Wednesday, February 24, 2021

WE "HEART" PIRATES WEEK: Blackbeard's Ghost, 1968

Ahoy! It's We 💖 Pirates Week at Hamlette's Soliloquy! Enjoy the blog party running from February 22nd to 26th. Weigh anchor HERE.

Disney's Blackbeard's Ghost, 1968 directed by Robert Stevenson (Mary Poppins) is based on a middle school book by Ben Stahl about teenagers reviving the ghostly pirate. The screenplay by Bill Walsh (The Shaggy Dog) and Don DaGradi (Bedknobs and Broomsticks) makes some welcome changes to reunite the romantic leads of The Ugly Dachshund, 1966 Dean Jones and Suzanne Pleshette, opposite the energy and girth of Peter Ustinov as the phantom privateer. The movie begins with the following forward.

"In the early years of the eighteenth century lived the pirate, Edward Teach, known as Blackbeard.

From the Spanish Main to the Carolinas, he wrought a bloody tale of destruction unparalleled for its ferocity and terror.

Blackbeard was killed in sea battle off the American shore. This was followed by widespread joy when it became known the dread pirate had gone at last --- Or had he?"

Peter Ustinov, Dean Jones

Steve Walker: "Well, that's just great. That is just great! I couldn't have an ordinary ghost on my hands! I got a rummy! A big, ugly, booze-soaked rummy!"

Blackbeard's Ghost: "Hold on there! There be no call to put the fuddler's name on your newfound shipmate."

Elsa Lanchester, Suzanne Pleshette - front and centre

How did Steve Walker (Dean Jones), new track and field coach at Godolphin College come to have this "newfound shipmate?" Innocently enough, he booked lodgings at Blackbeard's Inn, run by senior citizens known collectively as the "Daughters of the Buccaneers," descendants of Blackbeard and his crew.

Joby Baker, front and centre

The "little old ladies" embrace their disreputable ancestor and all things piratical. However, the Inn has a large mortgage and the residents are in danger of losing their home. The location is on an island whose uncertain boundary is of interest to the shady Silky Seymour (Joby Baker) and he intends to own the property for his casino. 

Steve arrives on the night of the Buccaneer Bazaar which is raising money for the cause of keeping the inn. Taken with Professor Jo Anne Baker (Suzanne Pleshette), executive of the bazaar and a fellow professor at Godolphin College, Steve buys at auction the bed warmer of Adeltha Teach, the next to last of Blackbeard's wife, and the witch who cursed him to Limbo for turning her over to the authorities. In the hollow handle of the bedpan, Steve found her book of curses and inadvertently recalled Blackbeard's Ghost (Peter Ustinov). 

Steve's life is turned upside down with a constant companion whose own constant companion is rum. The spirit is loquacious in the extreme and belligerent by inclination and nature. The actions of the wraith land Steve in jail, and have his colleagues at the college questioning his sanity. It is determined through Adeltha's writing that if a spark of good were to be found in Blackbeard's Ghost that he would be free of the curse, and Steve would be free of the spirit.

Partly to free himself, and mostly because he likes the adventure of gambling, our larcenous spectre steals the money the ladies raised ($900) from Jo Anne and surreptitiously places a bet with Silky on Godolphin to win an upcoming track meet; something the school has not done in the 63 years of their existence.

Blackbeard's Ghost, an established trainer of his own crew, knows how to get the Godolphin team to win by any means possible. Steve is strictly against cheating even if it would help, as Blackbeard calls them, "the small old ladies."

Peter Ustinov

The night of the track meet finds the perpetually last place Godolphin shocking the crowd with their amazing feats. Think of the basketball game in The Absent-Minded Professor and the players with flubber on the soles of their sneakers. Think of Dumbo emboldened by "the magic feather." Think of the Daughters of the Buccaneers winning big from Silky Seymour. Think about Silky Seymour refusing to pay off. 

Suzanne Pleshette

Slapstick abounds as Steve, Jo Ann, and Blackbeard's Ghost raid Silky's joint and gleefully knock around his crew to their great satisfaction and bring the money home to the Daughters of the Buccaneers. Steve uses the old spell so these descendants can meet their beloved Blackbeard who is freed from his curse and returned to his crew to sail what he sincerely hopes is a hospitable sea. 

Cue the almost clinch for our leads, as we don't want romance to mar the story too much. Dean Jones and Peter Ustinov are a delight as the comedic tag team in this movie. Jones knows how to mug subtly and how to support the deliciously over-the-top antics of the superb Ustinov. Suzanne Pleshette by her talent and personality brings more to the role than was written.

Peter Ustinov, Dean Jones

Familiar faces in the cast include Elsa Lanchester, Richard Deacon, Michael Conrad, Elliott Reid, Herbie Faye, and Ned Glass. These old pros deliver the laughs and they are plentiful. However, for me, it is watching Ustinov take on the title role that is the greatest delight of Blackbeard's Ghost.

Fun with Dean and Suzanne:

The Ugly Dachshund, 1966

Blackbeard's Ghost, 1968

The Shaggy D.A., 1976

Monday, February 22, 2021


Ahoy, avast, and all that stuff! It is We 💖 Pirates Week at Hamlette's Soliloquy! Let's get the week-long party (Feb 22-26) started with this tag.

1. What are your favorite pirate movies or books?

The Classics Illustrated comic of Robert Louis Stevenson's Treasure Island was the first big pirate story in my life. I recall it simultaneously with the Walt Disney serial The Hardy Boys: The Mystery of the Applegate Treasure in 1960s syndication. 

Beyond Classics Illustrated I still think Treasure Island is THE pirate story. Other favourites are Jamaica Inn by Daphne du Maurier, Sabitini's Captain Blood, and Peter Pan by J.M. Barrie. Captain Hook haunts dreams and nightmares.

2. Who are your favorite fictional pirates? 

Argh! That be Long John Silver as played by Robert Newton. Long before I saw his original performance in the 1950 Disney film of Treasure Island or his similar take on Blackbeard the Pirate in 1952, I watched his 1956-1957 television series The Adventures of Long John Silver produced in Australia and in syndication during my childhood. Half-hour adventures with the more rascally than a bloodthirsty pirate, spending a lot of his time escaping matrimony with tavern keeper Purity Pinker played by Connie Gilchrist.

Errol Flynn as the principled physician Peter Blood turned reluctant, but excellent pirate chieftain is a particular favourite. Captain Blood from 1935 is a star-making role! When Errol Flynn and Basil Rathbone fight a duel over Olivia de Havilland, they created one of the best sword fights in the movies. 

The Black Swan with Tyrone Power is filled with pirates played by such notable actors as George Sanders, Laird Cregar, Thomas Mitchell. Maureen O'Hara is the leading lady and everyone is gorgeous in Technicolor. Henry King was a director who always entertained and this 1942 movie is marvelous fun.

Who doesn't love a singing pirate? Here's Brent Carver as the Pirate King in Gilbert and Sullivan's The Pirates of Penzance at Stratford in 1985.

3. What do you like best about pirate stories? 

They are so far removed from my reality that the escape into the story, be it fantasy or a study in history is utterly complete.

4. If you were going to play a pirate on stage or screen, what would your costume look like? 

Edward Stevenson's costumes for Jean Peters in Anne of the Indies, 1951 would suit me just fine. I do insist on Louis Jourdan as an accessory. 

5. What pirate ship would you like to serve on?

With a sprinkling of pixie dust, the Jolly Roger would be perfect.

6. Any favorite sea shanties or pirate songs?

What Will We Do with the Drunken Sailor? and the opening theme to Muppet Treasure Island, Shiver My Timbers.

7. Have you ever participated in International Talk Like a Pirate Day?

My boss at the time had no sense of humor!

8. Would you like to go sailing on a real tall ship? 

Visiting in harbor is as much excitement as I can handle. 

9. Have you ever learned anything about real pirates or do you tend to stick to the fictional kind?

The history of real pirates and privateers fascinates me, but the fictional pirates are much more fun. 

10. Why is the rum gone? 

I needed it for my Hot Toddy and that's all I'll say about that!

Sessue Hayakawa as the Pirate Chief Kuala
Swiss Family Robinson, 1960

Monday, February 15, 2021

BELLY LAUGHS: Without a Clue, 1988


"With apologies to the late Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, creator of Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson."

Above is the final credit to the 1988 comedy Without a Clue. The Holmes character has withstood countless spoofs and homages over the years. The disclaimer here is cute but not seriously necessary for this engaging take on those residents of 221B Baker Street. 

Dr. Watson and Mrs. Hudson throw the blighter out!
Ben Kingsley, Pat Keen

The screenplay by television writers/producers Gary Murphy (Night Court, Malcolm in the Middle) and Larry Strawther (Night Court) is their only big-screen effort - quality over quantity. The premise is that the clever Dr. John Watson provided a case-solving clue to a Scotland Yard patient but in order to be taken seriously claimed he was passing on information from a clever private consulting detective called Sherlock Holmes. The Holmes reputation snowballed, thanks in large part to Watson's Strand magazine stories. Public demand for a "real" Holmes grew to such an extent that Watson hired actor Reginald Kincaid to play the character.

The blighter!
Michael Caine

Ben Kingsley is the precise and natty Dr. John Watson whose considerable ego and pride in his detecting abilities are forced to take a back seat to the Holmesian monster he has created. His casting in the matter of the front for the firm leaves a few aspects to be desired. Kincaid is a drunkard, a womanizer, and an idiot. Michael Caine is the profligate Kincaid who basks in the publicity and adulation. A more felicitous teaming of actors for these roles is difficult to imagine. 

Wiggins on the job.
Matthew Savage

Mrs. Hudson played by Pat Keen (see The Baker Street Boys) is well aware of the truth of the situation under her roof and is squarely behind Dr. Watson. The Baker Street Irregulars led by Matthew Savage as Wiggins also treat Holmes with disdain. 

Strand editor Greenhough played by Peter Cook (see The Hound of the Baskervilles) is brought in on the deception but is not amenable to Watson's plan to kill off the troublesome Holmes. After all, Holmes is not troublesome to the coffers of the Strand.

Scotland Yard reluctantly comes calling.
Nigel Davenport, Jeffrey Jones, Ben Kingsley

Jeffrey Jones is a jealous and quick-to-jump-to-the-wrong-conclusion Inspector Lestrade. Nigel Davenport is Lord Smithwick, Chancellor of the Exchequer. The peer brings our inharmonious duo to the missing link in their current investigation. Queen Victoria herself wishes Holmes to assist in the case of stolen five-pound note plates and a kidnapped engraver. The fate of the Empire is at stake!

The criminal mastermind
Paul Freeman

The progression of the case leads to the not-so-startling fact that the man behind it all is Professor Moriarity played by Paul Freeman with nonchalant villainy. Moriarty is also in on the facts behind the Holmes and Watson partnership. Moriarty does not take Watson's genius for granted. 

A damsel in distress?
Lysette Anthony

Do we need a femme fatale? The girl-pinching souse Reg Kincaid certainly thinks so. Dr. Watson is equally quick to protect the daughter of the kidnapped engraver. There is some issue with the daughter. Does it have something to do with Professor Moriarty or is it something else entirely? Lysette Anthony as Lesley Giles makes herself home at Baker Street. 

Without a Clue is a colourful journey through Sherlock Holmes lore; from Baker Street to the Lake District to the docks of the Thames to the abandoned theatre which was the ignominious end of Reg Kincaid's theatrical career and conversely his greatest triumph. The cinematography by Alan Hume (Shirley Valentine) has a unique charm. The costume design by Judy Moorcroft (A Passage to India) is absolutely gorgeous, as well as era and character appropriate.

Case closed.
Michael Caine, Ben Kingsley

Henry Mancini supports the comedy and the characters of Without a Clue with a delightfully light score, his second in the Baker Street milieu having backed Disney's The Great Mouse Detective with its endearing music in 1986.

Without a Clue is filled with delightfully clever lines delivered skilfully by our two leading men in particular. The situations, ripe for double takes and hilarious slapstick are also carried off with great poise. Our familiarity with the characters (100 years old at the time of the movie) lends itself immediately to a spoof, but such a spoof must be good-hearted and fulfill its mandate to amuse. Mission accomplished and movie highly recommended.

Regarding my recommendation: Back in 1988 I talked up Without a Clue to co-workers. Later a woman complained, "The way you talked I thought it was something special, but it was just funny."

Monday, February 8, 2021

MITCHUM RIDES A DARK RANGE: Pursued, 1947 and Blood on the Moon, 1948

Jeb Rand (Robert Mitchum) is pursued by vague memories of his youth and a life plagued with doubts and nightmares. He is also pursued by Grant Callum (Dean Jagger) who, for reasons of his own, wants to kill "the last of the Rands."

Mrs. Callum (Judith Anderson) is "Mother Callum" to Jeb. She has been his mother since taking the orphan into her home to be raised with her son Adam (John Rodney) and daughter Thor (Teresa Wright). She knows every detail of the dark past that has dogged Jeb but refuses to divulge what might ease his mind. Jeb understands her advice to live in the future. Yet he knows he must also live with the past.

Robert Mitchum, Dean Jagger

Novelist (The Furies) and screenwriter (The Postman Always Rings Twice) Niven Busch's original screenplay for Pursued concerns a feud between the Callums and the Rands. It is a feud based on betrayal and bloodshed and rightly belongs to the generation who wrought it. Nonetheless, when but a word would change destinies, young Jeb is forced to bear the weight of the older quarrel.

Directed by Raoul Walsh (Colorado Territory), the film plays out at a deliberate pace as Jeb relates the life that seemed such a torturous trail but led back to his beginning and end. The glorious black and white cinematography by James Wong Howe (Kings Row) gives us outdoor vistas filmed in New Mexico as haunted a feel as the shadowy alleys and dangerous night times. Max Steiner's (Mildred Pierce) score underscores the melodrama of the fateful Gothic-like film noir.

Robert Mitchum, Teresa Wright

Our young lovers, Thor and Jeb never had a chance to find their own way as, like puppets, they were forced to play out the hate of the past. Even the lighter moments where we see what the family could have been when Mitchum and John Rodney as Jeb and Adam harmonize on The Londonderry Air have an underlying tension. We also get the pleasure of hearing Mitchum sing The Streets of Laredo as he rides along, but that moment will be stopped short by gunfire.

Pursued feels somewhat deficient in motivation for me, but it is in the noirish telling of the story where the movie finds its footing and its audience. Look for perhaps one of the best jury deliberation scenes in a movie. Ian Wolfe is the coroner/foreman and the gentlemen do not waste their time nor mince their words. Other welcome, familiar faces are Alan Hale and Harry Carey Jr. 

Note: Leading lady Teresa Wright was married to screenwriter Niven Busch from 1942-1952.

Note: Teresa Wright was Robert Mitchum's sweetheart in Pursued. Seven years later she would be his spinster sister in William Wellman's Track of the Cat, 1954.

Blood on the Moon is a tale of crooked deals, guns-for-hire, deceit, whims, stubbornness, and being true to oneself. Based on Luke Short's 1941 novel also known as Gunman's Chance, Short adapted the screenplay which was written by Lillie Hayward (Smoky). 

Robert Mitchum, Robert Preston

Jim Garry (Robert Mitchum) is an honest, but down-on-his-luck cowpoke from Texas. He has answered the call of his former partner Tate Riling (Robert Preston) for a job that means big money. Through encounters with a rancher, witnessing a betrayal, and learning first-hand of Riling's dealings, Garry discovers he is on the wrong side of a stacked game. He breaks from his friend, facing doubt from those he would help and danger from those he would harm.
Phyllis Thaxter, Barbara Bel Geddes, Tom Keene

Amy Lufton (Barbara Bel Geddes) is the daughter of a rancher at the centre of Riling's crime. She is quick to judgment and stubborn. She is just as honest about reversing her initial bad opinion of Jim Garry. She sees his hidden heart and falls for the lonely man. Carol Lufton (Phyllis Thaxter) impulsively lacks the discernment of her younger sister. She has believed lies from Tate Riling.

Blood on the Moon
was the first western, of only two * (Tribute to a Bad Man) directed by Robert Wise. The former editor had a superb eye for composition and his movies to this point were mainly crime pictures with a noir attitude (The Body Snatcher) or deeply film noir (Born to Kill). 

Cinematographer Nicholas Musuraca, RKO's painter of light, gives Blood on the Moon its foot in the film noir world. The filming of the rain-soaked night scenes, a brutal beating in a low ceilinged saloon, the tension-filled battle with hidden adversaries is beautiful to behold in its artistry and provides the kick in the gut feel of film noir. Location filming in Arizona enhanced the feel of the character's attachment to the land.

The performances feel perfectly attuned to the storytelling. Featured actors are right at home in westerns, Walter Brennan (Red River), Tom Tully (The Virginian), and Harry Carey Jr. (Pursued). Charles McGraw as one of Riling's henchmen will soon make a great mark in film noir (The Narrow Margin).

Note: When balancing the western vs. noir aspects of Blood on the Moon it comes down to one side of the scale (noir-western) holding the art of Nicholas Musaraca and the vision of director Robert Wise, while the other side (western-noir) has Tom Tyler, Tom Keene, and two cattle stampedes. You decide.

* Amended: that should read three westerns to include Two Flags West, 1950 as clarified by Colin McGuigan of Riding the High Country

Monday, February 1, 2021



"Danny Hawkins dad was hanged!"

Taunted and bullied by that one phrase, by that one fact all his life, Danny Hawkins has learned to take his beatings but he doesn't have to like it. In particular, Jerry Sykes played by Lloyd Bridges takes a perverse delight in drubbing the smaller Danny through the years. Danny and Jerry have reached the point where they are rivals for the lovely schoolteacher Gilly Johnson played by Gail Russell. When Danny kills Jerry it is in self-defense, it is in self-defense that he hides the crime.

Dane Clark

Dane Clark plays Danny Hawkins. The 36-year-old actor had a filmography filled with hot-headed characters by this time and is rather mature for a character that people refer to as "the boy." Nonetheless, Clark manages to bring Danny's confused naivete to the screen in an open and sincere performance. Danny's journey is to learn to live with or to throw off the double burdens of guilt and shame.

Dane Clark, Gail Russell

Gilly: "Why are we meeting in secret places as if ... as if we were hunted? Why, Dan? What is it in your eyes that you never say?"

Gail Russell as Gilly is lovely as a girl who accepted a proposal from Jerry, the right sort of boy, but is attracted to the outsider. Danny doesn't make it easy for Gilly to offer her love and support, leaving her confused and afraid.

Selena Royle, Dane Clark

Danny was raised by his maiden Aunt Jessie played by Selena Royle. Aunt Jessie didn't try to understand him until it is too late.

Ethel Barrymore, Dane Clark

Danny's Grandma played by Ethel Barrymore is a distant figure, physically and emotionally. The role is one impactful scene played with wise understanding and strength.

Rex Ingram, Dane Clark

Mose: "Sure, I get lonesome. A man ought to have a woman. Friends, anyway. A man ought to live in a world with other folks. When I come out here, I thought I'd be out of the way, with no-one shoving me around. What I did was resign from the human race. I guess that's about the worst crime there is."

Danny has two friends. Rex Ingram plays Mose, who is the father figure Danny needs. Mose is a sounding board, a supportive and nonjudgmental friend who understands the world and Danny's place in it. If Danny is open to it, Mose can provide guidance.

Harry Morgan, Dane Clark

Danny: "Just because he's deaf and dumb don't give you the right to make fun of him."

Danny, in his own way, has befriended Billy played by Harry (Henry) Morgan. For his part, Billy worships Danny for his small kindnesses. His emotions are deep and enduring. 

Clem Bevins, Allyn Joslyn

Clem: "Sometimes murder is like love. It takes two to commit it; the man who hates and the man who is hated. The killer and the killed."

My favourite performance in the film comes from Allyn Joslyn as the philosophical Sheriff Clem Otis. The compassionate Otis is far removed from the usually brash and often obnoxious characters Joslyn was asked to play by Hollywood. The character, like many in the film, will remain with the viewer.

Moonrise was adapted by its producer and screenwriter Charles F. Haas' from Theodore Strauss' 1946 novel.

Moonrise is a psychological film-noir with outbursts of shocking violence. I find that director Frank Borzage wears a sensitive heart on his sleeve in many of his films. He presents the lonely and the isolated with dignity in 7th Heaven, Street Angel, Man's Castle, Three Comrades, The Mortal Storm, Smilin' Through, and Till We Meet Again. Borzage and cinematographer John L. Russell (Psycho) create a moody masterpiece in Moonrise.

TCM is screening Moonrise on Wednesday, February 10th at 8 PM.

Wednesday nights in February on TCM are highlighting "Noteworthy African American Performances." Rex Ingram as Mose in Moonrise will be followed by Rex as Jim in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, 1939.

Films shown later that evening feature Percy Rodriguez in The Heart is a Lonely Hunter and Sammy Davis Jr. in A Man Called Adam, and Convicts 4. Check the schedule for the Wednesday night lineup in February.


Terence Towles Canote at A Shroud of Thoughts is hosting The 8th Annual Favourite TV Show Episode Blogathon . The popular blogathon is runn...