Monday, November 30, 2020

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 agree with my December choice. However, if I then told you that halfway through the movie Greig disappears (he does leave a note), you might decide to forego the pleasure, and that would be a shame.

Directed by Joseph Kane, a name pleasantly associated with many westerns, this 1945 holiday feature from Republic Studios stands out in that gentleman's career. The story for The Cheaters is by Albert Ray (Charlie Chan in Reno) whose wife Frances Hyland (The Sin of Nora Moran) completed the screenplay following his untimely passing in 1944.
 
Joseph Schildkraut as Anthony Marchand
Mr. M: "Gratitude in most men is usually a secret desire to receive greater benefits."

Wealthy Uncle Henry has died in Colorado leaving his $5 million estate to an actress he saw as Little Eva in Uncle Tom's Cabin 30 years ago. His relatives, the Pidgeons of NYC could use that money. James Pidgeon played by Eugene Pallette is successful, but cash flow at present is dripping. His family, however, lives life large as if the coffers were full.

The Pidgeon family includes scatterbrained wife Clara played by Billie Burke, stuffy daughter Therese played by Ruth Terry, bratty daughter Angela played by Ann Gillis, smart alec son Reggie played by David Holt, and Clara's brother Willie the souse, who will not leave, played by Raymond Walburn. 

Eugene Pallette as James C. Pidgeon
Pidgeon: "I don't think I'm being too callous when I think of what the girls and Clara and Reggie can do with that money."

Therese wants to impress her boyfriend Captain Stephen Bates played by Robert Livingston. Stephen is from a wealthy family whose mother accepts charity cases into the home at Christmas. Therese wants to do the same. Through an agency, enter "Mr. M," former noted stage actor Anthony Marchand played by Joseph Schildkraut. Mr. M is a charming scoundrel who is not above taking advantage of his sudden good luck. Robert Greig as the butler MacFarland has seen Mr. Marchand during his heyday and has a particular soft spot for that gentleman. Mr. Marchand opportunely overhears secrets and observes behaviors that place him in the role of a puppeteer to the Pidgeons.

Marchand eavesdrops on the Pidgeon's scheme to keep Uncle Henry's money in the family. All they have to do is beat Uncle Henry's lawyer's to the identity and whereabouts of the unaware heiress and keep her under wraps and in the dark about her good fortune. In a necessary and most gentlemanly agreement, the Pidgeons agree to cut Mr. Marchand in on the deal. The conspiracy to cheat Miss Watson is tight on all sides.

Billie Burke as Clara Pidgeon
Clara: "I haven't the faintest idea."

Assuming the little girl remained in the show business as an adult, it was easy enough to track down Miss Florie Watson who is flat broke. She knows she is not a long-lost relative of the Pidgeons but when a gal is about to find herself out on the sidewalk without a penny, she'll play along. Florie feels genuine guilt at "cheating" the rich family while she is surrounded by those who would swindle her. It will not surprise you to learn that a conversation reveals that this Miss Watson is indeed the genuine heir.

When the newspapers get wind of the whole bequest and search business, the Pidgeons and their guests high-tail it to a Connecticut farm owned by Pidgeon's company. It is there, without servants and with the spirit of Christmas around them that hearts and minds are changed. Florie Watson has a lot to do with the redemption of the family as her sincerity and "regular" personality wins their hearts. Mr. M has a lot to do with it, for filled with brandy he is filled with remorse. After all, when you set out to be a cheater, you must be careful not to cheat yourself.

Ona Munson as Florie Watson
Florie: "Oh, that's the trouble with me, I talk too much."

Note 1: When the St. Luke's Episcopal Church Choristers arrive on a sleigh and sing Silent Night, and if you are drinking a nice Riesling, there is the chance that you may get a tad verklempt. Don't say I didn't warn you.

Note 2: If you are still skeptical about this selection, let Ruth at Silver Screenings convince you to watch The Cheaters

The story and its telling, and the cast and their skill make The Cheaters an unexpected Christmas story that will sneak up on you. Give it a couple of years and you and it will become old holiday companions. 


TCM is screening The Cheaters on Wednesday, December 23rd. Take a quiet moment during Christmas week to share the studio snow, the bravura Schildkraut performance, and renew your acquaintance with the redemptive quality of Dickens' A Christmas Carol. Perhaps you could double it up with The Shop Around the Corner for a Schildkraut double bill.

Of note
Joseph Schildkraut, Ann Dvorak, John Wayne
Flame of the Barbary Coast

It might surprise you to know that The Cheaters was the second of five Kane films featuring Oscar-winner (The Life of Emile Zola) Joseph Schildkraut. Their other collaborations are Flame of the Barbary Coast, 1945, Plainsman and the Lady, 1945, Old Los Angeles, 1948, and The Gallant Legion, 1948.

NOTICE

The decision at the TCM website to block users from the future schedule after all these years, has put this blog feature since 2011 in a precarious position. Thankfully, in late December I found access through some helpful online sources. Here's hoping the "new and improved" website is still undergoing its improvements.













Monday, November 23, 2020

NOIRVEMBER FUN: My Favorite Brunette, 1947


"When I came to I was playing post office with the floor. I had a lump on my head the size of my head. Inside, Toscanini was conducting The Anvil Chorus with real blacksmiths."
- Ronnie Jackson

Many great films-noir were released in 1947: Nightmare AlleyCrossfireBorn to KillKiss of DeathOut of the PastThe Lady from ShanghaiRailroaded, and Dark Passage. If ever a film style were ripe for spoofing, that time was 1947. 

Ronnie Jackson, a San Francisco baby photographer played by Bob Hope, narrates to the press the story of his life up to his imminent execution. Sob sister Ann Doran wants the "woman's angle" and the woman, in this case, has plenty of angles. (I couldn't help myself!)

Bob Hope, Dorothy Lamour

"Nutty as a fruitcake, and with all that beautiful frosting."
- Ronnie Jackson

Dorothy Lamour, Bob's co-star in 11 movies, plus 3 cameos, plays Carlotta Montay, a mysterious woman who consults detective Sam McCloud about her kidnapped husband or uncle, who may or may not really be kidnapped. Only, as convoluted as is Carlotta's story, so is that of the detective.

Alan Ladd, Bob Hope

Sam McCloud, Private Eye has the office across from Ronnie Jackson, Baby Photographer and the proximity has filled Ronnie's head with the idea that he too can be a detective. After all, he has a trench coat and has invented a key-hole shaped lens which should and does come in handy. When McCloud played by Alan Ladd in a smart cameo leaves town for a few days, he gives Ronnie the key to his office to look after things. Enter Carlotta Montay and all "Hope" is lost. (I couldn't help myself.)

Bob Hope, Dorothy Lamour, Charles Dingle

The next stop is one of those Spanish style mansions on the California coast where Ronnie is slow to take up Carlotta's cues to watch what he says around her "keepers." Charles Dingle (The Little Foxes) is Major Montague with a dripping southern accent and a sinister air. He runs the show. Peter Lorre (The Maltese Falcon) is Kismet, a sarcastic henchman disguised as a gardener. Kismet is an expert with knives and resents Ronnie giving him the nickname of "Cuddles." He resents it very much!

Bob Hope, Peter Lorre

"Easy, Cuddles. One move and you're a dead midget."
- Ronnie Jackson

John Hoyt (Brute Force) plays the taciturn Dr. Lundau. Every gang needs a taciturn doctor especially when you have replaced the femme fatale's uncle with a phony in a wheelchair. Both the genuine and phony uncles are played by Frank Puglia (Colorado Territory). Lon Chaney Jr. (Of Mice and Men) spoofs poor Lenny as Willy, the dumb muscle in the gang. Ronnie is Willy's pal. Someday Ronnie is going to buy Willy a rabbit. Jack La Rue (No Orchids for Miss Blanding) is the smart muscle in the gang.

The gang has spirited Carlotta and her uncle the Baron to a sanitarium with the bucolic name of Seacliffe Lodge. Ronnie is led there by the gang and before he can find Carlotta he finds Charles Arnt as an inmate playing a round of golf with an invisible golf ball. Bob Hope contributed this comic scene to the picture. 

"The MacGuffin is the thing that the spies are after but the audience doesn't care."
- Alfred Hitchcock

The MacGuffin in My Favorite Brunette is a map to a source of uranium that the bad guys want to keep from the State Department. Enter Reginald Denny (Skinner's Dress Suit) as an engineer hoping to collaborate with the real Baron Montay and present the information to the government. The bothersome engineer presents Kismet/Cuddles with the long-sought-for opportunity to use his knife and frame the hapless Ronnie Jackson for the murder!
 
Lon Chaney Jr., Bob Hope

Carlotta and Ronnie trail the gang to Washington where more gags abound in their effort to lay the murder where it belongs but as we recall from the opening, Carlotta seems to have left Ronnie hanging. (I couldn't help myself!)

All's well that ends well when Carlotta and one of Ronnie's baby photography clients, Mrs. Fong played by Jean Wong, come through with vital clues that free Ronnie. This turn of events is most annoying to the executioner "Harry." Cue Bing Crosby's cameo appearance!

On radio and television, Bob Hope was apt to make jokes about his writers, but he certainly knew a good thing when he had it. The writers of My Favorite Brunette, Jack Rose and Edmund Beloin got their start on the radio before moving to screenplays. Rose had three Oscar nominations for The Seven Little Foys, 1955, Houseboat, 1958, and A Touch of Class, 1973. Edmund Beloin had a Writers Guild of America nomination for G.I. Blues, 1960, and wrote and produced classic TV including My Three Sons and Family Affair. Rose and Beloin combined on 13 of Bob Hope's popular movies of the 1940s and 1950s.

Elliott Nugent, the actor turned stage and film producer/director directed My Favorite Brunette, the last of 5 movie collaborations between Nugent and Hope beginning in 1938 with Give Me a Sailor through Never Say Die, The Cat and the Canary, and Nothing But the Truth.

Giving My Favorite Brunette the film noir aura was cinematographer Lionel Linden (I Want to Live!, Quicksand, The Manchurian Candidate). Linden filmed nine of Hope's comedies including Casanova's Big Night and Alias Jesse James

Edith Head, the femme fatale's best friend, with Dorothy Lamour

Dorothy Lamour and Bob Hope are always a wonderful team and particularly so in My Favorite Brunette. Bob's cowardly-custard characterization adapts to many situations but a film noir where our lead is continually off-balance is comedy gold.

Dorothy Lamour was born to be a femme fatale which she often played in the "Road" pictures. However, Johnny Apollo, 1940 and Manhandled, 1949 were her only chances at an actual noir.


Bob Hope

"You see, I wanted to be a detective too. It only took brains, courage, and a gun...and I had the gun."
- Ronnie Jackson

My Favorite Brunette was one of Paramount's top-grossing pictures of 1947 and deservedly so. The noir crowd is sure to enjoy its many allusions to the works of Raymond Chandler, particularly Murder, My Sweet, 1944. Hope's narration throughout provides many giggles and guffaws.












Monday, November 16, 2020

THE SIXTH ANNUAL BARRYMORE TRILOGY BLOGATHON: The Secret of Convict Lake, 1951


Crystal at In the Good Old Days of Classic Hollywood is hosting The Sixth Annual Barrymore Trilogy Blogathon which runs on November 15 - 17. Please enjoy the tributes which may be accessed HERE


The Secret of Convict Lake is an ensemble western released by Twentieth Century Fox in 1951. Based on a short story by science fiction writers Anna Hunger and Jack Pollenfex, the screenplay is attributed to Oscar Saul (Woman in Hiding) with uncredited contributions from Ben Hecht (The Front Page).

Director Michael Gordon (Another Part of the Forest, An Act of Murder) would find this assignment his last in Hollywood until Pillow Talk in 1959. He became another victim of McCarthyism in the paranoid America of the 1950s.

Ethel Barrymore
1879 - 1959

Every community needs its moral centre or compass. The isolated community of Lake Monte Diablo finds its centre in "Granny." The small settlement relies on their elder played by Ethel Barrymore, especially this winter when the men have gone in search of a silver strike to support their families.

Coping with the harsh conditions in their valley is Gene Tierney as Marcia, engaged to Rudy Schaefer played by Harry Carter, and Ann Dvorak as Rachael, Rudy's spinster sister. Ruth Donnelly plays Mary Fancher, and Helen Westcott plays Susan Haggarty. Jeanette Nolan and Barbara Bates play Harriet and Barbara Purcell, mother and daughter.

Glenn Ford, Gene Tierney, Ethel Barrymore

The lonely settlement is invaded by five men; five convicts that remain from a mass breakout. Some were recaptured, some fell victim to a blizzard while crossing the mountains that took them to Lake Monte Diablo. The village was the destination of Jim Canfield played by Glenn Ford. He was sentenced for a murder and robbery by the lies of Rudy Schaefer.

The village was the destination of Johnny Greer played by Zachary Scott because he wants the forty thousand dollars he believes Canfield has hidden in the valley. Fate drew the lots of the three remaining men, the brutal Matt played by Jack Lambert, pragmatic Limey played by Cyril Cusack, and a psychotic rapist Clyde played by Richard Hylton.

Ensemble

The women are not without resources and wits, but it is a perilous and unexpected situation in which they find themselves. By instinct, they turn to Granny who is a shrewd judge of character and, despite being mostly bedridden, a woman of action.

The relationships among this unlikely group of hunted men and hostages vacillate between wariness and curiosity. Canfield's focus on the absent Rudy Schaefer distresses Marcia. Their emotions are complicated by a strong attraction for each other. Johnny takes advantage of Rachael's longing for romance and adventure in the outside world. Naive Barbara precipitates a violent incident involving young Clyde. In the end, all rely on the wisdom and fortitude of "Granny."

The tangled tale is an engrossing western with well-formed characters for its brief runtime of  83 minutes. Location shooting in Colorado and California is combined effortlessly with studio bound scenes by the black and white cinematography of two time Oscar nominee Leo Tover (The Heiress, Hold Back the Dawn).

Legendary stage star Ethel Barrymore made her last Broadway appearance in Embezzled Heaven in 1944. From that time, she worked in Hollywood films beginning with the Oscar-winning role of Ma Mott in None But the Lonely Heart. Of the 21 movies that would follow, Miss Barrymore would garner three more Oscar nominations for The Spiral Staircase, 1947, The Paradine Case, 1948, and Pinky, 1950.

Ethel Barrymore's Hollywood tenure was relatively brief considering her long and historic career, but she left us the benefit of her talents in dramas, thrillers, films-noir, comedies, musicals, and, probably a surprise to her, the fascinating western, The Secret of Convict Lake.







Monday, November 9, 2020

THE THIRD ANNUAL CLAUDE RAINS BLOGATHON: Alfred Hitchcock Presents The Diamond Necklace, 1959

 


Tiffany and Rebekkah at the Pure Entertainment Preservation Society are hosting The Third Annual Claude Rains Blogathon running on November 9 - 11. Enjoy the contributions HERE.

Talented stage and screen actor, as well as acting teacher Claude Rains took his career to Hollywood in 1933 as the title character in The Invisible Man; a unique film debut for a unique talent. Over the next 32 years Rains would create many equally memorable characters and garner four supporting actor Oscar nominations: Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, Casablanca, Mr. Skeffington, and Notorious.

Claude Rains also found television to be a fine showcase for his abilities in the Golden Age of television which began in the 1950s with small-screen version of plays like On Borrowed Time, Abby Mann's Judgment at Nuremberg, and the fondly recalled musical The Pied Piper of Hamelin. Episodic television benefited from Rains' guest performances in Naked City, Wagon Train, Rawhide, and Dr. Kildare. Between 1956 and 1962 Claude Rains appeared in five episodes of the anthology series Alfred Hitchcock Presents. The series ran from 1955 to 1965 and was acclaimed with several industry awards.

This is a spoilerish look at The Diamond Necklace written by Sarett Rudley, who wrote nine episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents, and directed by Herschel Daugherty, director of 24 episodes of the series. It first aired on Sunday, February 22nd, 1959. I guarantee that knowing what occurs will in no way diminish your pleasure in watching the program, and it is all due to Claude Rains. 

We begin with a typically lugubrious and cheeky introduction by our host Alfred Hitchcock who takes us on a tour of an art museum.


"I wonder what this one is called. Nude with Necklace. I don't think this is a painting you should be allowed to look at too closely. So, while I am appreciating it I shall ask you to look at another exhibit. One that may not be a work of art but is wholesome enough for your children to watch." Cue commercial.


Maynard and Co. Jewelers has been family owned and managed since its founding in 1833. All that time, there has been a Thurgood employed with the firm.

Claude Rains

Meet Andrew Thurgood, who has been the link in the tradition for the past 37 years. He is a fussy and somewhat pompous little man. His pride in his position at Maynard's makes him an oddly endearing fellow. The employees under him expect his early morning pep talk of "Let's make it a good day. Let's make it a Maynard day." 

Claude Rains, Alan Hewitt

We can't help but feel Thurgood's pain when George Maynard impresses an early retirement upon him. Maynard is redesigning the store into a sleek and modern affair and Andrew Thurgood is anything but sleek and modern. The end of the week will see his final day. Andrew sadly remarks "So much to do. So little time to do it in. I'll make it a good week, a real Maynard week." George responds that Maynard's will not be the same without a Thurgood, but there is another tradition that only the Thurgood males join the firm, and Andrew's only child is his daughter Thelma.

Claude Rains, Betsy von Furstenberg

Andrew Thurgood has spent the week calling up valued clients and setting sales records. The final afternoon of his tenure with Maynard's he has the chance of a lifetime. An obviously entitled woman with an accent sets her eyes on a necklace of Brazilian diamonds. Mrs. Dr. Anton Rudell (her husband is the famous psychiatrist) is not concerned with the price. "With the tax, Madam, it comes to $181,500." Mrs. Rudell asks Thurgood to bring the necklace to her husband's office which is in their home. He should see what he is purchasing for their anniversary. We can smell a rat, but Thurgood is oblivious.

Dorothea Lord, Stephen Bekassy

Thurgood attends with the necklace and Mrs. Rudell disappears to try it on with the appropriate dress to impress her husband. After waiting a time, Thurgood spills the beans to Dr. Anton Rudell (the famous psychiatrist). He and his wife are astounded by talk of a necklace from the odd little man from Maynard's and Co. Thurgood is astounded to have been the victim of a thief.

Claude Rains

Andrew Thurgood is inconsolable. "I've disgraced the name of Maynard. I've disgraced the name of Thurgood." George Maynard does his best to assuage Thurgood's feelings by assuring him that the insurance will cover the loss, and the police are on the trail of what surely must be a master criminal. They discuss the history of robberies of the firm. There have been only two in its history, and employees are never blamed.

Claude Rains, Betsy von Furstenberg

Andrew Thurgood returns home to his comfortable apartment and the congenial companionship of his daughter Thelma, who spent the day masquerading as the continental Mrs. Dr. Anton Rudell. The Thurgood tradition has two prongs; working for Maynard's and, when their time is through, stealing from Maynard's, once in a generation. The Thurgoods, father and daughter, are proud of their upholding of the tradition begun by Great Grandfather. The necklace shall be broken up and invested to provide a nest egg for Thelma, although she regrets not being able to blow it all on a good time.

Andrew explains "I'm afraid we might be misunderstood. We might be taken for common thieves which we definitely are not. We've all been upright citizens who have only taken their rights. After all, Maynards would never have been Maynards without Thurgoods. The world can never know."

Claude Rains, Alan Hewitt

The celebration is cut short upon the arrival of George Maynard. Andrew had left the store so bereft that he forgot his bonus and gold watch. In fact, George is thinking of going against one of the Maynard traditions and offers Thelma a position in the store beginning next week.

Claude Rains, Betsy von Furstenberg

 The Thurgood part of the tradition (all of it) will continue for another generation!


Hitch finds the painting just as fascinating as he did at the beginning of the episode even though the necklace has slipped off. 












Sunday, November 1, 2020

CAFTAN WOMAN'S CHOICE: ONE FOR NOIRVEMBER ON TCM



Lives are intertwined and fates determined as lightning flashes over three youngsters in Iverstown. Janis Wilson is the headstrong Martha Ivers. Her destiny is wealth and power and her needs are many. Barbara Stanwyck plays the adult Martha. Darryl Hickman is the young Sam Masterson, a loyal friend yet an independent soul, mature beyond his years. Van Heflin plays the adult Sam. Mickey Kuhn is the young Walter O'Neil, a weak and easily cowed kid who will be a weak and easily cowed adult played by Kirk Douglas in his movie debut after signing with Hal Wallis. Events will occur on that rainy night in Iverstown that will reverberate through the years. Consequences were set in stone that night.

Janis Wilson, Darryl Hickman, Mickey Kuhn

Iverstown is a dark place and we rarely see it in the daylight. Sam Masterson has been a traveler and unexpectedly finds the road is leading back to his old hometown. He hasn't seen it in years and hasn't thought of it or those friends he left behind for even longer. A new friend is on his mind when he makes the acquaintance of a hard-luck gal named Toni Marachek played by Lizabeth Scott in her second feature; another Wallis contractee. Toni has attached herself to Sam. Sam isn't complaining but he is surprised.

Barbara Stanwyck, Van Heflin, Kirk Douglas

Sam is also surprised by his treatment by what appears to be the underworld of the old town. Perhaps his old friend Walter, now the District Attorney can be of some help or is he in back of the trouble? Funnily enough, to Sam's mind anyway, Walter is married to Martha. Walter and Martha have a relationship built on secrets and lies. Walter and Martha both believe Sam knows the depth of their lies and try to use intimidation and offers of other things to avoid the blackmail they see coming. It is indeed a tangled and emotional web spun around these characters. A web that started spinning long ago.

Robert Rossen and Robert Riskin wrote the screenplay for this film-noir based on the short story Love Lies Bleeding by Jack Patrick. Lewis Milestone directed this stylish and classy production for Hal Wallis. The Miklos Rozsa score gives chilling support to the story and performances.

Cinematographer Victor Milner creates an Iverstown where anything can happen, anything unseemly and crooked. Milner shot leading lady Barbara Stanwyck many times: Union Pacific, The Lady Eve, The Strange Love of Martha Ivers, The Other Love, The Furies, and Jeopardy.

Van Heflin, Lizabeth Scott, Barbara Stanwyck

Edith Head's costumes for the ladies are fabulous. Martha Ivers indulges her good taste in fashion and her money. Toni is cute as can be on a budget. It is a joy to watch the ladies clash over Sam. Hey, you have to take your joy where you find it in Iverstown. 


TCM is devoting primetime Wednesday, November 4th Lizabeth Scott. The lineup includes Too Late for Tears, Dead Reckoning, The Pitfall, The Racket, and our movie, The Strange Love of Martha Ivers. You have but two options: record or prop open those eyelids!





THE 2021 CLASSIC LITERATURE ON FILM BLOGATHON: The Wind in the Willows, 1949 and 1983

Paul Batters at  Silver Screen Classics   is our host for  The 2021 Classic Literature On Film Blogathan   on April 2nd, 3rd, and 4th. The ...