Wednesday, April 29, 2020

CAFTAN WOMAN'S CHOICE: ONE FOR MAY ON TCM


The Piccadilly Club owned by Valentine Wilmot played by Jameson Thomas (It Happened One Night) is a world unto itself in London of 1929. The class system of the hundreds of workers varies from the slaveys in the kitchen to the wait staff to the entertainers, especially the headliners. The hundreds of customers are a mix of the monied and the curious. 

Cyril Ritchard, Gilda Gray

The dance team of Mabel and Vic is the current main attraction. Vic played by Cyril Ritchard is a particular draw for the ladies in the audience but Vic has eyes only for his partner Mabel played by Gilda Gray, the creator of the infamous shimmy dance. Mabel only has eyes for club owner Valentine Wilmot. Valentine is the man who discovered her, who made her a star, and the man she loves. When Vic leaves the success at the Piccadilly to try his luck on Broadway, he cannot convince Mabel to leave Valentine. As a solo act or even with a new partner, Mabel is no longer a top draw.

Anna May Wong

Charles Laughton makes his film debut as a squeaky wheel diner complaining about a dirty plate. The scandal of a dirty plate leads Wilmot to the scullery where a Chinese girl, Shosho played by Anna May Wong is entertaining and distracting her fellow workers with a dance. In the circle of restaurant life, it was the distraction led to the dirty plate in the first plate, which leads to Wilmot initially firing the girl. His second thoughts come about through Shosho knowing herself, what she wants, and how to get it.

Jameson Thomas, Anna May Wong

Wilmot's growing relationship with Shoso gets her the headliner spot at the Piccadilly. Shosho's success with the Club audience mirrors Anna May's domination of the film with her portrayal. Her character is by turns scheming, downtrodden, joyful, and a wilful user of the men in her life. Shosho gleefully toys with Wilmot's growing affection, throwing it in the face of the jealous and heartbroken Mabel. 

King Hou Chang, Anna May Wong

Always at Shosho's beck and call is Jim played by King Hou Chang. He is her friend, her accompanist, and her emotional slave. The tangled lives of these characters are following one road, the road to murder.

Anna May Wong

Anna May Wong left America in 1926 due to the dearth of challenging and appropriate roles for a woman of her talent and ethnic background. She worked in Germany and on the London stage with Olivier. The melodramatic Piccadilly written by Arnold Bennett and directed by the stylish German master E.A. Dupont is a grand showcase for Anna May and was awarded Top Foreign Film by the National Board of Review in 1929.


TCM is screening Piccadilly on Wednesday, May 6th at 9:00 PM. Wednesdays in May the TCM Spotlight is on Asian Americans in Hollywood. Stay tuned for other opportunities to enjoy the beauty and talent of Anna May Wong.













Wednesday, April 22, 2020

EASTER WITH CHARLTON HESTON: Dark City, 1950


Dark City, 1950 opens with Charlton Heston leaving a store with a boxed gift in hand. The sign on the shop window reads "Remember her at Easter." Aha, we have another movie to add to our Easter/Passover Heston perennials, The Ten Commandments, 1956 and Ben-Hur, 1959.

Danny Haley (Charlton Heston) is a disgraced veteran running a bookie operation in Chicago. His partners are the nervous and ill Barney (Ed Begley) and the belligerent bully Augie (Jack Webb). Hanger-on "Soldier" (Harry Morgan) is an ex-pug with kind thoughts for everyone, except Augie. Also in the mix is Fran (Lizabeth Scott) who sings at a local club and wears her heart on her sleeve where Danny is concerned. Danny claims he wants to be left alone, but he did buy her an Easter gift.

Jack Webb, Charlton Heston, Lizabeth Scott, Don DeFore, Ed Begley

It's tough running an illegal business when the protection you're paying to the cops only results in more raids. The coffers are running low when Arthur Winant (Don DeFore) hits town on business for folks back in L.A. The crooks string Winant along at the poker table until they have taken the $5,000 cashier's cheque that doesn't rightly belong to him. Winant hangs himself rather than face his shame and guilt.

Dean Jagger

In the long nights of card playing Winant mentioned his older brother Sidney (Mike Mazurki). The crooks should have paid attention. They should have read between the lines. Arthur was to have met up with Sidney and it was he who discovered his brother's body. Sidney begins a campaign of terror and revenge. When Barney is killed under eerily similar circumstances, Danny and Augie form an uneasy partnership knowing they are now in Sidney's crosshairs. Police Capt. Garvey (Dean Jagger) is tasked with protecting even these criminals. The best way will be to use the gamblers as decoys.

Charlton Heston, Viveca Lindfors

Danny and Augie go back to Los Angeles hoping to trace the relentless Sidney. There Danny becomes involved with Arthur's widow Victoria (Viveca Lindfors) and son Billy (Mark Keuning). Everything places Danny at a disadvantage; his heart, his mind and his gut. It all leads to another city, Las Vegas for an exciting finale.

Under a one picture with options contract with Hal Wallis, Charlton Heston made his Hollywood debut in this nifty film noir. William Dieterle (The Hunchback of Notre Dame) directed and Victor Milner (The Furies) was the cinematographer.

A story by Lawrence (Larry) Marcus called No Escape is the basis for Dark City. Ketti Frings (The File on Thelma Jordan) adapted the story and screenplay credits belong to Marcus and John Meredyth Lucas (Star Trek). I particularly like the way Danny's interesting backstory is revealed piecemeal throughout the plot.

Lizabeth Scott

Heston has a good screen presence and makes a good impression as the edgy Danny. He gives credit to the "very good actors in the film to help me out" and his experience on live TV in New York in his autobiography. Dean Jagger's police captain is of the righteous variety and it is one of my favourite performances from the actor. As in the same year's Appointment with Danger, future Dragnet 1966 partners Webb and Morgan are on the wrong side of the law and at odds with each other. Lizabeth Scott would win all lip synch battles with the skill she developed as a chanteuse in her early films noir. The five songs given to Fran were dubbed by Trudy Stevens.

From In the Arena, an autobiography by Charlton Heston published 1995:

Harry Morgan, Charlton Heston

"A few years ago, I worked for his (Harry Morgan) son, producer Chris Morgan, and asked him to remember me to his father. "He was in my first film." The next day I asked Chris if he'd passed on my message. He grinned. "Yeah, I did. Dad said, 'Hell I was in everybody's first film.'"

Mike Mazurki, Charlton Heston

"I also remember a scene where I had to punch Mike Mazurki, a big man. Let me qualify that, I'm a big man, Mike was big, six feet six and 250 pounds of muscle. Fortunately, he had a good heart as well. I wasn't used to film fights then, you do it a little differently on stage. I didn't stop my punch in time; it caught him right on the nose. He never blinked, but his eyes glowed red for a second. Then he lifted me off my feet very gently and held me, eye to eye. "At's all right, kid," he said softly. "Don' worry about it. You aint' got much of a punch anyway."












Friday, April 17, 2020

THE VINCENT PRICE BLOGATHON: Have Gun - Will Travel, The Moor's Revenge, 1958


Gill at Realweegiemidget Reviews and Barry at Cinematic Catharsis are our hosts for THE VINCENT PRICE BLOGATHON on April 17 - 19.  Day 1  Day 2  Day 3  Encore


THE MOOR'S REVENGE
First aired: Saturday, December 27, 1958
Written by Melvin Levy
Directed by Andrew V. McLaglen

OUR CAST

Richard Boone as Paladin, Have Gun - Will Travel series lead
A gunfighter/brains for hire of refined taste.


Vincent Price and Patricia Morison as traveling Shakespearean actors
Charles Matthews and Victoria Vestris


Morey Amsterdam as Lucien Bellingham
Saloon owner and would-be impresario


Richard Shannon as Ben Jackson
A gunman with something to prove and a heart pining for an actress 


OUR STORY


Enjoying a post-performance dinner with the elegantly attired and tasteful Mr. Paladin of San Francisco, Charles Matthews and Victoria Vestris are shocked at their host's strongly-worded suggestion that they forego the next stop on their tour.

While the rest of their company heads east, Charles and Victoria have accepted an engagement at the Opera House in San Diego. It is the time of the annual round-up; a time when all hell breaks loose in the town. Paladin's concern for the safety of the artists is genuine as he feels they do not provide the sort of entertainment that will go over in a wild town. The couple assures Paladin that they have yet to find an audience who is not moved by Shakespeare.

Lucien Bellingham, who hired the players to bring culture to the town and his saloon has also hired Paladin as security due to the sheriff managing to be out of town during troubled times. Bellingham wants things to go smoothly with the Shakespearean performers.


Paladin's first sign of trouble is with tough guy Ben Jackson who has become besotted with an advertising cut-out of Miss Vestris. He has been gazing upon the "art" and daydreaming of the time he and she will spend together upon her arrival. Ben's other ambition is to beat Paladin to the draw, so if the hired gun is looking for trouble, Jackson will be only too happy to provide the same.


Charles and Victoria arrive in San Diego to a venue and advertising like nothing they have experienced previously in their storied career.


Their first reaction is to renege on the contract, but they backtracked with the publication of an editorial expressing their dismay along with their determination to bring the Bard to town. The editor added some strong words against Ben Jackson which does not go over well with the bruiser.


Selections from Shakespeare begin with Desdemona's death in Othello which is interrupted by an agitated Ben Jackson. Guns are fired and chairs are thrown until Paladin takes charge. He relieves Ben Jackson of his gun and tosses it to Charles Matthews on stage.


Charles: "I don't know anything about firearms."
Victoria: "He is very good with a sword."
Paladin: "All you have to do is close your eyes and squeeze. With a crowd like this, you're bound to get a few."

The crowd is calmed and the show continues. Barkeeps and wranglers alike are moved to tears and appreciative applause. Ben Jackson wants to move on to the portion of the night when he proves his firearms expertise against Paladin.

Ben Jackson: "This will take but a minute, Miss. I'll be back for you."
Paladin: "Ben, you better ask the lady's husband about this."
Ben Jackson: "Husband?"
Victoria Vestri: "Of course he's my husband. What sort of woman did you take me for?"
Ben Jackson: "Well how come you got different names?"
Victoria Vestri: "We're actors, not people!"
Ben Jackson: "Well, you coulda said something."
Charles Mattews: "Well, you coulda asked!"

The assembled audience finds this exchange extremely funny. Since she's a married lady, romance for Jackson is out. After all, he has standards! Ben's anticipated showdown with Paladin is shut down as well. Paladin hurt his hand (perhaps) during the earlier set-to and Jackson won't have it be said he took advantage of the situation. There will be another time.


The show continues with something from the lighter side of Shakespeare promised by Charles. Paladin returns to his home base of San Francisco pleased with an assignment that ended in laughter instead of fatal gunplay.




OF NOTE

Vincent Price (1911-1993) and lovely Patricia Morison (1915-2018) were perfectly cast as stage performers in this episode.


Vincent made his Broadway debut as Prince Albert opposite Helen Hayes in Victoria Regina by Laurence Housman which began its successful run in 1935.


Patricia's greatest success was as Lillie Vanessi/Katherine in Cole Porter's phenomenal 1948 hit Kiss Me, Kate, with music and Shakespeare side by side.

Patricia was also the understudy for Victoria in that earlier run of Victoria Regina with Vincent Price. One wonders if Helen Hayes ever caught a cold; just a little one.















Friday, April 10, 2020

FAVOURITE MOVIES: Witness to Murder, 1954


Movie buffs all understand the conflicting emotions when you discover a film you have never heard of that features a favourite performer or director. Such was my experience about 15 years ago when a local channel aired Witness to Murder, 1954.

On one hand, it was a treat to have a "new" movie to discover. On the other hand, Missy AND George Sanders?! Where has this been all my life? Making up for lost time, I have watched this movie at every available opportunity. It is now like an old friend stopping by for a visit.

Barbara Stanwyck

Barbara Stanwyck stars as "Miss" Cheryl Draper (the "Miss" is penciled in on her apartment's mailbox), career girl. Awakened by the wind one night, she observes a disturbing sight in the apartment opposite hers; a man strangling a woman. Naturally, as a concerned citizen, Cheryl phones the police who dispatch detectives Lawrence Matthews played by Gary Merrill and Eddie Vincent played by Jesse White.

Jesse White, Barbara Stanwyck, Gary Merrill

Sadly for Cheryl and the slow-grinding wheels of justice, the murderer is Albert Richter played by George Sanders. He is an extremely cool customer who has already successfully hidden the body and disposed of the evidence to the best of his ability. The detectives, who admittedly seemed none to anxious to pursue the case in the first place, explain to Miss Draper that she probably imagined everything. Sgt. Vincent is quick to put it down to female hysteria. Lt. Matthews agrees with his partner but is also attracted to this particular hysterical female.

George Sanders

Cheryl: "Did you see his eyes? The smile doesn't match the eyes."

Cheryl is a smart woman who lives in a smart apartment and drives a smart car. She is an artist who has studied architecture and works as an interior designer at W & J Sloane. She knows she was awake, and she knows what she saw. Nonetheless, with no tangible evidence, the police cannot lay charges against a "noted historian and author." Thus begins a deadly game of cat and mouse.

Cheryl is convinced that to ensure her silence Richter will try to kill her. She is equally convinced by the attitude of the police that no one will believe her. The attitude of the police is muddied by Larry Matthews' sympathetic attitude. He wants to believe Cheryl. He wants to pursue a relationship with Cheryl.  Cheryl wants to get out of this thing alive. She begins her own investigation and every time she shares a theory or clue with her potential boyfriend, he knocks it down.

Albert "cool customer" Richter works his own angle of framing Cheryl for harassment by convincing the police that she is mentally unstable. The second part of his plan is not too difficult to enact. It is the prevailing theory among society at large that a single woman is nuts. Obviously, without a man in her life, she is prone to flights of fancy and creating trouble.

Larry tries to help, but can't keep Cheryl from being placed in the observation ward of a mental hospital. Cheryl finds the experience demoralizing but is smart enough to learn to play along with the psychiatrist to gain her freedom. It is obvious from the detail in the questioning that they have seriously investigated her past and lifestyle.

Juanita Moore

The mental ward cast is "Helen Kleeb - Nurse (uncredited), Claire Carleton - May, Adeline de Walt Reynolds - The Old Lady, and Juanita Moore - Negress." The last one is not a credit I have noted elsewhere and they could have called her "Singing patient" and we'd still get it.   

Freedom only brings Cheryl back into Richter's orbit. He confesses all to his accuser knowing that her emotional problems are now part of her record. We now know the reason for Richter's extreme confidence. He is a Nazi who is not about to let a little thing like women or the end of the war stop his march into the future. He is about to marry into the money required for his revolution, so Cheryl must die and it must look like a suicide.

Gary Merrill, Jesse White

It is now that the cops start acting like cops, even though it is no longer their case.

Larry: "We're detectives, aren't we? Let's start acting like it."
Eddie: "TV detectives. Da-da-da-da (Dragnet theme). 6:45, we go looking for trouble. 6:46, we find it."

A connection from Richter to the finally found and identified murder victim is found. Now they can go about rescuing Cheryl. The whole thing ends at the top of an under-construction building. There is fear on the mouse's face, but the confidence of knowing she has not lost her mind. The cat, on the other hand, is clearly mad. Nazis, it seems, must always rise high for a long fall.

Chester Erskine (The Egg and I), produced and wrote the screenplay with an uncredited Nunnally Johnson (The Mudlark) and Roy Rowland (Rogue Cop) directed. The superb John Alton (Border Incident) was the cinematographer. Include this in your evening's entertainment along with The Window, 1949 and Rear Window, 1954.

Barbara Stanwyck and what appears to be a nifty mode of transportation

After you know the story, the movie retains its "old friend" status due to the location background captured by John Alton. The Linda Vista Apartments and Miramonte Terrace take us out of the soundstage and into actual dwellings, making the Witness to Murder experience part movie and part time machine. When we go to Cheryl's workplace it is the real W & J Sloane department store.

PS: Cheryl's smart wardrobe is courtesy of Kay Nelson (Leave Her to Heaven) and all the smart decorations and furnishings are from W & J Sloane.

I will leave the final word on Witness to Murder with the superintendent of the murdered woman's apartment building.

"She's a pretty girl. Pretty girls get in trouble all the time. No husband. No good!"

A picture of a time past? Or the more things change, the more they stay the same?


Movie connections:


When Albert Richter was a baby he was Schlager in Confessions of a NaziSpy, 1939.



Gary Merrill and George Sanders of Witness to Murder halfway up the stairs in All About Eve, 1950.











Friday, April 3, 2020

THE 2020 CLASSIC LITERATURE ON FILM BLOGATHON: Nicholas Nickleby, 1947


Paul Batters at Silver Screen Classics is our host for The 2020 Classic Literature On Film Blogathan on April 3rd, 4th, and 5th.  Day 1  Day 2   Day 3


Jeopardy! early March 2020. Category: Literary Twins

"This alliterative title Dickens character works for the wealthy Cheeryble twins, and his sister Kate marries their nephew."

All three contestants stood silent until the time ran out. My husband laughed at my shock because, after all, Nicholas Nickleby was written a very long time ago and I had better get used to the world moving away from Dickens, with the exception of A Christmas Carol and possibly Oliver Twist. He almost convinced me there was merit to his argument.

Charles Dickens, however, to quote an earlier blog post of mine, "was one of the best idea men of all time." The movies are always going to need ideas, and to get them why not go to the best? Nicholas Nickleby is far from the most prolific example of Dickens screen adaptations, yet this story has been on screen in silent form, in short form, in motion pictures, and various television mini-series.


The Royal Shakespeare Company version of the 1839 novel adapted by David Edgar was a 1980s theatrical phenomenon that saved the fortunes of the Royal Shakespeare Company, won Tony Awards on Broadway and was awarded the BAFTA and Emmy for its television presentation.

The Chichester Festival mounted their production in 2006, with David Edgar trimming two hours off of his original 8-1/2 hour-long production. It is this production we enjoyed live at Toronto's Princess of Wales Theatre with David Yelland as Ralph Nickleby.


Dickens threw so many ideas into this successful third novel (after serialization) that you would think this was his last kick at the can. The villains are vile to equal the kindness which comes to our hero, and which he bestows on others. The long arm of coincidence reaches out thrillingly. It is a tale in which to lose oneself.



The first feature film of Nicholas Nickleby was released by Ealing Studios in 1947. Brazilian-born Alberto Cavalcanti directed following his well-received films Went the Day Well? and Dead of Night: The Ventriloquist's Dummy. John Dighton (Kind Hearts and CoronetsSaraband) adapted the unwieldy novel for the screen.

Cedric Hardwicke, Derek Bond
Ralph Nickleby, Nicholas Nickleby

Dickens's characters are so vivid that their names become associated with their characteristics. A misstep in casting would be immediately spotted by an audience familiar with the story. There are no such missteps with Michael Balcon's adaptation. Derek Bond was 27 when he played the leading character. Sally Ann Howes was 17 when she played Kate Nickleby. Bernard Miles was the perfect Joe Gargery in Great Expectations for David Lean and the perfect Newman Noggs in our picture.

Who among us wouldn't have cast Stanley Holloway as Vincent Crummles and Sir Cedric Hardwicke as Ralph? James Hayter is both the Cheeryble twins. He would bring Samuel Pickwick to life in the 1952 film The Pickwick Papers, and play Mr. Jessop in Oliver!, 1968.

Bernard Miles as Newman Noggs

From Wackford Squeers to the Mantilinis to the Brays and Miss La Creevy, care was taken that each one familiar with the story would say to themself "that is exactly how I pictured them."

Nicholas, his sister Kate and his recently widowed mother go to London in hopes that their late father's brother, Ralph Nickleby would find himself disposed to help these country relatives. Ralph Nickleby is a mean and miserly man who is annoyed by his grubby relations. He sets the women up in a derelict home he owns in the east end and arranges for Nicholas to be employed in a Yorkshire school for boys.

Dotheboys Hall under the leadership of the revolting Squeers family proves to be a hellhole for youngsters and an endless source of cash for its owners. Nicholas chaffs at the abominable Squeers, ultimately beating the schoolmaster and taking under his wing a poor misused soul called Smike.

Cecil Ramage, Sally Ann Howes, Tim Bateson
Sir Mulberry Hawk, Kate Nickleby, Lord Verispopht

Nicholas renounces any assistance from his odious uncle and strikes out on his own with Smike, as long as Ralph continues to protect his mother and sister. Nicholas's one true friend in London is Newman Noggs. Employed by the hated Ralph, Noggs can be depended upon to keep Nicholas apprised of the truth of his family's situation. Kate is secured work as a seamstress at a fashion house where she is ill-treated due to jealousy. Kate is a pretty girl whom Ralph uses to attract customers to his money lending business.

Stanley Holloway, Aubrey Woods, Derek Bond
Vincent Crummles, Smike, Nicholas Nickleby

Nicholas finds work for himself and Smike in a theatrical troupe of dubious artistic endeavour, but of infinite benevolence and sense of fun. Vincent Crummles embodies in one, the conceit of the artist and the generosity of those who must share to get by.

Aubrey Woods, Derek Bond, Sally Ann Howes, Mary Merrall
Smike, Nicholas, Kate, and Mrs. Nickleby

The Cheeryble brothers mentioned above, are kindly men who take a liking to Nicholas, who returns their generosity with his loyalty and hard work. Nicholas and his hated uncle are brought together in, of all things, a matter of the heart that begins with a debtor named Bray and his lovely daughter Madeleine.

Circumstances and actions will bring happy romance to some, and deaths to others. One will be mourned and one will face a lifetime of vile actions leading to official and spiritual justice.

A mini-series is the best format to give the story its due. Time constraints force the omission of some characters and the unfortunate pruning of various incidents. Nicholas's story is one the audience should be allowed to immerse itself in, to replicate the emotional connection one gets through the novel. In the film, we flit from one incident to the other, not given the opportunity to fully enjoy the company of the characters we like or to see more of what makes the nasty ones tick. Nonetheless, it is a treat to see these memorable characters brought to life so vividly. 

Unfortunately, I find Lord Berners's score to this version a little too on the nose in backing up the melodrama. The assistance was not necessary. It is the force of the actor's portrayals that draws the audience into the abridged screen telling of the story, creating fond memories and a wish for more (if I may borrow from that Twist lad).












120 "SCREWBALL" YEARS OF JEAN ARTHUR BLOGATHON: If You Could Only Cook, 1935

Virginia of The Wonderful World of Cinema is hosting the 120 Screwball Years of Jean Arthur Blogathon . The October 15 - 17 tribute to t...