Monday, June 18, 2018

FAVOURITE MOVIES: Girl Shy (1924)


A story of Cracker Jack and dog biscuits

Harold Meadows is the lead character played by Harold Lloyd in a paradoxically gentle and raucous romantic comedy. Harold is a shy tailor's apprentice who stutters at the best of times, but around girls all the time. The girls in his hometown of Little Bend make sport of Harold. For his part, Harold has decided to make a silent and distant study of the female sex. He has studied so diligently that it has resulted in a book about his imaginary love affairs.

THE SECRET OF MAKING LOVE

BY HAROLD MEADOWS
LITTLE BEND


Harold dedicates his book to the young men of the world to whom he passes on such advice as the way to win over the vamp is to feign indifference, and the way to a flapper's heart is to act the caveman. Oh, Harold. Silly advice indeed, but the basis for some very funny skits as we peek inside Harold's imagination.


Harold takes a momentous trip from his small town to the big city where he plans to grace a publisher with the honour of publishing his book. Aboard the train is Mary Buckingham, an heiress with a temperamental car who had not planned a railway trip. Harold becomes involved with Mary, her contraband pooch and some mixed up luggage. The sweet and attentive Mary is so attractive and unpretentious that Harold eventually forgets to stutter.

When Mary is picked up at the station by her driver, she impulsively kisses Harold goodbye. In a sentimental gesture, she keeps the empty box of Cracker Jack he bought her. Likewise, Harold hangs onto a box of dog biscuits that figured in their adventure. A dazed Harold drops his book at the publisher's office and returns home, dreaming of Mary. Can it be love?


A further encounter with Mary affirms the affection between the two starstruck lovers. Harold believes he will soon be a wealthy author and worthy of the girl of his dreams. Mary is a girl besotted and gives no thought to their differing stations in life.

On a follow-up visit with the publisher, Harold is given the gears by the girls in the office who had a great laugh over his efforts. He leaves the publisher heartbroken. His dream of being an author is quashed, and he feels he cannot propose to his girl. Harold makes what he imagines is the grand sacrifice for love, by breaking off the hopeless romance between a tailor's apprentice and an heiress. He has only succeeded in breaking two hearts.

Mary succumbs to family pressure to marry a man they deem suitable, but whom she can barely tolerate. The day of the wedding is a day filled with surprises. Harold is initially insulted to discover that the publisher has released his book as a joke entitled The Boob's Diary. The publisher's advance of $3000 assuages his outrage because now Harold is in the position of being able to propose to his beloved Mary. First, all he has to do is stop her marrying a man Harold has learned is already married!


The last twenty minutes of the movie is a race to the altar filled with thrills and gags. Harold starts out at a run and never lets up. Various automobiles are involved including one that belongs to a bootlegger and came complete with pursuing cops. There are horses and trolleys and a motorcycle, and two harnessed horses that make our Harold look for all the world like Ben-Hur. Will he get there on time? Lloyd's directing team of Sam Taylor and Fred Newmeyer keep the action frantically cutting between the race and the nuptials to give the audience a nail-biting finale.

The movie is filled with funny, clever and delightful gags that arise organically out of the character's actions and the situations in which they are placed. Two charming and delightful leads in Harold Lloyd and Jobyna Ralston make Girl Shy a romantic comedy for the ages; always good for a laugh, a smile, and a gasp.

PS: Does anyone know where we could listen to this song?















Friday, June 8, 2018

REEL INFATUATION BLOGATHON: Keye Luke as Lee Chan


Maedez of Font and Frock and Ruth of Silver Screenings are once again hosting the popular Reel Infatuation Blogathon on June 8th - 10th. Those fictional crushes can be so real!  Day 1  Day 2   Day 3


My tween years were devoted to sneaking up late at night and watching whatever old movie I could find. One momentous night I was introduced to Inspector Charlie Chan, 60 summers young and 60 winters old, and his number one son, Lee in Charlie Chan in Shanghai. Warner Oland played the internationally known crimefighter and Keye Luke his assistant.


Here's Lee's entrance joining his Pop at the dock in Shanghai. The first scene in the movie had introduced me to Inspector Chan who seemed a movie detective worth following. Lee immediately impressed me with his good looks and enthusiasm. It's even more fun to solve a fictional crime if you have a crush on one of the detectives! 


Lee, looking spiffy in his pajamas and robe, always has a theory or two to help his Pop wrap up his current case. It seemed to me Pop was too quick to dismiss some of these theories.


A Scotland Yard compatriot of Inspector Chan's has been murdered. A fiendish dope ring is behind the business and they want to get rid of Chan. Lee realizes his Pop has been kidnapped and is hot on the trail of the crooks. He'll do anything, face any danger to save his Pop.


The Chans find themselves in a very risky situation, but fans need never fear. Together they are more than equal to any enemy. 


The element of surprise!


Quick reflexes and a quick escape.


Check it out! That clever and good looking Lee Chan is also a master of disguise.


The Chans are happy with the conclusion of the case. I was happy watching this movie for the first time and looked forward to seeing more of Lee Chan ... and, his father the venerable Inspector.

Charlie Chan in Shanghai was the second Chan movie to feature Keye Luke as Lee. The first, also released in 1935, was Charlie Chan in Paris.


The earlier 1935 feature, Charlie Chan in Egypt hinted at Stepin Fetchit possibly joining the series as Chan's assistant. However, someone had the bright idea to find a sidekick in Chan's legendary large family. Lee made his first appearance with his head in a towel as the Inspector hears an intruder in his Paris hotel room.


Ta-da! Here you go, girls. Um, I mean, here you go, general audience. A new, fresh, young character for you to enjoy. The popularity of this actor and this character helped sustain the Charlie Chan series.


Immediately, we can sense the bond of affection between Charlie and his firstborn. Warner Oland and Keye Luke became close, with Oland a mentor to the young man, and Luke a fond protector to his often troubled older friend.


Charlie Chan at the Circus in 1936 has Lee going incognito as a child's nurse to tail a suspect. He's teamed up with little person entertainer George Brasno to solve the murder and save the circus. Lee's costume does not impress a pretty contortionist played by Shia Jung. Lee's romances often conflict with his detecting.


Here's another disguise as Lee drives a laundry truck and sets off a distraction of fireworks in Charlie Chan at the Race Track in 1936.


Charlie Chan at the Opera is a favourite of mine featuring Boris Karloff as a mad baritone. Lee goes undercover in the ensemble of an Opera Company plagued by threats, secrets and murder.


In 1937s Charlie Chan at the Olympics, Lee Chan is on America's team going to Berlin. Here on shipboard, the athletes observe the Hindenberg Zeppelin unaware that Inspector Chan is flying above them on the way to Berlin as well. The Inspector is not after medals, but spies.


Actual footage of the Berlin Olympics is incorporated into the movie, and in our fantasy portion, Lee Chan is a medal winner. Only after his kidnapping by spies and a most harrowing time for Pop.


Another 1937 release, Charlie Chan on Broadway has Chan and Son dealing with the newshounds and big shots who populate The Big Apple. Here Lee startles and then charms (naturally) a pretty girl played by Toshia Mori, who works at a nightclub.


Charlie Chan at Monte Carlo is the last feature we have starring Warner Oland with Keye Luke. Here the helpful Lee used his supposed proficiency at French, and managed to get them thrown in the clink!

Charlie Chan at Ringside was in production in 1938 when Warner Oland, experiencing physical and mental problems, walked out of the production. A few months later he would pass away in his native Sweden of bronchial pneumonia.

Keye Luke, Harold Huber, Peter Lorre

Charlie Chan at Ringside found a home with another Fox series and became Mr. Moto's Gamble starring Peter Lorre. The connection to the Chan series is kept alive by Keye Luke as Lee taking a criminology course being taught by Mr. Moto. Moto, Lee, and a pickpocket classmate played by Maxie Rosenbloom help Lt. Riggs played by Harold Huber with a case involving big-time gamblers and the murder of a boxer.

Maxie Rosenbloom, Keye Luke

At one point Mr. Moto lets a rural sheriff lock the overly helpful Lee and Maxie up. When Maxie wonder why, Lee tells him that Pop used to do that to him all the time. It's a cute line, and Lee looks swell in that fedora, don't you think? 

Twentieth Century Fox was continuing the successful Chan series and, of course, popular Keye Luke was asked to stay on as Lee Chan. Keye Luke, however, could not see himself in the series without Warner Oland. 

Sen Yung, Sidney Toler

Jimmy: "Say Pop, I've been thinking ... I wish you'd let me be a detective. Now that brother Lee is in the New York Art School I can take his place."

Charlie Chan in Honolulu in 1938 featured the changing of the guard. Sidney Toler, at 64, took over the role of Inspector Chan and 23-year-old Sen Yung played Number 2 son, Jimmy.



Keye Luke was a trained professional artist whose work was sometimes mentioned or used in his films. In Charlie Chan in Shanghai Lee used his talent to woo the pretty object of a shipboard romance. Here is an excellent article on Keye Luke's career as an artist from Silver Scenes.

Victor Sen Yung, Carol Forman, Keye Luke

Ten years later, Keye Luke returned to the role of Lee Chan at Monogram Studios where Roland Winters was playing the Inspector. The Feathered Serpent also features Victor Sen Yung as Jimmy. Sky Dragon was Keye Luke's last go around as #1 son. Trivia buffs like to point out that Winters and Luke playing father and son were both born in 1904. 

Van Johnson, Keye Luke, Lionel Barrymore

Keye Luke played other continuing roles in the movies. He played Dr. Lee Wong How in the Dr. Gillespie series for MGM. Dr. How even makes an appearance in Andy Hardy's Double Trouble. He played detective James Wong in The Phantom of Chinatown, as the younger version of the character played by Boris Karloff in a series. Unfortunately, "Phantom" did not become a series for Keye Luke. He was also Kato in the 1940 serial The Green Hornet Strikes Again!.


Keye Luke's movie credits total the nice round number of 99 with his final role in 1990s Alice. His television work lists 119 titles on the IMDb beginning with 1950s Mysteries in Chinatown and including Star Trek, Gunsmoke, General Hospital, Night Court, Adam-12, Kung Fu as Master Po, and the voice of Charlie Chan in the Saturday morning cartoon show The Amazing Chan and the Chan Clan. He also starred on Broadway and on the road in Rodgers and Hammerstein's Flower Drum Song.

Keye Luke played many roles and played them well. It makes me happy every time I see him in a movie or on a classic television program, unless I feel the role is beneath his talents. My admiration and affection for the actor runs deep, but my crush, the crush of that tween girl up late when she was supposed to be sleeping on a school night, is only for Lee Chan, #1 son.


Please have a look at KEYE LUKE on Vimeo, a short film from 2012 directed by Timothy Tau. It is a charming and thoughtful piece of work.



















Sunday, June 3, 2018

THE BROADWAY BOUND BLOGATHON: The Royal Family of Broadway (1930)


Rebecca Deniston of Taking Up Room is hosting The Broadway Bound Blogathon, a look at movies about Broadway, Broadway plays, the whole lovely mix. Here is your backstage pass: Day 1 contributions  Day 2 contributions  Day 3 contributions to the blogathon running on June 1, 2, and 3.


Hirschfeld's mind-boggling Kaufman and Ferber portrait

The Royal Family ran on Broadway for 345 performances beginning in 1927. It was the first collaboration between Edna Ferber and George S. Kaufman, who enjoyed further success with Dinner at Eight and Stage Door. Edna Ferber won the Pulitzer Prize for her novel So Big, and Kaufman won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama for Of Thee I Sing and You Can't Take It With You.

Ferber and Kaufman combined their observations, experience, considerable wit, and their honest love of the theatre to write this fantastic fable of a theatrical family based on the Barrymores and their legend. Ethel Barrymore had enjoyed a successful run in 1915 as Mrs. McChesney, playing Edna's popular traveling saleslady character from a series of stories. Edna relates in one of her volumes of autobiography, A Peculiar Treasure, that Ethel was rather put out by The Royal Family, and it was years before they spoke again as friends.

I don't think Ethel had anything to really complain about. The outlandish Cavendish clan is presented with affection as much as humor. Julie, in particular, is an admirable character. Many other famous actors and acting families, such as the Davenports, play as much a role in the way the audience reacts to the play.


Otto Kruger as Tony and Haidee Wright as Fanny
Original Broadway Cast

The late Aubrey Cavendish was a theatrical idol and his family carries on the tradition proudly. Widow Fanny Cavendish (Henrietta Crosman) is the grandest old trouper of them all and her daughter Julie (Ina Claire) is acclaimed as America's greatest actress. Fanny's son Tony (Fredric March) - ah, Tony - may be a great actor. Indeed it is often said of him that he is a great actor. However, his exploits with the ladies get more publicity than his stage antics. Tony has, for all intents and purposes, abandoned the family by succumbing to the lure of Hollywood. Julie's daughter Gwen (Mary Brian) is set to make her debut with her mother next season. Love, in the form of a handsome and attentive stockbroker (Charles Starrett), hopes to break up Gwen's plan.

Perhaps it is Gwen's happiness at her engagement and her chafing at the responsibilities inherent in the acting profession that is making Julie restless. Maybe all she needs is a break. Whatever it is, when Julie hears from an old beau, the one she let get away, she starts to pine for a different kind of life. At the very least, she'd rather go to dinner than rehearsal. Old Fanny, laid up with a leg injury, is at a loss to understand the younger generation. The only thing keeping her going is the thought of returning to the stage next season.

Into the midst of the Cavendish's lavish and crazy apartment comes the one and the only Tony! He's on the run from a breach of promise suit and an injured director. Neither things are Tony's fault because others always seem to misunderstand him. However, Tony is hiding from both the press and the police. He relishes the chance to tell his story, in the most dramatic fashion possible, to his adoring family. When not in a disguise, Tony is in various stages of undress as he bounds through the penthouse bringing life and a lot of noise everywhere he goes.

By the next theatrical season, Tony has escaped to Europe, Fanny is back on tour in Shakespeare, Julie is preparing to marry her millionaire businessman and relocate to South America. Gwen is perfectly happy as a married woman, yet has taken up the family manager's offer of a small, but important role in a limited run play. She's a Cavendish after all. Julie is a Cavendish through and through as well. Everyone seems to know it, but she needs a reminder; a somewhat stark reminder that the show must go on.


The Cavendish Family on screen
Mary Brian as Gwen, Henrietta Crosman as Fanny
Fredric March as Tony and Ina Claire as Julie

The Royal Family was produced for film by Paramount and made at the Astoria Studios in New York in 1931. It was co-directed by George Cukor and Cyril Gardner, and the editor was future director Edward Dmytryk. Travis Banton designed the costumes. The play was adapted by Gwen Purcell and Herman J. Mankiewicz and retitled The Royal Family of Broadway.

The cast is stellar with each actor bringing these wild personalities to life perfectly. Fredric March's portrayal of Tony is a scathingly spot-on spoof of John Barrymore, yet beneath the caricature completely human. March was nominated as Best Actor in a Leading Role by the Academy. He lost the trophy to the star of A Free Soul, Lionel Barrymore. March would win the following year for Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, the role John Barrymore played effectively in 1920. March tied for Best Actor in a Leading Role with Wallace Beery for The Champ.

Ina Claire left us very few movies to enjoy, but her theatrical career would rival that of the fictional Julie Cavendish. The role of the Countess in Ninotchka is a wonderful way to enjoy and remember her talent. She makes of Julie Cavendish, a great star, and a very likable and relatable woman. A woman of independence who can't help but wonder what she is missing despite her great success.

Mary Brian, a WAMPAS Baby Star of 1926 has a lovely charm as Gwen and in movies from The Virginian to Charlie Chan in Paris. Despite her appeal and talent, Mary's film career never took off as anticipated.

Henrietta Crosman shares that trouper gene with the character of Fanny. Her Broadway roles were extensive, and her lineage goes back to her great uncle, composer Stephen Foster. Like Fanny, Henrietta was married to an actor, Maurice Campbell. Look for some of her movies on TCM including Pilgrimage, The Dark Angel and Among The Missing. She rules the roost delightfully in Charlie Chan's Secret.

This amusing and affectionate play about players is a delightful look into the absurd heart of the theatre.

Trivia:


Fredric March played Tony Cavendish again in a television episode of The Royal Family of Broadway on the series The Best of Broadway (1954-1955). The rest of the cast was Helen Hayes as Fanny, Claudette Colbert as Julie, Nancy Olson as Gwen and Charles Coburn as Oscar Wolfe.

















Friday, June 1, 2018

CAFTAN WOMAN'S CHOICE: ONE FOR JUNE ON TCM


The irascible, intractable and perceptive George Bernard Shaw liked to poke at pomposity and preconceptions in such plays as Arms and the Man, Major Barbara, Mrs. Warren's Profession, and The Doctor's Dilemma. He found a great popular and critical success with his take on the Greek myth Pygmalion, written in 1914 for the charming Mrs. Patrick Campbell.


Mrs. Pat and Sir Herbert Beerbohm Tree played the class clashing roles in London, and that company's Pickering, Philip Merrivale took over the role of Higgins when they opened on Broadway.

Shaw had a long-held prejudice against any of his works being adapted for the screen but came around in 1938 when approached by producer Gabriel Pascal, a friend of long-standing in whose integrity he had trust. Later they would adapt Major Barbara, Caesar and Cleopatra, and Androcles and the Lion. This screen version of Pygmalion was nominated for 4 Oscars including Best Picture, Best Actress, Best Actor and won for Best Screenplay.


Pygmalion was co-directed by Anthony Asquith and Leslie Howard. Asquith began his film directing career in the silent era and had ten years experience at this point. This was Leslie Howard's first turn at a film helm, and he would direct three other features, Pimpernel Smith, Spitfire, and The Gentle Sex.

Wendy Hiller had played the leading roles in Shaw's Saint Joan and Major Barbara on stage, as well as Pygmalion, before being "introduced" as Eliza Doolittle in this screen version. Wendy had appeared in a comedy called Lancashire Luck the previous year.


Eliza Doolittle (Wendy Hiller), a Cockney flower girl, minding her own business trying to make a living selling flower to the after-theatre crowd, is accosted by a strange man taking notes. The strange man is one Professor Henry Higgins (Leslie Howard), an expert on phonetics. He amazes the crowd with his ability to place a person's place of birth merely by hearing them speak. Higgins meets up with a fellow enthusiast, a Colonel Pickering (Scott Sunderland), and off-handedly Higgins mentions that he could turn the wretched flower girl into a Duchess by teaching her how to speak properly.


Admirably, Eliza picks up on the statement made by Higgins regarding her status. The next day, she gathers her resources, washes her face and hands, and makes her way to Wimpole Street where she makes her claim on Professor Higgins utterance. After some consideration and a whole lot of shouting, Higgins decides to take on the guttersnipe as a sort of lark. Col. Pickering, after determining Higgins to be of good character where women are concerned, agrees to foot the bill for the "experiment". The gentlemen also have a bet going as to Higgins being able to pass Eliza off as an aristocrat at an Embassy Ball in six months time.


Eliza's father, Alfred Doolittle (Wilfrid Lawson) makes his appearance in our play. After all, he's raised Eliza until she is old enough to be of interest to the gentlemen. What does he get out of it? He gets more than he bargained does Alfred Doolittle. A five-pound note in his pocket, plus a recommendation from Higgins to an American philanthropist for Alfred Doolittle, modern moralist. Speaking engagements and steady money ruin the life of this proud member of the undeserving poor.


Eliza works very hard, certainly as hard as her teacher. She becomes as indispensable a member of the household as the redoubtable Mrs. Pearce (Jean Cadell). Eliza makes her presence felt at Mrs. Higgins (Marie Lohr) at home day, winning the heart of the harmless twit Freddy Eynsford-Hill (David Tree).


The night of the Embassy Ball Miss Elizabeth Doolittle is presented to dignitaries and royalty. Her aloof manner and polished looks make a wonderful impression on all. Count Aristid Karpathy (Esme Percy) is a former Higgins disciple who uses his talent for linguistics to ferret out the phonies at such affairs. He determines that Miss Elizabeth Doolittle is a fraud. She is truly Hungarian royalty. No one but a European would speak English so perfectly. Surely, not someone native to England.


Glorying in his triumph, Higgins doesn't give a thought to Eliza, but she now faces a future without a proper prospect. She also faces a future where the camaraderie she felt with Higgins and Pickering no longer seems viable. Higgins, continuing to treat her in the same old way, is shocked to find his slippers heaved at his head by an angry and hurt Eliza. Perhaps he thinks the argument they had has cleared the air and nothing has changed. Nonetheless, he awakens the next morning to find that Eliza has, in his word, "bolted".


Higgins and Pickering eventually discover Eliza ensconced with Henry's mother. While Pickering and Mrs. Higgins go off to the sad occasion of Alfred Doolittle's wedding, Eliza and Higgins continue their "clearing the air". It takes soul searching and understanding to mend a relationship. Perhaps they are on their way.

It is Shaw's brilliant dialogue that is so delicious in the telling of the story of Professor Higgins and Eliza. It is also the correct actors playing the roles. In this first screen version, we have the master's hand in the screenplay and casting perfection. Loving and appropriate close-ups highlight the feelings of the characters be they exasperation, amusement or appreciation.

The delights of Pygmalion are many and one viewing of this movie is not enough to fully enjoy them all. Compare the 96 minutes runtime to the almost 3 hours for My Fair Lady. This is not a knock at the glory of musical theatre that is My Fair Lady. The songs by Lerner and Loewe are heavenly, and they fit seamlessly into the story and Shaw's witty style. It is only to say that if you have not seen this movie because you are wary of the lack of songs, you will not miss them. And they haven't gone anywhere when you need to hear them again.


Triva:

Rex Harrison, Cathleen Nesbitt, Julie Andrews

Cathleen Nesbitt (1888-1982) is credited as "a lady" in this movie, and billed as Kathleen. I believe she is the brunette at the Embassy who likens Eliza to "the old Duke". In 1956 she played Mrs. Higgins in the original Broadway production of My Fair Lady.

Cathleen Nesbitt, Gladys Cooper

You can see Cathleen and My Fair Lady's movie Mrs. Higgins, Gladys Cooper (1888-1971) together in Separate Tables, which also stars our 1938 Eliza, Wendy Hiller.

Leslie Howard is June's Star of the Month, so I assume you will be glued to the TV anyway, but be sure not to miss Pygmalion on Monday, June 11 at 8:00 PM. Higgins doesn't care if we show up or not, but do it for Colonel Pickering.












THE GREATEST FILM I'VE NEVER SEEN BLOGATHON: Modern Times (1936)

Debbie Vega at Moon in Gemini is hosting the genius blogathon  The Greatest Film I've Never Seen  from November 16th to 18th. What ...