Sunday, May 20, 2018

DYNAMIC DUOS IN CLASSIC FILM: Ralph Wolf and Sam Sheepdog

Once Upon a Screen and Classic Movie Hub aka Aurora and Annmarie are hosting a blogathon look at the amazing pairs in classic film that delight us. It is a two-day party on May 19th and 20th. Click HERE for Day 1 contributions. Click HERE for Day 2 contributions.

A day at the office with Sam Sheepdog and Ralph Wolf.
A Sheep in the Deep

"In pitting Ralph Wolf against Sam Sheepdog, I was trying to discover if I could do the opposite of the chase at the heart of the Road Runner cartoons. The Road Runner is moving all the time, and at great speed. I, therefore, wanted the wolf's opponent not to move at all. And that is exactly what happens - or doesn't. Sam just sits very solidly on the ground. He doesn't move: he is there."
- Chuck Reducks
published, 1996

Chuck Jones directed six shorts starring Ralph and Sam: Don't Give Up the Sheep (1953), Sheep Ahoy (1954), Double or Mutton (1955), Steal Wool (1957), Ready, Woolen and Able (1960), and A Sheep in the Deep (1962). The pairs final outing to-date, excepting cameos, was in Woolen Under Where (1963) directed by Phil Monroe and Richard Thompson.

The universe in which Ralph Wolf and Sam Sheepdog reside is an orderly and structured workplace with strict rules and guidelines as to clocking in, taking breaks, and day's end. Within that routine, all is chaos and mayhem, at least for benighted Ralph Wolf. Sam Sheepdog, the purveyor of the chaos does his job with the precision and emotion of an automaton. I find the whole concept and its execution side-achingly funny and oddly comforting.

The first short featuring these characters is Don't Give Up the Sheep. There is a bit of confusion with regards to the names, but the basic premise is laid down beautifully. Sam is there to protect the flock of sheep, and Ralph is there to prey upon the flock of sheep.

Here's a typically brilliant plan of Ralph's which has gone awry in Double or Mutton. That Ralph sure is a hard worker. He throws everything he's got into the job. Sam never lets us see the work, but he must have an awfully active brain to keep one step ahead of the crafty Canis lupus.

"Time is an illusion. Lunchtime doubly so."
- The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy

We should all enjoy the illusion as much as Ralph and Sam. The music selected by Milt Franklyn for this scene in A Sheep in the Deep is A Cup of Coffee, a Sandwich and You. It's best to keep up with the popular songs or you'll miss the jokes!

THE classic gag!

The last shot of Steal Wool makes me smile. Ultimately, Ralph and Sam cheer me with the idea that the world works best when everyone does their bit. There will be pain, but it doesn't last.

Friday, May 18, 2018


Annette Bochenek of Hometowns to Hollywood is hosting The MGM Musical Magic Blogathon from May 18th to the 20th. Click HERE for the laughter and song from the MGM dream factory.

Jeanette MacDonald jumped from a dues-paying stage actress and singer to a leading lady of motion pictures with her first film, Paramount's The Love Parade in 1929. Many successful films and concert tours followed when she signed with MGM in 1933. It was in that same year that the studio signed a young baritone named Nelson Eddy. After a couple of film roles playing himself, in 1935 Eddy was cast opposite Jeanette Macdonald in Victor Herbert's Naughty Marietta. A hit movie and a new movie team were born. Sweethearts in 1938 was the fifth of the eight movies featuring the popular stars.

Nelson Eddy, Jeanette MacDonald
On top of the world.

Jeanette and Nelson star as Gwen Marlowe and Ernest Lane in the movie Sweethearts. In the movie Gwen and Ernest star in a Broadway hit called Sweethearts. Did I say hit? The show is a phenomenon celebrating its 6th anniversary. These Sweethearts of Broadway are also Sweethearts of the airwaves with a weekly radio program. Success is a wonderful thing, but it leaves little time for a personal life or privacy in their marriage. 

Florence Rice, Lucile Watson, Berton Churchill, Gene Lockhart, Kathleen Lockhart
Nelson Eddy, Jeanette MacDonald, Terry Kilburn
Gwen and Ernest enjoy a quiet evening at home.

Gwen Marlowe and Ernest Lane are their generations representatives of the first family of the American Theatre. Confused? Both the Marlowes and the Lanes lay claim to the title. Aunt Amelia Lane (Kathleen Lockhart) is a diva of the old school. Sheridan Lane (Berton Churchill) is an actor given to verbose reminiscences. Mrs. Marlowe (Lucile Watson) still considers herself an ingenue. Augustus Marlowe (Gene Lockhart) is a master of dialects, or he thinks he is, or he used to be.

Orlando Lane (Raymond Walburn) is constantly on the road in one failed production or another and always requires a cash infusion. Gwen's younger brother (Terry Kilburn) is in musical training and keeping a cynical eye on the box office. The "children" love their respective families, but they make financial, emotional and time demands on the couple. The family makes the promises which Gwen and Ernest feel obligated to keep.

Reginald Gardiner, Jeanette MacDonald, Nelson Eddy
Go west, young stars.

A representative (Reginald Gardiner) of a Hollywood studio has been trying to get Gwen and Ernest to travel west. He paints a rosy, if unlikely, picture of leisure time and compliant, understanding bosses. It sounds like heaven when yet another crisis of their family's doing arises. They'll do it! Gwen Marlowe and Ernest Lane are going to Hollywood!

Allyn Joslyn, Frank Morgan, Mischa Auer, Olin Howland, Herman Bing
Surely brains like these can come up with a plan.

Producer  Felix Lehman (Frank Morgan) sets himself up as the friend and protector of his "kiddies", but he too takes advantage of their goodwill. It is desirable to all involved that the Sweethearts money train doesn't stop; the publicity man Dink (Allyn Joslyn), the accountant Appleby (Olin Howland), the composer Engel (Herman Bing) and the playwright Kronk (Mischa Auer).

Panic ensues in the production office of Felix Lehman at the news of the kiddies defection. Only one man has a plan whereby they can count on the continuing flow of cash into their coffers. Playwright Kronk has a new play focusing on the one universal truth. What is that truth, you ask? It is, in the author's opinion, that a woman in love can always be made to believe that she has a rival. In other words, Gwen must be made to believe that Ernest has a secret love.

Betty Jaynes, Douglas McPhail
The understudy's lament: "You'd think that in all this time she could have sprained just one ankle."

Gwen, the fathead, falls for the ploy and innocent actions are misinterpreted until she believes that Ernest has been carrying on with their secretary Kay Jordan (Florence Rice) for all the years of their marriage. It is a case of "if you don't know, I'm not going to tell you" when Gwen breaks things off with her totally confused husband.

The Hollywood contract is cancelled because it is for both stars or none. Two tours of Sweethearts goes on the road starring Ernest with Gwen's understudy and Gwen with Ernest's understudy.

While on the road, and miserable without each other, a review of the perfidious playwright's new drama appears in Variety and all becomes clear to Gwen, the fathead, and Ernest, the confused. They angrily confront Felix, who is always able to manipulate "his kiddies". Soon the Sweethearts are back on Broadway, singing the same songs and saying the same lines for perhaps another six years.

Nelson Eddy, Jeanette MacDonald
Back together and back with the show.

Victor Herbert's Sweethearts premiered on Broadway in 1913. The plot involved an unaware princess raised by commoners until it is safe for her return. The original run was 136 performances while a 1947 revival ran for 288 shows.

MGMs 1938 Sweethearts changed the plot entirely with MacEddy successfully taking on Screwball Comedy. Nine songs from the original Sweethearts were reworked for the movie with lyrics by Bob Wright and Chet Forrest. A note: do not try to make sense of the scenes you see of Sweethearts, the operetta. It is like trying to follow Pretty Lady while watching 42nd Street. It will never work.

Fay Holden, Jeanette MacDonald, Florence Rice
Backstage. Star is denied chocolate.

Popular composer/arranger/showman Victor Herbert had a string of popular hits which survived his passing, Babes in Toyland, Naughty Marietta and The Red Mill among them. Immortal melodies are found in the songs Italian Street Song, I'm Falling in Love With Someone, A Kiss in the Dark, March of the Toys, Indian Summer, When You're Away, and Kiss Me Again.

Nelson Eddy
Backstage. Star is reminded it has been six years since he went to "the fights".

Sweethearts was produced by Hunt Stromberg, an executive of great taste at MGM who gave us The Thin Man Series, and such classics as Ah, Wilderness, Bombshell, Marie Antoinette, Pride and Prejudice, and later independently gave us Too Late for Tears and Lured. Stromberg produced five of Nelson and Jeanette's most popular movies, Naughty Marietta, Rose-Marie, Maytime, Sweethearts and I Married an Angel.

Featured performer Ray Bolger performs Wooden Shoes with Jeanette MacDonald.

The married team of Dorothy Parker and Alan Campbell wrote the screenplay for Sweethearts with an uncredited assist from another couple, Laura and S.J. Perelman. The script is filled with much sardonic humour about relationships and show business. The experienced cast tosses the bon mots with aplomb and, where appropriate, mugs with abandon.

W.S. Van Dyke and Robert Z. Leonard are listed on the IMDb as co-directors while only Van Dyke has a screen credit. Woody Van Dyke directed six of the MacEddy features in total and Mr. Leonard is credited with five. 

One stage, everybody! Plenty of room.

Sweethearts won an honorary Oscar for its 3-strip Technicolor cinematography by Oliver T. March and Allen M. Davey. It was the first such Technicolor feature for the studio and it looks gorgeous. The sets are spectacular with the massive pillar from The Great Ziegfeld reused for the stage show in Sweethearts.

Berton Churchill, Lucile Watson, Gene Lockhart, Kathleen Lockhart
Terry Kilburn, Nelson Eddy, Jeanette MacDonald
A genuine family moment.

The musical numbers are many and incorporated throughout the onstage operetta and radio broadcasts, and in charming interludes at home. Herbert Stothart, MGM's wizard of the baton, received one of his eight Oscar nominations for scoring for this movie. Herbert Stothart collaborated with Jeanette MacDonald on 17 movies, including all eight co-starring Nelson Eddy.


The contracts have yet to be signed, but once the decision is made to go to Hollywood Gwen goes shopping! 

Acclaimed stage and film designer Adrian initially came to MGM through a contract with Cecil B. DeMille in 1928 and stayed with the studio until 1942. Lucky Jeanette was gowned by the talented fashion influencer in 13 films from The Cat and the Fiddle to Smilin' Through. In a few years, Adrian would open his own business and not just movie characters, but actual shoppers could buy his designs in department stores.

Sweethearts is a very funny movie with an extraordinary cast and delightful musical numbers. The Technicolor is as gorgeous as an Adrian gown. In the world of romantic comedies, you know where you are going, so the joy is in the journey. MGM was a top travel guide.

Wednesday, May 16, 2018


For the fourth consecutive year, the Classic Film and TV Cafe is celebrating National Classic Movie Day on May 16th by hosting a blogathon. This year the spotlight shines on those movies that we can reliably turn to for comfort. The Classic Comfort Movie Blogathon contributions can be found HERE.

Beyond the essence of a movie, there is the emotion we invest in its viewing. Some films are comforting for their story and their cast, perhaps the atmosphere created. Some films are comforting for the memories associated with a viewing. Some movies combine all aspects.

Hubert and Griselda in a covert moment.
Danny Kaye, Mildred Natwick

Hubert Hawkins: "But did you put the pellet with the poison in the vessel with the pestle?"
Griselda: "No! The pellet with the poison's in the flagon with the dragon! The vessel with the pestle has the brew that is true!"
Hubert Hawkins: "The pellet with the poison's in the flagon with the dragon; the vessel with the pestle has the brew that is true."
Griselda: "Just remember that."

I don't recall the first time I saw the 1955 comedy classic The Court Jester. "The vessel with the pestle..." seems to me as familiar and ubiquitous as Mother Goose Rhymes. I do remember the sound of my dad laughing, and pointing out that that lady's name is Mildred Natwick.

I do remember the first time I watched The Court Jester with my kids. My husband had surprised us with a VHS tape of the movie on a wintry day. It was January in 1999. Toronto was alternately enjoying or suffering under the biggest snowstorm in years. Janet, 9, and Gavin, 7, were on the side of "what fun!" while my husband Garry was firmly in the "they don't have to shovel it" camp.

The kids were in and out of the house helping Daddy shovel by throwing the snow around. When they were inside, they grinned and giggled at Danny Kaye, and had favourite scenes rewound. Danny befuddling Herbert Rudley with different accents was a particular hit, as was the famous hypnotic sword fight.

The Oscar-nominated writing and directing team of Melvin Frank and Norman Panama (The Facts of Life, Knock on Wood, Road to Utopia) gave us this musical fantasy set in a merry Medieval era. Danny Kaye stars as Hubert Hawkins, a circus performer who longs to be a hero. Through a series of misadventures, a hero he shall be!

Hubert Hawkins and Maid Jean. Can it be love?
Danny Kaye, Glynis Johns

Jean: "I am a woman and I do have feelings."
Hubert: "I ... I find it hard to believe that the captain could ever be fond of a man who isn't a fighter."
Jean: "Sometimes tenderness and kindness can also make a man. A very rare man."

An infant king has been usurped and The Fox, a masked vigilante, and his gang lead a revolt against the false king (Cecil Parker). Circumstances make Hubert Hawkins the one man perfectly suited to infiltrate the castle with the lovely Maid Jean (Glynis Johns).

Gwendolyn is not an obedient daughter.
Angela Lansbury, Cecil Parker

King Roderick: "Brute or not, lout or not, if it pleases me you will marry Griswold."
Princess Gwendolyn: "If it pleases you so much, you marry Griswold."

The castle is filled with spies, danger, and the constant threat of discovery. King Roderick I is quite taken with Maid Jean. His daughter, Princess Gwendolyn (Angela Lansbury) is equally taken with the new court jester, our Hubert now known as Giacomo, "King of Jesters and Jester of Kings". Lady's maid and part-time witch Griselda (Mildred Natwick) has convinced the princess that the court jester has come to be her true love and keep her from a dreaded royal alliance. Everybody is at cross-purposes with dire consequences if their plans do not work.

Danny Kaye could do it all, and The Court Jester is a grand platform for his talents. Kaye's gifted wife Sylvia Fine and Sammy Cahn wrote a wonderful soundtrack giving Danny a chance to sing patter songs, ballads, and some swingy and unique film credits.

Filmed in VistaVision and Technicolor, The Court Jester has magnificent production values. The scope of the sets is breathtaking. The costumes rival any epic adventure produced. The artistic eyes of  Edith Head and Yvonne Wood overlooked nothing, from the extras in tights to the glamorous leading ladies.

Hubert and Sir Ravenhurst in a covert moment.
Danny Kaye, Basil Rathbone

Hubert Hawkins: "I'd like to get in, get on with it, get it over with, and get out. Get it?"
Sir Ravenhurst: "Got it."
Hubert Hawkins: "Good."

The Court Jester is a series of delights; the exuberant story and music, the talented cast who play the comedy for all it is worth without going too far, the gags that never wear out their welcome, and the echo of loved ones' laughter surrounding me like a warm blanket. Comfort indeed.

Here is the trailer for The Court Jester, which "starts like a scary tale and ends like a fairy tale". The movie was placed on the National Film Registry in 2004.

Sunday, May 13, 2018


Mommy and Janet at Silent Revue

If there is anything this mother likes more than going to the movies with one or more of her kids, I don't know what that would be!

It is impossible to run into more than a couple of movies that don't have a mother as a character. Here are a few favourites.

Dumbo, 1941

Mrs. Jumbo is overjoyed with her baby boy she proudly calls Jumbo, Junior. The kid's over-sized ears make him an outcast with the cruel nickname of Dumbo. He is an object of ridicule to the circus patrons and Mrs. Jumbo is even put in the slammer for defending her little tyke.

Get the hankies ready. Baby Mine.

How Green Was My Valley, 1941

Sara Allgood won the Best Actress in a Supporting Role Oscar as Beth Morgan in John Ford's adaptation of Richard Llewellyn's best-selling novel of the life of a Welsh mining family.

Time and the times have torn the close-knit Morgan family apart.

Gwilym Morgan: "One line to Owen and Gwil, down to Cape Town to Angharad. Over here to Canada to Ianto, and down here to Davy in New Zealand. And you are the star, shining on them from this house, all the way across the continents and oceans."
Beth Morgan: "All the way? How far am I shining then, if you can put it all on a little piece of paper?"
Morgan: "Now, a map it is, my old beauty. A picture of the world to show you where they are."
Beth: "I know where they are, without any old maps, or scratches, or spiders, or pencils. They are in the house."

It's a Wonderful Life, 1946

Ma Bailey prays: "Help my son George tonight."

Beulah Bondi played James Stewart's mother in 1938s Of Human Hearts and Vivacious Lady, 1939s Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, 1946s It's a Wonderful Life and the 1971 sit-com The Jimmy Stewart Show. That's a lot of parenting!

Rio Grande, 1950

Kathleen Yorke: "I am not unauthorized. I am Trooper Jefferson Yorke's mother!"

This great John Ford western is the first movie to team Maureen O'Hara and John Wayne. It tells the story of a broken family reuniting, much like the country after the Civil War. Maureen plays Kathleen Yorke who has come to a distant outpost to pay for her son's release from the Army. Is this what Jeff, played by Claude Jarman Jr., wants?

Sing, You Sinners, 1938

Elizabeth Patterson stars as Daisy Beebe, a widow with three sons. Responsible Dave is played by Fred MacMurray. Shiftless Joe is played by Bing Crosby. Impish Mike is played by 12-year-old Donald O'Connor.

Joe, with his grandiose schemes, is always at odds with Dave who wants to settle down with his girl Martha played Ellen Drew, but feels obligated to support mother and Mike.

Mother Beebe dreams of the day her boys are happy and working together as a musical act. Joe is willing, but Dave and Mike consider such a pursuit to be unmanly. The adventures of the Beebe clan were so popular that Paramount considered a series in the vein of MGMs Hardy Family. Check Sing, You Sinners out sometime.

Gavin enjoys his DVDs

My son Gavin enjoys going out to the movies, but he also enjoys a day at home with his extensive film collection. I snapped this picture while he was enjoying Donald Duck. As his mother, I take a great deal of pride in his movie taste (I like to think I've been an influence), and pleasure in sharing the experience.

Friday, May 11, 2018


Maddy Loves Her Classic Films and she is hosting The Ida Lupino Centenary Blogathon, a one-day event on May 12th.

Click HERE to read the tributes to the extraordinary Ms. Lupino.

Jean Gabin, Chester Gan

A lot of people get tight on Saturday night. Bobo, a French dock worker in California, gets good and tight. He gets so good and tight that he can't remember anything about the night. He wakes up the next morning on a barge that sells live bait. It is a morning when the community is rocked by the news of the murder of a barfly called Pop Kelly. It is the morning Bobo discovers he agreed to take on the job of running the bait barge for a dollar a day and a bottle of Saki. Bobo isn't so sure he wants to live with the stink of fish, but he agrees for two dollars a day.

Jean Gabin

Jean Gabin plays Bobo in his first of two Hollywood pictures, followed by 1944's The Imposter. A major star all of his career, Gabin did not find Hollywood to be a good fit. In Moontide, his character of Bobo is a rough and ready man yet with a great understanding of people. Gabin is mesmerizing and charismatic in the role.

Jean Gabin, Ida Lupino

A girl named Anna is beaten down by life and decides to end it all in the convenient ocean. Bobo pulls her out of the sea and pulls her out of a suicide charge from the cops. He takes Anna back to the bait barge and together they discover that life isn't so bad when you have someone who cares and understands you.

Jean Gabin, Ida Lupino

Anna tidies up the barge and smiles. Bobo gives up drinking and treats Anna like a jewel. Bobo is feeling something he never felt before in his life. Anna asks if it "home". Bobo accepts that this is now his life.

Particularly effective at supporting the romance is the use of Irving Berlin's haunting ballad Remember as a theme for Bobo and Anna.

Ida Lupino

Ida Lupino stars as Anna and the role fits her like a glove. Of course, all of Ida's roles leave that impression. She is that sort of actress. She embodies the waif-like qualities of a girl at the end of her tether. She is also emboldened by the love and home offered her by Bobo. Trepidatious at the prospect of such luck, she nonetheless has the strength to reach out for happiness. Ida Lupino truly came into her own as an actress at this time with 1939s The Light That Failed followed by 1941s High Sierra. She was a star, and she was a versatile actress with opportunities to show her craft.

Thomas Mitchell, Ida Lupino

Bobo admits to being the sort who collects people. He doesn't look for them, but they come to him. Nutsy is one. Nutsy is down on his luck but has the air of an educated man. Anna's influence on Bobo, according to Nutsy, is that the gypsy has become a peasant with a home and responsibilities. Bobo has a boxer dog who is devoted and protective. The dog likes everyone with one exception. Perhaps Bobo should have paid more attention to the dog.

Claude Rains, Jean Gabin

Claude Rains plays Nutsy. He's free and easy with advice and support. He seeks nothing more from his friendship with Bobo and with Anna than what is offered. Rains, with his plummy voice radiating intelligence, and his twinkling eyes signifying caring is an anchor for Bobo, not a millstone. Someone else is a millstone.

Jean Gabin, Thomas Mitchell

Tiny is Bobo's best pal. Nutsy describes Tiny as a pilot fish, feeding off the bigger fish. Tiny knows a secret from Bobo's past regarding his violent temper. Tiny has made himself an integral part of Bobo's existence. Tiny gets jobs - "good jobs, good dough" for Bobo, and lives off that work. He always wants to be going somewhere, but Bobo is not in such a hurry. When Anna appears she is, as she puts it, "in Tiny's way". Tiny tries to keep control of Bobo by hinting at something sinister. He puts out the idea that Bobo killed Pop Kelly in a drunken rage and one word from him could mean disaster. Is he telling the truth?

Thomas Mitchell

Thomas Mitchell plays Tiny, whose obsession with Bobo is observed by Nutsy and resented by the dog. Bobo thinks Tiny is "alright, just weak". Mitchell was a very busy actor in his Hollywood career and the audience is the more fortunate for it. Equally adept at characters like the drunken Doc Boone in Stagecoach (Oscar winner) or the lovable Uncle Billy in It's a Wonderful Life, the selfish George Cooper in Make Way for Tomorrow, the supportive Kid Dabb in Only Angels Have Wings, and more, Mitchell is outstanding as the mean-spirited and grabby Tiny, who is at once both sneaky and obvious.

The roles played by these three actors in Moontide are interesting to compare with other works, Mitchell and Rains in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, and Mitchell and Lupino in Out of the Fog and While the City Sleeps.

Claude Rains, Chester Gan, William Halligan, Ralph Byrd

Moontide is filled with interesting secondary characters that fill up Bobo's world. There's a rich doctor played by Jerome Cowan who relies on Bobo's philosophical bent and repays with precious skill. See Mr. Cowan and Miss Lupino in The Twilight Zone episode The Sixteen-Millimeter Shrine.

Henry, Bobo's boss on the bait barge is played by Chester Gan, whose roles in 93 films were usually uncredited bits. Henry's assistant Jimmy is played by Sen Yung, the year the Chan pictures at 20th Century Fox came to end. Ralph Byrd, most famous for playing Dick Tracy is a minister.

Arthur Hohl plays a hotel clerk. Tully Marshall and Vera Lewis live on a neighbouring barge. Charley the bartender is played by William Halligan. Robin Raymond, like Mr. Gan generally uncredited, is nicely featured as a prostitute.

The wedding of Anna and Bobo.

Moontide came to being as a novel by lawyer turned character actor Willard Robertson. Novelist John O'Hara of Gibbsville fame is credited with the screenplay with uncredited work by Nunnally Johnson, Oscar nominee for The Grapes of Wrath.

Ida Lupino, Thomas Mitchell

Director Fritz Lang and cinematographer Lucien Ballard began work on Moontide but left the project due to conflicts or lack of interest. Archie Mayo (The Petrified Forest) and Charles G. Clarke, winner of two Oscars for technical innovations finished the film.

Thomas Mitchell, Jean Gabin

Moontide is a moody romance-crime creature, difficult to pin down. The audience is caught up in events and invested in these characters, especially the mercurial and appealing Anna. We want what they want, whenever they figure that out.

Jean Gabin, Ida Lupino

The atmosphere is palpable in this film although set-bound; the fog coming off the water, the darkness that blankets the characters in the night, the rowdiness of the local hangout. All of this adds to a portrait in noir that is irresistible.


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