Friday, May 26, 2017

FAVORITE DIRECTOR BLOGATHON: William Wyler - Hell's Heroes (1929) and The Big Country (1958)

William Wyler
(1902 - 1981)

Phyllis Loves Classic Movies and The Midnite Drive-In are hosting The Favorite Director Blogathon running from May 26th to 29th. Click here or here for contributions.

For me, William Wyler is a director who rarely puts a foot wrong. His dramas from These Three to Dead End, The Letter to The Best Years of Our Lives, from Carrie to The Collector entertain and move the spirit. Born in Alsace and emigrating to America in his late teens, Wyler was able to obtain work at Universal Studios due to his mother being a cousin of the Laemmle family. That foot in the door allowed Wyler's talent to blossom.

Westerns were a popular commodity in the silent era. Abundant use of available outdoor locations made them an "easy" shoot and the stories had a built-in audience. Cutting his teeth on these action pictures allowed Wyler to experiment and discover his own artistic voice. As his career progressed, he would work for other studios and producers, collaborate with the best of cinematographers, Gregg Toland, and create masterworks. Among those masterworks would be westerns and I would like to highlight two of them from very different eras and stages of William Wyler's legendary career. 

Peter B. Kyne's The Three Godfathers published in 1913 quickly became a favourite with filmmakers. The story of three desperate outlaws who become custodians of an orphaned baby in the stark wilderness of the desert touches people deeply. The first of many movies from the tale was made in 1916 and the property seemed a sure bet for Universal's first talkie in 1929. The reins of this "Carl Laemmle Special" were given to 27-year-old William Wyler. Young Wyler was more than up to the task.

By virtue of the age of the film and its location shooting in the Mojave Desert, Hell's Heroes has a touch of authenticity that transports the audience to another time and place. A former mining town called Bodie stands in for story's New Jerusalem. As we watch the movie we can feel the dust and the isolation, the huddling together of townsfolk for comfort.

Our three heroes are played by Charles Bickford (The Farmer's Daughter), Raymond Hatton (The Three Mesquiteers) and Fred Kohler (Underworld). Four outlaws rob the bank of New Jerusalem and kill the cashier. One of their number, Jose, is killed by the town preacher as they make their getaway. All the good and ill that will befall the three remaining men is due to a dust storm. The storm covers their tracks from the posse and the storm scatters their horses. 

The outlaws must make their way through the desert on foot. The first waterhole they reach is poisoned. The next is dry as well and it is there they find a solitary woman, stranded and about to give birth. The young mother gives her child into the care of the three men before passing into the next world. The solemnity of their involvement with this sudden life and death, along with the knowledge that the cashier they killed was the child's father causes great changes in two of the men.

"Barbwire", the oldest of the crew played by Hatton, is wounded and knows he has not long to live. He determines they must take the baby back to New Jerusalem. Wild Bill, the youngest outlaw played by Kohler, has delivered the child into this world and vows to see him delivered back to the town. Bob Sangster, the meanest of the bad men played by Bickford, thinks they should look out for themselves. However, he goes along for his partner's sake or perhaps for reasons he cannot yet define.

The grueling location shoot in the desert works to the advantage of the picture as the actors bear the marks of hardship and privation. Wyler gives us stark reminders of the travails of our characters filmed against the prickly plants and the endless sky. The expanse of the inhospitable land that stretches impossible miles before one, lone remaining determined man reaches civilization with his precious charge is quite moving. William Wyler proved his mettle, his creativity and his worth to films in the new era of sound with Hell's Heroes.

William Wyler, his producer brother Robert Wyler, and star Gregory Peck co-produced this popular Oscar winning 1958 western. Donald Hamilton's novel The Big Country is the source of James Webb's screenplay, which has some similarities to his earlier screenplay for Raton Pass.

We follow the story of James McKay played by Gregory Peck who leaves his sea-faring background to marry a rancher's daughter in an unnamed, but very big, southwestern state. Pat, McKay's intended played by Carroll Baker, had met the handsome and wealthy ship owner/captain on a trip to the east. She was out of her element and met a man comfortable in his place. McKay looses some of his glamour at the ranch, and Pat's impetuous ways are no longer as attractive to Jim. Ranch foreman Leech played by Charlton Heston is jealous and distrustful of the stranger from the east.

The people of this place and their long simmering feuds are strange to McKay who lives by his own private code. Major Terrill, Pat's father played by Charles Bickford, is at constant odds with the Hannassey crew, led by Rufus played by Burl Ives. Rufus' brutish son Buck played by Chuck Connors is one to stir the pot if there is any hope of trouble.

The Major rules by right of might. Land poor Hannassey is a thorn in his side in the claiming of water rights. These water rights are owned by the granddaughter of one of the area's original ranchers, Julie played by Jean Simmons. Julie has determined that her continued ownership of the river is only thing keeping the country from exploding. The battle for supremacy in the country is about to reach the tipping point.

The Big Country is a long and thoroughly satisfying western film. Like the earlier Hell's Heroes, The Big Country took advantage of extensive location shooting in California and Arizona. The rolling cattle land, the awe inspiring Blanco Canyon and the pockets of humanity in the midst of it all takes the audience to a place outside most of our experience. The overwrought emotions of the characters are both dwarfed and magnified by their surroundings.

More than 35 years into his directing career, Wyler was acclaimed at his craft with an impressive list of films to his name. His ability and knowledge could not be questioned. His career attainment, however, could not lessen the tension on the set with some members of the cast and crew. Taskmaster William Wyler found himself once again at odds with the cantankerous Charles Bickford, as they had been almost 30 years earlier on Hell's Heroes. Co-producers Wyler and Peck argued about budget and shooting which caused a year-long rift in their friendship.  Burl Ives, however, who won the Best Supporting Actor Oscar for the role of Rufus, always expressed gratitude to Wyler for his direction.

William Wyler directed 31 actors to Oscar nominations and 13 of those actors went home with the trophy on Oscar night. Jerome Moross' magnificent score for The Big Country was nominated for an Oscar. William Wyler was nominated for the Directors Guild of America award.

William Wyler received 12 Oscar nominations, winning Best Director for The Best Years of Our Lives and Ben-Hur. Although the majority of Wyler's westerns were filmed in the beginning of his career, there is much to explore in his later genre films including The Westerner and Friendly Persuasion.

Monday, May 22, 2017


I can recall the first time actor Ricardo Cortez made an impression on me. It was during my teen years and the local CBC channel was showing not-the-usual Frank Capra films on the late show. Titles included American Madness, Broadway Bill, Dirigible, Platinum Blonde and The Younger Generation. In The Younger Generation Ricardo Cortez played Morris Goldfish who turned his back on his family and heritage and lost everything. The film is part silent and part talkie and a bit choppy to watch, but it moved my sentimental teenage soul deeply.

The association I had with that emotional viewing made Cortez a welcome sight in other movies. I became extraordinarily fond of his voice and looked forward to the times he would actually play a good guy instead of a louse. I often wondered about his career, which included so many B pictures. I needn't wonder any longer thanks to Dan Van Neste's book about Cortez, The Magnificent Heel, now available from Bear Manor Media, I enjoyed an advance copy which answered all my questions and more about Ricardo Cortez. Will Ricardo turn out to be the hero in his own story?

First things first, let's get the name right. the man with the exotic name was born Jacob Krantz in New York City. Signed by Paramount Studios as a back-up Valentino, the name and a phony biography was foisted upon the young actor anxious to take advantage of the opportunity. Shades of Morris in The Younger Generation, minus the breaking with his family. In fact, two of his brothers followed Jacob/Ricardo into the motion picture business. Bernard Krantz in production/adminstration and Stanley, as Stanley Cortez, the acclaimed cinematographer (Night of the Hunter). The name worked, although it was a source of consternation at times such as when fans expected Ricardo to able to speak Spanish and when it appeared he was denying his Jewish heritage.

Dan Van Neste takes us on a journey to the NYC of the early 20th century and the hard life for immigrants and sensitive lads. We vicariously live the life of a theatre mad youngster with movie ambitions in the early days of motion pictures on the east coast. It seems easy to an outsider; step A get a movie role, step B get a bigger movie role, step C sign a contract and become a star. Life is not like that. And the movies are not like the movies.

Meet Sam Spade
Ricardo Cortez in The Maltese Falcon, 1931

We learn about the cost in time, money, emotion and energy for success in the high voltage industry of motion pictures. Ricardo Cortez in The Magnificent Heel is not just a subject, he is a young man striving for a better life, a studio commodity, a dedicated professional and a man with personal troubles and flaws to overcome. I would say that Ricardo does become the hero of his own story, a very human hero.

Highlights of the journey include the machinations of studio contracts and publicity. The egos which clash, and those which come together in the industry. Conflicts of work and personal lives. Privacy vs. the public life of the business. We learn a lot about how the business of show works in its daily grind and its "big picture" necessities. The people that surround Ricardo, their impact on him and his impact on their lives. 

Ricardo was a man of varied interests and talents beyond being the screen's first Sam Spade, and a pre-code cad. Finance, fashion and athletics combined with a wide interest in the arts create an engaging personality.

Part II of the book is a fascinating stroll through Ricardo Cortez's filmography. Each film recounted with fascinating behind-the-scenes details and contemporary reviews. It is well that we look at classic films through the eyes of those seeing them in their time, as well as through our own 21st century lens.

I found The Magnificent Heel, The Life and Films of Ricardo Cortez enlightening and interesting and recommend it as a fine addition to a classic film library.


Dan was gracious enough to answer a few of my questions regarding his work.

How/when were you first drawn to Cortez?

Seems like I've always been a fan of Cortez. As a boy I was intrigued by villainous actors, and he always stood out.

What was it about him/his career that inspired your book?

Since I began writing about classic films and vintage filmmakers approximately 30 years ago, my passion has been to do original work and make small contributions to film history. One of the ways I've tried to contribute is by writing about lesser known individuals, talented people who made significant contributions to the film industry, but for one reason or another, have never been the subject of biographical books or received the attention their work merits. To me Cortez was the perfect subject. He was an important actor of the late silent and early sound eras, appearing in 100+ films during a five decade long career in the movies. Although he is best known as a screen villain, Cortez was a tremendously charismatic and versatile actor who could play any type of character in any genre. He worked with some of the greatest directors, actors, and other filmmakers in cinematic history, holding his own, sometimes dominating scenes even with the likes of legendary stars such as Crawford, Francis, Davis, Cagney, Beery, Swanson and Lombard. Yet with all these accomplishments, people are largely unfamiliar with Cortez today, and those who do remember him, know little about him. My book is an attempt to draw attention to this underrated, long neglected star.

What kept you going during the tough times in the search for material?

That's a great question! In my opinion, maintaining one's enthusiasm is the toughest challenge a book author faces. It was particularly true on this project, because of the difficulty of the research. Cortez was an intensely private guarded individual who didn't leave diaries or papers, rarely did interviews, and when he did, they were rarely substantive. To make matters worse, he died so long ago, most of his coworkers and contemporaries were deceased or simply too old to do interviews. I was forced to piece together his story bit by bit over a long period of time. It was terribly challenging and often very frustrating!

It took me four years to complete work on this book. There were many times I didn't think I would be able to finish it, but somehow, someway I kept moving forward mainly because I had invested so much time in it, and because I was inspired by my subject who never gave up, overcoming enormous obstacles to achieve his goals. Whenever I was stuck on something, I would work on something else. In the end, my patience and perseverance paid off, but it is important to note The Magnificent Heel is the only biographical project I have completed in thirty years that was done out of chronological order. I don't recommend writing a biography that way, but like the old saying, "You do what you gotta do!"

Are you taking a break or already starting on your next project?

Up until the Cortez book was actually published in March, we were still busy working on it. Since then, I've been preoccupied promoting it. However, I must admit, in the back of my mind, I'm always thinking about what's next. In my case, I have two things in mind. For a very long time now people have been urging me to put together a collection of my articles. For years I did in-depth pieces for a variety of publications, most especially Classic Images and Films of the Golden Age magazines. Many of my articles included original interviews with my subjects, most of whom are now deceased. I'm really proud of the work I did and would like to have some of my best work preserved in book form. Now seems like a good time to pursue this project. In addition, I would like to do another biography. I have a handful of possible subjects in mind, but I'm not overwhelmingly enthusiastic about any one of them at this point. Guess I'm still searching for the perfect subject. Suggestions are welcome. Anyone who would care to suggest a subject can write me through my personal website.


By the way: Dan's book spent a couple of days with me at dialysis clinic. My nurse insisted that when I lay the book down on the side table I should be careful to place it face up so that she could see Ricardo Cortez as she passed by. Our "Latin Lover" still got it!

Thursday, May 18, 2017


The Classic Movie Blog Association is proud to present its spring blogathon, Underseen and Underrated running from May 15th through 19th. Please turn to this site for the blogs listed to read about some hidden gems.

"If there's one thing you can't be on television, it is insincere."

Eager young BBC producer David Prentice played by Ian Carmichael in the 1955 comedy Simon and Laura makes the above pronouncement. I think we can all agree that in 2017 as in the mid-1950s, that statement holds as much truth as it ever did.

David's pride and joy is the success of his daily serial Simon and Laura, following the day-to-day happy married life of two of Britain's famous and glamourous theatre stars, Simon and Laura Foster. There was some talk at the onset of the program of getting the Oliviers, but David prevailed with his fondness for the Fosters.

Simon and Laura have decided to part ways - again.
Kay Kendall, Peter Finch

Peter Finch, in his first film lead, plays Simon Foster, an actor with a penchant for gambling and who has not been employed in his profession for at least the past 18 months. This is a source of consternation for both Simon and his agent Bertie Berton played by Hubert Greg, as the balance of who is supporting whom has been tipped greatly toward administration and away from creativity.

The always delightful Kay Kendall stars as Laura Foster who is fed up with Simon's gambling and his habit of letting other women accidentally misplace their scarves and jewellery in his jacket pockets. The next time Simon returns home to mother for good, she hopes he will actually stay away.

The marital tension between Laura and Simon lead to very entertaining - shall we call them "discussions"? Yes, for the sake of decorum, let us call them discussions. Their epic discussions are filled with crushing barbs that humourously hit the target dead on. Thrown bric-a-brac, luckily, often misses the mark. The dry barbs aimed at the makers and purveyors of television programming will still ring true to today's audience. I commend the BBC for its co-operation with this production that so knowingly skewers the relatively young medium.

Wilson and Jesse put up with Simon and Laura.
Maurice Denham, Thora Hird

The BBC program is manna from heaven that Simon and Laura cannot ignore. For the sake of their sagging careers as well as the salaries owed their butler Wilson played by Maurice Denham and their maid Jessie played by Thora Hird, the show must go on.

Janet and David are keeping secrets.
Murial Pavlow, Ian Carmichael

David and his scriptwriter Janet Honeyman played by Murial Pavlow skirt around their burgeoning romantic issues while obliquely flirting with their stars. The stars, meanwhile, are enjoying the boost to their careers as the program becomes a national sensation. Wilson and Jessie even have their own equally devoted fan base. 

Only the CT or Controller of Television at the BBC played by Richard Wattis has doubts. He questions how a happy family can be represented on the airways without a child in the mix. Enter "nephew" Timothy, a brat of a child actor played by Clive Parritt. A precocious child is little Timothy, whose popularity and very presence is a thorn in the sides of our stars.

Simon and Laura, the Christmas episode.
Peter Finch, Kay Kendall

Once the question of a child is settled, the CT wants more conflict written into the show. No couple could possibly be as blissful as our Simon and Laura, the CT contends. Another brainstorm has Simon leaving the show so they can bring a different love interest in for Laura. David is of the opinion that Laura is too devoted to Simon to allow the show to take that sort of a turn. David's delicacy in broaching the possibility leads to a host of misunderstandings.  After all, what is a relationship comedy without misunderstandings to be sorted out at the finale? The wild finale of Simon and Laura takes place during a live Christmas broadcast from our star's home instead of the set. If you think about your own families at Christmas, possibly you can imagine many scenarios for our couples.

Simon and Laura is laugh-out-loud comedy with a knowing and sophisticated attitude toward broadcasting/media. Alan Melville wrote the original play which was mounted in 1954. The play was adapted for the screen by Peter Blackmore. Muriel Box, the Oscar winning screenwriter of The Seventh Veil, directed the film, which is one of 14 features she directed in her career. 

All aspects of the film are of a high quality that adds to the enjoyment of the viewer. For instance, our stars are placed in a stunning mid-century home courtesy of art director Carmen Dillon, Oscar winner for 1948s Hamlet and Emmy winner for 1975s Love Among the Ruins. The costumes, especially the wardrobe for Kay Kendall, are marvelous and come from Julie Harris, Oscar winner for 1965s Darling. The score is by Benjamin Frankel, Golden Globe nominee for 1965s The Battle of the Bulge, and it perfectly captures the comedy and the romance. Ernest Steward who filmed the Doctor in the House and Carry On comedies is the cinematographer and the Technicolor is gorgeous to behold.

Simon and Laura is an under-seen comedy that deserves a new audience in the media savvy 21st century where we are beset by all too much "reality" programming.

Many thanks to The Nitrate Diva for introducing me to this funny film.

The Classic Movie Blog Association e-book Underseen and Underrated is available for free on Smashwords or $2.99 on Amazon with all proceeds going to the National Film Preservation Foundation.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017


Once again taking the lead on National Classic Movie Day, the Classic Film and TV Cafe hosts the FIVE STARS BLOGATHON where fans share their five favourite classic film stars and the reasons they are revered. Click HERE to join the party.

The ability of a star or leading player to capture our imaginations and to fully deliver the writer and director's vision of a film through talent and charisma is enviable and admirable. The stars of classic Hollywood instilled affection in fans during their lifetime that lives on with succeeding generations.

1907 - 1990

"And Starring MISS BARBARA STANWYCK as Victoria Barkley"

I was 10 years old and the TV western The Big Valley was in its second season. I already thought the character of Victoria Barkley, widowed ranch owner, was pretty special with her independence and confidence, but the above opening credit let me know in no uncertain terms that the lady playing that role was something extra special as well. As my exposure to and interest in classic movies grew I discovered just how special.

Meet John Doe, Remember the Night, Ball of Fire and The Strange Love of Martha Ivers burn in my memory. This lady was strong. She was touching. She was sarcastic and sweet. She was dangerous. Barbara Stanwyck wasn't even trying, but she took a foothold in my heart as my favourite actress.

"Missy" Stanwyck's reputation as an actress who took her work, but not herself seriously, and who treated all members of a crew, onscreen and off, with respect and kindness has cemented her as my favourite movie star.

"Egotism - usually just a case of mistaken nonentity."
- Barbara Stanwyck

1899 - 1986

Growing up and watching old movies on television, James Cagney epitomized the golden era for me. I couldn't tell you the first movie I saw him in, but these favourites jumble together in my mind creating the mythic Cagney. There was Angels With Dirty Faces and Yankee Doodle Dandy and The Strawberry Blonde and The Roaring Twenties, all of them watched over and over and over again. If those performances aren't enough to inspire lifelong awe, then I'd be hard pressed to come up with what would do it.

Cagney's electric energy and that contemplative nature that led his friend Pat O'Brien to refer to him as "the faraway fella" combined to create something more than an actor or a movie star. I believe Cagney has become to his many fans something of a friend - someone we would want to know.

"All I try to do is to realize the man I am playing fully, then put as much into my acting as I know how. To do it, I draw upon all that I've ever known, heard, seen or remember."
- James Cagney

  1892 - 1957                   1890 - 1965

One of these without the other would not be a movie star. Oliver might have had a marvelous career, perhaps even an Oscar, as a character actor. Stan may have gone on to write and direct outstanding comedies for other actors. Together Laurel and Hardy became screen immortals.

Oliver Hardy from Georgia moved into pictures in its infancy in Florida and became a valuable character player adept at "heavies" and comic foils. Stan Laurel from England took the Music Hall and Vaudeville route to movies and was at the Hal Roach Studios working as a gag man and seriously considering giving up performing. Fate had them cast together and the fertile comedy minds at work at the Lot of Fun saw too many possibilities with this teaming to let them get away.

Two careers were inextricably combined and the world is a better place for the laughter they continue to bring us today. Like many, my introduction to Laurel and Hardy was annual television showings of Babes in Toyland. In my teen years CBC television showed their silent shorts. Laurel and Hardy have been with me in times of joy and times of trouble. Both times have been made better by their presence.

"People have always loved our pictures. I guess that's because they saw how much love we put into them."
- Stan Laurel

1907 - 1979

Unlike my other favourite classic movie stars, John Wayne was a star I grew up watching on the big screen in the 1960s. I believe the first movie I saw him in was Donovan's Reef. Such fun! Then there was McLintock! and the mudslide. The Sons of Katie Elder was epic. The night I saw True Grit for the first time is unforgettable. Someone should have warned me about seeing The Shootist at a theatre. I'm not keen on crying in public.

At the same time as those movie outings I was seeing John Wayne's older films on television, often with my dad and my sisters. I was mesmerized by his classics with John Ford and delighted by his early Three Mesquiteers series. John Wayne's magnetic presence and his acting skill, which I come to appreciate more and more, make him a truly great movie star and a lifetime favourite. I am always happy when watching "Duke".

"John Wayne is underrated. He's an awfully good actor. He holds a thing together; he gives it a solidity and honesty, and he can make a lot of things believable."
- Howard Hawks

Friday, May 12, 2017

The No, YOU'RE Crying! Blogathon: A Tree Grows in Brooklyn (1945)

Debbie Vega of Moon in Gemini is hosting a blogathon devoted to those films that touch our hearts so deeply that tears spring from our eyes. She is calling it The No, YOU'RE Crying! Blogathon and it runs from May 12th to the 14th.  Day 1   Day 2   Day 3

I love the trailers of the classic era that tout their screen versions of popular and acclaimed novels. They proudly mention who they have cast as characters and which director was given the awesome responsibility of bringing the story to life. There is in these trailers a sense of respect for the audience. Certainly they have read this or that particular novel. Of course they are interested in a film version and expect Hollywood to do their best. The poster above follows in that tradition.

Novelist and dramatist Betty Smith's A Tree Grows in Brooklyn was published in 1943 and its success ensured that Hollywood would come calling. The book, however, covers a much longer period in the character's lives than portrayed in the film. Betty Smith helped to adapt her novel with scenarists Tess Slesinger (The Good Earth) and Frank Davis (Remember the Day). It was the right decision to use only the first part of the novel. The use of child actors almost demanded that decision.

Ted Donaldson, Joan Blondell, Peggy Ann Garner

The heroine of our story is played by 13-year-old Peggy Ann Garner. Francie Nolan is a sensitive soul sharing the hardscrabble life of poverty with her family. Her brother Neeley played by Ted Donaldson is her companion on the 1912 streets of Brooklyn.

Francie's inner flights of fancy are combined with a practical thirst for knowledge. Education is Francie's flying carpet. Her father Johnny played by James Dunn is the parent from whom Francie inherited her dreams and her imagination. Like her father, Francie sees the beauty in the scrubby tree that has managed to grow outside their tenement window.

Francie's mother Katie played by Dorothy McGuire bears the brunt of the financial and practical burdens of keeping the family together. It is from Katie that Francie has inherited her strength and pride. It will take Francie the course of the next few months to understand her mother and her gifts. Francie's father always had and will always have first place in her heart.

Joan Blondell won the coveted role of Aunt Sissy, Katie's good-hearted older sister. Almost too good-hearted, Sissy is the subject of neighborhood gossip due to her many marriages. We meet her on her third to a milkman named Steve played by John Alexander. This one will work. This marriage will bring Sissy her long sought for happiness and child. Sissy is a woman who views the world through the lens of emotion and this makes her as much a healer of families, if not more, as her practical sister. Aunt Sissy is a sounding board, and a source of comfort and fun to Francie and Neeley.

Dorothy McGuire, James Dunn

The year we spend with the Nolan family is filled with new life, new hopes, set-backs, misunderstandings and death. A happy Christmas is the last spent with the entire family and is a charming scene in the film. Francie and Neeley do their part to make it a happy time by winning a Christmas tree thrown to the hearty by the lot operator at the close of business on Christmas Eve. Johnny makes it memorable by leading the whole apartment house in singing Silent Night. Johnny will be gone before many more weeks have passed. His legacy of kindness and the esteem with which he was held by the many who attend his funeral will have a marked impression on those left behind.

Peggy Ann Garner, James Dunn, Anne Revere, Ray Milland
1946 Academy Awards

Elia Kazan's directorial debut was selected by The National Board of Review as one of its top ten films of 1945. The screenplay was nominated for an Oscar. James Dunn won a Best Supporting Actor Oscar and Peggy Ann Garner was given a special juvenile Oscar. The film was placed on the National Film Registry in 2010.

Director Kazan displays a subtle awareness of the family relationships in his filming of scenes filled with intimate emotion. The exuberance of Neeley's boyish complaining, constant hunger, dodging chores and homework, yet ever the light of mother's eye. Francie's joy when Johnny does not come home drunk. Her determination and womanly pride at handling him when he does. Katie's constant battle between her soft nature and her duty. The heart aches for each character in their struggle.

Any close-up of Peggy Ann Garner as Francie can fill my heart to bursting. She gives an exquisite performance that perfectly captures Francie and mirrors the confusion, hope and expectations of any of us at that age. The love between Katie and Johnny, their total understanding of each other despite their seeming lack of communication, is something else that moves me.

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn is a heartwarming and heart wrenching film that goes right to my tear ducts. Sometimes, it is a full on howl of a cry and sometimes it is the misty and unexpected sob. It can be a scene, a line of dialogue, a close-up, or a personal memory touched on by the story of this family that shares my name.

Friday, May 5, 2017


Phyllis Loves Classic Movies and Love Letters to Old Hollywood are hosting The Favorite Film and TV Homes Blogathon running from May 5th to 7th. This is going to be fun.  Day 1   Day 2   Day 3

I am one who ascribes to the thoughts of the private consulting detective Sherlock Holmes when he remarked to his friend Dr. John Watson in The Copper Beeches on what Watson described as the fresh and beautiful countryside. "You look at these scattered houses, and you are impressed by their beauty. I look at them, and the only thought which comes to me is a feeling of their isolation and of the impunity with which crime may be committed there."

That is precisely why, though I may enjoy a weekend or two in the country, I looked for a nice flat in the city. I was very pleased to see a "To Let" advert in the Times for a ground floor flat at 61a Charrington Gardens. One bed, separate kitchen, plenty of space and access to a private, walled-in garden.

The current resident Margo Wendice is leaving for America to marry her writer boyfriend. You remember, she was the one that was convicted of murder, but released recently when her soon to be ex-husband, the tennis player, was brought up on conspiracy charges. A messy business, but hear me out. I feel that the place has had its turn of bad luck and now it is free for good times with me. Oh, but if only those walls could talk!

The entryway.

Cozy meals for two are easily set-up.

Built-ins! A nice comfortable reading or drinking nook.

A bird's eye view. Decorating possibilities galore!

An actual working fireplace. Plenty of room for knick-knacks on the mantle.

Grand spot for a desk. Look at the natural light from the garden.

Separate kitchen. I prefer it to the open concept.

Bedroom with en suite appears most spacious.

View of the vestibule on the way out.

Of course the fun of any new place is bringing your own touches, minus dead bodies and all. At only a 5 minute walk from the tube this place is ideal.

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

BING'S BIRTHDAY MOVIE: Little Boy Lost (1953)

It's that time of year again when I celebrate one of my favourite entertainers/singers with a birthday salute. There is some minor dispute as to whether Bing's birthday is on May 2nd (IMDb) or May 3rd (family website). It matters not to me. I will have cake on both days.

This year we are going to look at the affecting 1953 drama Little Boy Lost written and directed by George Seaton (Miracle on 34th Street) from a story by Marghanita Laski. The Paramount production was filmed in France giving the proper atmosphere to this post-war melodrama. Little Boy Lost was the recipient of the 1954 Golden Globe for Best Film Promoting International Understanding and George Seaton was nominated for Grand Prize at the Cannes Film Festival.

Our story is set in 1948 where journalist and former war correspondent William Wainwright (Crosby) is on a quest to find his son. Ten years earlier he was married to a French singer named Lisa (Nicole Maurey) and they were blessed with a little boy. The war separated them with a wounded Bill ending up in London after Dunkirk and Lisa and little Jean remaining in Paris. Efforts to get the mother and son out of France were hampered by time, red tape and Lisa's work with the Resistance. Lisa is killed by the Nazis and the whereabouts of her little boy have remained unknown. Searches through the years have been fruitless, but Bill's old friend Pierre (Claude Dauphin) has new information. Hope is renewed.

The trail through official records and a sort of underground railroad for children during the war lead them to an orphanage outside of Paris. The Mother Superior appears cold and forbidding to Bill. However, she has a genuine concern is for the little boy that may be the lost Jean Wainwright (Christian Fourcade). The nun warns that the little boy's hopes for a family should not be raised falsely.

Little Jean is plagued with rickets, but "thankfully" not tuberculosis, with which a number of the orphans are afflicted. Privations of the war years have done little to promote good health among these abandoned children. The Mother Superior will remind us, and Bill, often of the horrors of the past and the troubles of the present.

Gabrielle Dorziet

Mother Superior:  "What you did just then I have seen happen many, many times. Even mothers who claim their maternal instinct infallible make the same mistake. If there is the slightest resemblance, they will favour the child who is alert, intelligent looking, and personable. I have come to the conclusion that parental instinct is very often confused with conceit."

Bing Crosby, Christian Fourcade

Bill is encouraged to spend time with Jean, perhaps to arouse any latent memories that will prove they are father and son beyond blood type which could match any number of children. They grow closer over the next few days, but hope is shattered by the woman who transported Jean between a priest and the orphanage. In her anxiety that Bill adopt the child she encouraged Jean to lie about his memories. Bill is shattered by this turn of events. Bill even feels slighted by his friend Pierre who accuses Bill of building a morbid museum of his life with Lisa. Bill is forced to face how he treats the memory of Lisa and how he treats the living.

Music is built into the film with songs by Johnny Burke and Jimmy Van Heusen, including the above light-hearted moment. Song was a big part of Bill and Lisa's life, and a way for Bill to relate to Jean.

Ten-year-old Christian Fourcade is quite touching as Jean and Bing Crosby gives a poignant performance as the lonely writer. If this movie doesn't move you to tears, then I suspect you have ticker problems.

Little Boy Lost is a reminder that the world keeps turning and children are still lost in the turmoil created by adults. Thankfully, there are organizations and people who care enough to do whatever is possible to set things to right. Sadly, it is never enough.

Movie trivia:  Director and writer George Seaton and Bing Crosby would collaborate the following year on The Country Girl for which Bing would garner an Oscar nomination. Bing's leading lady here, Nicole Maurey, will be his leading lady again in the Blake Edwards comedy High Time in 1960.

Monday, May 1, 2017


Steve of MovieMovieBlogBlog is hosting Nuts in May: A Laurel and Hardy Blogathon. The very idea fills me with joy, and clicking HERE for all the contributions will double that feeling.

Mr. Hardy on his wedding day.

If ever I employ a butler I shall insist he be referred to as "Hives". Hives (Frank Terry), the butler, brings his master, Mr. Hardy, his morning toast and congratulates him on a fine day for his noon nuptials. Mr. Hardy graciously accepts the good wishes and listens to a radio announcer (Frank Terry) extol the upcoming society wedding of up and coming executive, the same Mr. Hardy, to the daughter of oil magnate Peter Cucumber (James Finlayson). Mr. Hardy is pleased with the publicity. However, when the announcer continues by quoting the bridegroom's lifelong friend Mr. Laurel, Mr. Hardy becomes annoyed. Anyone with a pretense to good sense would feel the same.

Mr. Laurel bearing gifts.

Enter the bridegroom's bosom pal; purchaser of flowers, keeper of the ring, and bearer of the perfect wedding gift. Mr. Laurel, distressed by Mr. Hardy's envisioned future of foregoing nights on the town, has thoughtful provided him with a jigsaw puzzle. Mr. Hardy, rightfully so, considers this gift to be a nonstarter. It would not be worth taking the time to explain this to Mr. Laurel as the inestimable Hives has ordered the cab to rush the participants to the ceremony.

Mr. Laurel and Mr. Hardy are distracted.

Mr. Laurel, whose grasp of time is as tenuous as his grasp of wedding gifts, has become distracted by the jigsaw puzzle. Mr. Hardy as well is drawn into the whirlpool of swirling colours and the search for straight-edged pieces. It is the way of jigsaw puzzles that they seize the mind and soul of all who come within sight of their tantalizing mysteries.

Mr. Laurel and Mr. Hardy attempting a task greater than themselves.

Nonetheless, a wedding is in the offing and Mr. Hardy's presence is required. Many of us can attest to the difficulties that may be encountered when entering a cab. Think of those difficulties multiplied by the helpful presence of Mr. Laurel. Mr. Hardy eventually takes his seat in the back of the cab, but he is not unscathed. The trip, however, is delayed when Mr. Laurel is sent back into the house to discover what has become of the errant cabbie. Mr. Laurel finds the hired driver immersed in the jigsaw puzzle. Once again Mr. Laurel becomes entangled in the game.

There is nothing for Mr. Hardy to do at this point but try to rouse those jigsaw puzzle addicts to action. Mr. Hardy, alas, also becomes embroiled in the obsession. Perhaps the arrival of a telegram will shake the dust off the puzzle participants. Perhaps we were hoping for too much. The telegram, which must be of some importance, isn't even read.

Peter Cucumber on the march.

Meanwhile back at the manse, Peter Cucumber, oil magnate and father of the bride, is getting annoyed. The guests have been waiting, the bride has been weeping and Mr. Laurel has sent a memorial wreath as his flowery contribution. Peter Cucumber has plans for that wreath and he heads over to Mr. Hardy's residence determined to get the wedding underway or know the reason why.

A cop, a cabbie, a butler, a bridegroom and a best man.
Don't they have somewhere they need to be?

Things at the Hardy household have but one focus this day and it is not a wedding. The jigsaw puzzle has taken over and is now the fascination of Mr. Hardy, Mr. Laurel, the cabbie, the inestimable Hives and a police officer. A police officer? Yes. The cabbie had parked by a fire hydrant and his engrossment in the puzzle is such that he doesn't even mind a ticket.

The police are summoned to quell a riot in a quiet suburban neighbourhood.

Peter Cucumber, oil magnate, arrives on the scene and he is the first person to do so without becoming entranced by the jigsaw puzzle. It is just as well because the puzzle has been completed, minus one final missing piece. It is the missing piece that now stands in the way of the Cucumber-Hardy wedding. The police officer insists that everyone must be searched in an effort to discover the mislaid treasure.

Objections are expressed regarding the search and, naturally, these objections lead to a free-for-all. A brawl of epic proportions occurs which involves more police officers. These new enforcers of the law who have arrived on the scene are less interested in jigsaw puzzles than their comrade in blue. Hence, the brawlers are escorted to the local hoosegow with the exception of the well hidden Mr. Laurel and Mr. Hardy.

Mr. Hardy's day did not turn out as expected.

It looks like the wedding is off. It looks like Mr. Hardy's career trajectory as an executive has taken a turn. Oh, and remember that telegram? It looks like a fortune was lost. Never put your trust in horse collar futures, or your closest pal, Mr. Laurel.


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