Monday, July 27, 2020

ATHOS, ARAMIS, AND PORTHOS WALK INTO A BAR ...


Athos, Aramis, and Porthos walk into a bar --- the Coq d'Or. And are lost to the rest of the picture.

There is no site in all Paris more popular for the settling of disputes than the tavern Coq d'Or on the Rue Pigalle.

The three intrepid musketeers and BFFs played by Douglass Dumbrille, John "Dusty" King, and Russell Hicks have separately arrived at the notorious tavern to settle scores with a young upstart, new to Paris. D'Artagnan, played by Don Ameche, has this very day arrived in the big city from Gascony. The young man is filled with confidence and the skill to back it up. He has a winning smile and a song in his heart.

Don Ameche, our lovable and headstrong D'Artagnan

Yes, a song in his heart! The song is Voila and this 1939 version of Alexandre Dumas' classic adventure tale is a comedy/musical spoof from Twentieth Century Fox under the sure direction of veteran Canadian-born director Allan Dwan. Mr. Dwan was awarded the Los Angeles Film Critics Association Career Achieve Award in 1976.

The production values which have lent a timelessness to many of the studio's literary adaptations are present in the design by David Hall, costumes by Royer, the set decorations by Thomas Little, and Peverell Marley's cinematography. The perfect cinematic backdrop allows the audience to sit back and enjoy the laughter and song.

Al, Harry, and Jimmy Ritz

I sort the Ritz lads by following the rule of Harry being in the middle and, being the eldest, Al must be the shortest, and that leaves Jimmy. Someone tell me a better way.

These musketeers are a combative lot, hence the haste to show up the young upstart from Gascony. Awaiting D'Artagnan's arrival at the Coq d'Or, Athos, Aramis, and Porthos decide to have some sport with the three lackeys employed at the tavern. A drinking game, however, finds the three musketeers knocked out for the duration of our tale while Al, Jimmy, and Harry Ritz goof off in the official uniform of the King's Musketeers. A recent spate of brawling by those in uniform has also led to the following royal edict. Oh-oh!

By Order of the King
From this date, any person discovered garbed in the uniform of the King's Musketeers without due authority, shall be subject to the Penalty of Death.
April 20, 1625

Fighting naturally ensues when soldiers of Cardinal Richelieu meet up with the bogus musketeers at the tavern. Joining in the fray with who he considers are genuine fellow musketeers is the impetuous D'Artagnan. Thus, a bond of friendship and self-preservation is formed among the four.

Pauline Moore and Don Ameche as Lady Constance and D'Artagnan

The love song of Lady Constance and D'Artagnan, My Lady by Samuel Pokrass and Walter Bullock is played instrumentally throughout the score and reprised charmingly by our leading man in the movie.

The Three Musketeers follows the popular plotline from the novel of royal intrigue and romance from this point. Queen Anne played by Gloria Stuart makes the mistake of offering one of her famous jewels as a memento to the besotted Duke of Buckingham played by Lester Matthews.

Gloria Stuart, Pauline Moore

A spy played by John Carradine relays the information to the ambitious Cardinal Richelieu played by Miles Mander. The Cardinal impresses upon King Louis XIII played by Joseph Schildkraught that the Queen must wear the jewel, a gift from the people of France, at an upcoming event to prove her fidelity. D'Artagnan has fallen in love with the Queen's loyal lady-in-waiting, Lady Constance played by Pauline Moore. He, and most certainly his new-found musketeer companions, vow to retrieve the incriminating brooch.


Binnie Barnes as Milady de Winter vs. the whirlwind that is The Ritz Brothers

Lionel Atwill as the villainous de Rochefort has a secret weapon in the glamorous Milady de Winter played by Binnie Barnes. The race is on to steal the jewel back from Buckingham and bring it to the Queen to stop a war or to Richelieu and disorder.

The derring-do/stunts in The Three Musketeers are as exciting as any filmic adventure. There are humorous delights to be found in Don Ameche's ebullient characterization and in the Ritz Brothers antics and dance number. So much sly fun is packed into its 73-minute runtime that one might wish for just a few minutes more. I would plan a delightful weekend double bill around this charmer and The Court Jester.
















Friday, July 17, 2020

THE BARBARA STANWYCK BLOGATHON: The Barbara Stanwyck Show, Sign of the Zodiac, 1961


Gabriela's site Pale Writer is hosting The Queen of Sass: Barbara Stanwyck Blogathon on July 17-18. The blogathon event we need in these times! Join the party HERE.


The anthology series The Barbara Stanwyck Show ran for one season on NBC in the 1960/1961 season. The Emmy won by Barbara Stanwyck for Outstanding Performance by an Actress in a Series (Lead) was her first competitive award. You can learn more about the series in the post here from 2013 and watch the Emmy presentation here.


SIGN OF THE ZODIAC
Season 1, Episode 26
April 3, 1961


"Good evening. Tonight Your Gas Company Playhouse presents a tale of torment, obsession, and guilt written by A.I. Bezzerides and directed by Jacques Tourneur. Guest stars Dan Duryea and Joan Blondell appear with me in the dark and mysterious melodrama with overtones of the supernatural. It is a strange story, and I think you will find as much excitement in watching it as we did in making it. And now in just 60 seconds, the first act of Sign of the Zodiac."

Joan Blondell, Dan Duryea

Pierre (Dan Duryea), a crystal gazer with business on a seedy dock has a charm about him that keeps his lady customers happy. A repeat client is Helene Terry (Joan Blondell), who this day has convinced her widowed sister-in-law Madge (Barbara Stanwyck) that it would be fun to have her fortune read. Part of the reason for the outing is to get Madge out of the gloomy house she shared with the late Edwin. There are other reasons which become known as the story unfolds.

Madge was none too thrilled with the excursion in the first place and becomes increasingly agitated as the reading progresses. Helene tries to keep things light and friendly while Madge insults everyone and runs away. Back at home, Madge continues to rebuff Helene's kindness, ordering her sister-in-law out of the house. When Madge realizes she has left behind a memento of her husband's, an antique watch, at Pierre's place, she returns to retrieve it with a gun. The soothsayer was wisely not at home.

Barbara Stanwyck

Helene, taking Madge at her word, has moved out. Alone, Madge finds the night is fraught with imaginings and the unexplained return of the antique watch. What is the reason for her next visit to the clairvoyant Pierre? Why the change in her attitude from belligerent to pleasing? Why does she still have the gun in her purse?

Twists and turns await the viewer of Sign of the Zodiac. Just when you think you have everything figured out, you might find the rug pulled out from under you.

Jacques Tourneur
1904-1977

Jacques Tourneur directed 12 of The Barbara Stanwyck Show's 36 episodes. The pair had never worked together in a feature film and the idea of their collaboration is intriguing. Tourneur's resume boasts such favourite films as Stars in My Crown, Canyon Passage, NightfallOut of the Past, The Flame and the ArrowThe Comedy of Terrors, and Night of the Demon. Tourneur was a two-time Hugo nominee for Cat People and I Walked with a Zombie.

Noted cinematographer Hal Mohr (1894-1974), a write-in winner for A Midsummer Night's Dream, shot 9 episodes of the series including Sign of the Zodiac. The anthology series was also his first experience working with Barbara Stanwyck.

Night Nurse

Early in their film careers, Barbara Stanwyck and Joan Blondell crossed paths in 1931s Illicit directed by Archie Mayo and Night Nurse directed by William Wellman. It was 30 years between those films and the reuniting of the dream team on The Barbara Stanwyck Show.

Ball of Fire

It was 20 years between Missy and Dan Duryea's working together in 1941s Ball of Fire for Howard Hawks until Sign of the Zodiac. Note: the above picture bears no relation to anything in the movie, with the exception of the costumes.












Monday, July 13, 2020

REMAKE AVENUE: The Glass Key, 1935 and 1942


Warning: this look at The Glass Key is not a spoiler-free zone.

Dashiell Hammett's novel The Glass Key was published in 1931 following its serialization in Black Mask. It is the story of political power, rampant gangsterism, love, and murder.

Paul Madvig is the boss of a mid-western city. From streetcleaner to the governor, he controls the elections, along with a sizeable amount of gambling and other enterprises. The police and the district attorney are under his sway. Rival gambling boss Shad O'Rory would like a larger slice of the action, but Madvig's machinery includes Ned Beaumont. The younger Beaumont is more than a respected and efficient right-hand man, he is considered a member of the Madvig's family, beloved by Paul's mother and his daughter. Beaumont is trusted beyond question. 

A midlife crisis strikes Madvig in the form of Janet Henry, the daughter of a senator currently seeking Madvig's election help. Madvig has fallen for the dame he sees as pure "class" while she barely masks her distaste for the sake of her father's ambition. Complicating matters, Taylor Henry, the ne'er-do-well son of the family has been seeing Madvig's daughter Opal. When young Henry winds up murdered, Paul Madvig comes under suspicion. 

Ned Beaumont believes solidly in Paul's innocence and sets about proving it. Ned suffers dreadfully at the hands of O'Rory's psychotic henchman Jeff in attempting to discover the true murderer and preserve Paul and his business. In the end, Beaumont takes care of the O'Rory problem and solves the murder before betraying his friend in the matter of Janet Henry.


Paramount brought The Glass Key to the screen in 1935. Kathryn Scola (Baby Face) and Kubec Glasmon (Union Depot) wrote the screenplay and Frank Tuttle (The Benson Murder Case) directed.

George Raft, Edward Arnold, Rosalind Culli

The casting is faultless with George Raft as Ed Beaumont, Edward Arnold as Paul Madvig, Claire Dodd as Janet Henry, Ray Milland as Taylor Henry, Charles Richmond as Senator Henry, Emma Dunn as Ma Madvig, and Rosalind Keith (Culli) as Opal Madvig, Paul's sister in the movie. Robert Gleckler is quite the smoothie as Shad O'Rory and Guinn "Big Boy" Williams is the demented Jeff.

The novel's convoluted plot twists, various sub-plots, and a myriad of characters including a newspaper publisher and his wife are pared down to its core befitting a snappy 80-minute run-time. The pace is kept up with the use of newspaper headlines and chatter of citizens to move the plot along. The movie maintains the emotional connection among the main characters.

Paul comes under suspicion for the murder of young Taylor Henry with O'Rory taking full advantage by manipulating the local press and hiding a supposed witness. Harry Tyler plays Sloss, who is peeved at Paul for not coming through with a favour. Someone has begun a letter-writing campaign smearing Paul. Ed sets about finding evidence to exonerate his friend and boss. The first step is to get inside the O'Rory gang where things go awry.

Guinn "Big Boy" Williams, George Raft, Irving Bacon

The most memorable segment of the movie lifted from Hammett's novel involves Ed's confinement and brutal beating from Jeff and his exciting escape to bring back the information he has gleaned. The audience is treated to a brief bit by a young actress named Ann Sheridan as a nurse who flirts and fights with the hospitalized Ed.

Ann shows up in other Raft pictures of this time: Bolero, Rhumba, and Limehouse Blues. Five years from this time, Ann and George will play a memorable couple in the exciting Warner Brothers' melodrama, They Drive by Night.

This first version of Hammett's novel was and is a satisfying film adaptation even with its unexpected happy ending of Ed and Opal becoming a couple to the delight of Paul and his mother.



Paramount was quick to replicate the successful teaming of Alan Ladd with Veronica Lake in This Gun for Hire, 1942, and found the perfect property in another version of Dashiell Hammett's The Glass Key. Jonathan Latimer (The Big Clock) wrote the screenplay with Stuart Heisler (I Died a Thousand Deaths) directing. The whole thing is given a glossy big-budget sheen by cinematographer Theodor Sparkuhl (Wake Island).

Again I will use the word faultless to describe the casting. Alan Ladd as Ed Beaumont, Brian Donlevy as Paul Madvig, Veronica Lake as Janet Henry, Moroni Olsen as Senator Henry, Richard Denning as Taylor Henry, and Bonita Granville as Opal Madvig. As in the earlier movie, Opal remains Paul's sister instead of a daughter, and they have kept the "Ed" for Ned Beaumont. The rival O'Rory character is switched up to Nick Varna played by Joseph Calleia, and William Bendix as the demented Jeff is even more creepy than "Big Boy" Williams.

Alan Ladd, William Bendix

Everyone suspects political boss Paul Madvig of the murder of Taylor Henry, the son of the reform candidate Senator Henry. Everyone, it seems, is working against Paul Madvig including Nick Varna, Opal Madvig, and Janet Henry, the sophisticated daughter of the Senator who puts up with Madvig for the sake of her father's political aspirations. A proactive young woman, Janet Henry is behind a letter-writing smear and she convinces Opal to turn on her big brother.

A vital witness to the murder, whether he is lying or not, is Sloss played by Dane Clark and Nick Varna has him. Ed pretends to have split with Paul in order to gain information on what they have and how they will use it. The plan backfires when Varna leaves Ed to Jeff's tender mercies. Wisely, screenwriter Latimer kept this scene from the novel and earlier adaption. Bendix is quite disturbing and viewers have an opportunity to compare him with Guinn Williams' take. Frances Gifford is our flirty and feisty nurse this time around.

The recovered Ed is becoming more interested in Janet Henry despite his certain knowledge that she is using Paul. Donlevy plays Madvig as a more obvious "mug" than Arnold's characterization, and his unsuitability for the deb could not be more obvious. However, Ed sticks by his friend because Paul has always been on the square.

Brian Donlevy, Veronica Lake, Alan Ladd

A plot point from the novel lost in the earlier movie is back concerning a newspaper publisher beholden to Varna, his dissatisfied wife, and how Ed stirs that pot that results in suicide and media manipulation. Ed pushes a lie to force a confession and when the dust settles, decides to leave town because he can't get over Janet Henry. Janet Henry, who has been practically throwing herself at Ed, now leaves no doubt as to her feelings. After a few angsty moments, the couple leaves town with smiles on their faces and Paul's good-natured blessing. I suppose it doesn't pay to promote a new screen team as a couple of selfish rats.

Dashiell Hammett, George Raft, Frank Tuttle

Hammett's writing style is addictive to the reader who looks for compelling and surprising characters, and an underworld that is barely beneath the surface of respectability. The 1935 feature has a rough-and-ready feel and a thoroughly believable cast giving one hundred percent. The 1942 feature is a perfect showcase for Ladd and Lake with the lustrous glow of a top-notch Hollywood product. All three will entertain and fill that crime picture craving.












Monday, July 6, 2020

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's Enemy, and Northwest Frontier. The thoughtful and engrossing murder mystery with a social conscious has an original screenplay by Janet Green (Cast a Dark Shadow) and confident direction by Basil Dean (All Night Long).

Someone hated Sapphire Robbins enough to stab her to death and dump her body in Hampstead Heath. Nigel Patrick stars as Chief Inspector Hazard whose job is to determine who. The police must look into the why and the where. All of those people in Sapphire's orbit must resign themselves to the questioning and suspicion.

Earl Cameron, Nigel Patrick

Earl Cameron plays Dr. Robbins, Sapphire's brother. When he arrives to claim his sister's body, the police have a new avenue of investigation. Sapphire came from a mixed-race background and while her brother resembled their black mother and Sapphire their white father, her status as a "coloured girl" brings unconsidered depths of emotion to the case.

Nigel Patrick, Paul Massie

Paul Massie plays David Harris, Sapphire's fiance, and the father of her unborn child. What did he know of Sapphire's background and was it of import? Perhaps it was important to his family. His father played by Bernard Miles was as proud of David's architectural scholarship as if it were his own. Olga Lindo plays a mother of quiet intensity and Yvonne Mitchell is his sister Mildred whose life revolves around appearances and propriety.

Exploring Sapphire's past, the police meet bigoted landladies, a bright doctor, and the friends she left behind the day Sapphire found she could pass for white. These friends include a dancing partner who leads the police into a violent criminal element. There are too many options in the hunt for a possible murderer.

Nigel Patrick, Michael Craig

The murder investigation is well-written in its logical progression and the people who fall into its net. The investigation also brings up deep-seated attitudes that may hinder the search for a murderer. Michael Craig as Police Inspector Learoyd finds his never before explored attitudes on race the subject of rebuke. Rupert Davies as beat cop Ferris has pertinent observations on the Harris family.

Who knows what?

The bigotry that is accepted as a matter of course. The false face put on for investigators. The fear of suspicion. The knowledge of which you are certain may prove false. These are the emotional components that compound and confuse an investigation. Facts are needed for courts and emotions must be ripped open to find the guilty.

Sapphire is uniformly well-acted with Nigel Patrick's Inspector Hazard outstanding as the strong centre of the story. Yvonne Mitchell, Paul Massie, and Bernard Miles impress as the Harris family continually come under police suspicion.


Philip Green (Innocent Sinners) composed the moody score which is played on the soundtrack by Johnny Dankworth. Oscar and BAFTA winner Julie Harris (Simon and Laura) was the costume designer on the film, taking both her young and older Londoners into the 1960s.

Shot in Eastmancolor, Sapphire is a pleasure to watch for its aesthetic which brings us into its world while at the same time keeping us at arm's length as observers of humans at their best and worst. Harry Waxman was the winner of the British Society of Cinematographers award for his work on the film. Janet Green was the winner of the "Edgar" from the Edgar Allan Poe Awards (Mystery Writers of America) for Best Foreign Film.

Sapphire is a film worth watching for many of its excellent aspects. The success of this film led to Basil Dearden and Janet Green collaborating on the groundbreaking Victim in 1961.












Friday, July 3, 2020

THE ROBERT DONAT BLOGATHON: The 39 Steps, 1935


Maddy Loves Her Classic Films is hosting The Robert Donat Blogathon on July 3 to 5. Click HERE to join in the admiration for the fondly remembered actor.


Robert Donat was an actor of great commitment and versatility. Over 25 years, Donat appeared in 20 movies, winning an Oscar for Goodbye, Mr. Chips, and cementing himself in the hearts of generations of movie-goers for his vivid and memorable characters. The only dream we have is the wish we could have seen Robert Donat on stage.


In 1934 he starred as Edmund Dantes in Dumas' The Count of Monte Cristo the quintessential historical drama. The following year, 1935 Donat was a contemporary adventurer in Alfred Hitchcock's adaption of John Buchan's The Thirty-Nine Steps. Richard Hannay lives!

Buchan's novel, the first of five "shockers" featuring the character of Richard Hannay was adapted by Charles Bennett (The Man Who Knew Too Much) and Ian Hay (Secret Agent). They followed the template of the wrongly accused man shadowing the spies who can clear him, adding their own Hitchcockian cinematic touches.

John Buchan
Governor General of Canada, 1935-1940

Buchan (1875-1940), the Scottish born soldier/statesman/author commented to director Hitchcock during a private screening of the movie, "Fascinating! I wonder how it will end."

Robert Donat, Lucie Mannheim

Richard Hannay, played by Robert Donat, shortly returned to London from Canada finds himself with the not unwelcome company of an attractive and mysterious woman calling herself "Annabella Smith" played by Lucie Mannheim. They leave a music hall and return to Hannay's borrowed flat. There the slightly bemused man hears a tale of spies and of sinister men keeping track of their movements. The next morning is not so amusing as the woman dies exclaiming "Be careful, Hannay. They'll get you next."

Robert Donat, John Laurie, Peggy Ashcroft

Using his wits to escape the police, Hannay follows the few clues he has to get to the next link in the chain, Scotland. He finds brief rest and shelter with a young farm wife played by Peggy Ashcroft and her greedy older husband played by John Laurie.

Madeleine Carroll, Robert Donat

The man with the tip of a finger missing is supposed to be able to explain much. Godfrey Tearle as this "Professor" has much important necessary information seeing as he is the master of the spy ring. Hannay is truly up against it but, again, he is able to outwit those who would see him dead. Only now, Pamela a beautiful and extremely stubborn blonde played by Madeleine Carroll is handcuffed to our fugitive. And, yes, that is literally handcuffed, not figuratively!

Audiences have enjoyed sharing Hannay's adventure since its successful 1935 release. Running just under 90 minutes, The 39 Steps takes us from a crowded musical hall and back again through Scottish location filming, a political rally, bridges shrouded in fog, and cozy wayside inns where the next person you meet may mean deliverance or may mean death. The fate of a very likable hero is at stake, not to mention the fate of the country. And, by the way just what are these 39 steps anyway?

Robert Donat

The cinematic great-grandfather of North by Northwest's Roger O. Thornhill and the great-uncle of James Bond and his literary and cinematic brethren, The 39 Steps works on many levels and for many reasons, but most importantly for the depth and humour in Robert Donat's performance as a man wrongly accused and hounded by villains on all sides.

Hannay: "I know what it is to feel lonely and helpless and to have the whole world against me, and those are things that no men or women ought to feel."

John Buchan, Alfred Hitchcock

Eighty-five years of cinematic spies and adventurers owe much to John Buchan's "shockers": "An adventure where the events in the story are unlikely and the reader is only just able to believe that they really happened." and to Alfred Hitchcock's "MacGuffin": "The thing that the spies are after but the audience don't care about."











THE ESTHER WILLIAMS BLOGATHON: Dangerous When Wet, 1953

Michaela at Love Letters to Old Hollywood is hosting a blogathon tribute to her adored Esther Williams. The Esther Williams Blogathon ...