Monday, July 31, 2017


A novel by a young marine, Richard Brooks, the future Hollywood writer/director, called The Brick Foxhole was purchased by RKO despite its touchy subject matter. The novel concerned the murder by fellow soldiers of a homosexual. Hollywood censors at the time would not allow such a character, but there is always a way around censors, and a seemingly endless supply of people to hate for no reason.

The RKO triumvirate of producer Adrian Scott, writer John Paxton and director Edward Dmytryk created four outstanding films during the late forties. Along with the drama from James Hilton's novel So Well Remembered, there are the films-noir Murder, My Sweet, Cornered and Crossfire. Of these four films, only the 1947 release Crossfire received Academy recognition in the form of 5 nominations for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Writing, ScreenplayBest Actor in a Supporting Role Robert Ryan, Best Actress in a Supporting Role Gloria Grahame.

The adaption of The Brick Foxhole changed the murder victim to a Jewish veteran named Samuels played by Sam Levine. 20th Century Fox would soon release their premiere social conscious film of the season, Gentleman's Agreement which would win the Best Picture Oscar. A new Hollywood generation was taking an honest look at their world.

The film opens with ominous, gut churning music from Roy Webb and a shadowy figure pummeling some poor soul to death. The murderer is in uniform. The murderer drags a pal away from the scene. The murderer plans to pin his crime on some other poor soul, a poor soul also in uniform.

Important to the characters and plot of this film is the situation in which these vets, most of them young, find themselves. Back from war, they are at loose ends. Can you just pick up life and relationships and start over as if nothing had happened? Too much had happened, both on the front and at home.

The face of hate enters the frame.
Robert Ryan

The sympathetic Samuels understood the issues of this post-war world as he comforted the young Corporal Mitchell played by George Cooper. Mitch is messed up this night. He's confused and lonely, and he's drinking too much. He's lucky to have found friends in Samuels and his girlfriend played by Marlo Dwyer. Luck does not hold for Samuels as his kindness brings Montgomery played by Robert Ryan into his life. Montgomery brings nothing but rage and death.

Captain Finlay searches for a motive.
Robert Young

Captain Finlay played by Robert Young is the law, the police captain who has seen too much, but has another murder to deal with this night. The facts, as related by Montgomery, all point to young Mitchell. Captain Finlay has fine instincts, but he still has to follow the facts. Sergeant Keely played by Robert Mitchum follows his own parallel investigation as his instinct is to protect the men in his outfit, and Mitchell is one of those men.

Paul Kelly

Think of Corporal Mitchell as a film-noir Alice in Wonderland stumbling through a city full of crooked streets and crooked people. Nothing makes sense and nothing is waiting for him but a jail cell. Mitchell hooks up with Ginny played by Gloria Grahame. A dancer in a dive, Ginny is a tough gal because she has to be. Mitchell says she reminds him of his wife. Ginny is also mixed up with The Man played by Paul Kelly. This character is definitely something out of Wonderland. Nothing he says is true, but everything he says and does has a meaning. That meaning is only known to The Man, although Ginny may think she knows.

She reminded Mitchell of his wife.
Gloria Grahame, Jacqueline White

Steve Brodie as the murderous Montgomery's luckless pal Floyd, along with William Phipps as the frightened young soldier Leroy they are important to the plot and give sterling performances. Jacqueline White plays Mary, Mitchell's wife, who also becomes involved in the investigation.

I like Captain Finlay. Robert Young's portrayal combines a weary cynicism with deep understanding and commitment to do the job right. He is given a couple of speeches about hate and bigotry that could become tiresome in the wrong hands. I feel his sincerity.

Sgt. Keely takes care of his men.
George Cooper, Robert Mitchum

Crossfire touches on important social issues in fanaticism and the readjustment of veterans, while never losing touch with its murder mystery core and its fatalistic noirish style.

TCM is screening Crossfire on Sunday, August 6th at 9 a.m. It is Summer Under the Stars and (Hallelujah!), it is Robert Mitchum Day in honour of the 100th anniversary of his birth. We call him "Big Bob" around here, but you can call him Mr. Mitchum, if you like. They've got everything from Holiday Affair to Thunder Road to Night of the Hunter on tap. Plan accordingly, and don't forget Crossfire.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

'TILL DEATH US DO PART: The Stranger (1946)

"How do I kill thee, let me count the ways."

CineMaven has been sitting on her couch dreaming of homicide and wedded bliss. On Monday, July 24th click HERE for the contributions to the blogathon with the inspiring title of 'TILL DEATH US DO PART. My contribution is a look at The Stranger and it is full of spoilers.

Mary Longstreet Rankin: "In Harper there's nothing to be afraid of."

The post-war thriller 1946s The Stranger presents us with happy newlywed bride Mary Longstreet played by Loretta Young. Mary transforms throughout the film from an infatuated wife to a victim of psychological horror to a hunter.

Director and star Orson Welles worked with familiar and creative personnel in fashioning this story of what lies beneath the surface of a pretty little world and a pretty little marriage.

Production designer Perry Ferguson, art designer Albert S. D'Agostino and cinematographer Russell Metty had collaborated with director Orson Welles in earlier films, Citizen Kane and Journey Into Fear, and here they created a charming setting for their thriller. Anthony Veiller wrote the screenplay, the same year as his Oscar nominated work on The Killers.

The town of Harper with its welcoming town square, historic church and school buildings is picture perfect. The homes, from simple to grand, have a roomy and lived-in feel. Though filmed in black and white, one can "see" the autumn colours as they feel the briskness in the icy breeze.

The centerpiece of the town and the film.

The world is looking up in 1946, up and away from the war that ravaged much of the world, physically and emotionally. The picturesque and quaint town of Harper, Connecticut is a quiet, out-of-the-way spot with antiques and a popular Boy's School. Certainly, it is not a place where one would expect to find an escaped Nazi awaiting the return of the new order. Perhaps a few years earlier those quaint Bavarian villages didn't seem like places where fascism would burgeon.

Welles use of close-ups in The Stranger highlights emotional tension, and his artistic shadow tableau heighten the sense of secrecy that permeates the story. Composer Bronislau Kaper's score swirls in partnership with the confusion of characters and motives.  

Mr. Wilson makes himself at home.

The friendly drug store with its eccentric proprietor Mr. Potter played by big old Billy House gives the feel of visiting family with customers helping themselves and trading gossip. Although, the way Mr. Potter keeps to his seat while bossing his old, rickety assistant Mr. Peabody played by Pietro Sosso makes one wonder about small scale dictators.

A newcomer to Harper, Mr. Wilson played by Edward G. Robinson, finds the store a good base of operations for both his antique business cover and his assignment for the Allied Crime Commission. Mr. Wilson is a hunter of Nazis, one particular Nazi called Franz Kindler. 

Prior to Mr. Wilson's arrival, the newest citizen of Harper was Professor Charles Rankin, played by Orson Welles. He came to town shortly after the war. The history professor with the cultured manner and voice soon becomes the affianced of Mary Longstreet, a popular local girl and daughter of a liberal Supreme Court Justice, Adam Longstreet played by Philip Merivale. Richard Long plays Mary's younger brother Noah who mistrusts Professor Rankin. However, love for a sister means at least pretending to accept a brother-in-law.

Orson Welles, Konstantin Shayne

On the day of the wedding Mary is hanging curtains in their new home when a strange, little man pays a call. The man with the haunted look and the foreign accent is most anxious to see Professor Rankin. Instead of waiting, he rushes to meet the teacher on his way from school. He is rushing to his death. This strange little man is Conrad Meineke played by Konstantin Shayne, and he was second in command to a German death camp mastermind, Franz Kindler. Herr Kindler has found the perfect disguise to await the expected rise of Nazism, as Charles Rankin. Meineke's presence will destroy Kindler's cover. Kindler murders his old friend and buries the body in the woods behind the school.

Charles' shadow looms large in Mary's life.

Mary and Charles return a week later from their honeymoon to set up housekeeping and enjoy a dinner with the Longstreet family and guests. The guests are family friend and local doctor Dr. Lawrence played by Byron Keith, and Mr. Wilson.  

Charles Rankin: "But Marx wasn't German. Marx was a Jew."

Mary's post-war idyll should be filled with nothing beyond setting up housekeeping with the help of Sara, the Longstreet housekeeper played by Martha Wentworth, and getting to know her new husband. Yet Mary is plagued by nightmares about the strange little man who appeared and disappeared so suddenly and mysteriously. Charles concocts a story to explain away the visit. It is a terrible and sad story, and Mary believes it.

Oddly, Charles has consigned Mary's beloved retriever, Red, to the basement after a lifetime of freedom. Charles claims right of decision as man of the house. This has become necessary to keep the inquisitive canine from following his instincts and digging up the grave in the woods. Mary begins to feel uneasy in her new life.

"Poor old Red"
Richard Long as Noah Longstreet

The suspicious Noah has been enlisted to assist Mr. Wilson's investigation, and the death by poison of Red indicates that Rankin/Kindler is becoming desperate. Backtracking the trail of the poisoned animal leads back to the grave. It is a cause celebre among the citizens of Harper - a real life mystery! Charles must create yet another story to placate Mary's fears. He confesses to murder, placing Meineke in the role of a blackmailer, drawing her into a need to protect  her beloved husband. 


Mary is startled by Charles' strange and shocking behavior. 

Fearing for Mary's safety, Wilson decides it is time to break the truth to the newlywed and he does so with the assistance of her father and graphic film of the death camps. It is too much for a devoted wife to bear; to accept she has made such a horrendous choice. Mary spills all she has been told to Charles. She declares her steadfast belief and loyalty which Charles accepts. However, in his acceptance, Charles does not even bother denying the charges.

Mary's breaking point.

Life carries on with a faculty tea for 28 guests at the home of the Rankins. The pressure is too great for Mary as she tries to behave naturally, especially when faced with the guest Wilson, and the gossip surrounding the discovery of the body in the woods. Mary is at the breaking point and, ironically, so is our Nazi. Like Meineke, Mary must be eliminated if Kindler is to be safe and Mary's death must look like an accident.

Rankin's obsession with the ornate mechanical clock in the church tower in the middle of town is almost a joke among the townfolk. The 16th century marvel features iron statues of angels armed with swords which encircle the tower on the hour. The clock hasn't worked for years, but the maniac Rankin spends much needed time on the machine as it helps him remain calm and focused. 

It is such an expected habit for Rankin to be at the tower that Mary thinks nothing of his asking her to meet him there, and that it is important. Rankin will not be in the tower. Mary will fall from a sabotaged ladder in a tragic accident. The housekeeper Sara has been made aware of the dire situation and fakes an illness to keep Mary from leaving the house. Mary innocently asks Noah to keep the meeting for her, and Noah wisely brings Mr. Wilson with him to the tower.

Mary's shadow looms large in Charles' life.

The broken rung of the ladder was almost fatal for Mr. Wilson. Meticulously setting up his alibi, it is an understatement to say that Charles was surprised to return home to find his loving Mary among the living. He cracks! She is explaining about Sara's attack and Noah when Charles tells her that Noah's blood is on her hands. The scales fall from her eyes suddenly and violently. Mary is magnificent in their confrontation.

Mary: "Kill me. Kill me, I want you to. I couldn't face life knowing what I've been to you and what I've done to Noah. But when you kill me don't put your hands on me! Here, use this!"

Mary tosses a fireplace poker at him, and Rankin/Kindler rushes out the back door as Wilson and the police arrive.

His safe place becomes the instrument of Franz Kindler's doom.

Where would you be hiding were you the fanatic Kindler? Indeed, he has retreated to the dubious comfort of the clock tower and that is where Mary seeks him out to destroy the monster who came into her life. Suspecting what was in Mary's mind, Mr. Wilson is there as well to confront the unrepentant zealot.

Kindler is brought down by hubris, by official justice in the personification of Wilson, and emotional retribution from the woman he used.

Movie trivia:

It is reported in various sources that Welles had wanted to cast his favourite actress Aggie Moorehead as the crime commission investigator, but a woman in that position was too much for Hollywood at that time. A most interesting film it would have made, but a most interesting film it is with this cast intact.

Billy House as Mr. Potter is a sedentary salesman: "All your needs are on our shelves. Just look around and help yourselves." Yet he still had the bluff of his The Egg and I character: "Best friend the farmer's wife ever had. Smiling Billy Reed. Whatever you need see Billy Reed, that's me.

Friday, July 14, 2017

SWASHATHON: Adventures of Don Juan (1948)

Erroll Flynn introduces himself as Don Juan de Marana in Adventures of Don Juan.

THE SWASHATHON IS BACK! Fritzi of Movies, Silently is hosting the second version of her popular blogathon tribute to derring-do on the silver screen. It runs from July 14 - 17, and HERE is where you will find all the excitement.

"For the man, the sword; for the woman, the kiss."
- Rodolfo Tonetti (Erik Rhodes), The Gay Divorcee

It may seem like a stretch to connect a 1934 musical to a 1948 swashbuckler, but as I rewatched Adventures of Don Juan for the Swashathon, I couldn't help but think that perhaps the emotional co-respondent Tonetti was descended from the famous fictional lover of yore. His line is the perfect motto for the character played by Errol Flynn in our film. His adventures all start and end with a beautiful woman, and involve many clashes of the blade.

As we leap with actor Flynn from film to film, it is his swashbucklers that stand out. Many actors display an athleticism. Many actors display a wry attitude. Many actors display a tender, romantic heart. Few actors combine these attributes with such polish and unselfconscious enthusiasm.

Don Juan surprises his enemy.
Errol Flynn about to turn into a leaping stunt double Jock Mahoney.

Errol Flynn was 26 when he was given the coveted leading role in 1935s Captain Blood. Flynn became a star as the wrongly convicted political prisoner turned pirate and leader of men. He had the goods and the audience responded. 1938s The Adventures of Robin Hood is a classic and, for many, Flynn is the definitive Robin of Sherwood. 1940s The Sea Hawk, a grand tale of deception and adventure presents a character of depth in Geoffrey Thorpe.

In 1948 Warners decided to put their 40 year old star in another costumer, Adventures of Don Juan. Was this decision a mistake? Was Flynn past the age of screen escapades? The finished product tells us the answer is "no" to both questions.

Don Juan about to be presented at the Spanish court.
Each player from lead to bit part is costumed beautifully.

Vincent Sherman, the actor turned director who is best known for interesting dramas such as The Hasty Heart, The Hard Way and Harriet Craig directed this, apparently his only foray into the adventure genre. Perhaps I would cut some of the buildup to action sequences, but overall there is nothing to complain about in Sherman's touch. He has a lovely way with intimate character scenes. George Oppenheimer and Harry Kurnitz are credited with the screenplay which has many amusing and witty lines as one would expect from fellows who gave us such films as Libeled Lady, Nothing Sacred, I Love You Again and How to Steal a Million.

"Sweet lady, love is not measured in terms of time, only in ecstasy!"
I could be wrong, but I think Don Juan has said this more than once.

Don Juan roams Europe in search of happiness. Said happiness has everything to do with seducing as many beautiful women as possible. Our film opens with Don Juan climbing a balcony to meet his latest conquest. It is obvious in all of Don Juan's romantic encounters in the film that the ladies know he is playing a part, and they are more than happy to play their role in the charade. Lady Catherine is played by Mary Stuart and it was one of her better film showcases in 10 years in Hollywood for the actress. She would move to New York and in 1951 begin her 35 year reign as a Daytime TV icon playing Joanne Gardner (Barron, Tate, Vincente, Tourneur) on Search for Tomorrow.

Don Juan always finds a willing audience for his audacious tales.

Don Juan virtually leaps from his adventure with Catherine and her husband into the mistaken role as a bridegroom in a diplomatically arranged marriage to Lady Diana played by Helen Westcott. This exploit lands him in jail. Fortunately, he is released by Spain's ambassador to England, the Count de Polan played by Robert Warwick. The Count is an old family friend who offers Don Juan redemption and the chance to put his grace, wit and courage to work for Queen Margaret played by Viveca Lindfors. Recently arrived from Austria the Queen is in a difficult position as she tries to do right by her Spanish subjects. The ineffectual King Philip III played by Romney Brent is under the control of the power hungry Duke de Lorca played by Robert Douglas. Queen Margaret needs all the help she can get.

"All my life I seem to have been stumbling around as if in darkness. I am no longer."
I could be wrong, but I think Don Juan is falling for the beautiful and brave Sovereign.

Don Juan impresses the Queen with his candor and he is given the position of a fencing master at the Royal Academy. Don Juan is instantly popular with his students and their female relations. The ever-scheming Count de Lorca attempts to harness that popularity to his cause, but Don Juan remains loyal to the Queen.

Leporello: "Do you think I'd let you go roaming about the universe without me?" 

Don Juan is assisted in all of his endeavours by his loyal companion Leporello played by Alan Hale. Adventures of Don Juan would be the 13th and final film co-starring these old friends whose first cinematic pairing was 1937s The Prince and the Pauper.

Count D'Orsini objects to Don Juan's attentions to Donna Elena.
Ann Rutherford, David Bruce

The brazen de Lorca has become hasty in his treachery. He kidnaps Don Juan's mentor and benefactor the Count de Polan in order to control funds for his overthrow of the monarchy. Don Juan has become disgraced through another misadventure with a certain Donna Elena played by Ann Rutherford and her intended, Count D'Orsini played by David Bruce. Facing banishment or death, Don Juan ignores both in order to save de Polan and Queen Margaret.

Count de Lorca and Captain Alvarez harass and torture Count de Polan.
Robert Douglas, Raymond Burr, Robert Warwick

Don Juan must vanquish Count de Lorca and his henchmen Don Rodrigo played by Douglas Kennedy and the brutish Captain Alvarez played by Raymond Burr. Fortunately, Don Juan can depend on his crew, fencing master Don Lopez played by Fortunio Bonanova, court jester Sebastian played by Jerry Austin, and the entire student body of the Royal Fencing Academy.

"The sword is not for the traitor. You'll die by the knife"
First lesson of Royal Fencing Academy

The fencing scenes include not only fine action sequences between enemies, but some thoroughly entertaining choreographed scenes involving students of the Academy. The stunt double work is exemplary and seamless. All hail fencing master/choreographer Fred Cavens of Captain Blood, Anne of the Indies, The Black Swan, The Black Pirate, Cyrano de Bergerac, etc.

Be vewy, vewy quiet. Juan and Sebastian are hunting bad guys.
Errol Flynn, Jerry Austin

Cinematographer Elwood Bredell, whose proficiency in the dark world of noir as in The Killers and Phantom Lady, knew how to delight the eye with Technicolor in Romance on the High Seas and this beautiful production.

Max Steiner's score is simply glorious. It conjures up feelings of every swashbuckler ever enjoyed while still highlighting and supporting the screenplay and performances in Adventures of Don Juan.

The Academy saw fit to honour Adventures of Don Juan with well-deserved nominations and wins. Edward Carrere and Lyle B. Reifsnider were nominated in the category Best Art Direction-Set Decoration, color. The winner was MGMs production of Little Women.

Queen Margaret looks regal and radiant.
Viveca Lindfors in just one of the many lovely Oscar winning costumes.

The costumes! Oh, the costumes! Leah Rhodes, Travilla and Marjorie Best won the trophy for Best Costume Design, color. Each gown for each lovely lady is sublime. The colour, the material, the details and the accessories are all breathtaking! The costumes for the gentlemen are no less magnificent. If you are not interested in romance or derring-do, perhaps the fashion show that is Adventures of Don Juan will swash your buckle. 

I find Adventures of Don Juan a delightful movie starring the most exceptional swashbuckler of them all, Errol Flynn. The tongue-in-cheek story naturally and satisfactorily leads us to this:

En Garde!
Errol Flynn, Robert Douglas

and this...

Max Steiner's score is in the background, but I hear Harry Warren's At Last in my head.
Errol Flynn, Viveca Lindfors

If it is spectacle and humour and romance and thrills you seek in your swashbuckler then you can do no better than Adventures of Don Juan.


"My dear friend, there's a little bit of Don Juan in every man, and since I am Don Juan there must be more of it in me!"

Movie trivia:  Buffs will have no difficulty recognizing an early getaway of Juan and Leporello as a steal from The Adventures of Robin Hood. When our hero goes chasing after his latest conquest at the end of the film, it is his soon to be ex-second wife, Nora Eddington. She bears a striking resemblance to soon to be next wife Patrice Wymore.


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