Friday, May 24, 2019

THE GREAT VILLAIN BLOGATHON: Brian Donlevy as Sergeant Markoff, Beau Geste (1939)


Karen of Shadows and Satin, Kristina of  Speakeasy and Ruth of  Silver Screenings are hosting The Great Villain Blogathon for 2019. Look for all the baddies on May 24th to the 26th. Day 1 Recap  Day 2 Recap  Day 3 Recap  Wrap-up


P.C. Wren's 1924 adventure novel Beau Geste is a touchstone in the genre, giving us the most honourable and likable of heroes in the Geste brothers, and a villain to scorn through the ages in Sergeant Major Lajaune. Popular sequels followed this novel, but it is the 1924 book which is the basis for the many screen versions of the story, along with its many comic parodies. Familiarity breeds humour while also cementing fond regard for a timeless classic.


My first encounter with Beau Geste was through the Classics Illustrated comic book. My first movie version was the 1939 release produced and directed by William A. Wellman. Therefore, my first film antagonist in the story is the renamed Sergeant Markoff played by Brian Donlevy who remains the definitive actor in that role in my eyes.

Donald O'Connor, Martin Spellman, David Holt, Ann Gillis, Billy Cook
Beau, Digby, Gussie, Isobel, John

Lady Patricia Brandon played by Heather Thatcher maintains Brandon Abbas for her relative, the profligate Sir Hugo. Under her care is Sir Hugo's heir Augustus, her ward Isobel Rivers, and three orphaned brothers, the Gestes. The boys are Michael known as "Beau", Digby, and John. The boys' heads and hearts are filled with games of heroism and loyalty of legend. Stories of King Arthur and of Viking funerals fill their childhood days. They are imaginative and loving youngsters with a strong bond that will carry them through these years to adulthood.

Ray Milland, Robert Preston, Gary Cooper
John, Digby, and Beau

The treasure of the Abbas is the Blue Water Sapphire upon whose worth the estate and raising of the children rely. When the sapphire is stolen, the suspects comprise a very narrow field and without a word of confession among them, the Gestes find their way to that place of forgotten men and men who want to forget, the French Foreign Legion.

The Geste brothers are under the command of Lieutenant Martin played by Harvey Stephens. He is a man in the brother's mold, who believes in service with honour. Unfortunately, the immediate supervisor of the recruits in Sergeant Markoff, described by his Russian countryman the weasely Rasinoff played by J. Carroll Naish as a "mad man."

Rasinoff: "He was expelled from the Siberian penal colonies for cruelty. Then he entered the Legion and rose from the ranks."


Brian Donlevy
Sergeant Markoff

Markoff: "I am Sergeant Markoff. I make soldiers out of scum like you and I don't do it gently. You're the sloppiest looking lot I've ever seen. It's up to me to prevent you from becoming a disgrace to the Regiment. And I will prevent that if I have to kill half of you with work. But the half that lives will be soldiers. I promise you."

Lt. Martin does not approve of Markoff. "You're a good soldier, Markoff, but I doubt if you're a good Sergeant. If you're not, you won't last long in the Legion. Watch your step or I'll break you. That's all."

Sadism is not Markoff's only characteristic; he is also greedy. Rasinoff tips the sergeant off to the stolen sapphire when he recounts his eavesdropping of a Geste brothers conversation. Sergeant Markoff has added to his plan of becoming an officer to becoming a wealthy officer. The Gestes are now under his special purview. When it falls to his duty to assign troops in an upcoming deployment, Digby is sent to Fort Tokotu while Beau and John are going to Fort Zinderneuf under the tender mercy of Markoff.

Fort Zinderneuf is the site of much of Markoff's malevolence, and the sad death of Lieutenant Martin. In his heart, Martin must know that Markoff would never heed the admonishment that "The men must be led, not driven."

Markoff: "Lt. Martin is dead. I am now in command. From this moment on, discipline at Fort Zinderneuf will be severe. I promise you!"


Brian Donlevy, Gary Cooper
Sgt. Markoff, Beau Geste

Mutiny now becomes something more than muttered ravings among the men. Desperation leads to a desperate attempt, but Markoff has spies among the men and his plans are not disorganized by fear. It is a critical time for Fort Zinderneuf as the Touraregs attack. Markoff is in his element implementing his counter-attack. He will surely be made an officer for his success. His success includes taunting and torturing the men who so recently tried to overtake his command. He also plans to use the confusion to obtain the almost mythical sapphire which he desires.

Reinforcements from Fort Tokotu, including Digby, arrive at a ghost fort. Fort Zinderneuf is manned by only the corpses of the men. To Major Beaujolais played by James Stephenson falls the obligation of explaining the unexplainable in his report.

Only John has survived and to him falls the obligation of reaching Egypt and then home with the truth behind his brother's grand gesture regarding the Blue Water.

Bugler Digby is the first to enter the fort. To Digby falls the obligation of giving his beloved brother Beau a fiery Viking funeral with a fitting dog at his feet - Sergeant Markoff.


Oscar night: Thursday, February 29, 1940


Brian Donlevy
1901-1972

Brian Donlevy was nominated for the Best Actor in a Supporting Role for Beau Geste.
The Academy Award was won by Thomas Mitchell in Stagecoach.

Hans Dreier and Robert Odell were nominated for Best Art Direction for Beau Geste.
The Academy Award was won by Lyle R. Wheeler for Gone With the Wind.


Bonus (Thanks to Rich):
















50 comments:

  1. sorry I think my first comment didn't publish... wanted to say what an unforgettably ruthless and cruel character, Donlevy is here, steals the show! Great choice and as always a pleasure to read and have you along for the blogathon!

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    1. Thank you. It was my pleasure to bring Sgt. Markoff to the party (so to speak). Every time the blogathon comes around, I would think of this character but then someone else would pop up and say "pick me." This year was the Sergeant's year.

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  2. I saw BRIAN DONLEVY in the western CANYON PASSAGE with SUSAN HAYWARD & DANA ANDREWS. I looked up Brian on imdb. He was born WALDO BRIAN DONLEVY. He was the best man at the wedding of WILLIAM HOLDEN & BRENDA MARSHALL in 1941. At the time of his passing in 1972 Brian had been married to his third wife for just six years. She was the ex-wife of BELA LUGOSI.

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    1. Brian Donlevy is a long-time favourite of mine. I could spend all day listing some favourite titles, but I'll mention that we share a fondness for Canyon Passage. Next week, Caftan Woman's Choice for June also features Brian Donlevy.

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  3. The first time I saw a reference to “Fort Zinderneuf,” it was in a PEANUTS strip, and I, of course, had no idea what it meant. So thanks for clearing that up after all these years.

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    1. Oh my gosh! I have not thought about Snoopy and Linus and Fort Zinderneuf in years. I should have when I was writing this piece. Thank you for reminding me. I think I have to make an amendment to the post. Hee-hee.

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    2. This wasn’t the strip I had in mind, but it’s a funny one!

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    3. There was a series of them, but I like how this relates to Markoff. I wouldn't have gone looking if it wasn't for you. Thanks. I had a blast.

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  4. Ha! I love the tie-in with Snoopy and the Peanuts strip.

    I didn't realize Brian Donlevy was nominated for an Oscar in this role. I wonder if the film had been released in a year other than 1939, if he would have won?

    Thanks for joining the blogathon! It's always a better party when you're around. :)

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    1. Thanks a lot.

      The 1939 Oscars is like the current Jeopardy! champ James Holzhauer. Any other time, any other challenger just might have a chance.

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  5. Sgt. Markoff is definitely one of the great screen villains! I think it says something that he was expelled from the Siberian penal colony for cruelty. Brian Donlevy was so great in the role, and I still think he should have gotten the Oscar!

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    1. Timing, as they say, is everything. Wellman said that Donlevy was so "into" the role that everybody else in the movie hated him!

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  6. GARY COOPER played the title role of THE VIRGINIAN in the 1929 movie. BRIAN DONLEVY played TRAMPAS(a bad guy) in THE VIRGINIAN(1946) with JOEL MCRAE in the title role. PLUS there was a remake of BEAU GESTE in 1966 with GUY STOCKWELL(the brother of DEAN STOCKWELL) and DOUG MCCLURE. DOUG played TRAMPAS (a good guy) on the TV series THE VIRGINIAN with JAMES DRURY in the title role. DRURY & MCCLURE were the only two who were on the series for its entire run of 9 seasons.(1962-71).

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    1. Well, that certainly brings things to a full circle.

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  7. CISSY WELLMAN is the actress daughter of director/writer WILLIAM WELLMAN. She did some episodes of THE WALTONS (1972-81) as CISSY WALKER who later marries YANCY TUCKER (ROBERT DONNER). CISSY & ROBERT were married in real life at the time. They were married for 17 years, from 1965 until their divorce in 1982. According to imdb Cissy did 4 episodes playing that role and played a different role in an earlier episode.

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    1. I know I watched The Waltons, but with the passing of time a lot of the details of the series have left me. It is on local television and I will have to take a look.

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  8. This is such a terrific adventure movie (though I always find it hard to believe that Donald O'Connor grows up into Gary Cooper!). Supposedly Brian Donlevy was so absorbed in his role that he began acting Markoff even when not filming, which did not endear him to the other actors, particularly Ray Milland. Per the director William Wellman, Milland finally got his revenge by spearing Donlevy for real (I think in a sensitive part of Donlevy's anatomy).

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    1. I am surprised that Ray Milland never mentioned it in his autobiography. I would think such a thing would be worth an entire chapter. I like Ray's book, but he probably couldn't tell it as well as Wellman.

      Freddie Bartholomew and Roddy McDowell both grew up to be Tyrone Power (Lloyds of London, Son of Fury), so OK, Donald O'Connor = Gary Cooper. Movie magic! I'm just sorry I didn't grow up to be Maureen O'Hara.

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  9. Yes, what a great film performance and very good movie. Not only do we get Gary Cooper and Brian Donlevy, there's also Susan Hayward, Ray Milland, Robert Preston, and Broderick Crawford! I worked backwards on this one. I first saw the 1966 version with Tele Savalas on TV, then the 1939 version on DVD, and finally read the novel. The novel is the best, although Tele makes a very good villain.

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    1. It's funny how these things come to us. It is also interesting to compare the differing casts. Savalas plays sadistic very well, but Donlevy is my guy here. It's a wonder there hasn't been an adaption in the 21st century, or maybe I missed it.

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  10. Do you know I've never seen this movie, Paddy? I will have to remedy that soon - especially knowing that the cast features not only Gary Cooper but Brian Donlevy, Susan Hayward, AND Broderick Crawford. Brian Donlevy always brings his A game in his bad-boy roles -- I look forward to seeing him in this one! Thanks so much for joining the blogathon again this year!

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    1. Thanks so much for hosting. Honestly, the trio of Cooper, Milland and Preston are a joy to behold. So many familiar and revered character actors, plus one of the all-time great villains. This movie is a real classic. You will enjoy yourself.

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  11. One of the movies that I saw GARY COOPER in was the western DALLAS(1950) with RUTH ROMAN. The last acting that she did was the three episodes of MURDER, SHE WROTE where she played Loretta, the beauty shop owner. I read that there was a prime-time soap in the 60s THE LONG HOT SUMMER that Ruth played MINNIE LITTLEJOHN on. So when she guest-starred on MSW somebody could say they were watching 2 MINNIE LITTLEJOHNS because ANGELA LANSBURY had played the part in the movie in 1958. Before her role as Loretta she had been on KNOTS LANDING from 1986 until 1987. Her character SYLVIA LEAN had been involved with PAUL GALVESTON(HOWARD DUFF) many years ago. The western movie was titled DALLAS, as I stated, and Ruth was on KNOTS LANDING which was a spinoff of the hit soap DALLAS.

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    1. I find Ruth Roman is always interesting and fun to watch, but Dallas is not on my re-watch list. Some movies do it for you and some don't.

      Very interesting about The Long Hot Summer. I wonder if Ruth and Angela even realized it when they were working together.

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  12. Actress HELEN BRODERICK was the mother of BRODERICK CRAWFORD. She was in two movies with FRED ASTAIRE & GINGER ROGERS, SHALL WE DANCE and TOP HAT. I remember Broderick from BORN YESTERDAY, the movie that he did with JUDY HOLLIDAY & WILLIAM HOLDEN.

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    1. Searching the internet through the years I have only found one picture of Helen and her son Broderick together. Maybe someday there will be more. It looks like the set of one of her movies so it was a "take your son to work day". Ha!

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  13. RAY MILLAND was one of the most elegant sophisticated actors of all time. I remember him from the COLUMBO episode with BRADFORD DILLMAN as his nephew-the greenhouse one. I didn't see the movie but Ray did a movie FROGS that I think has a cult following. It has two lovely blondes in the cast. JOAN VAN ARK before KNOTS LANDING where she played VALENE EWING, wife of GARY(TED SHACKLEFORD). Gary is the brother of J.R. & BOBBY and the half-brother of RAY from DALLAS. LYNN BORDEN had already been on HAZEL the final season as BARBARA BAXTER, the wife of STEVE(RAY FULMER).

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    1. Ray Milland was spectacular at comedy and drama, and in this adventure story he is both moving and charming. I do enjoy him sparing with Lt. Columbo. That show was must-see television.

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  14. KNOTS LANDING turned up again! First with RUTH ROMAN who had worked with GARY COOPER and now with JOAN VAN ARK who had worked with RAY MILLAND. Have you ever seen Joan in any plays or her KL mom JULIE HARRIS?

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    1. I only wish I had seen Julie Harris on stage. She is so wonderful on the screen, that even my imagination probably can't touch her greatness.

      I still think of Joan Van Ark as a young woman, but I know both she and I have moved on to another phase of our lives.

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  15. Thanks for this excellent look at Beau Geste, and its memorable villain. Donlevy is one of my favorites. He was equally adept at playing both heroes and villains. I also enjoyed his work in the noir thriller The Glass Key and his portrayal of Professor Quatermass in The Quatermass Experiment and Enemy From Space.

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    1. Donlevy is a great villain and The Glass Key where he's a tough guy who is easy to like is a dandy. He's also fun in a couple of fantasies, The Remarkable Andrew and Heaven Only Knows. And Donlevy is a getting a Summer Under the Stars day this year on TCM. Whoo-hoo!

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  16. Brian Donlevy isn't one of those guys who you never think of right away when your talking about great actors, which is too bad, because he really is.

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  17. Another movie I saw GARY COOPER in was UNCONQUERED(1947) with PAULETTE GODDARD. I found part of the movie really boring but then it got a lot better. I liked GARY & PAULETTE in it. I saw Paulette in two other movies. POT O GOLD with JIMMY STEWART and SECOND CHORUS with FRED ASTAIRE & BURGESS MEREDITH. Later she & Burgess would marry and divorce. They were married for 5 years(1944-49). One of her other ex-husbands was CHARLIE CHAPLIN.

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    1. Paulette Goddard had a nice way with flippant dialogue. Reap the Wild Wind featured Paulette opposite both Ray Milland, from our movie here and John Wayne. It is a DeMille adventure that I always enjoy.

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  18. I was looking at imdb and noticed REAP THE WILD WIND with Paulette Goddard had three people from BEAU GESTE-RAY MILLAND, ROBERT PRESTON & SUSAN HAYWARD. (It also had JOHN WAYNE whose birthday was yesterday(MAY 26). Also did you hear that Paulette almost got the part of SCARLETT OHARA in GONE WITH THE WIND (1939)? The movie will be 80 years old later this year.

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    1. Ha! I should have checked your next comment as we both went to Reap the Wild Wind. I think Paulette or Susan Hayward would have been interesting as Scarlett O'Hara.

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  19. I am a fan of SUSAN HAYWARD. One time I mentioned WHERE LOVE HAS GONE with BETTE DAVIS & JOEY HEATHERTON. I really like MY FOOLISH HEART that Susan did with DANA ANDREWS. Her dad was played by ROBERT KEITH whose son was BRIAN KEITH who I am a big fan of. Her mom was played by JESSIE ROYCE LANDIS. I know her from the COLUMBO episode LADY IN WAITING where she played the mother of SUSAN CLARK & RICHARD ANDERSON. Susan Hayward was in the movie TULSA with ROBERT PRESTON. Both Susan & Robert, of course, were in BEAU GESTE.

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    1. My dad had a nickname for Susan Hayward. He called her "Susie Baby."

      I haven't seen My Foolish Heart in years. I thought it was a very sad drama. Jessie Royce Landis is marvelous in North by Northwest. I adore Robert Preston and have seen The Music Man more times than I can count. A very interesting western starring Susan Hayward and Tyrone Power is Rawhide. If you get the chance, check it out.

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  20. Do you know any of the movies that JESS BARKER(the ex-husband of SUSAN HAYWARD)did? I just looked up his credits and noticed he did two episodes of PERRY MASON. Speaking of PAULETTE GODDARD on an earlier post do you know any of BURGESS MEREDITHS or CHARLIE CHAPLINS work? Im sure you know Burgess as he was a very prolific actor. Some of the things I know him from are ROCKY, GRUMPY OLD MEN and its sequel, FOUL PLAY, SECOND CHORUS(that I mentioned), TOM, DICK & HARRY(with GINGER ROGERS), the BATMAN series and the BATMAN movie(1966). Also I saw him in the sitcom GLORIA which starred SALLY STRUTHERS in the title role, the daughter of ARCHIE BUNKER(CARROLL OCONNOR).

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    1. Checking his filmography I have seen Jess Barker many times but never made note of him. I will certainly do so in the future.

      Burgess Meredith is a very interesting actor and I never pass up the opportunity to watch him. I first knew him from all the episodic television he did when I was growing up and then I discovered his film career.

      I enjoy much of Chaplin's work and my favourite is The Circus.

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  21. I agree that MY FOOLISH HEART was sad. KENT SMITH was in the movie as the husband of Haywards character. He was in STRANGERS WHEN WE MEET with KIRK DOUGLAS and KIM NOVAK(1960). People in the movie that are still living are DOUGLAS, NOVAK, BARBARA RUSH, ROBERTA SHORE & NANCY KOVAK.( That's the ones I know about.) Also Kent was in SUSAN SLADE(1961) with CONNIE STEVENS, DOROTHY MCGUIRE, LLOYD NOLAN & TROY DONAHUE. He played a doctor. On imdb it has Kent as a doctor-DR. ROBERT MORTON-on PEYTON PLACE for a year or two until 1966.

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    1. Strangers When We Meet is very interesting. Walter Matthau plays such a creep in that film.

      I enjoy Kent Smith in many movies including Cat People, Curse of the Cat People, Nora Prentiss, and The Spiral Staircase. Dr. Morton in Peyton Place was an excellent character.

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  22. On his imdb credits I noticed that Kent Smith played doctors a lot so I counted and he played 22 different doctors! That must be some kind of record. He played doctors in his two PERRY MASON episodes and on an ep of THE ALFRED HITCHCOCK HOUR with LILLIAN GISH. I just read that he was married to actress EDITH ATWATER. She was on PEYTON PLACE with him as MRS. MORTON! They also did an ep of ALFRED HITCHCOCK as a married couple that also guest-starred SALLY KELLERMAN. Miss Atwater was in TRUE GRIT with JOHN WAYNE. She is probably best known as playing AUNT GERTRUDE, the aunt of the HARDY BOYS-FRANK & JOE played by PARKER STEVENSON & SHAUN CASSIDY. I just thought of this, SHIRLEY JONES, the mother of Shaun, was, as you stated, in THE MUSIC MAN with ROBERT PRESTON so it goes back to BEAU GESTE! By the way do you know the work of SALLY KELLERMAN, a blonde with a sultry voice . She is a very good actress who was in the MASH-related ep of DIAGNOSIS MURDER as I stated one time. That's a lot of trivia again!

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    1. Edith Atwater and I share the April 22nd birthdate. Besides, True Grit, another of my favourite movies features Ms. Atwater, The Body Snatcher that starred Boris Karloff.

      I keep running across Sally Kellerman when I watch older programs on YouTube. I hadn't realized how much TV she did prior to her movie career breaking.

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  23. Speaking of Peyton Place BARBARA RUSH(STRANGERS WHEN ME MEET) was on the show in its later years. By the way, what do you think of the movies/acting of DOROTHY MCGUIRE, CONNIE STEVENS & TROY DONAHUE (who were all in SUSAN SLADE)? I am a fan of DOROTHY & CONNIE. Also I liked TROY in SUSAN SLADE and PALM SPRINGS WEEKEND(also with Connie). I remember you like SWISS FAMILY ROBINSON which has Miss McGuire. She was the mom in the classic OLD YELLER. PLUS she was in SUMMER MAGIC with two delightful actresses-HAYLEY MILLS & DEBORAH WALLEY. So DOROTHY MCGUIRE did at least 3 DISNEY movies.

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    1. I am a huge fan of Dorothy McGuire. She had a lovely aura about her, and played a variety of characters although she is probably most well known as a perfect mother. Summer Magic is the perfect "girl's movie."

      Connie Stevens is delightful. I enjoy her music abilities very much.

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  24. That strip is very funny! I haven't watched Beau Geste, but Markoff really sounds awful! I'm certain I'll hate him - and that's good to talented and underrated Brian Donlevy.
    Kisses!

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    1. Markoff's bravery comes from arrogance and lack of empathy. Oh, he is vile! Oh, if Donlevy had given this performance in any other year, that Oscar might have been his.

      Schulz did a series of strips devoted to Beau Geste. They are great fun, especially after you have seen one of the films. Schulz was a treasure.

      Thanks for visiting and commenting. Always happy to share with you.

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CMBA 2019 FALL BLOGATHON, ANNIVERSARIES: Stray Dog, 1949

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