Monday, September 16, 2019

REMAKE AVENUE: The Racket, 1928 and 1951


Many of our excursions to Remake Avenue begin on Broadway and today's is no exception.

Bartlett Cormack's play The Racket had a run of 119 performances at the Ambassador Theatre in the 1927/28 season. Cormack (1898-1942) was a graduate of the University of Chicago, with experience in theatrical public relations. Passing at the early age of 44, Bartlett Cormack left many exciting and interesting screenplays for classic movie fans: Gentlemen of the Press, The Green Murder Case, The Front Page (adaption), The Phantom of Crestwood, Four Frightened People, Cleopatra, Fury, Sidewalks of London, and Unholy Partners.

The success of The Racket coincided with and promoted the beginning of the gangster cycle in entertainment. The three-act play is set entirely in a quiet precinct outside of Chicago where a single-minded police captain battles a mob and crooked politicians while wise-cracking reporters keep the pot boiling.

G. Pat Collins as Patrolman Johnson

G. Pat Collins (White Heat) played the pivotal role of Patrolman Johnson in both the play and the 1928 movie. On stage, reporters were played by classic movie stalwarts Willard Robertson (Heat Lightning) and Norman Foster (Skyscraper Souls). Edward G. Robinson was also featured as "An unidentified man". Could he possibly have played a gangster?


The Racket was among the first Oscar Best Picture nominees in 1929, losing to Wings. Our director, Lewis Milestone won the award for Best Director, Comedy Picture for Two Arabian Knights, beating out Ted Wilde for Speedy. The Academy dropped the Director for a Comedy category by the next season. 

Independent producer Howard Hughes brought The Racket to the big screen, and it was distributed by Paramount Studios. Thomas Meighan starred as Captain McQuigg whose feud with gangster Nick Scarsi played by Louis Wolheim impacts everyone around them.

Louis Wolheim, Thomas Meighan

Chicago is a tough town and it is split right down the middle. On one side is the political machine which controls the rackets and bootlegging gangsters like Nick Scarsi and Spike Corcoran. Honest cop Captain James McQuigg may seem like a lone figure in this battle, but he is obviously getting under the skin of the crooks for he is banished to the quiet suburbs, at least until after the upcoming election.

The one-set play was opened up to establish the antagonism between McQuigg and Scarsi. The audience is witness to a vicious street fight between rival bootleggers. A riotous party in a speakeasy gives us a taste of the high life enjoyed by the criminals.

The party is in celebration of Scarsi's kid brother Joe played by George E. Stone. The young man has graduated from college and is looking for a good time. He is attracted to singer Helen played by Marie Prevost, but Nick puts a stop (he thinks) to that as "women are poison." Helen resents Nick's insult and decides to go after Joe for kicks and revenge.

 Marie Prevost, John Darrow

All of these disparate characters and their conflicting intentions come together in the quiet burg that is now Captain McQuigg's stomping ground. On a fateful night, Helen is the witness to Joe's homicidal hit-and-run and his arrest by Patrolman Johnson. Skeets Gallagher plays a perpetually soused member of the press, who keeps the news and the tensions heightened. A naive rookie reporter played by John Darrow catches Helen's eye, and vice-versa. Nick is anxious to get Joe out of the slammer and to get revenge on those who crossed him. The double-crossers will come to include the "old man" who controls the rackets.

McQuigg is able to manipulate the circumstances put in place by Nick's anxiety over Joe, the political machinations, and an unexpected and blatant murder. Much is on the line and mistakes will be made. There is a semblance of justice at the conclusion, but the racket continues.

Thomas Meighan brings a weary stoicism with an underlying wit to the role of McQuigg. Louis Wolheim is as tough a mug as you'll see in this genre of film, yet we still get the picture of the sweat it took to reach his position, plus the affection he holds for his brother. Marie Prevost is a dream as Helen. We see her performing in the speakeasy, confidently handling the rambunctious Joe, falling in a sweet way for the rookie reporter, standing up to Nick and even sending a little sympathy the Captain's way.

The Racket has a runtime of just under 90 minutes and every minute moves the story of graft and violence forward through startling images and fine performances.

Thomas Meighan, Jim Farley

McQuigg: "I'd like a little sleep but by the time I get through with the coroner and the rest of the public servants it will be time to go to mass."



Boldly Begins Where the Senate Crime Committee Left Off!

The 1950 United States Senate Special Committee to Investigate Crime in Interstate Commerce chaired by Senator Estes Kefauver captured the public's imagination through television broadcasts and is the obvious inspiration for Howard Hughes to revive and remake his earlier hit, The Racket. Perhaps some bright producer is considering a 21st century take on the story. Crooks and grafters never seem to go out of style.

The film was directed by John Cromwell who, in another lifetime, played the protagonist Captain James McQuigg in the original Broadway production. William Wister Haines (Command Decision) and W.R. Burnett (High Sierra) wrote the screenplay from Bartlett Cormack's play placing an emphasis on a newly formed Crime Commission in an unnamed city. The syndicate wishes to run their business as a business and are not only at odds with investigators and police but with Nick Scanlon. Nick is an old school gangster played by Robert Ryan. While the "old man" in charge wants to use non-violent ways to deal with issues, Nick is more psychotic and entrenched in nature and intends to continue running things his way.

Robert Mitchum, Robert Ryan

When Nick goes against orders and bumps off a squealer, it opens up an entirely new avenue for honest cop McQuigg played by Robert Mitchum. McQuigg has been bounced around the precincts to keep him out of hot spots, but now the hot spot has come to him.

On the personal front, Nick has put a lot of time and money into the gentrification of his kid brother Joe played by Brett King and does not approve of his involvement with a nightclub singer Irene played by Lizabeth Scott. As in the earlier versions, these characters are central to the circumstances which will result in Nick's downfall but are far less compelling in this screenplay.

William Talman, Virginia Huston

The movie gives our Captain McQuigg a home life and a wife played by Joyce McKenzie. The same is done for Patrolman Johnson here played by William Talman (Armored Car Robbery). Virginia Huston plays his loving wife. The young cop is a veteran Marine and an honest man. He would follow McQuigg into Hell and is not afraid of confronting the mob. Maybe he should be.

Robert Hutton plays the naive reporter Dave Ames, who was in the Marines when Patrolman Johnson was his Sergeant. His old Sarge lets the newshound in on the case where everyone seems to know that District Attorney Welsh played by Ray Collins is syndicate's latest front for a judge and that Sergeant Turk played by William Conrad is the syndicate's trouble-shooter. The emotional young reporter becomes easily distracted when he falls for singer Irene. 

Robert Mitchum, William Talman, William Conrad

Both the 1928 and 1951 films run just under 90 minutes, with this feature having more characters and more action sequences. Nonetheless, when it came time for the finale, Haines and Burnett went back to the original concept with the violent murder and double-crosses taking place in the precinct.

Added to the exciting finish is some unnecessary moralizing from Captain McQuigg and some even more unnecessary happy conclusions to a couple of subplots. It is my feeling that the more satisfying film experience was released in 1928.

Robert Ryan and Robert Mitchum have given us their share of both good and bad characters over the years and the casting here would seem appropriate. However, after a couple of viewings, I feel like each actor might have done better in the other's role. Ryan's over-the-top antics and Mitchum's laid back persona came across more as boredom to me. Also, the movie was stolen from everyone by William Talman as Patrolman Johnson. Perhaps they sensed it.

Captain McQuigg: "Rest? Yeah, but tomorrow it starts all over again."


Connections:

Ray Collins as Lt. Arthur Tragg and William Talman as Hamilton Burger, District Attorney
Perry Mason (1957)


The Racket falls one short of the Crossfire, 1947 trio of Robert Young, Robert Mitchum, and Robert Ryan. See Mitchum and Ryan also in The Longest Day, 1962 and Anzio, 1968.


Fans take noteThe Racket, 1951 has an excellent Pat Flaherty sighting. At 54, he still made a good movie cop.












Friday, September 6, 2019

THE COSTUME DRAMA BLOGATHON: In Old Chicago (1938)


The Costume Drama Blogathon is the brainchild of Debbie Vega of Moon in Gemini and it runs from September 6th to the 8th. Click HERE for all the sublime designs and stories.


"We O'Learys are a strange tribe. There's strength in us. And what we set out to do, we finish."
- Alice Brady (Oscar winner) as Molly O'Leary
In Old Chicago, 1938

It is the way in Hollywood that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery or if the audience will pay to see the San Francisco earthquake of 1906 then surely they would be just as eager to see the Great Chicago Fire of 1871.

Comparisons between MGMs San Francisco and 20th Century Fox's In Old Chicago are inevitable. Audiences enjoyed both and the Academy was suitably impressed. In Old Chicago matched San Francisco's record of six nominations and came away with two wins.

Alice Brady as Mrs. Molly O'Leary
Gene Reynolds as Dion, Billy Watson as Jack, and Bobs Watson as Bob

Patrick O'Leary dies in a freak accident on the prairie and never saw the end of his rainbow, Chicago. He was buried where he died so the city could grow out to meet him. Widow O'Leary works as a laundress and raises their three sons.

Tyrone Power, Don Ameche, Alice Brady, June Storey, Tom Brown
Dion, Jack, Molly, Gretchen and Bob

Jack (Ameche) tilts at the windmill of justice for all, arguing losing cases in court and fighting crooked politicians. Dion (Power) gambles his nights away, getting involved in shady deals and looking to get in on some of those crooked politics that Jack abhors. Bob (Brown) marries the family's maid Gretchen and starts a family. 

Gil Warren played by Brian Donlevy runs the area known as The Patch. It is the O'Leary's home and the bane of Jack's existence as it is a cesspool of vice and crime, and a tinderbox of wooden structures. Warren's control extends throughout the city and Dion is determined to have his own piece of the action. Coming into information that a B. Fawcett owns a piece of land important to a new transit line, Dion aims to make this B. Fawcett a partner. When "he" turns out to be a beautiful singer, Belle Fawcett played by Alice Faye, so much the better.


Dion succeeds in winning Belle as a business and romantic partner, stealing her from Gil Warren's saloon and affection. Warren runs for mayor and pays for Dion's help in his campaign. Dion hedges his bets by anonymously backing Jack as a Reform candidate. Thanks to Dion's machinations Jack wins the election and true to his word, begins an investigation against Dion and the whole crooked racket behind City politics. A rift between the brothers ensues prior to the legendary (read: false) kicking over of the lantern by Mrs. O'Leary's cow and the true-life conflagration which destroyed thousands of buildings and at least 300 lives.  

20th Century Fox's record with costume dramas before and after In Old Chicago is impressive, including such titles as Lloyds of LondonUnder Two Flags, Suez, Little Old New York, and The Story of Alexander Graham Bell

Henry King
1886-1982

Henry King, one of the surest and most versatile of the studio directors was in charge of the production, with the special effects and fire scenes handled by H. Bruce Humberstone (I Wake Up Screaming). Henry King had been an actor who directed his first short in 1913, and his last feature Tender is the Night in 1962. He directed 11 movies with leading man Tyrone Power from 1936 to 1957, three with Don Ameche and three with Alice Faye.

"Not only is she my favorite actress. She is a favorite person."
- Henry King speaking of Alice Faye

"He was kind of special. I loved him very much."
- Alice Faye speaking of Henry King

Sonia Levien and Lamar Trotti wrote the screenplay for In Old Chicago from a story by Niven Busch (Till the End of Time). The cinematographer was J. Peverell Marley (Life With Father, Suez) and the music by Cyril J. Mockridge ( The Solid Gold Cadillac, Where the Sidewalk Ends). 

The costumes for this expensive historical drama/disaster movie are by Royer, born Lewis Royer Hastings. He worked at 20th Century Fox from 1933 to 1939, followed by a stint at United Artists from 1940 to 1942. For the decade of 1942 to 1952, Royer worked in the Mexican film industry billed as Louis or Luis Royer. In 1945 Royer was awarded an Ariel Award in Mexico for his work on the film Bugumbilia starring Dolores del Rio and Pedro Armendariz. The Academy would not institute a costuming award until 1948.

Let's look at some of Royer's sumptuous costumes that brought 1870s Chicago and these fascinating characters so vividly to life for audiences then and now.

Belle Fawcett played by Alice Faye is an entertainer and her character is equally showery offstage and on. Extras and chorus girls are just as meticulously costumed.

Alice Faye as Belle Fawcett, girl singer

Tyrone Power as Dion, Andy Devine as "Pickle", Brian Donlevy as Gil Warren
The men admire Belle's voice.

Madame Sul-Te-Wan as Hattie enjoys working for Belle.

An incredible robe only for the purpose of being removed, 

revealing this incredible gown.

Belle and the girls on stage

Tyrone Power, Berton Churchill, Phyllis Brooks
Dion dresses to the nines to impress a senator and his daughter.

Belle is a vision in sparkles and feathers.
The quartet looks dandy as well.

Dion and Jack's wardrobes reflect their individual characteristics and professional ascendency.

Widow O'Leary and Belle Fawcett are worlds apart.

Offstage, Belle has become more demure as her wealth and her love for Dion increases.

A fashionable wedding couple.

Tragedy touches all In Old Chicago.





Wednesday, September 4, 2019

THE ALAN LADD BLOGATHON: Appointment with Danger (1950)


Pale Writer Gabriela is hosting The Man Who Would Be Shane: The Alan Ladd Blogathon on September 3-6. Click HERE for the tributes to the beloved star.

The danger alluded to in the title of this film is in the form of a gang with plans for a big heist from the Postal Service, specifically one member of the gang with little regard for lives other than his own. The mastermind is Earl Boettiger played by Paul Stewart, a businessman with the brains to organize a plan and the personality to manage underlings.

Violence is built into the DNA of Joe Regas played by Jack Webb. Murder is his go-to solution to every problem. His most recent problem was Postal Inspector Gruber who was getting too close to the gang's plans. Regas and George Soderquist played by Harry Morgan take care of the problem and dump the body in a neighbouring city to keep the cops off their tails. 

Alan Ladd

Keeping this dangerous appointment with Gruber's murderers is Postal Inspector Al Goddard played by Alan Ladd. He is single-minded when it comes to getting the job done and cynical when it comes to people in general. This worries Goddard's superior Maury Ahearn played by Dan Riss, but the department can't argue with results and Goddard gets results.

Ahearn: "Let me tell you about you, Al. That badge and a few law books have turned you into a nut. You don't like anybody. You don't believe anybody. You don't trust anybody. You think everybody has a pitch."
Al: "Everybody has. You and I and a guy back there. A better job, a little more dough, a round of applause. One way or another, everybody you meet is a pitch artist."

Alan Ladd, Phyllis Calvert, Herb Vigran

Happenstance has brought Sister Augustine, a Catholic nun played by British actress Phyllis Calvert (Madonna of the Seven Moons, Crash of Silence) into this dangerous appointment. Unknowingly, she is a witness to the murder of Postal Inspector Gruber, or at least to the men disposing of his body in an alley on a rainy night. This teacher has a world view which includes healthy doses of compassion and forgiveness. She is also able to identify the men in the alley which leads the authorities and Sister Augustine to Gary, Indiana and a pool hall full of suspects.

Al: "You don't think very much of me do you, Sister?"
Sister Augustine: "I think much of everything, Mr. Goddard, but I feel sorry for you. I don't think you have a heart."
Al: "Call it muscle. That's the way it is with a cop." 
Sister Augustine: "I don't believe it."
Al: "When a cop dies they don't list it as heart failure. It's Charlie horse of the chest."

It becomes evident that a trucker employed by the Postal Service, Paul Ferrar played by Stacy Harris is key to the plan to hijack a million dollars which is vulnerable during a transfer between trains. Goddard easily convinced gang boss Boettiger that he is crooked and wants in on the deal. His inside knowledge will come in handy in such a caper. Some fancy footwork concerning Goddard's background fools everyone but the suspicious and violent Joe Regas. He's already gotten rid of his partner in the Gruber killing, Soderquist, and he's got that nun on his mind. Taking out another Postal Inspector won't be a bother at all.

Alan Ladd, Jan Sterling

Goddard has moved into a Boettiger run hotel so the gang can keep an eye on their new partner. Boettiger puts his girlfriend/stenographer Dodie played by Jan Sterling on Goddard watch. She doesn't mind at all. Dodie introduces Al to her collection of bop recordings.

Dodie: "Have you heard Joe Lily's Only Mine? Come up to my place and hear it." 
Al: "As a favor to Joe."
Dodie: "What he can do with a horn. He belts it, melts it and rides it all over the ceiling."
Al: "Can he play it?"

All of the conflicting intentions bump against each other as the deadline for the heist approaches. Goddard is busy keeping his cover and still keeping in touch with headquarters. It is not an easy line to traverse. Sister Augustine has, quite naturally, refused Goddard's offer of a gun for protection. At the same time, no one is aware of Regas' escalating efforts to silence the good Sister.

The human factor plays a major role in the resolution to this case. Who can be coerced, who will overhear what, and will everyone with a part to play be able to do so, or will the unforeseen take circumstances out of their control? 

Appointment With Danger has a dandy script by Richard L. Breen (Titanic, Pete Kelly's Blues) that is filled with wry sarcasm expertly delivered by Alan Ladd and the cast of crime picture veterans. Director Lewis Allen (The Uninvited, Suddenly) knows how to keep the story moving and at 90 minutes doesn't waste any time getting down to cases, so to speak. Cinematographer John F. Seitz (Lucky Jordan, Double Indemnity) brings some nice noirish touches to the soundstage set as well as the Indiana and Illinois locations, including railyard sequences which heighten the action. 

Alan Ladd was in his late 30s at the time of Appointment with Danger in 1950. A busy actor at his home studio of Paramount during the 1940s including breakout roles early in the decade, his demand would continue in the 1950s although the projects would vary in their worthiness. Appointment with Danger and the brittle yet reliable character of Goddard was a fine start to the years which would see his greatest role, that of Shane, just ahead.


Taxi!:

Murray Alper
1904-1984

Murray Alper appears in Appointment with Danger as a cabbie who helps Goddard track down the elusive witness to a murder. Some actors specialized in cops or butlers, or newspapermen. Murray was an expert in transportation.

Murray was Frank, the cab driver who took Sam Spade nowhere in The Maltese Falcon. He was the obliging trucker who picks up Saboteur suspect Robert Cumming. And the operator of those boats that take Marion and Bruno over to the island in Strangers on a Train. Yep, he was the bus driver in Trouble Along the Way.

You'll spot Murray hacking in Mr. and Mrs. Smith, Murder on a Bridle Path, My Favorite Spy, Lady in the Dark, Angel on My Shoulder and many more movies. In On the Town, Murray was promoted to the owner of the cab company.


There must have been a Dragnet out on this movie:

Jack Webb
1920-1982

Jack Webb's character of Joe murders Jack Webb's future TV partner Harry Morgan in this movie written by Richard Breen, who wrote the 1954 Dragnet feature and the Dragnet 1966 reboot.  Stacy Harris and Dan Riss, a crook and cop respectively in Appointment with Danger were card-carrying members of the Webb stock company.
















Monday, September 2, 2019

THE WORLD WAR II BLOGATHON: Corvette K-225 (1943)


This article is for The World War II Blogathon hosted by Jay of Cinema Essentials and Maddy Loves Her Classic Films running on September 1-3. Day 1, Day 2,  Day 3


Forward -

This is the story of a Corvette, a little ship, a fighting ship, and of the officers and men of the Royal Canadian Navy, who have made the name Corvette a byword for endurance and sacrifice among the submarine lanes of the North Atlantic....

Without the active cooperation of the men and ships of the Royal Canadian Navy this story could not have been told.

The search for wartime material saw Hollywood's eyes turn northward to Canada for inspiration. Corvette K-225 was filmed and released in 1943 produced by Howard Hawks with his frequent director/collaborator Richard Rosson for Universal Studios. The British ships, several of whom were built in Canada were used as anti-submarine convoy escorts in the Atlantic by the Royal Navy, the Royal Canadian Navy and on a lend-lease program to the American Coast Guard.


The story in Corvette K-225 concerns the exploits of the Donnacona, her captain and crew. The screenplay is by John Rhodes Sturdy, Lieut. R.C.N.V.R. who also acted as Technical Advisor. The HMS Kitchener was used for the film's ship. Camera crews accompanied five convoys for film footage. Shipyards in St. John, New Brunswick and the University of King's College in Halifax are also used for authenticity in the backgrounds. The shots of the convoy leaving Halifax Harbour are particularly impressive.

Randolph Scott plays the Captain, Lieut. Commander Duncan MacClain, devoted to his service and to his men. He is anxious to get back into action with a new ship after a disastrous run-in with a German submarine. There is a score to settle and a job to do. Equally devoted to their captain is the remaining crew which will be augmented on their next assignment by newly-minted officers and rookies who have never seen the sea. It is a cliche of war pictures because it was a fact of the actual circumstances that these disparate personalities would learn to pull together.

Fuzzy Knight, James Flavin

James Brown is the hot-headed young lieutenant whose brother was killed under MacClain's command. David Bruce is outstanding as Lt. Rawlins, whose knowledge and personality creates a character worth knowing. James Flavin is the perfect "Number One" who knows when the Captain needs to hear what others might not say. The Chief Engineer, who holds the ship together with wire and spit, is Charles McGraw.

Among the colourful crew we find garrulous Barry Fitzgerald, smart-alec Walter Sande, dog lover Fuzzy Knight, contentious pals Murray Alper and Andy Devine, farmboy Noah Beery Jr., and a fussy Thomas Gomez. Many familiar faces pass in review, so keep your eyes peeled for Bob Mitchum, Jimmie Dodd, Frank Faylen, Milburn Stone, Richard Lane, Grandon Rhodes, Addison Richards, Peter Lawford, and Ian Wolfe.

Ella Raines, Randolph Scott

Ella Raines makes her film debut as Joyce Cartwright, the sister of two of the young officers who serve with MacClain. Their meeting is complicated by one brother's death and complicated by her other brother's attitude. Nonetheless, a touching romance develops. It is the thankless role of "the girl", but Raines related in an interview that Hawks took great care with her and made her comfortable. If nothing else, it is a lovely introduction to audiences of an actress with a very interesting career. In 1949 Ella Raines would again co-star with Scott in The Walking Hills directed by John Sturges.

The importance of military and other supplies getting to Britain during this period cannot be overly stressed. The bravery of the tankers and other international ships transporting the goods is acknowledged. It is an interesting point that the captain of a Russian freighter is female. The dangers presented by the German U-boat was very real and presented as such during the sequences at sea. We experience the constant stress, the deprivations, and the life and death danger as our Donnacona faces storms of the sea and of the mind.

Barry Fitzgerald, Randolph Scott, James Brown

The action sequences are harrowing and very well done. The ending of this assignment is movingly presented as the convoy salutes the wrecked Donnacona and her depleted crew. The commander and men of Corvette K-225 are touched, but already thinking of repairs and escorting more ships across the Atlantic.

Afterward -

She will carry on, and those who come after her, for her name is legion, and the legend of her, and of those who fight in her is an inspiration for all men who believe in courage and hope.


Trivia:

The movie's advertisement in British Columbia, the birthplace of Randolph Scott's character.

The film premiered in Ottawa with proceeds going to the Navy League of Canada.



The tune you will begin to recognize interpolated in the score is The Maple Leaf Forever, a patriotic song written by Alexander Muir in 1867 as an ode to Canada's British heritage. Hollywood musical arrangers would rely on the tune whenever a story, particularly a wartime story, traveled north of the border. You'll soon be able to recognize it in Tomorrow is Forever, Captain of the Clouds, Susannah of the Mounties, and other movies.












Friday, August 30, 2019

CAFTAN WOMAN'S CHOICE: ONE FOR SEPTEMBER ON TCM


"Take two turkeys, one goose, four cabbages, but no duck, and mix them together. After one taste, you'll duck soup the rest of your life."
- Groucho Marx

Groucho, Gummo, Minnie, Zeppo, Sam, Chico, Harpo

Minnie's boys were born for the stage. Minnie Schoenberg (1865-1929) and her parents were German entertainers who immigrated to NYC where Minnie married a tailor from France, Sam (Simon) Marx and raised her family of troupers.

The musically talented brothers hit the Vaudeville circuit at various ages and in various groupings following the lead of their uncle Albert, renowned as Al Shean of Gallagher and Shean. Evolution and experience found music taking a step behind comedy in the act and it was their wit and physicality which took The Marx Brothers to success on Broadway. As is the way of the world, Broadway success led to the high sign from Hollywood where Groucho, Harpo, Chico, and Zeppo signed a five-picture deal with Paramount.

Duck Soup, 1933 was the fifth movie starring The Four Marx Brothers and the last movie starring The Four Marx Brothers. Zeppo became fed up with being a straight man to his zany older brothers and joined their brother Milton aka Gummo as an agent, as well as becoming an inventor.

Margaret Dumont, Groucho

Rufus T. Firefly (Groucho) has, despite all apparent efforts to the contrary, charmed the wealthy widow Mrs. Teasdale (Margaret Dumont) to the point where she will only assist the country of Freedonia financially if said Firefly is placed in the exalted position of leader of the country. Ambassador Trentino (Louis Calhern) of neighbouring Sylvania is also interested in Mrs. Teasdale's bank account and sets about sabotaging Firefly with a couple of inept spies, Chicolini (Chico) and Pinky (Harpo).

Chico, Zeppo, Groucho, Harpo

Comic complications abound thanks to Firefly's secretary Roland (Zeppo), the exotic Vera (Raquel Torres), and a lemonade vendor (Edgar Kennedy). To be entirely truthful, comic complications abound because nobody knows what they're doing! Not the spies, not the various cabinet members, not Mrs. Teasdale, and not Rufus T. Firefly. With money and patriotic pride at stake, of course, you know this means war.

Harry Ruby, Bert Kalmar

Songwriters Harry Ruby and Bert Kalmar (Three Little Words) wrote the story and the songs for Duck Soup. Such songs as His Excellency is Due, These Are the Laws of My Administration, and The Country's Going to War. Toe-tappers if ever there were!

Duck Soup is 1 hour and 8 minutes of wit and mayhem involving mirrors, bathtubs, production numbers, and bombs. Benito Mussolini hated it, you'll love it!

Leo McCarey, Chico, Harpo

"The most surprising thing about this film is that I succeeded in not going crazy, for I really did not want to work with them: they were completely mad."
- Leo McCarey, director


TCM is treating Duck Soup as an insomniac's delight by screening it on Saturday, September 14th at 2:00 a.m. EST. If you have seen the movie a gazillion times, take the opportunity to share it with a newbie and photograph the reaction. Here is my daughter Janet watching the end credits when I shared Duck Soup with her last year. 


"What did I just watch?!?"










REMAKE AVENUE: The Racket, 1928 and 1951

Many of our excursions to Remake Avenue begin on Broadway and today's is no exception. Bartlett Cormack's play The Racket had...