Monday, November 26, 2018

NOIRVEMBER NUGGET: Sherlock Holmes and the Voice of Terror (1942)

Twentieth Century Fox had success with their two period dramas based on Arthur Conan Doyle's continually popular detective, Sherlock Holmes. Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce were most felicitously paired in The Hound of the Baskervilles and The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes in 1939.

It fell to Universal to give fans what they craved - more Holmes and Watson. One imagines it was budget constraints that led to the plan to set the tales in contemporary times. Also, where could you find better villains than those masters of destruction, bent on their New World Order, the Nazis?

The studio lets us know where we stand with the opening title card:

Sherlock Holmes, the immortal character of fiction created by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, is ageless, invincible and unchanging. In solving significant problems of the present day he remains - as ever - the supreme master of deductive reasoning.

Olaf Hytten, Leyland Hodgson, Henry Daniell, Nigel Bruce
Reginald Denny, Montagu Love, Basil Rathbone

A German radio broadcaster calling himself The Voice of Terror is attempting to terrorize the people of Great Britain with pronouncements of acts of sabotage and the committing of that sabotage. He openly taunts the officials tasked with protecting their people. The Intelligence Inner Council is a particular target and one of that body, Sir Evan Barham played by Reginald Denny, is an old school chum of Watson's and has enlisted the aid of Sherlock Holmes. The other members of the Council are against bringing a private detective into their circle, but Downing Street has approved the appointment. Holmes now brings his special talents to bear on ferreting out what he is certain is a leak in the Intelligence Department.

This first of the new Universal Holmes series was taken from His Last Bow from the 1917 publication Some Reminiscences of Sherlock Holmes, adapted by Robert Hardy Andrews (The Cross of Lorraine) with a screenplay by Lynn Riggs (Green Grow the Lilacs) and John Bright (Three on a Match).

The story is told with a distinctive noir flavour as directed by John Rawlins (Dick Tracy's Dilemma) and photographed by Elwood Bredel (The Killers). A constant sense of danger is created in the claustrophobic setting of Limehouse and the docks where Holmes leads all on a search for the criminals. Fog suffocates our characters and unknown enemies lurk everywhere. 

Basil Rathbone, Evelyn Ankers

The noir aspect is raised considerably with the introduction of Kitty played by Evelyn Ankers. Her husband Gavin had been a Holmes informant and was knifed in the back for his trouble. Holmes enlists Kitty's help to catch her husband's killer and to rouse her fellow Limehouse denizens in the battle against the Nazis. 

Holmes: "Gavin was killed not by his own enemies, not even by mine, but the enemies of England."

The use of close-ups in this scene is mesmerizing and a tribute to Basil Rathbone and Evelyn Ankers's performances. Close-ups also come into play when we meet our villain, Meade played by Thomas Gomez. 

Evelyn Ankers, Tomas Gomez

Kitty gives herself one hundred percent to the cause and to her revenge. She becomes intimately involved with Meade, passing information to Holmes through a network of spies. Meade is completely power-mad as a chilling monologue recounting his rise indicates. Meade is as devoted to his cause as Kitty is to hers.

Sherlock Holmes and the Voice of Terror runs at just over an hour, and I believe the movie would have benefited from a few more scenes involving Meade and Kitty. Nonetheless, Ankers and Gomez are able to convey much about their characters that the script does not give us. It is a true noir relationship of secrets, control, and betrayal, with a bitter noir ending.

That Holmes is successful in quashing an invasion and revealing the double agent is not a surprise. It is why we are here. That this 75-year-old film can still pack a punch with its style should not surprise us either, but that its political content should not be completely foreign to 21st-century ears is troubling.

Saturday, November 17, 2018

THE ROCK HUDSON BLOGATHON: Has Anybody Seen My Gal (1952)

Crystal of In the Good Old Days of Classic Hollywood and Michaela of Love Letters to Old Hollywood are giving us the opportunity to celebrate the one and only Rock Hudson with this blogathon running November 17, 18 and 19. Click HERE or HERE to join the fun.

Publicity shot of Universal-International's young leading man Rock Hudson kicking up his heels in The Charleston for the 1920s set comedy Has Anybody Seen My Gal released the same year as his breakout role of Trey Wilson in Bend of the River.

Director Douglas Sirk's career from the study of law and art in Germany to Hollywood acclaim and influence brought him to Universal Studios in the 1950s where his output included the polished yet homey family comedy we look at here, to heartrending classic melodramas.

Working at the same studio brings directors and actors together often, and in the case of Has Anybody Seen My Gal this was one of two with Piper Laurie, the third of four with Gigi Perreau, the first of three with William Reynolds, and the first of nine with Rock Hudson. The collaborations of Sirk and Hudson would bring many challenges and successes to both and include Battle Hymn, Taza, Son of Cochise, and All That Heaven Allows.

Eleanor H. Porter (Pollyanna) wrote the story used for the basis of our movie and the screenwriter Joseph Hoffman borrowed a plot from one of his earlier films called Young as You Feel. The lovely Technicolor cinematography is by Clifford Stine (This Island Earth) and the music by Herman Stein. The soundtrack is filled with Tin Pan Alley hits of yesteryear that bolster the nostalgic feel the 1950s audience had for the 1920s.

Piper Laurie, Lynn Bari

Harriet Blaisdell played by Lynn Bari (Sun Valley Serenade) is a discontented housewife. Her husband Charles played by Larry Gates (Guiding Light) owns and operates a drug store and the family often has trouble making ends meet. Harriet's late mother married for love while her spurned suitor went on to become a millionaire. Harriet followed suit, but wants and expects better for her eldest daughter Millicent played by Piper Laurie (The Hustler). Harriet has her heart set on Millicent marrying the town's spoiled rich kid Carl Pennock played by Skip Homeier (The Tall T). All Millicent wants is Dan Stebbins played by Rock Hudson (Pillow Talk). Dan works for her dad and he's the bee's knees!

Samuel Fulton played by Charles Coburn (Kings Row) is the aforementioned spurned suitor of Mrs. Blaisdell's late mother. Unemcumbered by a family he went out into the world and made his fortune. The crotchety hypochondriac wants to leave his money to the family of his long-ago sweetheart. His doctor played by Willard Waterman (The Great Gildersleeve) and attorney played by Frank Ferguson (Johnny Guitar) put the idea into Fulton's head that he should return to his hometown and check the family out in person before bequeathing his fortune. They actually just want the old man to be up and doing something.

Charles Coburn, Gigi Perreau

Fulton, using the name of John Smith, gets himself ensconced in the Blaisdell household as a boarder and at the drugstore as a new soda jerker. The youngest Blaisdell, Roberta played by nine-year-old Gigi Perreau (Shadow on the Wall) takes to Mr. Smith right away, as does the family mutt called Penny. Roberta/Gigi is an appealing package of personality and energy. Her scenes with Smith/Coburn are a lot of fun.

After a while, Fulton decides to send a little of the green stuff the Blaisdell's way. Did I say a little? The cheque for $100,000 sends the family into a tizzy. Harriet takes charge in a big way. She urges Charles to sell his store. After all, a mere shopkeeper in their exalted social position? She breaks up Millicent and Dan's engagement. Dan is one of the proud types who doesn't want it to be said he's marrying Millicent for her money.

Charles Coburn, Rock Hudson

While Dan and "Gramps", as he calls Mr. Smith, adjust to working under less than ideal conditions with the skinflint of a new owner, Mr. Quinn played by Forrest Lewis (The Great Gildersleeve), they share lodgings. Harriet insisted on buying the biggest house in town where there was no room for Mr. Smith nor room for Penny the pooch who also moved in with Dan when replaced by two French Poodles.

William Reynolds, Larry Gates

Howard, the son of the Blaisdell household played by William Reynolds (There's Always Tomorrow) had been following his mother's lead and aiming to fit in with a fast and richer crowd. When he got into trouble with some gamblers it was Mr. Smith who anonymously came to his rescue. Howard was smart enough to figure out who his benefactor was and smart enough to learn his lesson.

Mr. Smith got Millicent out of a couple of scraps as well with the irresponsible Carl Pennock, and poor Smith kept ending up in court because of his largess. Eventually, the Blaisdell's ran through their money and their unknown benefactor did them the greatest favour of all by refusing to cough up anything more to get them out of the hole.

Rock Hudson, Piper Laurie

It was back to the comfortable if crowded home, and back to the store with Dan about to join the family as son-in-law and the business as a partner. Mr. Fulton remained Mr. Smith to the family as he said his goodbyes.

This charming family comedy is what I call a Sunday matinee movie due to its popping up on local television on that day and being such a comfort to watch. The movie is gorgeous to look at, with lovely and subtle transitions from summer to fall to winter. The cast is attractive and pleasant, and the problems are not life-threatening, but easily and expectedly solved to the satisfaction of the audience. The costumes by Rosemary Odell (To Kill a Mockingbird) are good looking as well as capturing the era.

James Dean

The extras are packed with young people doing the Charleston and giving out with the slang of the time. There is a very brief and amusing scene with James Dean as a customer giving Gramps a hard time at the soda fountain. You will recall that Dean and Hudson will team up in a "little" picture in a few years.

Stage and screen actor Charles Coburn had been in the acting game for decades. I wonder what he thought of the young leading man who was his co-star here, or even imagined that a cult would build up around that youngster with one scene.

Piper Laurie, Rock Hudson
Millicent sings Gimme a Little Kiss to Dan in this scene. It is adorable!

Rock Hudson had some more westerns to make for Universal-International in the following years and soon he and Piper Laurie would leave behind the Charleston to cavort in the Arabian adventure The Golden Blade. The next level of Hudson's stardom would be reached in 1954 with Magnificent Obsession. A-level classics are in Hudson's future, but there is a lot of joy to be found in his early career.

Friday, November 16, 2018


Debbie Vega at Moon in Gemini is hosting the genius blogathon The Greatest Film I've Never Seen from November 16th to 18th. What is the big gap in your film viewing? Will you love it? Will you be disappointed? Click HERE to discover the answers to those questions and more.

Over the years, I have seen a clip here and a clip there from Chaplin's Modern Times but had not seen the movie.

Did I think I didn't need to see it? After all, I do know how it ends thanks to this famous image. Did I not want to see it? The title and the things I had read all talked about this being Chaplin's commentary on 20th Century life. Maybe I thought it was going to be preachy. Truth be told, the very opening scene which likened a herd of sheep to the crowds in a city made me grimace. However, I soldiered on and I am very glad I did so.

Our Tramp is a small cog in the great wheel of civilization, sometimes literally. Bosses and cops and preconceptions are aligned against him. I expected the pathos, but for some reason, I didn't expect the laughs and Charlie the clown gave me plenty of them.

Pushed around at his factory job to the point of being a guinea pig for a feeding machine the Tramp goes off the deep end and is sent to a sanitarium. Upon release, he is mistaken for a "Red" (wonder where he got that idea) and ends up a convict who becomes an unlikely hero who gets kicked out of his cushy cell and back to the cold streets.

It is back on those cold streets that he comes across "The Gamin" and they befriend each other. Paulette Goddard plays this orphan who was destined for an institution with her two younger sisters. She sought freedom, no matter the cost. The odd yet simpatico pair dream of having a home someday.

This is the Chaplin of The Rink, as he defies gravity and common sense roller skating during a wonderful segment in which he and The Gamin spend the night in a Department Store. The night watchman job was one of a series of "ups" which is always too quickly followed by a "down." We even get the Tramp of The Cure when he inadvertently gets soused.

Frequent co-stars of the past, Tiny Sandford as a factory co-worker and Chester Conklin as a chief mechanic, add to the nostalgia and the fun of the 1936 release, a mostly silent movie in the era of talkies. Originally planned as a talkie, writer/director/composer/editor Charlie Chaplin thought better of letting the Tramp speak. It was so unlike him! Instead, during one of the "up" periods when The Gamin is dancing in a cafe, she gets her friend the job of a singing waiter. Chaplin is heard onscreen singing delightful gibberish accompanied by an equally delightful pantomime. The creator remained true to his creation.

Chaplin's compositions arranged by David Raksin and Edward Powell, and conducted by Alfred Newman are superb. I admit to getting a little weepy when Smile is played in the score, but I spent most of this movie smiling and chuckling and laughing out loud.

Modern Times was placed on the National Film Registry in 1989. It is a genuine classic and no longer the greatest movie I have never seen.

Thursday, November 15, 2018


The Classic Movie Blog Association Fall 2018 blogathon focus is on Outlaws. Click HERE to read about the movie outlaws who cross genres and decades.

"That money's yours, Grandpa. I know how hard you worked and sweated for it. They got no right to it. Of course, you can't understand that, can you? Cause you're no good. None of you. You're just born takers."
- Anne Baxter as "Mike", Constance Mae

Our leading lady is addressing six men, six outlaws who have found refuge in the ghost town of Yellow Sky. There were seven of them when they robbed a bank and were driven by soldiers into the salt flats, but one was killed by their pursuers and the rest were left to die under the unforgiving sun. Mike and her grandfather played by James Barton have been in Yellow Sky since the town was thriving and have been working the abandoned mines ever since.

John Russell, Gregory Peck, Richard Widmark, Charles Kemper, Harry Morgan

That the outlaws survived the desert crossing may be entirely due to their leader. James Dawson aka "Stretch" is played by Gregory Peck and his attitude that this was just one more place to cross, and they could follow him or return to the soldiers as they chose, made him the natural though not undisputed leader.

Vying to have things his way is "Dude" played by Richard Widmark. A down-on-his-luck gambler with a bullet in his lung looking for a big score. Robert Arthur plays "Bull Run", the youngster. The rest of the gang have their own stories, "Lengthy" played by John Russell is a mean and entitled man when it comes to women. Harry Morgan is called "Half Pint" and he veers between a slavish follower of whoever will lead and a soft heart. Unkempt "Walrus" played by Charles Kemper is a drunkard which makes him automatically a philosopher and a whiner. Walrus's sentimental side comes out in a lovely nighttime singing of I'm Sad and I'm Lonely. An unexpectedly touching moment in this tough film.

The outlaws are tough and dangerous men, although "Stretch" manages to pull off the bank robbery without resorting to gunplay. All of the men, save "Dude" are inordinately proud of their Service in the Union Army.

Anne Baxter, Gregory Peck

When the outlaws reach the relative safety and the water in Yellow Sky their dynamics are upset by the presence of the pretty young woman "Mike". She is immediately suspicious of the strangers and always on her guard. The attraction between her and Stretch is complicated by Mike's strong moral compass which leads Stretch to unaccustomed introspection.

"Lengthy" looks upon Mike as his natural conquest and any soft looks from Stretch or the youngster Bull Run are taken as a blatant rivalry. On the other hand, Dude looks upon Mike's presence as a welcome distraction that may give him the opportunity to take over the gang.

The always scheming Dude has determined that the old man and Mike are hiding gold that they have discovered in the old mines. He enlists the others, save Stretch, in wresting it from the hands of the pair. Stretch proposes a deal with the old man as the best way to get the gold, as in a 50/50 split. Originally, Stretch has no more intention of sharing as does Dude, but as his relationship with Mike becomes more important, he sees things differently.

Complications and infighting overtake the outlaw gang. Complications from the outside in the form of Apaches friendly to the old prospector create a tense situation that reveals character and sets fate in motion. The desperation of Dude to make his big score and of the remaining gang members to take their share and make it out of the ghost town alive leads to a battle of wills and bullets. Redemption is available to all but will be accepted by only a few.

Yellow Sky was based on a story by W.R. Burnett (High Sierra) with the literate screenplay by the versatile Lamar Trotti who was awarded Best Written American Western by the Writers Guild of America. Yellow Sky was directed by William A. Wellman, who previously collaborated with Trotti on the classic The Ox-Bow Incident. Although different in tone, it features a similar story of tough and isolated men facing difficult decisions. This was the only time Wellman worked with cinematographer Joseph MacDonald (My Darling Clementine) and their collaboration, filmed on locations in Lone Pine and Death Valley National Park, created stunningly harsh vistas and gloriously gentle moments of intimacy. The journey of these outlaws is engrossing drama and a fine western.

The Classic Movie Blog Association e-book compilation of essays on film outlaws is available on Amazon and Smashwords.

Sunday, November 11, 2018


Maddy Loves Her Classic Films is hosting The World War One On Film Blogathon on November 10th and 11th to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the end of the conflict. Click HERE to read the contributions.

The Holderlin household has been a sad place since before the end of the War to End all Wars. The young son of the house, Walter (Tom Douglas), was killed in battle. Dr. Holderlin (Lionel Barrymore), his wife (Louise Carter), and Walter's fiancee Elsa (Nancy Carroll) have been living quietly with their grief. The little joys of life have not returned.

Tom Douglas, Phillips Holmes

On the first anniversary of the Armistice, a young Frenchman, Paul Renard (Phillips Holmes) is still haunted by the eyes of the man he killed. He can find no solace when even a priest absolves him as "doing his duty."

While in the trenches, Paul learned much of the life of the man he killed by reading Walter Holderin's last letter to his family. The two young men shared a love of Paris and a love of music. Orchestra player Paul has been unable to return to his music since the war. Paul has memorized that last letter and the address, and he determined to go to Walter's family seeking forgiveness.

Zasu Pitts, Lionel Barrymore, Phillips Holmes, Louise Carter, Nancy Carroll

Paul is not welcomed by Dr. Holderlin. Paul is a Frenchman, and to the doctor, every Frenchman is the one who killed his son. Elsa recognizes Paul as the stranger she had seen placing flowers on Walter's grave and that gesture changes everything for the Holderlin family. The entire household assumes that Paul knew Walter in Paris. Paul is only too happy to go along with the deceit.

Time brings Paul and Elsa closer. As the maid Anna (Zasu Pitts) remarks "He doesn't know it, but he's in love with her." Dr. and Fraulein Holderlin appreciate the link they believe they have to Walter and welcome Paul as a friend. The relationship creates a scandal in town with much fodder for the gossips. Holderlin's cronies who sit around the tavern drinking beer and philosophizing have strong opinions against the French in general, and this stranger in particular. The spirit of animosity is stirred up by Herr Schultz (Lucien Littlefield), a rejected suitor for Elsa's attention.

Lionel Barrymore is heartrending in a scene at the tavern where he berates the old men who send young men off to be killed, whether they be French or German. He stands up beautifully for Paul. "He came here from France to put flowers on my son's grave. He is my guest. My wife likes him. Elsa likes him. And I love him."

Phillips Holmes, Nancy Carroll

Of course, Paul has fallen in love with Elsa and those feelings are returned. It is too much. He must leave them. Elsa discovers the reason for his visit in a touching scene involving Walter's last letter. Paul leaves the distraught young woman to bare his soul to the Holderlins.

It is Elsa's love for both the family and for Paul that keeps him from revealing the truth. She breaks into his confession by telling Fraulein Holderlin that Paul is staying; that he will never leave them. She tells Paul that he mustn't be afraid to make them happy by living the lie when the love is real.

Overjoyed, Dr. Holderlin gives Paul the violin that once belonged to Walter. Schumann's Traumerei is the first thing Paul has played in the years since the War because "There was no music left. Nothing in my ears but the sound of a dying man." Elsa, too, has not touched the family's piano since Walter's loss. It is a very moving final scene as Elsa accompanies Paul while the grieving parents cling to each other and the small happiness they have found.

Maurice Rostand's 1925 play The Man I Killed was adapted by Reginald Berkeley with the screenplay by Samson Raphaelson. Ernst Lubitsch directed the Paramount release in a movie season which included his features One Hour With You, a musical comedy starring Maurice Chevalier, and the sophisticated romantic triangle Trouble in Paradise. Mr. Lubitsch has filled the movie with many effective and emotion-filled silent scenes of struggle, pain, and understanding. Broken Lullaby is a masterpiece of atonement.

Broken Lullaby would be the final of four films teaming Nancy Carroll and Phillips Holmes, all romantic dramas, and they are quite touching here. The film's relatively brief runtime of 1 hour 15 minutes uses its time to observe these characters coping unassisted with trauma and grief. They are attempting to get on with life after the unimaginable horror that was World War I. In many ways, I believe generations have not completed that daunting task.

Friday, November 9, 2018

THE REMAKE OF THE "THEY REMADE WHAT?!" BLOGATHON: When Ladies Meet, 1933 and 1941

The original They Remade What?! blogathon in 2015 was loads of fun. So pleased that Phyllis Loves Classic Movies revived the blogathon which runs from November 9 to 11. Click HERE for all the contributions. This post is also part of an ongoing series on the blog that I call Remake Avenue.

Rachel Crothers, playwright, producer, director, performer
December 12, 1878 - July 5, 1958

"If you want to see the sign of the times, watch women. Their evolution is the most important thing in modern life."
- Rachel Crothers, 1912

Rachel Crothers was the most successful and influential woman in theatre in the early part of the 20th century. Born in Illinois to parents who were both doctors, Rachel and her sister were raised to be educated, independent women at a time when that was rare. After high school, Rachel founded a dramatic society in her home state but eventually moved to New York City where she began an acting career. She also wrote plays and her first success, The Three of Us, premiered on Broadway in 1906.

When Ladies Meet, written and staged by Rachel Crothers began its successful run on Broadway in 1932. It was her 26th play produced on the New York stage. Not every one was a hit, but the legacy is staggering. MGM had their film version ready for release in 1933.

1933 Film Cast
Ann Harding as Claire Woodruff
Robert Montgomery as Jimmie Lee
Myrna Loy as Mary Howard
Alice Brady as Bridget Drake
Frank Morgan as Rogers Woodruff
Martin Burton as Walter Manners
Luis Alberni as Pierre

The 1933 film was directed by Harry Beaumont (Our Dancing Daughters) and an uncredited Robert Z. Leonard (Pride and Prejudice) whose connection to the project would extend to the remake. The screenplay is by John Meehan (The Valley of Decision) and Leon Gordon (The Unguarded Hour). This version of the play runs 1 hour and 25 minutes.

Jimmie Lee is an easy-going young journalist with a deep love for Mary Howard. Mary Howard is an up and coming author with a deep love for her married publisher Rogers Woodruff. Mary has strong ideas about love and its nobility. These ideas have spread into her writing which distresses Jimmie. He thinks her work used to be fine and real but is turning into something phony. Mary's love for Woodruff has clouded her judgment as to the true place of the wife in such a triangle and the rightness of her love.

Jimmie finagles a meeting with Mrs. Woodruff on the golf course. Claire turns out to be a wonderful woman with a forthright character and a sense of humour. Jimmie further finagles a way for Mary to meet Claire without knowing her connection to Woodruff.

Visiting the country home of Bridget Drake where Mary is spending the weekend Claire agrees to help Jimmie make the "girl he's crazy about" see him in a different light with another woman. Claire finds the innocent adventure to be fun and she and Mary make a friendly connection. They exchange the ideas Mary details in her latest book with neither knowing they are speaking of their real life. If only Mary realized when Claire tells of her husband's philandering ways that she is speaking of the man Mary envisions as so splendid.

Robert Montgomery, Myrna Loy, Alice Brady
Martin Burton, Ann Harding, Frank Morgan

Bridget's country home has been magnificently designed by her younger male companion Walter. The set is homey, yet sophisticated. Cedric Gibbons was nominated for the Oscar for Best Art Direction for When Ladies Meet. Mary describes Bridget as "the most intelligent fool I've never known." Bridget is a scattered and fluttery character, but out of her mouth comes some of the most interesting comments on society and people in the play/screenplay.

Bridget: "I tell you this is an awfully hard age for a good woman to live in. I mean a woman who wants to have any fun. The old instincts of right and wrong merely hold you back. You're neither one thing nor the other. You're neither happy and bad, nor good and contented. You're just discontentedly decent."

Myrna Loy as Mary Howard
Gowns by Adrian

Mary is so confident in her blind love for Rogers Woodruff that her idealistic naivete keeps her from appreciating Jimmie Lee. Even after spending time with Claire, whom she admires, and hearing her side of a marriage with a philanderer, Mary stands by her high-minded feelings for Rogers. The whole business comes crashing down when the three points of the triangle come together, and Mary sees the sordid truth of the affair.

Mary: "You know me. I'm a girl who writes books. Very smart books about modern people. Very smart people. I know exactly how everybody feels; exactly what everybody's thinking. That's how smart I am. I couldn't be fooled. I know all the jokes even when they're on me."

Claire is easy to like and it is easy to be on her side as the aggrieved wife, even when it seems she is giving up too much for a man who isn't worth it. Claire, like Mary, also faces a reckoning after the storm wrought on Bridget's charming retreat by Jimmie's shenanigans.

Claire: "Always before I was glad to get you back and thankful it was over - always thinking of you, never of "her". Now I've seen "her" and something happened to me."

If Rogers wants his marriage, he will have a fight on his hands. If Jimmie still wants Mary perhaps he will not have long to wait. She doesn't kick him out of Bridget's kitchen, and there is the hint of a relaxed smile on her face at his annoying jokes. Mary has come through heartbreak and is the better because of the trial.

Movie connection:

Ann Harding, Leslie Howard, Myrna Loy

Prior to When Ladies Meet, Ann Harding and Myrna Loy co-starred in the RKO production of The Animal Kingdom based on Philip Barry's play. Leslie Howard left a faithful and supportive lover (Harding) to marry a faithless and manipulative wife (Loy).

1941 Film Cast
Joan Crawford as Mary Howard
Robert Taylor as Jimmy Lee
Greer Garson as Claire Woodruff
Spring Byington as Bridget Drake
Rafael Storm as Walter Del Canto
Mona Barrie as Mabel Guinness
Max Willenz as Pierre
Florence Shirley as Janet Hopper
Leslie Francis as Homer Hopper

The 1941 film was directed by Robert Z. Leonard (Maytime) with the screenplay by S.K. Lauren (Three Cornered Moon) and Anita Loos (The Women). This version of the play runs 1 hour and 45 minutes, extending the earlier feature by 20 minutes. The film was opened up to include more characters and have the lead characters interact for longer scenes. A literary party shows Mary interacting with fans. Another party is where Jimmy meets Claire and they have an amusing sailing scene prior to showing up at Bridget's country home.

Herbert Marshall, Spring Byington, Joan Crawford, Rafael Storm, Robert Taylor

Above we attend a penthouse party which the guest of honour, Mary Howard, plans on leaving early to work with her publisher Rogers Woodruff. Her friends are suspicious. She's not wearing them here, but Mary has the conceit of wearing unneeded eyeglasses. Jimmy thinks she is being affected. Mary tells Rogers it is because she is terribly shy. Joan plays Mary with a lovely sense of her sincerity. Although she can't help carrying the aura of being the type of girl not easily fooled by anyone which is at odds with Mary's character. Bridget's speech about discontent from the earlier movie is revamped for Mary in this version, perhaps to reflect Joan's more mature persona.

Mary: "Oh Bridgey, this is an awfully hard age for us women. That is if you care for the real thing. I've never been content with imitations and here we are surrounded by them on all sides. Nothing lasting, nothing real, nothing fine."

Bridget: "Practically nothing at all."

Spring Byington originally played Bridget in the Broadway production of When Ladies Meet in 1932 with Frieda Inescourt as Mary, Selena Royle as Claire and Walter Abel as Jimmie Lee. Ms. byington absolutely steals the movie out from under the star-studded cast as the fluttery, always appearing to be two steps behind the rest of the world character.

Greer Garson, Joan Crawford

Once again Cedric Gibbons would receive an Oscar nomination, along with Randall Duell and Edwin B. Ellis for the sets in this picture, especially Bridget's renovated old country mill. It is spectacular. You may enjoy this piece from Silver Scenes on the delightful set. Once again, the gowns are by Adrian.

Some scenes are lifted straight from the earlier movie such as the charming scene where Mary and Claire bond at the piano over Grieg's Ich Liebe Dich and are silhouetted when the power goes out due to a storm. It is extremely lovely and effective both times.

One smaller change from the 1933 movie is that previously Rogers compliments Mary on having the feet of a thoroughbred. She calls it an odd compliment but is touched and uses the phrase later when complimenting Claire. In our 1941 movie, it is changed to the "sweet" compliment of hands of a thoroughbred.

The relationship between Mary and Claire remains the same. They are great roles for actresses. It is, by necessity, a talkie script but in the hands of pros, extremely entertaining. Here is part of Claire's rebuttal to Mary's apology for her character.

Claire: "The hard thing for me to believe is that she believes in this man when he says he loves her. Speaking as a married woman I feel your girl if she's been around, ought to know enough not to believe a married man when he makes love to her."

When the truth reveals itself, I felt they softened Rogers character a bit in his encounter with Mary. He professed a true love, but Mary saw through him. Her bitter speech, unlike that in the 1933 movie, was not said to the assembled house guests, but to Rogers alone.

Mary: "I'm the girl who knew all about everything - who knew about love with a capital "L". And who knew about that other thing too, that tawdry whatever else it was you felt for me. I'm the girl who dedicated her life to telling others all about these things in books. I'm the one who thought I inspired a world-shattering romance. I was another Juliet, a modern Francesca. Oh yes, I was even an Elizabeth Barrett Browning. And all the while I was just another one of your adventures."

When the dust settles, the movie ends with Mary symbolically breaking her eyeglasses and sharing a kiss with Jimmy. Personally, I prefer the companionable kitchen scene from 1933. Judge for yourself.

Sunday, November 4, 2018

NOIRVEMBER NUGGET: Dark Waters (1944)

Dark Waters from 1944 is a dandy thriller from producer Benedict Bogeaus, the producer behind such favourites as The Crooked Way, Silver Lode, Slightly Scarlet and From the Earth to the Moon. Andre De Toth directed, making for an interesting triple bill for the year along with Guest in the House and None Shall Escape.

Joan Harrison (Suspicion, Saboteur) wrote the screenplay with Marian Cockrell, who, like Harrison worked on the Alfred Hitchcock television series. Miklos Rozsa was the man behind the score and Archie Stout and John Mescall the men behind the camera.

Franchot Tone, Merle Oberon

The story is set in motion by an event that could have been ripped from the headlines. A ship filled with refugees is attacked and sunk by the enemy with only four people surviving. Leslie Calvin played by Merle Oberon lost both her parents and is traumatized by the event and its aftermath. Believing she is all alone in the world, Leslie takes hope when a heretofore unseen aunt welcomes her to Rossignol Plantation in Louisiana. 

The setting plants us firmly in the world of Gothic Noir with the rambling plantation house and the grounds surrounded by trees, vegetation, the bayou, and quicksand. The heat is often mentioned and the overriding sense is one of oppression.

Fay Bainter, Merle Oberson, Thomas Mitchell

Leslie's aunt and uncle played by Fay Bainter and John Qualen are both preoccupied but seemingly harmless. The houseguest, Mr. Sydney played by Thomas Mitchell carries himself with the air of someone in charge. The manager of the sugar plant, Mr. Cleeve played by Elisha Cook Jr. is a bringer of most unwelcome advances.

Elisha Cook Jr., Merle Oberon

Leslie immediately feels out of place but assumes it is her recent illness that makes her feel so. Nonetheless, she is grateful for the friendship of Dr. George Grover played by Franchot Tone. He is charmed by the lovely young woman and introduces her to the more normal people in the area.

The neighbouring Boudreau clan played by Eugene Borden and Odette Myrtil are kind and friendly to Leslie, giving her a sense of normalcy. There is an overload of cuteness with the youngest of the large family played by two-year-old Gigi Perreau and her older brother Gerald who acted under the name of Peter Miles (Heaven Only Knows).

Merle Oberson, Rex Ingram

When she's away from Dr. Grover and at the plantation, Leslie feels the effects of her trauma most strongly. She is constantly reminded of the events at sea and urged to relive them by her companions. She sees lights going on and off, and hears strange noises. She hears her name being called in the night. Leslie is being gaslighted. Why?  

Leslie truly would lose her mind if it weren't for the grounding of friends like the maid Florella played by Nina Mae McKinney and Pearson Jackson played by Rex Ingram. Pearson must remain a secret friend because, after 12 years of working at the sugar factory/plantation, he was fired by Mr. Cleeve for no reason. Pearson is investigating the goings-on at Rossignol. He knows Leslie is in danger. Pearson knows he is in danger as well, but he keeps on.

Thomas Mitchell, Elisha Cook Jr.

The malevolence of Thomas Mitchell and the sense of the world closing in on our leading lady add to the tension in this movie where we don't know whom to trust from one moment to the next. An exciting finale through the bayou wraps all the pieces up quite tidily and satisfactorily.

Thursday, November 1, 2018


The town of Glacier, Montana is in the midst of a violent feud between warring gambling house owners who were former partners in the mine which was the economic engine of the town. The mine has been closed while the feud rages.

The combatants are Bill Goodwin (Tea for Two) as Bill Plumber and Brian Donlevy (The Great McGinty) as Duke Byron. A stranger arrives in town to settle matters in his own way. Originally used by Plummer, this man called Mike played by Robert Cummings (It Started with Eve) intends to be of service to Duke Byron. Nothing will be the same in Glacier after the stranger's arrival.

So far, Heaven Only Knows sounds like a sturdy and typical western, and you will note in the credits that the treatment is by western writer Ernest Haycox of Stage to Lordsburg fame. The original story of this movie is by Aubrey Wisberg, a writer of mysteries, family dramas, adventures and science fiction, also the fantasy-comedy The Horn Blows at Midnight about a couple of errant angels.

Heaven Only Knows is an after-life fantasy with the unique twist of being set in the old west. "Mike" is Michael, an angel from the Heavenly Hall of Records come to Earth to set things straight. Duke Byron was inadvertently omitted from the Book of Life. Michael had long been expecting something like this to happen. There are so many souls to keep track of, and unfortunately, the clerical oversight has left Duke with no soul.

Duke's life has been one of greed, corruption and violence. On the other hand, the Book of Destiny had recorded that Duke would be an exemplary human with a legacy of decency and compassion. He was to have raised a lovely family with his wife Drusilla Wainwright, the minister's daughter played by Jorja Curtright (Whistle Stop). As things stand now she despises the man who has brought such misery to Glacier. Michael must set things aright without using any miracles, not even a small one. You see, humans don't believe in miracles.

The town of Glacier is brought to life by a host of familiar character actors. Peter Miles (The Red Pony) plays a sickly lad who worships Duke, and his mother is played by Lurene Tuttle (Psycho). Edgar Kennedy (Duck Soup) is the town's inebriate. John Litel (Dodge City) is the well-meaning minister. Stuart Erwin (Make Me a Star) is the pragmatic and controversial sheriff. Marjorie Reynolds (Holiday Inn) is the queen of Duke's saloon whose heart is softened by the arrival of Mike.

Duke's right hand (or would that be left?) is a man called Treason played by Gerald Mohr (Detective Story). It is not expressed outright, but Treason is obviously Mike's opposite number from Hades. Treason gets the feel of a cold wind when Mike hits town, and the two share an exchange quite cryptic in nature.

Heaven doesn't forget poor Mike tasked with a seemingly impossible mission and no miracles in his pocket. His mentor Gabriel played by William Farnum (The Spoilers) will be on hand when needed.

Michael's task cannot be trivialized as the fate of a man's soul and indeed the souls of an entire population are at stake. The personalities in the cast and the quirky humour in the script make this little picture a winner. Heaven Only Knows is sincere where it could have been cloying and I find it a real charmer.  

Albert S. Rogell, a veteran of comedies, westerns and mysteries directed and Karl "Sunrise" Struss was the cinematographer. Heaven Only Knows was made by Nero Films producer Seymour Nebenzal, the son of the company's founder in Germany in the 1920s, Heinrich Nebenzal. It is a testament to the studio's independent spirit.

TCM is screening Heaven Only Knows on Saturday, November 17th at 10:00 pm. It follows Here Comes Mr. Jordan for a double bill of angelic blunders. If the after-life fantasy is your thing then you must check it out. If the after-life fantasy isn't your thing, why not step out of your comfort zone on a chilly autumn evening?


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