Monday, October 26, 2020

HALLOWE'EN FUN: The Black Castle, 1952

Ah, Hallowe'en! Crunchy leaves underfoot, cozy sweaters, and movies. Oh, the movies! The Universal Studios logo, the Swan Lake theme, and the familiar and welcome chills. Of course, that is when we go back to the early 1930s with The Mummy and Frankenstein and Dracula. Today let's visit with a favourite from my childhood, the Universal-International release of The Black Castle, 1952.

Academy Award-winning art director (How Green Was My Valley) Nathan Juran (The 7th Voyage of Sinbad) directed the story and screenplay by Jerry Sackheim (The Strange Door, The Boy and the Pirates). It is, to quote a character in the movie, "a mad adventure."


The castle in the Black Forest is the domain of Count Karl von Bruno played by Stephen McNally. Within the castle walls is a crowded and desolate graveyard. It is that graveyard that is our introduction to the story. Two servants are preparing the coffins of their mistress Countess Elva von Bruno played by Paula (Rita) Corday* and the dashing Englishman Sir Ronald Burton played by Richard Greene.

*Our leading lady's birth name was Jeanne Paule Teipotemarga. She was billed as Rita Corday from 1943-1947, as Paule in The Exile, 1947 and Paula until leaving the profession in 1953. I am sticking with "Rita" throughout this article.


Richard Greene

Of one fact, the servants are unaware; the couple is about to be buried alive! They know their fate and so does the Count. The Count is a madman and a murderer, and that is what brought Sir Ronald to the castle under an assumed name.

Count von Bruno had crossed paths in Africa with a group that included Sir Ronald and his two closest friends, Sterling and Brown. Sir Ronald was not involved in the confrontation, but it was a violent one in which Count Bruno lost an eye. The Count eventually took vengeance by killing the two Englishman. At least, that is what Sir Ronald hopes to prove by accepting an invitation as Richard Beckett to hunt in the Black Forest.


Michael Pate, John Hoyt, Stephen McNally

Count von Bruno has friends of his own who emulate his brutality and lack of morals. Michael Pate as Count Ernst von Melcher and John Hoyt as Count Steiken have met Sir Ronald and found him a man not to be trifled with as a sword fight in the local tavern proved to their surprise. Count von Bruno hopes to get some amusement out of the situation but realizes the guest will require watching.


Boris Karloff

A man such as Count von Bruno would certainly retain a physician of sorts at his estate. Boris Karloff plays Dr. Meissen, whose enigmatic smile keeps the audience guessing as to his thoughts and his motives, although it is clear he enjoys arousing the ire of his betters.



Lon Chaney Jr.

Lon Chaney Jr. plays Gargon, a longtime servant of Count von Bruno. He lost his tongue to natives in that battle in Africa. Does he recognize Sir Ronald from that time? He may be confused about the guest, but he is not confused about his duties as he gleefully helps his master torture a leopard imported for the pleasure of the hunters assembled at the castle.



Stephen McNally, Richard Greene, Rita Corday

Countess Elga is a sensitive soul who cannot bear to see the leopard ill-treated. Married to the Count by contract six months previously, they are a poorly matched pair and the audience can see her valiant struggle to maintain her own personality under such power. It is not a surprise that she and "Richard Beckett" are drawn to each other.


Richard Greene, Rita Corday

The castle is filled with disturbing characters and incidents. It has a working dungeon, and it is filled with hidden passageways and booby-traps. Beckett and Elga discover this on an impromptu tour. Beyond this passage is a drop to a pit of alligators. They escape unscathed this time. Who will not?



Rita Corday, Richard Greene

The night before the hunt a ball shows the side of the Black Castle shown to the aristocracy. Tenents only enter to pay ever-increasing taxes to the Count. Enemies, as we know, see an entirely different side of the estate. Note: Bill Thomas, a nine-time Oscar nominee and winner for Spartacus was in charge of the costumes for The Black Castle, and I would love to see these in colour.



Tudor Owen, Lon Chaney Jr.

There is proof of murder in Elga's jewellery, a trap in the hunt of the leopard, loyalty, and perfidy on display as the "mad adventure" of Sir Ronald Burton unfolds. The loyalty of Sir Ronald's servant Romley played by Tudor Owen broke my heart as a child which plays directly into my nostalgic affection for The Black Castle

First seeing the movie as a youngster, it was part of my experiencing the world of Boris Karloff beyond Charlie Chan at the Opera and of Lon Chaney beyond The Wolf Man. The movie had a certain Classics Illustrated vibe with its stalwart hero, damsel-in-distress, over-the-top villain, and the setting of a castle where anything might happen. Much applause to the Art and Set Direction for the foggy forest, the windy wayside, and the booby-trapped castle. 



Henry Corden

Perhaps you have a youngster who has not yet become jaded by the video games and comic adaptions of today who might enjoy a good, old-fashioned mysterious castle filled with horror icons. If so, I heartily recommend this movie. Perhaps you know a fan of The Flintstones who might find it interesting to see Henry Corden who was the voice Fred from 1977 on as one of the Count's servants. Fender is a bigger than usual role for the Montreal-born Corden at this time when he was usually uncredited on-screen.

I look back with fondness at my first viewing of The Black Castle. The chills may have abated somewhat with the passage of time, but I have not become so cynical as to not enjoy the thrills and delights offered by this entertainment. For the timid youngster, you may assure them that "they lived happily ever after."



Richard Greene, Rita Corday


If we could interrupt our leading lady and leading man, I am certain they would wish you a very HAPPY HALLOWE'EN!
















Wednesday, October 21, 2020

CMBA 2020 FALL BLOGATHON, POLITICS ON FILM: What Every Woman Knows, 1934


Politics on Film
is the topic for the Classic Movie Blog Association's Fall Blogathon running from October 20th to 23rd. Click HERE for the fascinating contributions to this timely blogathon.



John Shand is a young man of great confidence and ambition. Shand has a lot of opinions and a talent for self-expression. Shand feels that he was born to be a politician. Brian Aherne plays up all of John Shand's vanity and flamboyant self-interest. 

Shand's confidence is somewhat tempered by his lack of education which is dependent upon non-existent funds. However, where there is a will there is a way. The way is the library of the Wylie family. The merchants are very successful but their library is mostly for "show." Shand will put those books to good and proper use, as any Scotsman worth the title would do, even if he has to break into the house at night to do so!

Maggie Wylie is a few years older than John Shand and has a clear-eyed picture of her place in the grand scheme of society. She may be the light of her father and brother's eyes for her cleverness and sweetness, but there is no denying she is a spinster. A minister, her most recent prospect, has vacated the post, and Maggie's family worries for her future. Helen Hayes plays Maggie's subtle humour and pragmatic personality to perfection. After all, she played Maggie in a 1926 Broadway revival of the play for 268 performances.

Brian Aherne, Helen Hayes

James M. Barrie's What Every Woman Knows opened to great success in both London and New York City in 1908. Through his plays, including Quality Street, Rosalind, and Mary Rose, Barrie showed great empathy for and understanding of his female characters. What Every Woman Knows moves deftly between very public and very private matters.

The Wylies comically set a trap for the intruder and are not subtle about their demands on the said intruder, once Shand is in their grasp. The affectionate and blundering family are played winningly by David Torrence as the father David, and his sons blustery David by Donald Crisp, and hesitant James by Dudley Digges.

Brian Aherne, Janet Murdoch, David Torrence
Dudley Digges, Helen Hayes, Donald Crisp

The Wylies are willing to finance John Shand's education if he agrees, five years hence, to marry their Maggie. Maggie is attracted to John Shand and agrees to agree to the bargain. Shand agrees to agree to the bargain, even to the extent of signing a contract. He sees this as a great sacrifice to assure his political future. Maggie views her situation with a strong sense of irony and absurdity, much as she views life in general. Her attitude goes over the collective heads of her family but is something that they admire in her just the same. 

John Shand eventually wins a seat in Parliament and keeps his bargain to marry Maggie Wylie despite her offering him an out. She doesn't want to take someone who is unwilling but he feels that sense of obligation to a bargain. Shand also takes comfort in seeing himself as somewhat of a martyr to a greater cause.

The ego of the standard-issue politician cannot see past his own glory. In John Shand's case, he does not realize how many of his ideas emanated from conversations with Maggie. Nor does he realize it is Maggie's skill at letter writing that has impressed members of his Labour Party and others of influence.
 
Brian Aherne, Lucile Watson, Madge Evans, Helen Hayes

John's success brings him into contact with wealthy patrons in London. La Contessa le Brierre played by Lucile Watson and her niece Lady Sybil Tenterden played by Madge Evans make a strong impression on the young politician. The beautiful and cultured Lady Sybil finds the charismatic newcomer to London very attractive, and the feeling is mutual. For the time being, Mrs. Shand can do nothing but watch from the sidelines.

John's influence in his Party and in Parliament continues to grow, along with Maggie's lowkey assistance which is noticed by La Contessa and her old friend, the leader of the Labour Party, Charles Venables played by Henry Stephenson. In the meantime, romance has overtaken John Shand, who is willing to throw everything away for the love of Lady Sybil.

Maggie plays one more hand to save her marriage and John's career. She is assisted by La Contessa who offers her country estate as a getaway for John to work on an important paper. Also invited is Lady Sybil. Will she be impressed spending so much time with the basically vain and shallow John Shand? Will Shand find pleasure being drawn away from his work to pay homage to the basically vain and shallow Lady Sybil? 

Maggie takes a major stand in one last move to save John's career for him by composing a letter of resignation that so impresses Venables that John is offered an important post in a newly forming coalition government. Finally, after the let down of the Lady Sybil affair and an uprising by the Wylie clan in defense of their Maggie, John's eyes are opened to the true worth of his wife and of himself. John Shand begins to see life through Maggie's ironic eyes and to accept his own absurdity.

Directed by Gregory La Cava (My Man Godfrey) in 1934 for MGM, the former animator had the right touch for letting the comedy in the manners and characters take precise precedence over any drama in a situation. La Cava's sensibilities combined with Barrie's play and its screenplay by Monkton Hoffe (The Lady Eve, story), John Meehan (When Ladies Meet), and James Kevin McGuiness (The Cat and the Fiddle) provided a sturdy platform for the performances.

The characters, even or perhaps especially with their faults are endearing. The males of the Wylie family with their stubborn Scottish pride and unwavering affection for Maggie paint a picture of a true family. Aherne as Shand is an energetic mix of pride and sincerity. Helen Hayes as Maggie owns the movie with the delicate handling of her loved ones and the task of making John into the man he should be.

What Every Woman Knows has been revived and adapted continually since its premiere. Illustrating the old adage "Behind every successful man there is a strong woman," the play/screenplay also gives an honest look at how one woman reacts to what society expects of her and what she expects of herself. What Every Woman Knows shows us that the political manipulation of Parties, policies, and constituents is nothing new, but a game that must be learned in order to succeed.

Despite its pedigree and its genuine thought-provoking entertainment value What Every Woman Knows was a box office failure. Perhaps audiences in this American election year will find something to enjoy in this tale set in a fictional British election of long decades past.












Thursday, October 15, 2020

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 the beloved actress begins HERE.


James Buchanan: "Now if you could only cook."
Joan Hawthorne: "Oh, I can cook. I'm a marvelous cook. ... Can you butle?"

Mike Rossini played by Leo Carrillo needs a cook, an exceptional cook. Mike made his money as a bootlegger when prohibition was the law. His current business is no less shady but that shouldn't bother any new employees. An exceptional cook who comes with a butler/chauffeur can find themselves with quarters over the garage and $175 dollars a month, and that, to quote Joan is "real money." 

Joan Hawthorne played by Jean Arthur could use some real money. On her own in New York City, Joan is out of work and has come to a parting of the ways with her landlady. She discusses these matters with James Buchanan as they sit on a park bench. Joan assumes as anyone would, that a fellow sitting on a park bench in the middle of the afternoon is a fellow seeker of employment.
 
Herbert Marshall, Jean Arthur

James Buchanan played by Herbert Marshall is not exactly on the down and out. He is the chief engineer and CEO of a successful car manufacturing concern. He has walked away from his business on this day because his Board of Directors refuses to go along with his new designs, choosing to play it conservative during the Depression. James is fed up. James is also fed up with his upcoming nuptials. His bride-to-be Evelyn played by Frieda Inescourt is only marrying him for his money and the convenient fact that he is too busy to be involved in her life. James wants the warmth and excitement he expected would come with romance. Silly boy!

James wants to keep the intriguing young woman on the park bench in his life so he tells her his name is Jim Burns and joins her in pursuit of positions with the wealthy Mr. Rossini. Rossini's right-hand man Flash played by Lionel Stander doesn't get all the hype about an "exceptional cook" but he comes in handy for muscle work and moving the plot along with his snooping.

Joan and Jim grow closer during their time as cook and butler, and a "married" couple, but have trouble admitting their feelings. After all, Jim unknown to Joan, still has to deal with a company and a fiancee. This leads to comic complications between the potential lovebirds. When people don't have all the facts - well, anything can happen.


Jean Arthur, Leo Carrillo
 
Joan proves to be too much of an exceptional cook. Add that skill to her general attractiveness and Joan finds herself in the middle of a love triangle as Mike Rossini tries to steal the girl of his dreams away from her "husband." How the police (!) and a gang of armed thugs (!) get involved in all of this, I will leave you to discover for yourselves. The hubby and I came across this movie one Saturday afternoon with no prior knowledge of it and we were immediately and permanently charmed.

The story for If You Could Only Cook is from the prolific comedic mind of F. Hugh Herbert (Corliss Archer, The Moon is Blue) with the screenplay by Gertrude Purcell (Destry Rides Again, One Night in the Tropics) and Howard J. Green (Blessed Event, Star of Midnight).


Herbert Marshall, director William Seiter, Jean Arthur
Everyone seems to be in on a different joke in this gag photo.

William Seiter had great skill with comedy and over the years many of his films have become personal favourites: Skinner's Dress Suit, Why Be Good?, Diplomaniacs, Sons of the Desert, The Richest Girl in the World, Roberta, The Moon's Our Home, It's a Date, You Were Never Lovelier and others. Jean and Seiter would work again in 1943 for A Lady Takes a Chance

Our Columbia release of 1935 presents three accomplished actors who appear to be having great fun with their characters. Leo Carrillo is especially delightful as a capricious crook confusing his heart with his stomach, although Jean Arthur does have more than her culinary skills to recommend her. Herbert Marshall brings his sophistication and subtle humour and sincerity to create a relatable character.

Jean Arthur had been in films since 1923, bouncing among the studios when Columbia finally noticed her comedic potential in an earlier 1935 release, John Ford's The Whole Town's Talking. While dramas took up most of her output that year, light bulbs finally went on over the heads of the executives, and she shines in If Only You Could Cook. Jean Arthur's tough but sweet personality took flight in this captivating screwball comedy. Audiences of the time must have been pleased with this presentation of the actress as star comedy material. The following year, Jean played Babe Bennett in Mr. Deeds Goes to Town for Frank Capra, and cinema immortality was hers.












Saturday, October 10, 2020

THE ELEANOR PARKER BLOGATHON: Between Two Worlds, 1944


Maddy Loves Her Classic Films is saluting the beautiful and versatile Eleanor Parker with a blogathon running October 10th and 11th. Join the online tributes HERE. My contribution is a look at Between Two Worlds, 1944.


Sutton Vane's play Outward Bound premiered in London in 1923. The fantasy-drama with its hopeful premise of an afterlife found a place with the post-WWI audience. Broadway audiences were equally taken with the play the following year. Warner Bros. filmed Outward Bound in 1930 retaining some cast from the Broadway production. Leslie Howard had played "Henry" on the stage and in the film took the "Prior" role. Beryl Mercer recreated the role of "Mrs. Midget", with Dudley Digges again as "The Examiner."


Of note: Helen Chandler portrayed "Ann" in the 1930 film opposite Douglas Fairbank Jr. and appeared in the Broadway revival of 1938 opposite Alexander Kirkland.


The world was once again at war and Warner Bros. believed a weary audience would be receptive to the downbeat optimism of a revival of Vane's Outward Bound. The screenplay by Daniel Fuchs was rechristened Between Two Worlds. The film was the first of three directing credits for dialogue director Edward A. Blatt. Cast with many solid Warner's contractees Between Two Worlds was moodily filmed by Carl E. Guthrie. Erich Wolfgang Korngold provided an appropriately melodramatic score.


Paul Henreid, Eleanor Parker, George Tobias

Ann Bergner: "Where are we sailing for?"
Scrubby (the steward): "Where are you sailing for? To Heaven, and to Hell. Does that seem strange? You'll soon understand, my dear. In a way, they are really both the same place."

European emigrant Henry Bergner played by Paul Henreid is suffering in London. Trauma from fighting with the Free French weighs heavily on his mind and heart, and he has lost his ability to earn a living as a pianist. Told that the paperwork to take a ship to America would not be forthcoming for at least six months, the depressed Henry chooses suicide as an escape from his depression.

Eleanor Parker plays Ann Bergner, Henry's devoted wife. They are so close that she senses his drastic decision and his resolve. Knowing she cannot change his mind, Ann decides she cannot live without Henry and joins him as the gas fills their flat. Unexpectedly, the couple finds themselves on the very ship upon which Henry was earlier denied access. They remember their deaths and know that they are in some sort of a transition phase in existence.

Onboard are the passengers that Henry saw at the steamship office. They are the same people Ann saw struck by a Nazi bomb. These passengers are not aware of their transitional status. It should come to them when they are ready to accept it.

Dennis King, Sara Allgood, John Garfield, Faye Emerson
George Tobias, Gilbert Emery, Isobel Elsom

John Garfield is Tom Prior, a hot-shot journalist who allowed his cynicism and a chip on his shoulder to drink away his career and prospects. Faye Emerson is Maxine Russell, a wrong side of the tracks gal who hoped show business would be her entree to the good life. She is bitter and has a history with Tom Prior.

Isobel Elsom and Gilbert Emery are Genevieve and Benjamin Cliveden-Banks. She is a social-climbing snob and he is her essentially kindly but a cowed husband. George Colouris is Lingley of Lingley Limited, a business magnate and war profiteer for whom money is his god and protector.

George Tobias is Pete Musick, a merchant marine heading home to a wife he adores and a kid he has yet to meet. Dennis King is Reverand William Duke, a shy clergyman looking forward to expanding his horizons in the wide world. Sara Allgood is Mrs. Midget, a humble woman with a secret and a goal.

Edmund Gwenn

The passengers are served by the steward Scrubby played by Edmund Gwenn. Sydney Greenstreet is The Examiner, who will send each passenger on their allotted way. Be warned that they bring their own Heaven and Hell with them.

Eleanor Parker's Ann is a woman continually on the edge emotionally. In life, she cared for nothing but her husband's peace of mind and was unable to help him attain it. In death, she struggles between trying to be strong in the face of the overwhelming unknown and giving in to the fear that somehow she will be separated from her beloved. 

Henry has become accustomed to his new existence; Ann is by his side and they have no further concerns about the inhumanity of man. His musical skills have returned, and he is open to helping Scrubby with his duties. Henry does not yet realize that it will be his fate, the fate of suicides like Scrubby, to remain on shipboard traveling forever. Ann, being collateral damage to Henry's decision will be allowed to go forward. However, she refuses to leave Henry. In an unprecedented move, Scrubby begs The Examiner to find a way to help the young woman with such deep love. Is there a way?



Warner Bros. kept Eleanor Parker a very busy actress in their organization. During 1944 she appeared in six films including a bit in Hollywood Canteen. Eleanor and Paul Henreid would again co-star in the 1946 version of W. Somerset Maugham's Of Human Bondage. Later, of the eight episodes of the series Bracken's World which Paul Henreid directed in 1969, two would feature Eleanor Parker.












Thursday, October 1, 2020

CAFTAN WOMAN'S CHOICE: ONE FOR OCTOBER ON TCM


The Archers 1943 film The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp is a leisurely 2 hours and 43 minutes and you won't want to miss a moment. It is a movie that examines life and history, its long and short views. It examines aging and love in ways you may have thought but never expressed. Perhaps in ways that will be new to you yet will impact your thinking or your feelings.

James MacKechnie, Roger Livesey

Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger set the opening of our film in the contemporary time of 1943. General Clive Wynne-Candy is in charge of the Home Guard and "war begins at midnight." The young officers and men have been told to make the war games like the real thing and they do with a sneak early attack, making the older officers their prisoners. It is a battle between the new and the old with indignant insults being hurled by both sides. Roger Livesey as Clive speaks out, How do you know what sort of fellow I was when I was a young as you 40 years ago?"

Roger Livesey

The movie takes us back to that time 40 years ago. It is 1902 and Clive Candy has been awarded the Victoria Cross after serving time as a POW during the Boer War. Fate, in the form of a letter from a young woman named Edith Hunter, finds him traveling to Berlin in order to foster some sort of diplomatic understanding with the Germans regarding the British actions in South Africa.

Anton Walbrook as Theo and Deborah Kerr as Edith

Clive's visit is not sanctioned by any Embassy, yet he is impelled to go forth. Clive will cause a diplomatic incident, fight a duel and meet people who will become dearer to him than any others, Edith Hunter played by Deborah Kerr and Theo Kretschmar-Schuldorff played by Anton Walbrook.

Deborah Kerr as Barbara

Forward 20 years and Clive Candy is now involved in the war to end all wars. When the Allies win it reinforces his idea that right overcame might in the conflict and always shall. Here he meets nurse Barbara Wynne played by Deborah Kerr and marries her.

Roger Livesey, Anton Walbrook

He renews his acquaintance with Theo Kretschmar-Schuldorff but the shadow of the recent conflict hangs over their friendship. They are from opposite sides of the conflict and see both the war and the peace from differing perspectives.

Anton Walbrook, Roger Livesey

World War 2 brings the widowed Clive and Theo together again. Nazism has blighted the world and the years of experience of the two old men are ignored by that world. The wars they have seen and the lives they have lived have led to different attitudes but both can learn and can share.

Deborah Kerr as "Johnny"

Eventually, as a Home Guard officer, General Wynne-Candy becomes a public relations boon until he isn't. The "old dear" has the affection and loyalty of his young driver Angela "Johnny" Cannon played by Deborah Kerr. He chose her from among 700 applicants. Can you wonder why? Theo does his supportive part as best he can, however, his status as an alien (much like his creator Emeric Pressburger) makes his position that of the outsider.

The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp is one of the most sumptuous and glorious pictures your eyes have ever beheld thanks to the production design of Alfred Junge and the Technicolor cinematography of Georges Perinal. Costume design was by Matilda Etches, Charles R. Beard was the period adviser, and Douglas Brownrigg the military adviser. There is a sense that if the world were Technicolor, we have stepped into those multiple eras of Clive Candy's life.
Cartoonist David Low's satirical reactionary character Colonel Blimp is the inspiration for the physicality of the character portrayed in this movie. The personality and the history come from a line edited out of One of Our Aircraft is Missing, 1942: "You don't know what it's like to be old." Editor David Lean suggested that line was worth its own movie.

I have not written too much detail as to the plots in the story as The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp is a movie to be experienced, whether you are seeing it for the first time or the tenth. The hope here is that your appetite is whetted for the classic. It's moving script, presentation and exemplary performances by our three leads will live with you.


TCM is screening The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp in primetime on Thursday, October 15th as part of their Spotlight: Celebrating 30 Years of The Film Foundation. There is much to enjoy in the worthy lineup for this October spotlight.


Of note:

Ursula Jeans (1906-1973) is charming as Frau von Kalteneck. Ursula and Roger Livesey (1906-1976) were married from 1937 until her death in 1973. They appeared together often on stage, but The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp is only one of two movie collaborations.












CAFTAN WOMAN'S CHOICE: ONE FOR DECEMBER ON TCM

Perhaps if I told you that Robert Greig played the butler to a wealthy screwball family in The Cheaters that would be enough for you to agr...