Sunday, December 31, 2017

CAFTAN WOMAN'S CHOICE: ONE FOR JANUARY ON TCM


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

INSPIRATIONAL HEROES BLOGATHON: Glenda Farrell as Torchy Blane


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 (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, with 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 (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, but has 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 it 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 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.


The Desilu produced The Lucy-Desi Comedy Hour aired 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
Surprise!

There are some very funny gags as the couples keep missing each other and go to sleep still unaware of the others presence. 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 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 row boat. 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
Surprise!

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 fist 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.










THE WORLD WAR ONE ON FILM BLOGATHON: Broken Lullaby (1932)

Maddy Loves Her Classic Films is hosting The World War One On Film Blogathon on November 10th and 11th to commemorate the 100th annive...