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.







24 comments:

  1. It was sixty years ago today-Nov. 16, 1960-that CLARK GABLE died at the age of 59. He was definitely one of a kind. He had talent, charm and CHARISMA. It usually isn't mentioned that GABLE became a stepfather with his last marriage to KAY WILLIAMS SPRECKLES. Kay had two children. Of course, Clark and Kay are the parents of a son JOHN CLARK GABLE, born four months(I believe) after Clark's death. Besides GONE WITH THE WIND, if I had to pick two favorite movies of Gable's they would be BAND OF ANGELS(in color) and TEACHER'S PET(black and white). What are your favorite Gable movies in color(besides GWTW)?

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    1. It Happened One Night, Manhattan Melodrama, Any Number Can Play, Command Decision, and Run Silent Run Deep are among my favourites with Clark Gable.

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  2. I also like CLARK GABLE in THE MISFITS(I remember that you didn't like that movie) and BUT NOT FOR ME. CAROLL BAKER, who was known for her beauty and sex appeal, looked kind of dowdy in this movie. That was intentional, I'm sure, because she was playing a young secretary in love with her boss. He never noticed her in any way besides as his secretary so it wouldn't make a lot of sense if she was glamorous like MARILYN MONROE. CARROLL BAKER is still with us at age 89. P.S. It is surprising if CLARK GABLE never worked with any of the BARRYMORES.

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    1. Clark Gable worked with Lionel Barrymore in A Free Soul, Test Pilot, Saratoga, and Lone Star. Gable, Lionel and John Barrymore are all in Night Flight.

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  3. I remember watching this with no expectations or preconceptions and being stunned at how good it was. Of course, I am a Gene Tierney fan and feel her talent was very under rated. Your review has made me want to watch this again.

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    1. Indeed, it is that sort of movie; it is impressive without being gaudy.

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  4. I always enjoy watching Ethel Barrymore, who had real star presence onscreen. It's surprising to think that her major film career began when she was already in her sixties. I recall this film as a minor western, but, as usual, Ethel dominates the action and cast. A lifetime of work in the theater is behind everything she does.

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    1. I wonder if that combined talent and experience was daunting to her co-stars or a comfort.

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  5. I have not seen The Secret of Convict Lake, but I’m all in on any movie with Ethel Barrymore, Gene Tierney, and Glenn Ford. I like the premise, too, so I’ll be looking out for this Western.

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    1. It's a dandy. One of those tidy little movies that knows what it wants to do.

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  6. I saw ETHEL BARRYMORE in THE FARMER'S DAUGHTER. (LORETTA YOUNG won the OSCAR for that movie.) Ethel played the mother to JOSEPH COTTEN. Joseph was in DUEL IN THE SUN with JENNIFER JONES and GREGORY PECK. Gregory and Joseph played brothers. Their parents were played by LILLIAN GISH and LIONEL BARRYMORE. So Joseph got to play the son to Ethel and the son to her brother Lionel. Nice work if you can get it!

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    1. Adding a couple of favourites:
      Mr. Cotten with Ethel Barrymore in Portrait of Jennie, and
      Mr. Cotten with Lionel Barrymore in Since You Went Away

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  7. JOSEPH COTTEN played the husband to DOROTHY MALONE in the western THE LAST SUNSET. It also starred KIRK DOUGLAS and ROCK HUDSON. Dorothy had already starred as DIANA BARRYMORE in TOO MUCH, TOO SOON. Of course, Diana was the daughter of JOHN BARRYMORE and the niece of ETHEL and LIONEL. So Joseph worked with Ethel and Lionel and Dorothy got to play their real-life niece. An interesting BARRYMORE connection!

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    1. I wonder if that occurred to Dorothy or Joseph on that shoot of The Last Sunset.

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  8. I've mentioned before that I'm a big fan of GLENN FORD. Some of his westerns that I've seen are THE SHEEPMAN(it had comedy and also some serious moments), THE FASTEST GUN ALIVE, DAY OF THE EVIL GUN and HEAVEN WITH A GUN. I also like THE ROUNDERS with HENRY FONDA. It was a fun movie. Have you seen these five movies? If so, what was your opinion of them especially THE ROUNDERS?

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    1. I'm very fond of The Rounders. It is a unique movie from Burt Kennedy. There was a very short-lived series in 1966 based on the movie starring Ron Hayes in Ford's role and Patrick Wayne in Fonda's.

      Other favourite Glenn Ford westerns of mine are 3:10 to Yuma, The Desperadoes, Jubal, The Man from Colorado, and The Cowboy.

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  9. Besides THE SECRET OF CONVICT LAKE, BARBARA BATES and ZACHARY SCOTT were both in another movie-LET'S MAKE IT LEGAL. It starred CLAUDETTE COLBERT and MACDONALD CAREY. Barbara played their daughter and Zachary played an old flame of Claudette's. ROBERT WAGNER played the husband to Barbara. MARILYN MONROE had a small part in it.

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    1. I haven't seen that movie although I do count myself as a major Macdonald Carey fan.

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  10. I have not seen the movie but according to wiki BARBARA BATES was in THE OUTCASTS OF POKER FLATS with DALE ROBERTSON and ANNE BAXTER. That is kind of an unusual title as is the first name of Barbara's character-PINEY. wiki says it was a story from BRET HARTE and it was made for the screen at least five times! I really like DALE and ANNE. Anne had a part in CIMARRON(60) which starred GLENN FORD! I never saw the original CIMARRON(from the 30s) but I thought parts of the remake were kind of boring.

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    1. I really like Bret Harte's story but I have yet to see a movie version that equals it.

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  11. Quite a cast, but I do love Ethel Barrymore. In anything. Thanks for the visit to Convict Lake.

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  12. I have a pet theory that many movies are better when they're 90 minutes or less, and The Secret of Convict Lake sounds like a prime example. And yay! I see a copy on YouTube!

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    1. I fall in line with your theory. If you've got a story to tell, get to the telling! (Not that I don't like to lose myself in an epic once in a while. It keeps me away from housework.)

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