Saturday, December 28, 2019

THE SECOND FRED ASTAIRE AND GINGER ROGERS BLOGATHON: Professional Sweetheart, 1933


Michaela of Love Letters to Old Hollywood and Crystal of In the Good Old Days of Classic Hollywood are hosting The Second Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers Blogathon on December 28-30th. Enjoy the tributes HERE and HERE.


Ginger Rogers made her Broadway debut at the age of 19 in a featured role in the Ruby and Kalmar 1929 musical Top Speed. Among the ensemble was Ginger's future RKO dance compatriot, Hermes Pan. The following season saw Ginger in the Gershwin's Girl Crazy as well as with the release of her first five film roles filmed in New York City for Paramount. The first of these movies, Young Man in Manhattan starred future Ginger leading man Norman Foster with his then-wife Claudette Colbert (1928-1935).

Ginger Rogers as Molly Gray in Girl Crazy, 1930

Young Ginger had talent to burn and would need all of her energy when her career continued under contract to RKO in Hollywood. 1931 would find her finishing up one last Paramount picture and making two films at her new studio. In 1932 Ginger appeared in five releases, and in 1933 audiences would see the appealing newcomer in ten features including well-remembered supporting roles in Gold Diggers of 1933 and 42nd Street for Warner Brothers, and Flying Down to Rio for her home studio pairing her for the first time with Fred Astaire. Ginger was placed in a mix of dramas, comedies, and musicals and Professional Sweetheart was one of those comedies.

Maurine Watkins, the playwright who gave the world Chicago wrote the screenplay for Professional Sweetheart as well as for Hat Check Girl, another of Ginger's 1933 movies. In 1942 Ginger would play the lead in Roxie Hart, based on Chicago. Professional Sweetheart's director William A. Seiter worked with Ginger and Norman Foster again in Rafter Romance, and with Ginger in Chance at Heaven, Roberta, and In Person.

Frank Darien, Franklin Pangborn, Frank McHugh, Gregory Ratoff, Ginger Rogers

The premise of our movie has Ginger as Glory Eden, the Purity Girl, the singing star of a popular radio program sponsored by The Ippsy Wippsy Wash Cloth Company. The product has been well-represented by the Purity Girl and the product is all. Gregory Ratoff is president of the company, Frank McHugh the public relations genius, Franklin Pangborn the designer of the Purity Girl's image, and Frank Darien the legal advisor. They all have a stake in maintaining the status quo for the product. Their only problem is maintaining that status quo with their temperamental star.

The listed group of scene-stealers, along with Lucien Littlefield as a radio announcer are at the top of their game with the amusing and trenchant script which points out the hypocrisy of the advertising game and the audience's knowledge of the same. Throw in Zasu Pitts as a sob sister Sunday Supplement writer and Allen Jenkins working the corporate espionage angle for rival washcloth magnate Edgar Kennedy and you have a recipe for success.

Ginger Rogers, Theresa Harris

Glory Eden was practically plucked from an orphan's home and put in the role of radio star. New York City and her sequestered lifestyle does not equal her vision of life in the big city. 

Glory: "I want a playboy. An international playboy. All the girls got 'em. I think they're cute."

Glory's maid Vera, in a decent-sized role for criminally uncredited Theresa Harris, teaches new dance steps and fuels Glory's desire for dens of inequity, gambling, and dives.

Ginger Rogers, Norman Foster

The plan is to keep Glory happy by giving her a "professional sweetheart" chosen from the thousands of fan letters on file. The process of elimination and chance brings Norman Foster as Jim Davey, a poetry-spouting backwoodsman from Kentucky. They bring the fellow north, and that's when the script goes south. Foster's character is unbelievably naive and the supposed relationship with Glory is never fleshed out. The he-man and little-woman scenes back in Kentucky are best forgotten. It is as if we are suddenly watching an entirely different, and less entertaining movie.

Professional Sweetheart begins as a clever and witty spoof, but once the romance angle appears it slows to a muddled mess, sputtering to an improbable and hurried wrap-up for our leading players, and more frustration for fans of jazzy Vera played by Theresa Harris.

It is easy to enjoy the first part of Professional Sweetheart with Ginger, the relative rookie, holding her own among a cast of well-honed pros. It will be best to imagine your own, better finale. Nonetheless, fans should take a look at the busy young performer at the beginning of her stellar career. Ginger Rogers always had the goods!












Friday, December 20, 2019

JOAN BLONDELL CELEBRATES CHRISTMAS EVE, 1947

Joan Blondell
1906 - 1979

Joan Blondell is the TCM Star of the Month this December. It is safe to assume that rights issues have stood in the way of the network programming two of Joan's most acclaimed performances in A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, 1945 and Nightmare Alley, 1947. However, I can't imagine anything standing in their way of giving us the holiday-themed Christmas Eve, 1947. A late night or early morning time slot would suit the oddball little film. TCM Underground, anyone?

Independent producer Benedict Bogeaus (Captain Kidd, Dark Waters, The Crooked Way) was the man in charge. The story is from Arch Oboler (Lights Out) with a screenplay by Laurence Stallings (What Price Glory) and Richard H. Landau (Back to Bataan).

My first viewing (yes, there have been more than one) of Christmas Eve occurred in my teen years in the wee small hours. I think that is the proper venue for this episodic (or we might say "choppy") movie with a great cast and a strange story.


Ann Harding plays Aunt Matilda, a wealthy New Yorker in a battle with her nephew Phillip played by Reginald Denny. Phillip is trying to take control of her finances by having Matilda declared incompetent. Aunt Matilda's kind habits can be considered "eccentric" when viewed a certain way and Phillip is counting on that view.

Christmas Eve was my introduction to Ann Harding, the uniquely glamorous leading lady of the 1930s. Ann was a mere 45 when she took on the role of senior citizen Matilda. Also released in 1947 is another Christmas mainstay featuring Ann as a wealthy woman more within her demographic, It Happened on Fifth Avenue.

Reginald Denny appeared in two other films produced by Benedict Bogeaus, The Mocamber Affair also from 1947 and Escape to Burma in 1955. 

Judge Alston played by Clarence Kolb agrees to give Matilda time to reach out to her three adopted sons in her defense. The trouble is that these sons have gone out into the world and are not aware of Matilda's dilemma. Matilda hires a private eye played by Joe Sawyer to track down these men, and we are frequently updated on their whereabouts as we head to the film's finale, 90 minutes hence.

George Brent is Michael, a ne'er-do-well playboy who has often clashed with Phillip over Aunt Matilda and her business holdings. Michael wins and loses fortunes and girlfriends. Joan Blondell is Ann, the one girl he can't shake. She trusts and believes in Michael or, let's say, she wants to trust and believe in Michael.

Joan still had looks and personality to burn, and she was at the top of her considerable game. During this decade, she was moving into the character actress phase of her career after those busy 1930s at Warner Brothers. That this curiosity of a film was released the same year as her Oscar-worthy turn in Nightmare Alley boggles the mind. 


George Raft is Mario and he is on the lam in South America, one step ahead of the Feds represented by John Litel. Mario also has a girl he loves, Claire played by Virginia Field. Does Claire love Mario or is she part of the unsavory crowd of Nazis led by Konstantin Shayne who threatens Mario's freedom and life?

George and producer Bogeaus worked together on two other movies, Mr. Ace in 1946 and Jet Over the Atlantic in 1959.

The son, as well as the plot given the shortest shrift in this kooky script, is Jonathan played by Randolph Scott. A cowboy on the rodeo circuit, he returns to the fold on Christmas Eve and becomes involved in a stolen baby racket being investigated by reporter Jean Bradford played by Dolores Moran. Douglas Dumbrille is the bad guy who didn't see them coming.

Scott's only other film with Benedict Bogeaus is Captain Kidd, 1945 with Charles Laughton.

Will Aunt Matilda's boys make it home in time, especially Mario? What plot twists are waiting for us? What will the future hold for Aunt Matilda and her devoted sons and staff? Maybe you can guess, but that's alright. You've stayed awake this long, so you might as well stick it out to the end. And by next Christmas, you'll find yourself unexpectedly thinking about that peculiar little movie you watched last year and wondering if you'll find it again.















Friday, December 13, 2019

FAVOURITE MOVIES: The Bishop's Wife, 1947


Robert Nathan's (Portrait of Jennie) 1928 story The Bishop's Wife became the movie project of independent producer Samuel Goldwyn, and a costly one. Originally cast with Teresa Wright, Cary Grant as the Bishop and David Niven as the Angel, and directed by William Seiter (If You Could Only Cook), Goldwyn decided to make changes when he was less than pleased with the first few weeks of shooting. Henry Koster (Harvey) became the director, Loretta Young was borrowed from RKO to replace a pregnant Teresa Wright, and Cary became the Angel and David, the Bishop.

The exemplary leading players are supported by the talented Gladys Cooper, Elsa Lanchester, Monty Woolley, Sara Haden, James Gleason, Regis Toomey, and Isabel Jewell.


Nathan's novel was of a darker tinge than the film, urging the reader to consider matters of theology and spirituality in the midst of the weight of a post-industrial era and a rapidly changing civilization. The Robert E. Sherwood screenplay, uncredited rewrites by Billy Wilder and Charles Brackett, handles these issues in a mostly lighter manner with the hint of strangely comforting melancholy.

David Niven

Episcopalian Bishop Henry Brougham (David Niven) has risen quickly in his career thanks to the backing of the wealthy Mrs. Hamilton (Gladys Cooper) who desires the building of a cathedral dedicated to the memory of her late husband. The work of raising funds for the project adds to Henry's worries and takes time away from his wife and daughter. He prays for guidance and assistance.

Loretta Young

Julia Brougham (Loretta Young) is a supportive wife but feels the pang of the fun and friendships that have gone out of their lives since leaving their old and poorer parish. She is lonely for the old times and friends and worn out from the endless round of boring committees. She prays for guidance and assistance.

Cary Grant

Dudley (Cary Grant) is the Heavenly answer to their prayers. "I'm not one of the more important angels. I just happen to be assigned to this district temporarily. You see, we're everywhere, helping people who deserve to be helped."

Dudley, the immortal trouble-shooter must divine the difference between what these people in his care think they want and what they truly need. "I didn't come down here to do silly tricks" is Dudley's response to Henry's request for a miracle, for example, make a desk fly around the room.

Henry must find a balance between his professional and personal obligations, as well as get himself out from the debt of political favour owed Mrs. Hamilton. Julia must not despair in her efforts to maintain a happy family.

Dudley has a fun-loving side that is evident when he and Julia visit the Brougham's friend, Professor Wutheridge (Monty Woolley). There is no other way to describe the "miracle" of the constantly refilling bottle of wine. The Professor will be comforted by Dudley's promise that he will have time to complete his history of Rome. Yes, it is at the close of the year that while we rejoice in the comforts of the holiday, our minds also go to questions of mortality.


A meeting between Henry and Mrs. Hamilton is filled with subtle slapstick. You may not think those words go together appropriately, yet there is no other way to describe the delights of David Niven stuck in a chair and Gladys Cooper's attempts to help. This amusing scene is followed by the Mitchell Boychoir and their glorious singing of Charles Gounod's Noel. We are expertly led from amusement to the lump-in-the-throat thrill of music.

Cary Grant, David Niven, Loretta Young

Dudley performs his minor (if minor they be) miracles of tree decorating and index file organizing, and snowball throwing. However, his main business is reminding these people, Mrs. Hamilton included, of the truly important things in their lives; their relationships. What they do with these reminders, such as Henry's jealousy of Julia and Dudley's closeness, is entirely up to them.

Dudley: "I know it isn't easy but you've got to take me on faith."
Henry: "Yes, but for how long?"
Dudley: "For just long enough. Until you can utter another prayer and say that you have no further need of me. Then I'll be gone and forgotten."

Yes, Dudley will be forgotten as life continues for those for whom he has given an immeasurable Christmas gift.

The Bishop's Wife as traditional holiday viewing has become dearer to me with the passing years. May you enjoy it by the lights of your tree, with a loved one, with your memories, and an ever-refilling bottle of wine.


Classic Christmas movie connection:



It's a Wonderful Life, 1946 cast members featured in The Bishop's Wife, 1947 include Karolyn Grimes (Zuzu Bailey/Debby Brougham), Robert J. Anderson (young George Bailey/Captain of the Opposition Snowballers), and Sarah Edwards (Mrs. Hatch, Mary's mother/Mrs. Duffy, the organist).












Friday, December 6, 2019

THE HAPPY HOLIDAYS BLOGATHON: Stubby Pringle's Christmas, 1978


Today's article is part of The Happy Holidays Blogathon hosted by the Pure Entertainment Preservation Society. The good cheer runs from December 6th - 8th and you click HERE to enjoy the contributions.

Television's long-running and acclaimed anthology series Hallmark Hall of Fame sponsored by the Kansas City based Hallmark Cards began on radio in the 1940s and began broadcasting stories on the small screen in 1951 with the December 24th live production of Gian Carlo Menotti's written-for-television opera, Amahl and The Night Visitors. The Peabody Award won by the production is just one of the hundreds given to the Hallmark Hall of Fame throughout its history, including the Emmy, the Golden Globe, and the Humanitas.

During my formative years, the prestige of Hallmark Hall of Fame was indicated by a Close-up in the TV Guide highlighting the creative talents both on and off the screen of the current presentation. It was always a highly anticipated television event.


The work of Jack Schaefer (Shane, Mavericks, Monte Walsh) is distinguished by vivid character studies. Each character, be it lead or supporting is presented in a knowing and understanding totality. A word or an action speaks to the reader creating the whole fabric of life.


Jack Schaefer's Stubby Pringle's Christmas was presented on NBC on the evening of Sunday, December 17, 1978. The story was adapted by James Lee Barrett (Shenandoah), directed by Burt Brinckerhoff (Lou Grant) and filmed on location in Colorado.

Beau Bridges plays Stubby Pringle, a young cowboy with big plans. Stubby has been dreaming of attending the Christmas Eve dance in the settlement 25 miles away from the Harper Ranch where he is employed. At last year's dance Stubby kissed a girl, whose name he failed to get. Has this girl been thinking of Stubby all of these months as well? It is an important question that hasn't stopped Stubby from making plans. He has bought presents of dress goods and candy, and he will make the long and cold journey.

Edward Binns as Stubby's fellow ranch hand Red is of the opinion that he personally was never as young as his friend. Their fellow bunkmate Old Hollander played by Strother Martin is of the opinion that Stubby is a selfish fellow for not sharing the candy with him. Stubby is of the opinion that you can't gift a young lady with an already opened box of candy, and there the matter stands.

Mrs. Harper, the boss's wife played by Kim Hunter sees Stubby as an unusually thoughtful and almost poetic young man when he compliments the emotional warmth of her home. She is rooting for the young cowboy and that girl with no name.


On his way to the Christmas Eve dance, Stubby hears the sound of chopping and comes across Georgia Henderson played by Julie Harris. The family was displaced from their Georgia farm and has been working inhospitable land for the past year. Mr. Henderson has become ill and it is left to the harried woman to care for the family which includes a young son and daughter. Stubby stops and finishes the onerous chore.

Mrs. Henderson offers coffee and, all the while professing he has somewhere to be, they share life stories and philosophy. Stubby sees that no Christmas will be awaiting the Henderson children. He chides and then helps Mrs. Henderson to create an unexpected Christmas morning for the family. Stubby's act of kindness takes time. Much time has passed when Stubby reaches the schoolhouse where the dance had been held. Will that kissable young lady be waiting another year?

Back at the Harper ranch, Red and Old Hollander have been waiting to hear of Stubby's night. The young cowboy spins a grand yarn about the dancing and the music, and the food, and all the pretty girls before falling asleep to the sound of sleigh bells in the air. "Santa" Stubby will spend another year of dreaming.

The genuine act of kindness by Stubby Pringle embodies the true spirit of Christmas giving for its own sake. Stubby Pringle's Christmas is a simple, sweet, and memorable story.

















Sunday, December 1, 2019

CAFTAN WOMAN'S CHOICE: ONE FOR DECEMBER ON TCM


The newspaper game has long been grist for the play and movie mill. The inebriated newshound became a cliche with his first entrance on the stage, along with the overeager "cub" and the noble journalist. All are on display in The Famous Ferguson Case released by Warner Brothers in 1932.

An internationally prominent financier is murdered in his upstate summer home. The police and local officials have no reason to suspect the banker's wife and her friend, but the newspaper lads need a story. After all, they have traveled to this burg and must have something to show for their trouble.

Joan Blondell is top-billed as Maizie Dickson in her first of eight movies with director Lloyd Bacon (Marked Woman). Joan began her film career at Warner Brothers in 1930 and would make 55 movies throughout the decade, ten of them in 1932. Maizie is a young woman, but a seasoned reporter of the "sob sister" type. Her cynicism is struggling with her finer feelings.

Vivienne Osborne

Tom Brown is Bruce Foster, the young sincere-type editor of the Cornwell Courier who breaks the story, bringing the NYC crowd to his town. Foster has stars in his eyes about the big time and maybe this will be his ticket out. His co-worker and girlfriend Toni played by Adrienne Dore has even brighter stars in her eyes when it comes to the big time and the glamorous life she reads about in magazines. 

Grant Mitchell plays Martin Collins, an old-school reporter of the respectable type. Collins and his co-workers have a job to do and choices to make. Do you look for the story or the headline? Sometimes Collins hates his job, but more often he considers it a calling.

Kenneth Thomson plays Bob Parks, a reporter of the hard-drinking type. Parks and his crowd have stories to create. They snoop and badger when they can find time away from their drinking. If they pin the murder on some innocent party, it will all come out in the end, and no harm done.

Vivienne Osborne and Leon Ames are the suspects in The Famous Ferguson Case. Hounded by the press, their lives will never be the same. Nor anyone else's in Cornwell.

Only one of a slate of newspaper stories to come out of the studio in this era, The Famous Ferguson Case is based on a story by Courtney Terrett (Love is a Racket), adapted by Harvey F. Thew (Public Enemy). It is a fast-paced indictment of yellow journalism and well-worth a look for fans of the sub-genre. 

Joan Blondell, Tom Brown

Joan Blondell is the TCM Star of the Month for December. The short-lived Broadway play Penny Arcade attracted the attention of Warner Brothers and they filmed it as Sinner's Holiday, casting two members of the original cast, Joan Blondell and James Cagney. The play also featured Don Beddoe, Paul Guilfoyle, and Millard Mitchell. 

Joan's vibrant personality and versatility were on full display during these years and TCM is screening many of her films from the trenchant comedies to wacky musicals to the sensationalistic drama of The Famous Ferguson Case airing on Friday, December 6th in the early morning of their broadcast day.












Wednesday, November 20, 2019

Book Review: A Treasure from Dan Van Neste



Claire Dodd, Nancy Carroll, Gloria Stuart
Zachary Scott, Gloria Dickson, John Hodiak
Paula Raymond, Edward Norris, Karen Morley
Marian Marsh, Richard Greene, Jean Parker


Our friend Dan Van Neste, author of The Whistler: Stepping into the Shadows and The Magnificent Heel: The Life and Times of Ricardo Cortez, reviewed here, has been thinking of us this festive season.




If you have been wondering what to get the film aficionado in your life, be they burgeoning or fans of long-standing, wonder no longer! That unique and interesting book with a unique and interesting angle has just fallen into your lap. They Coulda Been Contenders: Twelve Actors Who Should Have Become Cinematic Superstars, published by Bear Manor Media also works as the answer when someone asks you what you would like for a gift.

The visions of a successful Hollywood career brought many talented people to the studios. The vagaries of luck, of timing, of "a break" kept many an actor spinning their wheels in the industry; of just coming short of their goal. Decent and respectable careers may have resulted, but they didn't become household names. Known, of course, to fans of the Golden Era of film, we would be hard-pressed to find anyone at the morning bus stop willing to engage in a conversation about Edward Norris or Claire Dodd.

Dan's extensive knowledge along with his respect and admiration for his fascinating subjects is on display in this fascinating page-turner. His thorough research which includes many interviews fills in the blanks and adds to our knowledge of these many actors who command our attention and our curiosity.

They Coulda Been Contenders focuses on the twelve actors pictured on the book cover with biographical details and features a second section with detailed filmographies for our ever-lengthening "must watch" lists. The only problem you will have is how to enjoy the book. Do you skip right to John Hodiak or start on page one and immerse yourself? All problems should be this difficult!


Note: My review copy was received from Bear Manor Media.
They Coulda Been Contenders is available in 3 formats: Kindle, Paperback and Hardcover

Happy shopping!












Friday, November 15, 2019

WHAT A CHARACTER! Blogathon: George Zucco


The annual What a Character! blogathon hosted by Paula's Cinema Club, Once Upon A Screen, and Outspoken And Freckled runs from November 15th to 17th. Thanks, Paula, Aurora, and Kellee for this 8th annual edition of the blogathon!  Day 1  Day 2  Day 3

George Zucco
January 11, 1886 - May 28, 1960

Hi-diddle-dee-dee, an actor's life for me *

George Desylli Zucco was born in Manchester, England the son of a Greek immigrant and a former lady-in-waiting to Queen Victoria. George was raised in London where his mother took her young family after the death of her husband. During his student years, George was an excellent mathematician and played on cricket and soccer teams. In his late teens, George emigrated to the Canadian prairies, eventually working as a clerk in Winnipeg where he pursued an interest in acting. He joined a touring repertory company and made his professional debut in Regina in 1908. By 1913 he had made his way to New York and was appearing in a Vaudeville sketched entitled The Suffragette.

History intervened in the young actor's career and in 1914 George Zucco returned to England and joined the West Yorkshire Regiment, 7th Batallion. Private George Zucco was sent to the frontlines in France where his right arm was wounded, losing the use of two fingers. At war's end, Lieutenant Zucco returned to London and enrolled in the Royal Academy as a means of reviving his theatrical career.


The London stage kept the actor busy for the next decade, including a well-received turn in R.C. Sherriff's World War One drama Journey's End directed by James Whale. During the play's run, George met and eventually married actress Stella Francis (1900-1999). George was 43 at the time and the 29-year-old actress required some convincing. Their marriage would endure for the next 30 years until George's passing in 1960. The couple would have one daughter, Frances (1931-1962).

George began appearing in films in 1931 and his final British film The Man Who Could Work Miracles was released in 1936. By that time George was making an impression on Broadway as Benjamin Disraeli opposite Helen Hayes in Victoria Regina. During the run of the play, George accepted an offer from MGM studios in Hollywood. He and Stella sold their home in England, moved to California, and he became a naturalized United States citizen.

George Zucco's Hollywood career would encompass 90 feature films. The talented actor's filmography is one that never bores the fan. From prestigious productions to poverty row quickies, the actor delights in a variety of roles and genres. Let's look at some of my favourites. First up is a slate of mysteries.

William Powell, George Zucco, Myrna Loy

The first sequel to The Thin Man, aptly named After the Thin Man, 1936 finds society detectives Nick and Nora Charles dealing with family dynamics and history following a New Year's Eve murder on their home turf of San Francisco. George Zucco plays alienist and expert witness Dr. Kammer. "Good heavens, I was right. The man is crazy."



From the MGM B side of mysteries, we find the fast-paced and entertaining London by Night, 1937. George Murphy is a newsman and Rita Johnson is a socialite who thinks it will be fun to track down a murderer in foggy London town. George Zucco is Inspector Jefferson, a professional investigator. George next shows up on the wrong side of the law and Captain Hugh Drummond in 1938 entry in the Paramount series, Arrest Bulldog Drummond.

Phyllis Brooks, Sidney Toler, George Zucco

Charlie Chan in Honolulu, 1938 introduced fans of the 20th Century Fox series to the new father/son team of Sidney Toler as Inspector Chan and Victor Sen Yung as Jimmy Chan. Passengers on a freighter are all murder suspects and Jimmy wants to prove to "Pop" that he can solve the case. You can ask for no more suspicious suspect than George Zucco as Dr. Cardigan. He skulks around the ship pretending to be hard of hearing, looking quite jaunty in a peak cap, and being far more mysterious than he ought.

Basil Rathbone, George Zucco

The following year George has one of his best roles, one for an actor to lick his chops over; Professor Moriarty in The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, 1939 for 20th Century Fox. Adapted from William Gillette's play, the movie is a mash of plot lines and plot holes. Nonetheless, the atmosphere, the cast, and the production values are top-notch.

George Zucco, Henry Stephenson, Nigel Bruce

George Zucco as the nefarious professor is perfect in every way. His masterful arrogance and delight in using Holmes' own obsessive personality against him is a joy to behold. The fun the professor takes in his Sgt. Bullfinch disguise equals Holmes' glee in similar forays. The disdain with which Moriarty treats his underlings is befitting to their station be it teasing his butler Dawes played by Frank Dawson or threatening his criminal cohort Bassick played by Arthur Hohl. Moriarty's contempt is controlled but never less than dangerous.

Let's move into the realm of horror where George careened between budgets and scripts, always bringing a touch of class to the proceedings.

Tom Tyler, George Zucco

George plays Andoheb in The Mummy's Hand, 1940 who becomes obsessed with the back-from-the-dead properties of tana leaves and the continued existence of the rampaging mummy, Kharis. Andoheb causes a lot of trouble and although he is shot at the end of this movie, shows up again in two of the three sequels for Universal, The Mummy's Tomb, 1942 and The Mummy's Ghost, 1944. That's what happens when you replace Eduardo Ciannelli as the High Priest of Karnak. Hey, it's a living!

George Zucco, George Zucco

Sam Newfield directed Dead Men Walk, 1943 for PRC and his brother the producer Sigmund Neufeld. This movie gave George Zucco a dual role, which surely is on many actor's bucket list. Kindly Dr. Lloyd Clayton is beloved by all, except for the brother he murdered! Dr. Elwyn Clayton was a practitioner of the satanic arts who is now a vampire out to destroy his good-hearted twin. Dwight Frye as Zolarr helps his evil master in a plan to turn townsfolk against kindly Lloyd. At stake is the soul of the town and the life, not to mention romance of lovely Gayle Clayton played by Mary Carlisle and pragmatic (no imagination) Dr. David Bentley played by Nedrick Young. How will it all end? Will the powers of evil be defeated? What sacrifice must be made by our hero? I would have enjoyed a more prestigious production for George's kick at the twin can, but you can't have everything in this life -- or the next.

George Zucco, David Bruce

The Mad Ghoul, 1943 for Universal finds George as a scientist experimenting with a nerve gas used by ancient Mayans. George is assisted by David Bruce in these experiments, but things get complicated when they both fall for Evelyn Ankers. Bruce becomes expendable and, believe it or not, a ghoul under the influence of the gas. They both become killers and grave robbers and, as in the best of film noir, neither gets the girl!

It's back to PRC for Fog Island, 1945 where Zucco brings to an isolated island a group of folks who've done him wrong. Will anyone escape the booby traps of revenge? Lionel Atwill, Jerome Cowan, Veda Ann Borg, and Ian Keith are among the victims. Serves them right!


George Zucco, Lucille Ball

The 1947 crime picture Lured, directed by Douglas Sirk is a special favourite of mine. Lucille Ball stars as Sandra Carpenter, a stranded American dancer in London who agrees to work undercover with Scotland Yard to ferret out the murderer of a friend.

The "Poet Killer" leaves clues to taunt the police and the trail our leading lady must follow is filled with adventure and romance, along with Joseph Calleia, Boris Karloff, Cedric Hardwicke, and Alan Mowbray. George Sanders is a prime suspect and prime romantic material. The Chief Inspector played by Charles Coburn gives one of the Yard's men, Officer Barrett played by George Zucco, the duty of keeping our undercover rookie safe.

Zucco is delightful as Officer Barrett and his chemistry with Lucy makes them a crimefighting team made in movie heaven. I enjoy Lured most often on rainy weekends and I help but wish for more. How I would have loved a sequel or two with Lucy and George Zucco running around London solving crimes. Put the kettle on - it's time for the Sandra Carpenter Mysteries and the spin-off, Officer Barrett: On the Job.

George Zucco

George Zucco's last completed film role was for Henry King at Twentieth Century Fox in David and Bathsheba, 1951. While at work on The Desert Fox for Henry Hathaway, strange behavior on the part of the actor led to the diagnosis that he had suffered a severe stroke. After some time caring for George at home, Stella had to place him in the Monterey Sanitarium. He continued to recognize his family and dream of someday performing again. Pneumonia took George Zucco's life in 1960.

My imagination and the film work left by George Zucco makes me believe that it would have been a wonderful theatrical experience to have seen him do Shakespeare or see him in Journey's End or Victoria Regina. We must content ourselves with The Secret Garden, The Black Swan, and The First Legion, and whatever other surprising treats our journey in classic movies will send our way.


Check it out:

Linda Christian, Johnny Weissmuller, George Zucco

George rocks the caftan in Tarzan and the Mermaids, 1948.






* Leigh Harline, Ned Washington

Biographical source:
Sherlock Holmes and the Fabulous Faces, The Universal Pictures Repertory Company
by Michael A. Hoey - Bear Manor Media, 2011












Sunday, November 10, 2019

THE SEND IN THE MARINES BLOG-A-THON: Hail the Conquering Hero, 1944


In celebration of the November 10, 1775 founding of the U.S. Marine Corps. the websites Dubsism and RealWeegieMidget Reviews are hosting The Send in the Marines Blog-a-thon. Click HERE  or HERE to begin reading. 


Aunt Martha (Elizabeth Patterson): "Well, that's the war for you. It's always hard on women. Either they take your men away and never send them back at all, or they send them back unexpectedly just to embarrass you. No consideration at all." 

Only the genius that was writer/director Preston Sturges could successfully spoof heroism, motherhood, romance, and democracy in the middle of a war, moving the audience from cynical laughter to sentimental tears.


From the opening tracking shot that leads from a bouncy up tune and an energetic tap dancer to an elegant singer and backup quartet unironically singing Home to the Arms of Mother, through a crowded nightclub to a dejected civilian, Woodrow Truesmith (Eddie Bracken) kibbitzing with a bartender (George Anderson) we are given a glimpse at the ride Sturges has planned.


Waiter: "Yes, Gentlemen."
Sgt. Heppelfinger: "One Beer."
Waiter: "One beer?"
Sgt. Heppelfinger: "One beer and no cracks." 

Out of the fog come six Marines. Down to their last 15 cents, they try to wrangle eats from the nightclub Manager (Paul Porcasi). He has been through this sort of thing before. Woodrow pays for their food and libations so naturally, they want to thank him. Nothing will be the same.

Woodrow was raised to be a Marine, having been born almost at the moment his father was killed at the Battle of Belleau Wood in WWI, receiving a posthumous Congressional Medal of Honor. Woodrow's new friend, Sergeant Heppelfinger (William Demarest) had been in the same battle and now feels an obligation to his old Sarge's son. One month after enlisting, Woodrow was medically discharged for chronic hayfever. Out of shame, he has delayed his homecoming. Working at a shipyard, Woodrow has let everyone thing he has been on active duty the past year.


Bugsy (Freddie Steele) is one of the Marines befriending Woodrow. Bugsy is an orphan and thinks Woodrow has acted shamefully toward his mother (Georgia Caine). Bugsy phones Mrs. Truesmith at home in Oakridge, California and tells her Woodrow is returning the very next day.

SgtHeppelfinger: "You gotta wear something. You can't come back from the Solomons with nothing. Not the son of Sergeant Truesmith." ... "I don't even remember what I got it for. I think it was for pulling a Frenchman out of a creek."

Sergeant Heppelfinger and the others come up with an ingenious plan to save Woodrow's face. He will be loaned a uniform with medals, and sneak home - mom will be happy and no one will be any the wiser. Woodrow is helpless in the face of this gung-ho's group desire to do him some good.


SgtHeppelfinger: "Lies! Those ain't lies! Those are campaign promises! They expect 'em!" 

Ah, the best-laid plans of mice and men! The entire town is at the railway station. Bands are playing. The mayor (Raymond Walburn) makes a speech. Woodrow's girl Libby (Ella Raines) pretends not to be engaged to the mayor's son Forrest (Bill Edwards). His mother's mortgage is forgiven, a statue is being planned, and the opposition party presses Woodrow to run for mayor. Sergeant Heppelfinger and crew perpetuate the fiction of Woodrow's heroism.


Jake (Al Bridge): "This is a free country. They can vote for whoever they like."
Mayor Noble: "But, that's disgraceful!"

The Sturges stock company of Demarest, Walburn, Bridge, Jimmy Conlon, Esther Howard, et al, are out in full force. Whether he fashioned his dialogue for their talents or it was the other way around or a bit of both, a Sturges film guarantees a myriad delight of language and acting.

Whether it is an intimate scene such as one between the mayor, his campaign manager and a dinner tray or a crowded railway station with four bands and an opera singer (Ida Kitaeva), Sturges is in full control of the movie and what he wants it to say. One viewing is hardly enough to capture all of the wit and the layers in the performances.

The comedy of misunderstanding is Sturges' forte and the misunderstandings and complications, plus the contrasting intentions keep mounting until the expected blowout and the unexpected lump in the throat end. Hail the Conquering Hero is a wild ride.


SgtHeppelfinger: "Give me those six tickets, will you? We still got a little work to do in our own line. So long, kid."
MrsTruesmith (to Bugsy): "Goodbye, dear."
Woodrow: "Will you come back?"
SgtHeppelfinger: "Well, we always come back before. So long, everybody. See youse in church."

The world is full of all types of heroes. Some of them wear uniforms. The raucous and foolhardy marines in our movie are soft enough to help out the son of an old pal. I'm sure their counterparts can be found in real life.


Of note

Freddie Steele, 1936 and 1937 World Middleweight Boxing Champion who played "Bugsy" was inducted into the World Boxing Hall of Fame in 1989.


Veterans Day note

The following members of the Hail the Conquering Hero company served with the United States Army during World War One: Preston Sturges, Raymond Walburn, Franklin Pangborn, William Demarest, Al Bridge, and Robert Warwick.












FAVOURITE MOVIES: Sapphire, 1959

The BAFTA award for Best British Film was given to Sapphire in 1960 out of a field including Look Back in Anger , Tiger Bay , Yesterday...