Sunday, December 31, 2017


The terse and popular series of adult westerns created by director Budd Boetticher with producer/star Randolph Scott came to an end with the 1960 release Comanche Station. Many of their films are similar in tone and characterization, yet each has something unique that may appeal to different audiences; a particular performance, dialogue, or plot twist. Burt Kennedy wrote the screenplay for five of the movies, including Comanche Station.

Kennedy was a child performer with his family, a decorated (Silver Star, Bronze Star, Purple Heart) soldier during WW2, and a radio writer who was contracted by John Wayne's Batjac production company in the 1950s. He knew the strong, silent type of man he wrote about in films such as 7 Men from Now. His first directing assignment was on a 1961 film shot in Canada and starring Robert Ryan, The Canadians. It was not successful, but future films were such as the supreme western spoof Support Your Local Sheriff!. You can learn more about his fascinating career in the memoir Hollywood Trail Boss.

Randolph Scott
Negotiations get off to a rocky start.

Jefferson Cody (Randolph Scott) trades with the Comanche for the release of white prisoners. He is practically a legend in the territory for his relentlessness and honesty.

A chance to reflect.
Randolph Scott, Nancy Gates

Mrs. Lowe: "If you had a woman taken by the Comanche and you got her back. How would you feel knowing..."
Cody: "If I loved her it wouldn't matter."
Mrs. Lowe: "Wouldn't it?"
Cody: "No, ma'am. It wouldn't matter at all."

On this trip he returns with a Nancy Lowe (Nancy Gates). Unbeknownst to Cody, Mr. Lowe has placed a $5,000 reward on the return of his wife, but others are aware. 

An uneasy alliance.
Skip Homeier, Randolph Scott, Claude Akins, Richard Rust

Ben Lane (Claude Akins) and his two followers, Frank (Skip Homeier) and Dobie (Richard Rust) have stirred up a bit of trouble with the Comanche in their search for Mrs. Lowe. There is a long history of bad blood between Lane and Cody that will add to the danger of the road back to Lordsburg. 

There is no hiding from the danger.
Randolph Scott, Nancy Gates

In the economical 74 minutes that it takes to relate this tale, we have action combined with philosophy. The eminent danger is always physical and it could come from many directions. The philosophical bent comes from the young cowboy Dobie questioning his way of life. He has a natural dislike of his leader, Ben Lane, and an equally strong admiration for Cody.

A brief smile.
Randolph Scott

Heartbreaking and eye-opening secrets are revealed throughout the script which add depth to the characters and their behavior. The small ensemble of actors is given a fine screenplay and the opportunity to shine. Akins is given a speech similar that of Lee Marvin's star making turn in 7 Men from Now, which is just as unsettling if not as mesmerizing.

Stock music from a number of Columbia musicians including George Dunning, Max Steiner and Paul Sawtell is used quite nicely to underscore scenes of exceptionally beautiful Technicolor by cinematographer Charles Lawton Jr.

A dogged pursuit.
Randolph Scott

Comanche Station would mark the end of an extremely busy time for actor/producer Randolph Scott. Two years later would see the release of his last theatrical feature, Sam Peckinpah's elegant homage to a passing time, Ride the High Country.

Ms. Gates last feature.
Nancy Gates, Randolph Scott

If you are a regular viewer of TCM and classic television you have the opportunity to see leading lady Nancy Gates at various stages of her career. Some of her films shown on the network include The Great Gildersleeve, Hitler's Children, This Land is Mine, The Spanish Main, Torch Song, Suddenly and Some Came Running. Perry Mason, Wagon Train, and Burke's Law number among her 57 television credits. Keep your eyes peeled.

TCM is screening Comanche Station on Thursday, January 25th at 6:00 a.m., starting off a day of non-traditional 1960s westerns; the independently produced, the experimental, and even the far-out wacky.

Friday, December 29, 2017


The Midnite Drive-In and Hamlette's Soliloquy are hosting the Inspirational Heroes blogathon from December 29th to January 1st. From the every man to the superhero, what movie and character makes you cheer? Click HERE or HERE for what inspires fellow movie fans.

"When I grow up I want to be Torchy Blane!"
- Caftan Woman

Somewhere in my fevered imagination, despite that fact that in many shopping establishments I am offered a senior's discount, I still dream of being Torchy Blane, a girl reporter with a flair for fashion and a Nancy Drew complex. Inspiration coming to us when we need it, channeling the many admirable attributes of this fictional character, especially her perseverance and determination, have stood me in good stead every now and again.

Warner Brothers popular B movie female leading character began life on the page as a hard-drinking male reporter. Popular and prolific pulp purveyor Frederick Nebel's MacBride and Kennedy stories about a cop and a reporter were retooled to suit a cop and his girlfriend. It was a tweak that worked, and would work equally well in 1940 when Howard Hawks turned The Front Page's Hildy Johnson into a woman for His Girl Friday.

No one will ever accuse Warner Brothers of letting actors sit on their hands. An actor from childhood, Glenda Farrell joined the studio in 1931 for Little Caesar and over the next decade made 43 films, including 7 of the 9 Torchy Blane movies.

"Not many actors could talk. So they shoved the ones that came from Broadway into everything. It all went so fast. I used to ask myself, "What set am I on today? What script am I supposed to be doing - this one or that one? All I shouted for was a day off. We got it Sunday, but I had to stay in bed that one day to get ready for the next six days of shooting. I wonder if Jack Warner appreciated his movie-acting family."

- Glenda Farrell quote on the IMDb

Torchy was a smart and independent career girl. Brave to the point of foolhardiness, Torchy followed her stories wherever they led, no matter how dangerous. She was persistent in her pursuit of the truth, often to the dismay of her supportive boyfriend, Lt. Steve McBride played by Barton MacLane. Comic assistance to both Torchy and Steve is in the form of police driver, and poetry spouting cop Gahagan played by Tom Kennedy.

Glenda's titles in the Torchy series are 1937: Smart Blonde, Fly-Away Baby, The Adventurous Blonde, 1938: Blondes at Work, Torchy Gets Her Man, 1939: Torchy Gets Her Man, Torchy Blane in Chinatown, Torchy Runs for Mayor.

In 1938 Warners mixed things up with Lola Lane and Paul Kelly in Torchy Blane in Panama. Audiences were not mixed up, they wanted Glenda. In 1939, the studio tried another pairing with Jane Wyman, who played a hatcheck girl in Smart Blonde, and Allen Jenkins in Torchy Blane - Playing with Dynamite. By that time Glenda Farrell had left the studio to continue her film, stage, and television career. Torchy was left to late-night TV and memory, but she made a lasting impression.

Let's look at a typically fast-paced and fun entry in the Warner Brothers series. The Adventurous Blonde was released in 1937 and was the third of three Torchy Blane films released that year.

Glenda Farrell, Barton MacLane as Torchy and Steve
This time they're really going to do it.

Torchy and Steve are getting married and is the Lieutenant taking a ribbing from the guys. He is also getting a dressing down from his superior, and it's all about Torchy. Captain McTavish played by Frank Shannon wants Torchy's editor to move her to the Woman's Page because police reporting isn't the right spot for a girl.

Captain McTavish: "I hope you convinced her to give up her job."

Steve: "Her job! Say, she'd rather give me up."

The other reporters are beefing that Torchy's relationship with Steve gives her an unfair advantage.

Steve: "Sure they are because Torchy's too smart for 'em."

William Hopper, Charlie Foy, Bobby Watson, George E. Stone
Jealous newshounds plot against Torchy.

A few of her fellow reporters are green-eyed and have convinced themselves that Torchy's success is due to her "in" with the police force via Steve. They plan to pull a little joke on Torchy by coming up with a fake murder for her to report and then making her look the fool. For their stooge, they select a fading actor who needs publicity for an upcoming show. This matinee idol is a married man with a reputation for womanizing. A lot of people do not like him and much to the surprise of the jocular members of the Fourth Estate, the intended phony victim ends up dead. Or as one reporter puts it "Once an extra, always a ham."

Glenda Farrell, George E. Stone
Torchy is hot on a clue.

Torchy discovered the body and is now on the case. She persistently follows the clues from telegraphers to soda jerks, from actors to wives. Torchy patiently and methodically sifts through the motives and opportunities of the various suspects. Torchy manipulates the authorities, even her beloved, to ferret out the culprit. Torchy successfully fends off many attacks on her character and career that are raised against her efforts. It takes guts to keep on going in the face of insurmountable odds.

Glenda Farrell, Raymond Hatton
Torchy's editor sends her to Cleveland on an assignment. 

What about the wedding you ask? Well, Torchy and Steve had a misunderstanding, and then Torchy was sent out of town on an assignment. The plane took off before Steve could reach the airport. Better luck next time!

--- /// ---

Torchy Blane's characteristic tenacity and against-the-odds career inspired me, and others. Jerry Siegel credited Torchy, as well as actress Lola Lane's name, as the influence behind The Daily Planet's star reporter and Superman gal pal Lois Lane.

Please enjoy these in-depth articles on the life and career of Glenda Farrell from The Thoughts and Ramblings of Hardwicke Benthow, Glenda Farrell: Her Life and Legacy and Glenda Farrell: In Her Own Words.

Friday, December 15, 2017

WHAT A CHARACTER! blogathon: John Alexander

Outspoken and Freckled, Once Upon a Screen, and Paula's Cinema Club host the What a Character! blogathon for the 6th year. The tributes run from December 15 to 17.  Day 1 entries  Day 2 entries  Day 3 entries

John Alexander
November 29, 1897 - July 13, 1982

You were distracted while watching a film and turned away to admonish or admire the cat, or check that pan loitering in the oven and you hear a voice. It is a full, rich baritone - a round voice, a pleasing voice - a voice in control of itself. You know that voice. Who is that? I know that guy! Where have I seen him before?

Kentucky born John Alexander set his path on the acting profession early, joining a Shakespeare repertory company and became a popular and regular performer on Broadway. His greatest stage success, with a huge impact on his career, came in 1941 with Joseph Kesselring's Arsenic and Old Lace, produced by Howard Lindsay and Russell Crouse, and directed by Bretaigne Windust (Life With Father, The Hasty Heart, State of the Union...).

Teddy is ready to go to Panama. It is where he is building the canal. It's in the basement. 

Arsenic and Old Lace concerns the Brewster household in Brooklyn. The Brewsters are nuts! Aunts Abby (Josephine Hull) and Martha (Jean Adair) poison lonely old gentlemen in their spare time. Mortimer (Allyn Joslyn) is a theatre critic and, therefore, relatively sane and relatively crazy. Brother Jonathan (Boris Karloff) is a stone cold psychopath, and brother Teddy (John Alexander) believes himself to be Theodore Roosevelt. Of the three boys only Teddy is harmless, just ask the producers skewered by Mortimer. 

Teddy is about to charge up San Juan Hill (the stairs).

Sadly, we did not see John Alexander in Arsenic and Old Lace on Broadway despite its run of 1,444 performances. Luckily, we did see him in Frank Capra's movie version. The film was made in 1941 with Alexander, Josephine Hull and Jean Adair reprising their stage roles. Cary Grant took over Allyn Joslyn's role, and Boris Karloff's popularity on stage precluded the producer's letting him return to Hollywood for the gig. Raymond Massey was a fine, if less ironic choice. Arsenic and Old Lace is still a favourite play among community theatres, and a movie we gravitate to during October. The film was released in 1944, giving Broadway plenty of time to fill their coffers.

Jerome Cowan, Peter Whitney, Bette Davis, John Alexander, Robert Shayne
Mr. Skeffington

So, where else have we seen John Alexander? He is one of Fanny's besotted suitors, Jim Conderley, in 1944s Mr. Skeffington starring Bette Davis and Claude Rains. Released the same year, he plays an industrialist who falls for the wife of a fellow manufacturer in another Broadway hit transferred to the screen, The Doughgirls. Trust me, it is a good thing that he has stolen Irene Manning from John Ridgely, leaving Ridgely free to marry Ann Sheridan. It's complicated.

Mike Mazurki, John Alexander, Allyn Joslyn, Alexis Smith, Jack Benny
The Horn Blows at Midnight

John Alexander and Broadway brother Allyn Joslyn are adorably funny in the 1945 comedy/fantasy gem The Horn Blows at Midnight. Jack Benny is a musician who dreams he is an angel on a Heavenly mission who is being thwarted by the first and second trumpeters, Joslyn and Alexander. A midnight deadline looms large and a romance hangs in the balance. Great fun!

Dorothy McGuire, Ted Donaldson, John Alexander, Joan Blondell
James Dunn, Peggy Ann Garner
A Tree Grows in Brooklyn

"I'm going out to get some strawberry ice cream and a rattle for my son. And what's more, my name ain't Bill. It's Steve, do you hear that? I'm a papa and my name's Steve."

John Alexander is perfect in a perfect movie, Elia Kazan's 1945 A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. The role is Steve, the milkman who marries Katie Nolan's flighty, yet loving sister Aunt Sissy played by Joan Blondell. Sissy calls her new husband "Bill" as her other husbands were Bill, but he's the best of them. He pays for their baby to be born in a hospital and becomes the man of the family.

The 1948 release Summer Holiday is a musical version of Ah, Wilderness. John Alexander plays Dave McComber, an uptight fellow who disapproves of his daughter's relationship with the lead character. The youngsters are played by Gloria DeHaven and Mickey Rooney. Night Has a Thousand Eyes is a dandy film which finds Alexander trying to maintain a sense of normalcy in a movie about the paranormal from a Cornell Woolrich novel and starring Edward G. Robinson.

John Alexander as Jack Riker
Winchester '73

Moving to 1950 we find John Alexander is on familiar ground as Teddy Roosevelt (!) in Fancy Pants, a remake of Ruggles of Red Gap starring Lucille Ball and Bob Hope. More favourites from 1950 include a fine bit for Alexander as Jack Riker who runs a way station in Anthony Mann's groundbreaking adult western Winchester '73. Riker is a seemingly easy-going proprietor, but don't push him.

Giving more than is on the page.
The Sleeping City

Richard Conte plays an undercover cop reporting to Alexander's Inspector Gordon, an intriguing character in the crime drama The Sleeping City. You can also look for John Alexander in a couple of George Cukor films, The Model and the Marriage Broker and The Marrying Kind.

Alexander returned to Broadway in the late 1940s replacing Paul Douglas as Harry Brock in Born Yesterday. Broadway productions in the 1950s include Hilda Crane, Ondine and A Visit to a Small Planet.

John Alexander dusted off Teddy's pith helmet for a televised version of Arsenic and Old Lace for the CBS series The Best of Broadway. Boris Karloff was Jonathan teamed with the movie version's Dr. Einstein, Peter Lorre. Aunts Abby and Martha were Helen Hayes and Billie Burke. Mortimer was played by Orson Bean, who would later work with Alexander on Broadway in Never Too Late. Edward Everett Horton revived a fondness for elderberry wine as Mr. Witherspoon.

A businessman encounters Toody and Muldoon
Car 54, Where Are You? - Put It in the Bank

We can find John Alexander on Classic TV including three guest appearances on two of Nat Hiken's programs, The Phil Silvers Show and Car 54, Where Are You? The New York City filming location of the television show fit into John Alexander's schedule at the time as he was appearing as the mayor in the hit play Never Too Late. John Alexander retired from his long, eventful career after this role. In the film, the part was done by his A Tree Grows in Brooklyn co-star Lloyd Nolan.

Genevieve Hamper
September 8, 1888 - February 3, 1971

John Alexander joined the Robert B. Mantell and Genevieve Hamper Company in 1916. Genevieve was the fifth wife of tempestuous star Mantell (Great-uncle of Angela Lansbury), 34 years her senior and they were married from 1912 to his death in 1928. Tragically, their son, actor Robert Jr. committed suicide at the age of 21.

John Alexander made his Broadway debut with the company as Solanio in The Merchant of Venice in 1917. John Alexander was married to Genevieve Hamper from either 1928 or 1931 (conflicting sources) to her death in 1971. 

John Alexander passed away at the age of 85 while attending a Board meeting of the Actor's Fund of American in 1982. Sadly, we never got the chance to see John Alexander on Broadway, but through our beloved classic films and television we can get to know the accomplished actor with the big talent, and great voice.

Saturday, December 2, 2017

THE LUCY AND DESI BLOGATHON: Lucy's Summer Vacation (1959)

Michaela of Love Letters to Old Hollywood is hosting The Lucy and Desi blogathon running on December 1 - 3. Click HERE for all the fun.

Desilu produced The Lucy-Desi Comedy Hour airing from 1957 to 1960 and was comprised of 13 hour long episodes. I'm looking at Lucy's Summer Vacation which aired on June 8th, 1959 guest-starring Ida Lupino and Howard Duff.

Ricky's business associate has loaned the Ricardos his Vermont lodge for a whole week. While Little Ricky is at scout camp and the Mertzes are at Atlantic City, Lucy and Ricky will have a lovely, romantic vacation.

Absent-mindedly, the same business associate loaned the lodge to another couple. Ida Lupino and Howard Duff are looking for some alone time after an extended personal appearance tour. Much of the humour comes from Ida presented as a pampered Hollywood star with Howard as just one of the boys.

Lucille Ball, Desi Arnaz, Howard Duff, Ida Lupino

There are some very funny gags as the couples keep missing each other and go to sleep still unaware of the presence of the other. They finally meet in the morning when the boys are up and ready for fishing at dawn and the girls have to drag themselves out of bed.

Once the mistake is discovered the Ricardos win a coin toss for the cabin. Ricky, overcome by a serious case of politeness, and the prospect of a fishing buddy, invites the Duffs to stay. It is off to the lake for the boys, leaving disappointed and neglected wives behind.

Lucy:  "You know, I wouldn't mind the boys fishing all day if they just didn't spend the evening playing gin rummy."

Ida:  "I wouldn't mind the gin rummy in the evening if they didn't dash to bed at nine so they wouldn't be too tired to go fishing in the morning."

Feminine wiles are the order of the day as Ida concocts a plan. The girls will make themselves so darn glamorous that the darn hubbies will forget all about the darn fish and cards! Well, that didn't work and didn't work in the funniest way as the boys stay focused on their cards despite the temptation being thrown at them. It is Lucy's turn to concoct a plan.

Ricky: "Hey, we have sprung a lick!"

Unfortunately, before Ida can let Lucy know that the suddenly feeling guilty fellows have planned a champagne picnic on a romantic island, Lucy has drilled holes in the rowboat. Never fear, Lucy has plugged the holes with chewing gum so they can still enjoy the picnic.

Desi Arnaz, Lucille Ball, William Frawley, Vivian Vance

Ida and Howard leave earlier than expected to take care of Howard's sudden cold, and Ricky promises a second honeymoon. Guess who got bored in Atlantic City?!

Noir master cinematographer Nicholas Musuraca, Miss Lupino's DP on The Hitchhiker was the cinematographer for this episode. I swear, the first time I saw the glamourized Lucy and Ida enter the room behind Ricky and Howard, my mind went right to noir.

Costume designer Edward Stevenson first met and worked with both Lucy and Ida in the 1930s and worked with Lucy on all of her TV shows including this episode of The Lucy-Desi Comedy Hour. No wonder Lucy's fashion is timeless.

A funny episode with the tables turned when, for once, Lucy is not pleased to be cheek and jowl with celebrities.

Thursday, November 30, 2017


Edward Arnold plays D.B. Norton in Meet John Doe, and the great actor calls on all his considerable abilities in bringing this titan of industry to life. Norton is a man of money and power, and all he craves in this world is more money and power. 

"What the American people need is an iron hand!"

The obvious next step for D.B. Norton is political power, and as he heads toward that goal he consolidates a media machine, buying up newspapers and radio stations. His message and his control will be everywhere. When D.B. Norton buys a paper 40 heads are chopped off. One of the discarded reporters plans her own sort of revenge, and it will have an immeasurable impact on all their futures.

Ann Mitchell is played with her customary strength and relatability by Barbara Stanwyck. Ann is the sole support of her widowed mother and two kid sisters. She needs her job, and she's good at her job. Ann has one more column to submit before leaving the building with her pink slip. It is going to be a doozy.

"There's no letter. I made it up. You said you wanted fireworks."

Ann indulges in a little harmless fake news. A letter to the editor from a disgusted American citizen who, due to the horrible state of affairs, is going to commit suicide by jumping off the City Hall roof. Suddenly the whole town, the whole state, is in an uproar. John Doe must be found and he must be saved. Ann grabs onto the unexpected life/job saver, pushing for the paper to play up the John Doe angle. It will be great for circulation and isn't that what Norton wants? There is more of what Norton wants in this gag than Ann can imagine at this time.

Only now a real John Doe must be found to stand in for Ann's fake one. Gary Cooper is perfection in the role of down-on-his-luck ballplayer Long John Willoughby, who still naively dreams of a chance at the big leagues. He appears attractive enough to draw people to his side, and simple enough that the manipulators of publicity can mold him to their liking.

"Why can't that spirit, that warm Christmas spirit, last all year long?"

Our John Doe isn't a loner as he has a traveling companion in "The Colonel" played by Walter Brennan. The Colonel doesn't hesitate in speaking his mind about newspapers and Norton, and people in general. His opinion is not favourable. Sometimes he comes across as contrary for contrariness' sake, but he is a dose of reality in his friend's world which is quickly becoming Norton's world. 

Ann's father was a doctor, and a philosopher. He was a man who did good in the world for its own sake. He wrote of his ideals and Ann is using her father as the template for John Doe and all of the things he will say and stand for today. D.B. Norton immediately backs John Doe and the homespun philosophy he will spin for the suckers whom Norton sees as potential voters. He'll ride the John Doe phenomenon into the Governor's mansion, and after that the White House. The seemingly simplest among us are complicated, and the complication here is that John begins to believe the things he has been saying, and he begins to fall in love with the woman who gave him the words.

This Frank Capra and Robert Riskin (It Happened One Night) collaboration was their first and only production independent of studio backing, with a distribution deal through Warner Brothers. Riskin's screenplay is based on an Oscar-winning story idea by Richard Connell (The Most Dangerous Game) and Robert Presnell Sr. (Employees' Entrance).

Meet John Doe tackles the forces of greed and the frightening potential for fascism in America. It also looks at the value and impact of ordinary lives and heartfelt values. The essence of the individual must come across as paramount in the telling of Meet John Doe. These are difficult concepts to include in a story that will engage an audience.

"There are no rules in filmmaking. Only sins. And the cardinal sin is dullness."
- Frank Capra

Meet John Doe is, for me, one of Capra and Riskin's most fascinating films. The scene of Norton's thugs routing a much-ballyhooed John Doe rally when the threads of his plan start to unravel is not only one of the director's finest, but one of the finest scenes in 1940s cinema. Note the cinematography by legendary George Barnes, multiple Oscar nominee and winner for Rebecca; also a mentor to Gregg Toland. The rally scene is heartbreaking and chilling for the viewer, and must have been a point of pride for its creators.

"I should be drinking milk, you know. This stuff is poison."

Frank Capra also had a way with his casting and use of the best of film's character actors. Always reliable James Gleason had quite a year that included his Oscar-nominated performance of Max Corkle in Here Comes Mr. Jordan, as well as his Oscar-worthy performance of editor Henry Connell in Meet John Doe. His drunken, yet clear-headed rant to John is a performance for the ages.

Regis Toomey and Ann Doran
Co-stars in 14 films

Spring Byington, Gene Lockhart, Irving Bacon, Ann Doran, Regis Toomey, J. Farrell MacDonald and Warren Hymer are only some of the familiar faces whose presence and talent enhance the characters and story we are drawn into by master cinematic storytellers.

Meet John Doe was a difficult story to film and several endings were made. Even the one eventually used was not entirely satisfactory to Frank Capra, or often to critics and audiences. Some object to the religious metaphor in the screenplay. Personally, I find the connection an apt one because it is at the Christmas season that we reflect on our place and duty in the universe. For thousands of years many return to that familiar story of love and redemption through a great sacrifice. Meet John Doe is flawed because it doesn't have all the answers, but it is perfect because it asks the questions.

TCM is screening Meet John Doe on Saturday, December 16th at 1:45 PM as part of their Christmas film line-up giving this darkly optimistic film a proper place in the seasonal offerings.

Friday, November 17, 2017


Debbie Vega of Moon in Gemini is our hostess for the It Takes a Thief blogathon running from November 17 - 19. "The caper, the heist, kidnappings, great escapes, con artists, high-class jewel thieves, art forgers, hungry peasants stealing bread, in any genre - all will be accepted!" Click HERE for the larcenous contributions.

After hours

The Morris Department Store is going to be knocked over. It's an inside job. Of sorts. The brains, if you can call him that, is Mickey Bain (Barton MacLane). Mickey's only qualification as a leader is that he can intimidate. To get the gang together he needs the real leader, Joe Dennis (George Raft). Joe leads by dint of his personality and loyalty. On a job a few years back Joe took the rap while Mickey high-tailed it to the hills. There is no love lost.

George Raft, Barton MacLane

Mickey: "They'd follow you over a cliff."
Joe: "I don't want to go over a cliff. That's what I've been tryin' to tell ya."

Harry Carey, Cecil Cunningham

Jerome Morris: "They're not set apart. They're not stared at like side show freaks just because they've made one or two mistakes that any of us might make."
Mary Morris: "Jerome, have you something in your past that you never told me?"

Joe received parole and found a job at the Morris Store. Jerome Morris (Harry Carey) believes in good works, and his good work is giving ex-cons a break. Most of the gang needed for the heist are already employed at the store. Morris has given them all a job and chance at a new life, despite the misgivings of his wife (Cecil Cunningham). Joe grabbed onto that chance with all he's worth. When his time on parole is up he plans to take Morris' recommendation and hop a California bound bus for a brand new life.

Vera Gordon, Egon Brecher, Sylvia Sidney, George Raft

Mrs. Levine (landlady): "It should be with luck. You are a fine boy, but you are getting the best little girl in the world."

On his last night in Chicago, Joe spends time with a sweet co-worker, Helen (Sylvia Sidney). Helen knows all about Joe's past, and she loves him. Joe is also falling for Helen, but he doesn't know about her past. Helen, like many of the employees at the store, has also done time. She, however, is still on parole which forbids things like love, or at least marriage. Impulsively, the pair do marry, and Helen starts lying to hide what she has done. If it weren't for the lies and guilt, life would be perfect.

Robert Cummings, George E. Stone, Jack Pennick
Harlan Briggs, Warren Hymer, Roscoe Karns

Helen's secrets cause doubt to enter Joe's heart. This leaves him open to the pressure to join in the plot against the Morris Department Store. Lang cast the crooks and ex-cons with the best of character actors. There's Warren Hymer, Roscoe Karns, George E. Stone, Jack Pennick, and almost looking every bit his 28 years, Robert Cummings. Tough guys and mugs, one and all.

Sylvia Sidney schools the crooks.

Helen: "The big shots aren't little crooks like you. They're politicians."

The caper becomes complicated when Mickey crosses an even bigger boss. Joe's slow thinking, but steadfast pal Gimpy (Warren Hymer) has misgivings, and his misgivings lead to Helen, and Helen confides in Mr. Morris. Joe considers this a major betrayal, perhaps even beyond her lie of omission about prison. The rest of the gang, however, is responsive to Helen's attempt to explain how crime really does not pay, in dollars and cents. Some lessons are more readily learned than others. What will it take for Joe and Helen to get back together?

Norman Krasna (Fury, The Devil and Miss Jones) wrote the story and Virginia Van Upp (Here Comes the Groom, St. Louis Blues) the screenplay for this crime/romance/musical hybrid. Cinematographer Charles Lang, an 18 time Oscar nominee, provided the shimmery hues and evocative shadows that gleam upon the screen and our imaginations.

Director Fritz Lang plays with the narrative of this tale with the use of songs by Kurt Weill and Sam Coslow. It is daring, theatrical and, for me, a very successful storytelling experiment.

Song of the Cash Register

The film opens with Song of the Cash Register. The sing-speak vocalist is a counterpoint to the visuals of all sorts of consumer goods, from necessities to luxury items.

We are then reminded that there is only one honest way to obtain these goods. Our culture, however it may laud the idea of "buy when you can" was already becoming one of "pay when you can". Generations of dissatisfied consumers became generations of debtors. Thievery by another name.

The Right Guy for Me

Newly minted as an ex-parolee, Joe Dennis takes Helen on a night of celebration prior to taking a California bound bus to give his new life a new location. In a nightclub, the couple is entertained by a forceful chanteuse (Carol Paige) who sings about The Right Guy for Me.

Helen's imagination swirls during the number with images of romance and loss as they come closer to the time for Joe's departure. Joe cannot even imagine that such love and devotion is real, or that it could ever be a part of his life.

The Knocking Song

Devised by Phil Boutelje, a military bandmaster and arranger for Paul Whiteman, The Knocking Song is the final musical piece and is placed at a point in the film where the burglary is shifting into high gear. The gang waits for Joe and, being as it is Christmas and the season puts folks in a sentimental frame of mind, they start reminiscing about their time in stir.

The memories are recounted in a rhythmic manner with the different voices joining in as the urgency of the story is heightened. Joe's eventual arrival brings him directly into the song. I find this number fascinating, and a highlight of the movie.

You and Me shift tones suddenly and often, from romance to melodrama, crime to musical, morality tale to Runyonesque comedy. The core of the film is what holds it together and make it work, and that core is the honesty in the performances of Sylvia Sidney and George Raft.

Movie trivia:  The Boston Society of Film Critics awarded You and Me a special award called Best Rediscovery in 2014 by which it was included in the Harvard Film Archives.


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