godfather to the sophisticated sister Margaret (Margaret Leighton), a writer on a fashion magazine who makes her base in London. Brother Mick (Denholm Elliott) is in the army, but he'll wrangle leave.

Celia Johnson, Margartet Leighton

Jenny, as I mentioned, is a dutiful woman devoted to her father. However, there is now another man in her life. David Paterson (John Gregson) is in love with Jenny and wants to marry her. He is also an engineer with a dream job waiting for him in South America come the new year. Jenny does not feel she can leave her father. Neither of the aunts is a suitable replacement and Jenny won't consider a housekeeper. The idea that Margaret would give up her life in London to hide away in the country is impossible. Martin thinks it is a compliment when he tells his daughter "What would I do without you?", but it only cements the idea that she can't leave him.

Maureen Delaney, Denholm Elliott, Margaret Halstan

There is telling humour and relatable behavior in The Holly and the Ivy as the family faces up to their inner thoughts and their relationships. The things that tie families together and that impact our choices are brought into the open; an outburst of truth followed by the relief of understanding. Isn't the new year just the time to look at ourselves and each other with clear eyes and open hearts?

For your pleasure and edification here is Laura's Miscellaneous Musings take on the film.

Malcolm Arnold's title music:

Saturday, December 17, 2016

The WHAT A CHARACTER! Blogathon: Cora Witherspoon

Cora Witherspoon
(1890 - 1957)

It is time for the 5th Annual What a Character! Blogathon hosted by Paula's Cinema Club, Once Upon a Screen and Outspoken and Freckled.  Day 1.  Day 2.  Day 3.

Cora Witherspoon was born in New Orleans on January 5, 1890. At the turn of the century, her elder sister Maud began supporting Cora and their widowed mother by founding the Maud Witherspoon Rag Doll Manufacturing Company. While still a teenager she made and sold rag dolls such as the one pictured below.

Collectors of Americana and antiques prize these dolls made over a century ago. Cora was as creative as her sister, but her talent took a different road. At an early age she joined theatrical stock companies in Louisiana preparing herself for a life upon the stage and never looked back.

By the age of 20 Cora made her Broadway debut in The Concert produced by no less an impresario than David Belasco. As she would quite often in her career, Cora played older than her actual age. In this case a good 50 years older! Between 1910 and her last New York appearance in a 1946 revival of The Front Page as Bruce's confused mother, Cora Witherspoon appeared in 34 Broadway plays. You will recognize some of the titles such as Jewel Robbery, Camille, The Awful Truth, and Daddy Long Legs.

Cora Witherspoon, young actress

Cora was not fated to reprise any of her stage roles when those plays were adapted for the screen, nonetheless, she was a popular and busy Hollywood player during the 1930s and 1940s. She was often cast as a comic busybody, whether the character be rich or poor.  Among her film roles, you will find some classic titles and many memorable characterizations.

Billie Burke, Frank Morgan, Cora Witherspoon
Piccadilly Jim

Piccadilly Jim is MGMs 1936 adaption of the P.G. Wodehouse novel starring Robert Montgomery. It is very, very funny in some spots and doesn't work so well in others. The top-rate comic actors are not to blame. After all, Frank Morgan, Eric Blore, Billie Burke, and Cora Witherspoon knew their stuff. Cora plays an aunt of the overbearing sort.

Cora is a member of the upper crust in the eternally funny Libeled Lady. In Quality Street Cora was cast below stairs as a maid comically paired with Eric Blore. In the Gladys George version of Madame X Cora is a shopkeeper who helps the downtrodden heroine raise money on her once glamorous wardrobe. You'll find Cora minding everyone else's manners in the Technicolor western Dodge City and exercising her troubles, if not extra pounds, away as one of the many spa patrons in The Women.

Cora as Mrs. Clara Meigs
Colonel Effingham's Raid

Up to the early 1950s you can see Cora in Honeymoon for Three, the remake of Goodbye Again, Over 21 from the Ruth Gordon play starring Irene Dunne, Colonel Effingham's Raid starring Charles Coburn, The Mating Season with Thelma Ritter and many other films. 

Let's take a look at some of my personal favourites from Cora Witherspoon's film history.

W.C. Fields, Cora Witherspoon, Evelyn Del Rio, Jessie Ralph
The Bank Dick

Pictured above is Egbert Souse (Fields) in a scene of familial affection which threads its way through 1940s The Bank Dick. His wife Agatha (Witherspoon) wears herself to a frazzle in her constant concern over Egbert's smoking, drinking and lack of employment prospects. Agatha's mother (Ralph) is of great assistance in making certain Egbert toes the line. Note the endearing action of youngest daughter Elsie May Adele Brunch Souse. It almost brings a tear to the eye.

According to an entry on the IMDb Cora and Bill were quite friendly during the shoot and remained in touch for years afterward.

Cora Witherspoon, George Barbier
On the Avenue

1937s On the Avenue, an Irving Berlin musical, features my all-time favourite Cora Witherspoon performance. She has plenty of screen time and a very appealing character. Her Aunt Fritz is one of those aunts who leans toward the eccentric side. What do I mean, leans? She dives headfirst into the unconventional end of the pool. Witness her Russian phase and her circus phase, etc.

The wealthy Carraways are lampooned on Broadway much to the chagrin of Commodore Carraway (Barbier) and his daughter Mimi played by Madeleine Carroll. You can tell by the picture that Aunt Fritz is getting a kick out of seeing herself spoofed on stage. Mimi eventually finds herself falling for the initially hated star of the show played by Dick Powell. On the Avenue features much music and fun, courtesy of the leads, the Ritz Brothers, and a scene-stealing Alice Faye, before the final clinch. Said final clinch requires lots of support and help from quirky Aunt Fritz.

James Burke, Don Beddoe, Cora Witherspoon
Charlie Chan's Murder Cruise

Charlie Chan's Murder Cruise from 1940 is a remake of 1931s Charlie Chan Carries On based on the novel of that name by Earl Derr Biggers. Charlie's colleague, Inspector Duff from Scotland Yard, has been following a cruise since it left London where one of its members was murdered. In Hawaii Inspector Duff, closing in on the murderer is himself murdered. Inspector Chan takes up the case.

Cora Witherspoon plays Susie Watson, a most excitable member of the tour. She sees the murderer behind every curtain and her boisterous personality is impossible to ignore. During a world tour, you might find Susie best taken in small doses, but the cruise and the movie would be pretty dull without her.

Charlie Chan's Murder Cruise, like the entire Chan series, is a treat for fans of character actors. Along with Cora Witherspoon, the cast includes Leo G. Carroll, Don Beddoe, Lionel Atwill, Charles Middleton, Leonard Mudie, and James Burke. Cora stands out beautifully like a soprano soloist with an all-male choir.

We are not privileged to see Cora Witherspoon in her natural element, the stage, but with over 50 film and television appearances to her credit, we have a chance to enjoy 20 years of a fine actress' career.

Friday, December 16, 2016

THE VINCENTE MINNELLI BLOGATHON: The Reluctant Debutante (1958)

Michaela of Love Letters to Old Hollywood is hosting The Vincente Minnelli Blogathon running from December 16th to 18th.  Click HERE to join the celebration of the artistic and versatile director.

LONDON, 1958

Raised in the States by her American mother, Jane Broadbent has traveled to London to spend time with her father and his second wife. Jimmy, a banker, and Sheila are titled and run in rarefied circles.  Jane's visit coincides with "the season" when young women are launched into society and, at this time, introduced to the monarchy.  It had not occurred to Jimmy and Sheila to subject Jane to the rigours of continual parties until Sheila's cousin Mabel made it a sore point. Sheila had missed her coming out due to the commotion caused by Hitler. Jimmy recalls the whole thing as a tiring and terrible bore. Nonetheless, Sheila is off to the races with grand plans for Jane's debut and a ball of their own.

Sheila is one of those impetuous women and Jimmy has learned it is best to go along. Jane finds her first ball and the male company provided is not exactly to her taste. Mabel's daughter Clarissa has her eye on a guardsman named David. David also happens to be the name of the drummer who catches Jane's eye. There will be socially awkward, as well as romantic, complications. 

William Douglas-Home's The Reluctant Debutante was written in 1955 and opened in England starring young Anna Massey (daughter of Raymond Massey and Adrianne Allen) as Jane. Sheila was played by Celia Johnson and Wilfred Hyde-White was Jimmy. When the play moved to Broadway in 1956 Adrianne Allen played Sheila. MGM had already bought the rights to the play by the time of the New York run. Home, an aristocratic politician and WW2 veteran knew his subject well when he chose the topic of this play which he adapted for the screen.

Vincente Minnelli directs his stars.

Vincente Minnelli directed the lighter than air comedy-of-manners. It is one of three Minnelli films released in 1958 falling between Gigi and Some Came Running. The high society setting cried out for Technicolor, which the artistic Minnelli always used with the master's touch. 

Rex Harrison and Kay Kendall were married from 1957 until her untimely death from leukemia in 1959. On screen in The Reluctant Debutante they are a sheer delight to behold deftly handling the witty lines along with some unexpected and very funny slapstick.

Haven't you heard?

Angela Lansbury is Sheila's cousin Mabel, the cause of all this sudden interest in "the season", instigator of gossip and all around meddler. Ms. Lansbury is, as expected, perfection.

Sandra Dee is charming as the composed and strong-minded Jane who is, more or less, launching herself into adulthood. John Saxon is her interesting jazzy beau, David Parkson. Peter Myers is very funny as the boring David Fenner, Sheila's choice for Jane and Mabel's choice for Clarissa. Sheila will learn that young men are not always what you assume, especially if both are named David.

Daddy will fix everything.

Jane is out terribly late with the wrong David and Sheila is worried.

Sheila:  "It's your fault. You were supposed to be watching her."
Jimmy:  "My fault? It's your fault and you might as well face up to it. You and Mabel Clairmont and the rest behaving like a lot of refined white slave traffickers. Look at you. You dress these wretched children up in silks and satins and throw them on the town to catch the eye of the young men."
Sheila:  "Don't you want your daughter looking nice?"
Jimmy:  "Not if it leads to this."
Sheila:  "This was an accident."
Jimmy:  "An accident indeed! We sit all summer waiting for a victim like a fellow waiting for a tiger with a goat on a stick. And then when the tiger doesn't come what do you do? Ring up the biggest maneater in London and ask him in for a meal. And then when he carries the goat off into the bush somewhere you say it's an accident. The whole thing is fundamentally immoral."

The year of the film's release, 1958, Queen Elizabeth II ended the traditional introduction of young ladies at court as old-fashioned.

Monday, December 12, 2016

Merry Christmas, KATHY O' (1958)

Jack Sher's 1948 magazine story Memo on Kathy O'Rourke is the basis for the 1958 Universal-International release Kathy O' written and directed by Jack Sher.  Sher was nominated for a Writers Guild of America award shared with A.B. Guthrie for the Shane screenplay. You may be familiar with some of Sher's other screenplays such as The Kid from Left Field, Walk the Proud Land, The Wild and the Innocent, Paris Blues and Critics Choice.

Memo on Kathy O'Rourke reads as a memo from Harry Johnson, publicity man based in Hollywood to his counterpart Irv in New York City. Harry has special instructions on the upcoming visit by the studio's child star and her guardian. Harry describes how he came to befriend the lonely kid and the truth behind her well-publicized "kidnapping". The same details survived to Sher's screenplay, plus.

Kathy O'Rourke (Patty McCormack) is the studio's most valuable property and she is treated as such by the brass and by her maternal aunt (Mary Jane Croft). Kathy's late mother had been a successful stage actress and when her parents were killed her aunt took over management of Kathy's life and career. Kathy is lonely and frustrated. Her only release is through a display of temper. Grown men quake at her outbursts. Smart men keep out of her way. Harry Johnson is a smart man, but a cog in the publicity machine must obey orders. He'd like to stay out of her way or give that kid a wallop. Fellow wage slave Ben Melnick (Sam Levene) reminds Harry that a wallop would be illegal as actresses are considered women.

The top writer on a New York magazine Celeste Saunders (Jan Sterling) is going to do a piece on Kathy and the studio is desperate that there be nothing untoward in the article.  Celeste has asked for Harry to be her assistant while in Hollywood. She related that they are good friends. Harry assures his boss that he and Celeste are indeed good friends, that is at least after their divorce 12 years ago.

Harry's wife Helen (Mary Fickett) was Celeste's roommate in New York. She probably knows more about Harry and Celeste's relationship than Harry does. Harry's kids Tommy (Terry Kelman) and "Bobo" (Ricky Kelman) are mildly surprised that their father seems to have a plethora of wives coming out of the woodwork.


The film is set at Christmas allowing for a background of decorations, gifts and carolers. Christmas is also a time when the lonely keenly feel their situation. Kathy lets her guard down with Celeste and finds a friend. Celeste, despite her success, pines for a touch of what her old friend Helen has, namely children. She finds that touch of a kindred spirit in the child who is loved by millions and by no one.

The annual Christmas parade creates a source of conflict for Kathy who thought she had a deal with Harry and her aunt that in return for good behavior with Celeste, she would not have to participate in the parade. When good old Aunt Harriet reneges on her side of the bargain, Kathy runs away.

Aunt Harriet and the studio jump to the conclusion that their golden egg has been kidnapped. Harry did not realize the story that was getting around when he took Kathy home to meet the family and now he's finding it awfully difficult to return the child without losing his job or landing in jail. How does Kathy adapt to living with a regular family? Will Harry keep his job or accept Celeste's enticing offer to return to New York?

You will love seeing Dan Duryea, the clown prince of noir, in the role of a harried family man. There is not a single trace of a psychotically motivated action. If you only know Mary Fickett from her Emmy winning years as Ruth Martin on All My Children you will gain a greater appreciation of the actress (also check out Man on Fire) for her combination of sophistication and warmth. Jan Sterling has a role that plays to all her strengths and vulnerabilities as a career woman who can't have it all.

Patty McCormack, the dynamo child actress who has been working since the age of eight right to this day, must have had a blast playing a temperamental star. Kathy O' was made two years after she recreated her Broadway role of Rhoda in The Bad Seed to a supporting actress nomination. Pair Kathy O' with the 1957 release All Mine to Give for a Patty Christmas double bill. If you are not tired, throw in the Wagon Train episode The Mary Ellen Thomas Story for good measure.

Kathy O' is a charming story about adults with problems, and children with adult problems. It is told with a winning sense of humor and understanding.  It would be enjoyable any time of year, but particularly during the season of Good Will.

Saturday, December 10, 2016

THE JOHN WAYNE BLOGATHON: Island in the Sky (1953)

Oh, happy day! The Midnite Drive-In and Hamlette's Soliloquy are hosting The John Wayne Blogathon running from December 9th to the 11th. Click HERE or HERE for all the great contributions.

1953s Island in the Sky directed by William A. Wellman is based on Ernest K. Gann's 1944 novel based on an actual incident in northern Canada involving the rescue of a downed plane. Both men were involved in aviation, Gann in WW2 and Wellman in WWI, before turning their hands to directing and writing.  Island in the Sky is a harrowing story of survival produced by John Wayne's Batjac for whom Wellman would direct six pictures in the decade, including three starring the Duke.

John Wayne is the featured lead player in Island in the Sky with an ensemble cast which includes some of Hollywood's best veteran character actors and up-and-comers. Director William Wellman is the narrator.

Army Air Transport Command was vital to the transportation of goods during the war and was comprised of both military and civilian commercial pilots. Captain Dooley's (John Wayne) Corsair ran into heavy weather on a trip from Greenland to Quebec. The combined cold, wind, and the effect from the Northern Lights caused limited radio contact and navigational issues. The plane became iced and led to the following report sent to home base: -


Dooley's crew
Sean McClory, Wally Cassell, Hal Baylor
Jimmy Lydon, John Wayne

The plane lands on a lake in uncharted wilderness somewhere in Labrador. Dooley got his crew down safely, but now that are stranded with no generator and, if divided judiciously, perhaps six days worth of food. The sub zero temperatures require energy to keep the men alive and alert.

The navigator played by James Lydon (Life With Father) is young and feeling guilty for any part he may have played in their accident. He misses his wife and recently born child. The radio operator played by Wally Cassell (Sands of Iwo Jima) is responsible for using whatever power they have in the best way to let their whereabouts be known. Crewman Stankowski played by Hal Baylor (The Set-Up) will be vital in keeping their efforts manageable. The co-pilot played by Sean McClory (The Quiet Man) is desperate in the search for food. Desperation can be a dangerous thing.

Search and Rescue regroup

The Colonel in charge of the search effort is played with authority by Walter Abel (Holiday Inn). The one thing he has no difficulty in finding is volunteers for the search. The camaraderie among the pilots is strong, as is their fondness for Dooley.

Willie Moon played by Andy Devine (Wild Bill Hickock) may look like his often-played buffoon, with his girth and a penchant for avoiding heavy work, but he is one of the sharpest of the pilots and a leader among the group. His co-pilot is played by Harry Carey Jr. (The Adventures of Spin and Marty) and radio operator by Bob Steele (F Troop). Lloyd Nolan (A Tree Grows in Brooklyn) is a determined yet sentimental fellow. His co-pilot is played by Carl Switzer (Track of the Cat), whose easy-going response to any suggestion "Whatever's customary" is a phrase I am considering adopting.

James Arness, George Chandler

A Batjac contractee with a nice featured role as a young pilot is James Arness (Gunsmoke). He is given a chance to shine and takes it. Nice to see. Allyn Joslyn (Heaven Can Wait) is another respected pilot and another actor who makes the most out of his scenes. Other familiar faces among the searchers are Paul Fix, Gordon Jones, Herbert Anderson, Darryl Hickman, Fess Parker and Louis Jean Heydt. Ann Doran fans will be pleased with her bit as Willie Moon's wife. Two of Bill Wellman's kids play their children.  Of course, this being a Wild Bill Wellman picture, there is a part for George Chandler.

"I guess we're awful hard to see down here. Awful hard."

Watching the earliest of John Wayne films you are aware of his charisma and potential. Rough around the edges, it would take years of on-the-job training for Duke to become an accomplished film actor. His very presence could overwhelm co-stars and that it does not is proof that he was one of those generous actors who learned how to share a scene. The better everyone does, the better it is for the picture. With roles like Dunson in Red River, Brittles in She Wore a Yellow Ribbon and Stryker in Sands of Iwo Jima behind him, John Wayne's work in the 1950s show his versatility and command of his gifts and skill. I find his performance in Island in the Sky to be among his best as he brings to life a man duty-bound to lead and care for his crew while himself battling the elements and starvation along with them.  I encourage you to judge for yourself by watching this intense and moving film. 

Friday, December 9, 2016

KIRK DOUGLAS 100TH BIRTHDAY BLOGATHON: A Letter to Three Wives (1949)

Karen of shadowsandsatin is hosting a celebratory blogathon in honour of the 100th birthday of Mr. Kirk Douglas, and we've all been invited.  To join the party, click HERE.

I always think of A Letter to Three Wives as an elegant movie. Certainly, it is not elegant in the idea that we are peering into the lives of these three couples, but in its elegant in its execution. Joseph Mankiewicz won Oscars for directing and for best screenplay. Vera Caspary (Laura) adapted from a story by John Klempner and shared in a Writers Guild of America win with Mankiewicz. As both writer and director Mankiewicz crafted the story of three marriages at a crisis point and the woman behind them all into a seamless vision. Poignant and humourous flashbacks smoothly reveal the regrets and love at stake.

Most elegant of all is the coolly ironic voice of Celeste Holm introducing us to her town and her friends. She is Addie Ross and Addie Ross has a connection to each of the men in our story. To rich and handsome Brad Bishop (Jeffrey Lynn) she shared her first black eye and her first kiss. To department store magnate Porter Hollingway (Paul Douglas) she is the embodiment of class and everything to which he aspires. To George Phipps (Kirk Douglas) she is an old pal, someone who understands and remembers.

To the wives, Debra Bishop (Jeanne Crain), Lora Mae Hollingsway (Linda Darnell) and Rita Phipps (Ann Sothern), Addie Ross is, to be polite, a thorn in their collective sides. Addie is a reminder of all the things that they are not. Addie's connection to the three men is so deep and the animosity that has built up with their wives so pervasive that when Addie writes a farewell letter to her friends letting them know that she has left town with one of their husbands, they believe her.

Ann Sothern, Kirk Douglas

In celebration of Kirk Douglas' centenary, we will now turn our attention to George Phipps. George and Rita, according to their friend Brad, were engaged at the age of five by an exchange of beetles. George, like Addie, is a commentator on the state of affairs. He has strong opinions and is not averse to making those opinions known in his own wry manner. George is considered something of an oddball and he likes it that way.  George is a schoolteacher, a man of limited earning potential, but one completely happy in his chosen career.  He loves his wife Rita for her independence and supports her career as a writer for a radio program. Rita's work outside the home has certainly made life more comfortable for the couple who are also the parents of twins. Nonetheless, in one of the most popular scenes from the movie, George lets his uncomplimentary opinion of radio and popular contemporary culture be known to the producers of Rita's show. Florence Bates and Hobart Cavanagh are not impressed.

"The purpose of radio writing, as far as I can see, is to prove to the masses that a deodorant can bring happiness, a mouthwash guarantee success and a laxative attract romance."  And that's just the start of his rant!

George, in a most modern attitude, works hard to not resent Rita's superior role in the family finances. He overlooks her forgetting his birthday or being too distracted to take an interest in good news he tries to impart. What bothers George, along with Rita's foolish jealousy of Addie, is her subverting her true character in order to please her producers. 

George Phipps is a find. George Phipps is a keeper. George Phipps is the Kirk Douglas that I fell in love with as a teenager. My other Kirk experiences at the time were multiple viewings of The Vikings and Detective Story. The violent Einar and the obsessive Detective McLeod were performances that impressed me, but the characters did not make my heart smile.

The devil-may-care attitude found in other Douglas characterizations such as Ned Land in 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea and Dempsey Ray in Man Without a Star, along with his Gentleman Caller in The Glass Menagerie also get a high crush rating, but none of them have pushed George Phipps off his throne. I realize there is a healthy dose of Mankiewicz in those feelings, but I can't imagine a better performance than the one given by Kirk Douglas to bring all the facets of George Phipps to life in A Letter to Three Wives.

Sunday, December 4, 2016


Crystal is hosting The Agnes Moorehead Blogathon running from December 4 - 6 at her site In the Good Old Days of Classic Hollywood. Click HERE for the wonderful contributions.

If you are a western fan you may have noticed that quite often the hero in the guise of a stranger who comes to town is often not who he says he is, but an undercover agent ferreting out evil doers. Hoppy was quite adept at that role. Tim Holt seemed to have a positive mania for the deception. Stay tuned.

At one time another popular addition to westerns was the singing cowboy. He fell by the wayside by the 1950s to be replaced by theme songs which hinted at (Johnny Guitar) or outright gave away (High Noon) the entire plot of the film they supported. In Station West we have a bridge between those two uses of song in the form of an uncredited Burl Ives in his first year in films. In the theme song he sings the lines:

The story is told in the dust of the prairie
That a man can't grow old where there's women and gold

The man in question is star Dick Powell who plays a fellow called Haven. Gold is indeed the reason he has come to this town on behalf of the Military Information Department. Mine owners have ended up storing their gold at a local fort because they have been robbed so often that Wells Fargo has stopped transporting their freight. Two soldiers have been murdered in the robberies. It is Haven's job to fix everything.

Jane Greer

Truer words were never sung as regards the song lyrics regarding women. Haven makes his presence known by stirring up trouble all over town. In the most successful saloon/gambling parlour, Haven first sees a sultry singer of romantic ballads played by Jane Greer. It is a moment for both of them. Sparks fly and the two will share a relationship of noirish sarcasm and surprisingly tender actions.

It is not until the next day that Haven discovers that the beautiful woman is the "Charlie" who runs the town. Charlie owns a piece of every business and a few souls as well. One of those souls belongs to a failed lawyer and gambler Mark Bristow played by Raymond Burr. His cowardly character will play a pivotal role in the unraveling of the case.

Dick Powell, Agnes Moorehead

The other woman in the case is Mrs. Mary Caslon played by Agnes Moorehead. Mrs. Caslon is a widowed mine owner and the main reason the military authorities have been so obliging about storing the gold. Mrs. Caslon is engaged to the fort commander Captain Iles played by Tom Powers. He is clearly besotted and willing to go against normal protocol. Mrs. Caslon is an extremely self-possessed and strong woman. Her relationship with Haven is one of mutual respect and curiosity as she supports the undercover operation in moral and practical ways. She is also quick to protect her interests when she feels she has been played. 

In 1948 Agnes Moorehead already had two Oscar nominations under her belt and the third of four would come the following year. This relatively little film from RKO seems like an odd fit in her string of high profile pictures. I would imagine that the opportunity to play such an intriguing character was of interest to the talented Aggie.

Station West is a well-paced western that lives on the edge of noir. Its two intriguing female characters are a large part of what gives it an out-of-the-ordinary interest. Certainly Agnes Moorehead always brought more than her best to any role she tackled.

Thursday, December 1, 2016


1959s Ride Lonesome is the sixth film in the seven collaborations between star Randolph Scott and director Budd Boetticher. Most of the acclaimed films in the series were written by Burt Kennedy, as is the case with our film of today.

Brigade and his quarry/bait
Randolph Scott, James Best

In Ride Lonesome our retired lawman turned bounty hunter Ben Brigade (Scott) is anything but lonesome in his quest for vengeance against an unrepentant villain. Brigade has captured killer Billy John played by James Best and seems to be taking his own sweet time about cashing in on the reward. Time should be of the essence considering that the loquacious and somewhat cowardly Billy John is the kid brother of the cold-hearted Frank, played by Lee Van Cleef, whose only redeeming quality is loyalty to family. If Billy John is sure of one thing it is that Frank will be on their trail. Brigade seems to be sure of this as well. It almost seems as if he wants a run-in with the notorious Frank. As Frank tells it, he once did Brigade a hurt and had almost forgotten about it.

Sam and Whit
Pernell Roberts, James Coburn

There is safety in numbers they say and Ben is soon surrounded by dubious safety. Sam Boone played by Pernell Roberts is looking for absolution of the earthly kind. If he is the one to bring in Billy John, Sam is assured of amnesty for past sins and he is desperate to live a life free from his past. He has also promised the same for his simple-minded partner Whit played by James Coburn. 

Karen Steele as Carrie Lane

We couldn't call this group a cozy band of the like-minded, yet into their midst comes the greatest of complications - a woman. The very recently widowed Carrie Lane played by Karen Steele is in need of protection and the group is chivalrous to a man and they are all impressed by her beauty and courage. Mrs. Lane is an intuitive woman and not one to be easily fooled. She sees all of the men she is now involved with for their true natures, as well as understanding the danger they are facing.

Watching the charismatic performance by Pernell Roberts makes a viewer marvel that he didn't become a more successful film star. However, this was 1959 when Bonanza made its television debut and TV success awaited the stars of that perennial favourite. Roberts talent is undeniable and sustained him through a long career. However, it was his partner in this film James Coburn who managed to maintain an active career in both film and television eventually leading to a supporting actor Oscar win in 1997 for Affliction. Proof of Ed Begley's quote that success as an actor is in "outlasting the other bastards".

James Coburn guested three times on Bonanza. It would be enjoyable for those who enjoy Ride Lonesome to check out 1959s The Truckee Strip, 1961s The Dark Gate and 1962s The Long Night.


The isolated setting and the conflicting goals of this chase to civilization and revenge makes for a taut 73 minutes of exciting western entertainment backed by the insistent score of two time Oscar nominee Heinz Roemheld.

TCM is showing Ride Lonesome on Saturday, December 3rd at 9:00 a.m. You will be forgiven for putting off your Saturday chores for the short time it will take to enjoy this film.


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