Saturday, May 22, 2021

THE CHRISTOPTHER LEE BLOGATHON: How the West Was Won, 1978


Cinematic Catharsis and Realweegiemidget Reviews present The Christopher Lee Blogathon, May 21-23, 2021. Thank you, Barry and Gill.  Day 1   Day 2   Day 3


When the auspicious 20-year run of Gunsmoke came to an end, executive producer Toronto-born John Mantley, his star James Arness, and his writing and directing team turned to an epic television series inspired by the epic sweep of the 1962 film How the West Was Won. Set in the tumultuous years of the American Civil War, Zebulon Macahan, a respected frontier scout returns to Virginia to assist his brother's family in moving west to avoid the conflict. Avoiding the Civil War proves impossible, but the family does become part of the migration. 

The series premiered in 1976 with four episodes and concluded with 11 episodes in its third season in 1979. We are looking at the epic opening episodes of season 2 from 1978 with Christopher Lee among its distinguished guest cast.

Vickie Schreck (Jessie), Fionnula Flanagan (Molly), Kathryn Holcomb (Laura)
Bruce Boxleitner (Luke), James Arness (Zeb), William Kirby Cullen (Josh)

The stories of the Macahan family intersect throughout the story. The home base is a farm where those who remain are adjusting to the death of their mother Kate and the arrival of their Aunt Molly Culhane (Fionnula Flanagan - Emmy nominee). Laura becomes enamoured of a strong-willed Mormon (John Reilly) and they face the bigotry rampant toward the religious sect. Luke hits the trail running from a wronged past and the gunfighter's reputation he does not want. He will become involved with a canny sheriff (Lloyd Bridges) and his spitfire of a daughter (Elyssa Davlos). 

Christopher Lee (The Grand Duke), Horst Buchholz (Sergei)
Our multi-linguist actors and characters converse in Russian

Zeb Macahan is in the Dakotas where the State Department, through Major Drake (Peter Hansen) requests his expertise as a hunter and scout. A party of Russian noblemen led by The Grand Duke Dimitri (Christopher Lee), the Csar's brother no less, are making a grand tour. They wish to hunt; they wish to hunt buffalo, 200 or so kills should satisfy their plans. Zeb wants nothing to do with the entitled noblemen, particularly the arrogant nephew Sergei (Horst Buchholz). Zeb is friends with the Sioux and he will not trespass on their territory nor do anything to the buffalo stock so necessary to their survival. Zeb walks away from the government's "offer."

Trisha Noble (Valerie), Christopher Lee (The Grand Duke)

Major Drake turns to the talents of another scout Coulee John Brinkerhoff (Cameron Mitchell). Brinkerhoff hates all Indians and his agenda includes deliberate trespass of treaty lands and antagonizing the Sioux into a fight. Face to face with the Sioux, the Grand Duke understands the concept of discretion being the better part of valour while the hotheaded Sergei treats the Sioux as if they were Russian serfs. The result of the confrontation finds Sergei and his mistress Valerie (Trisha Noble) taken captive and one cavalry officer dead.

James Arness (Zeb), Ricardo Montalban (Santangkai)

The war chief of the Sioux, Santangkai (Ricardo Montalban - Emmy winner) is justifiably angry. He will keep the unlooked-for Russian hostages until the American government admits their intrusion onto Sioux land and the killing of the buffalo. He seeks retribution. Santangkai tells all of this to his friend Zeb Macahan, who will relay the terms of releasing the hostages to the man now in charge, General Stonecipher (Brian Keith). 

A small party of unarmed men from each side meets in a meadow to exchange cash and, on the part of the Americans, a cagily worded apology. It should have been a simple matter to complete the transaction. Sergei had plans of his own and once his hands were freed he rushed to whip Santangkai and found death at the hands of an outraged Sioux brave. A brave dies at the hands of a Russian guard. The outrage of the Grand Duke will of course be appeased by further violence sanctioned by his government hosts. Washington will be alerted and Washington will send orders.

Peter Hansen (Major Drake), Brian Keith (General Stonecipher), Van Williams (Captain MacAllister)

General Stonecipher has his own opinion on the circumstances. He knows they are in the wrong and therefore must assert themselves to save face. He will do his duty; he will not deny the facts. Zeb Macahan has his opinion and he leaves the Fort to offer his assistance to Satangkai. "Are you going to make the whole Sioux nation suffer because of one man, General? One man who was such a jackass, it was a miracle he didn't get killed years ago?"

Christopher Lee (The Grand Duke)

The Grand Duke has an opinion that he does not keep to himself. The trip to the American frontier has opened his eyes to much, and that much is that America is a failed experiment. "You! How dare you speak of Sergei in that manner? I will not tolerate this, General. Sergei lost his life as a direct result of this man's miscalculations and he is paid to know that the Savage can't be trusted. You cannot let him go. I insist that he be punished."

"You are fools, all of you. Do you really imagine that you can have a society where every man considers himself the equal of every other man? Where every serf and every peasant opposes his betters with impunity? Where a man like Macahan can defy your authority and walk away without any fear of being punished? No, gentlemen, this is folly, sheer folly. One day soon this nation will crash around your ears and I, for one, will await that day with great pleasure."

The story of the Grand Duke's royal tour and its repercussions plays out over the episodes Buffalo Story, Mormon Story, and Interlude. It is a tale of adventure, of loyalties, of sacrifice, and of shame.










(Caftan Woman is currently still in the hospital due to her transplant recovery. This post was published at her request by her daughter Janet.)






Sunday, May 16, 2021

NAITONAL CLASSIC MOVIE DAY: 6 Films - 6 Decades Blogathon

National Classic Movie Day is supported annually by its founder Classic Film & TV Cafe hosting a blogathon. The 6 Films 6 Decades Blogathon invites participants to list one favourite film from each decade from the 1920s to 1970s or 1930s to 1980s. The goal is to highlight the incredible movies that were made during cinema's classic era. Let the May 16th festivities begin here!



The Mary Pickford Company presents the 1927 romantic comedy My Best Girl directed by Sam Taylor based on a story by Kathleen Norris with a screenplay by Tim Whelan and Allen McNeil.

Charles "Buddy" Rogers is Joe Grant, the boss's son who goes to work in the shipping department of the family's department store. Joe falls for a co-worker the poor, but honest and totally beguiling Maggie Johnson played by Mary Pickford. The fact that Maggie's beau isn't who she thinks he is may be the least of the complications on their road to a happy ending. They have to deal with Joe's high society mother and fiancee. Maggie's problematic family includes her theatre-mad flapper sister, overbearing mom, and indolent pop.

My Best Girl is sweet without being cloying, and funny in its ring-true characterizations. The chemistry between Mary and Buddy is touching and joyful.



Twentieth Century Fox presents the 1937 musical comedy On the Avenue directed by Roy Del Ruth based on a story by Irving Berlin and a screenplay by Gene Markey and William Conselman.

Dick Powell stars as the writer and star of a Broadway revue not dissimilar to Irving Berlin's As Thousands Cheer. A popular skit lampoons the wealthy Caraway family and Mimi, "the richest girl in America" played by Madeleine Carroll is not amused. Sparks fly between the heiress and the entertainer. Can movie romance and its inherent misunderstandings be far behind? 

On the Avenue introduced the standard I've Got My Love to Keep Me Warm and a lovely ballad for Alice Faye in This Year's Kisses. The Ritz Brothers are hilariously awesome in the dance number He Ain't Got Rhythm. Cora Witherspoon, George Barbier, Alan Mowbray, and Walter Catlett are among the outstanding comedic supporting cast.

In a decade filled with outstanding musicals, On the Avenue with its humour, songs, and outstanding performers should take its place among the best remembered.



Twentieth Century Fox presents the 1941 drama How Green Was My Valley directed by John Ford based on Richard Llewellyn's novel with a screenplay by Philip Dunne.

Leaving his hometown young Huw Morgan narrates the story of the life he has known in a Welsh mining town, his strong and loving parents, his brothers and sister, and the tumultuous times, personally and historically that affect them all. 

John Ford's movie is filled with those big and small moments that create life. How Green Was My Valley is worthy of its ten Oscar nominations and five wins including Best Picture. If it had not won a single award, it would still be remembered and rediscovered as a true classic.



J. Arthur Rank Organisation and Sirius Productions present the 1953 comedy Genevieve directed by Henry Cornelius on a story and screenplay by William Rose.

"For their patient co-operation the makers of this film express their thanks to the officers and members of the Veteran Car Club of Great Britain. Any resemblance between the deportment of our characters and any club members is emphatically denied --- by the Club."

Our delightful stars Dinah Sheridan, John Gregson, Kay Kendall, and Kenneth More take us on a weekend jaunt from London to Brighton and back in antique automobiles. There is positively no racing involved, no romantic hi-jinks, jealousies, or imprudent wagers. The club would not allow it! A highlight among all the highlights of Genevieve is the score by Larry Adler. 



Cherokee Productions presents the 1969 comedy-western Support Your Local Sheriff! directed by Burt Kennedy and written by William Bowers.

James Garner stars as Jason, a traveler who is passing through a suddenly gold-rich town in need of a lawman. Jason is in need of money so this is a perfect match. All he has to do is deal with an indecisive town council, the Danby clan of dangerous repute, various paid gunmen, and Miss Prudy Perkins. Joan Hackett is perfection as Prudy. The cast is made up of talented character actors familiar to us from hundreds of movies from Willis Bouchey to William Tannen. It's old home week for film fans! 

When the creator of Seven Men from Now (Kennedy) and The Gunfighter (Bowers) combine their experience to spoof the western genre you are guaranteed that it will be the last word on the subject. By my reckoning, Support Your Local Sheriff! pokes genial fun at My Darling Clementine, Red River, Winchester '73, Rio Bravo, High Noon, and McLintock! Let me know what I've missed.



G.W. Films Limited presents the 1974 crime classic Murder on the Orient Express directed by Sidney Lumet from Paul Dehn and Anthony Shaffer's screenplay of Agatha Christie's novel.

Albert Finney is the famed Belgian detective Hercule Poirot traveling the famed train of the title. It should be out of season, but the train is packed with passengers. It should be a simple passage but a man, hated though he may be, is slain in the night. Where there is a murder victim there must be a murderer. Will that murderer remain hidden from the great detective? 

Everything about Murder on the Orient Express is first-class opulence from its all-star cast to its lush score from Richard Rodney Bennett and Tony Walton's eye-filling production and costume design. Viewing it on the big screen was a thrill and it evinced a unique feeling of nostalgia at that time that has grown over the years.





(Caftan Woman is currently still in the hospital due to her transplant recovery. This post was published at her request by her daughter Janet.)








Monday, May 3, 2021

BING'S BIRTHDAY MOVIE: Just for You, 1952

Bing Crosby stars as Jordan Blake, a phenomenally successful producer/composer/director/entertainer. A widower for ten years, romance has entered his life in the form of musical star Carolina Hill played by Jane Wyman. Blake has not intentionally neglected his children, it is simply that he has been a very busy man and suddenly they are growing out of childhood, and he is suddenly aware that his relationships with Jerry played by Robert Arthur and Barbara played by Natalie Wood are rocky at best or at their worst, non-existent.

Robert Arthur, Natalie Wood, Bing Crosby

Jerry wants to write music and get out from under the shadow of his acclaimed parent. Jerry is experienced love for the first time, and the object of his affection is Carolina Hill whom he believes returns his love. Jerry is so blinded by it all that he doesn't see the relationship between Carolina and his father.

Barbara's problem is less troublesome than Jerry's. We are told that she has been "hard on governesses" and the latest one, Miss Angevine played by Cora Witherspoon is a tippler. However, Miss Angevine has put in Barbara's head the notion of the benefits of an exclusive girl's school, St. Hilary's. Barbara sees in such an institution the guidance her life has lacked and the joyful camaraderie of peers. 

Ethel Barrymore, Bing Crosby

Barbara's problem is easily solved when her father makes the acquaintance of St. Hilary's headmistress Miss de Bronkhart played by Ethel Barrymore. The school isn't as deadset against "show biz folk" as they had been led to believe. Jerry's broken heart will not be so easily mended. He must find his own way.

The emotional crux of the movie relies on Robert Arthur as Jerry and he shoulders the burden well. Natalie Wood, at 12 years of age, seems to have skipped the awkward stage that plagues youngsters. She had some inner magic, not attributable to Hollywood magic. Jane Wyman is bubbly and caring as the musical star, wearing the best of Edith Head gowns and seemingly having a grand time. Bing, as always, makes it look oh-so-easy.

Songs in Just for You, including the title ballad are by Harry Warren and Leo Robin. Production numbers from Blake's hit show showcase talented dancers choreographed by Helen Tamiris and beautifully costumed. 

Jane Wyman, Julie Newmar in the background, Bing Crosby

Zing a Little Zong is a catchy tune and presented at a party to celebrate opening night. Bing and Jane appear to be having almost as much fun as they did with the Oscar winner In the Cool, Cool, Cool of the Evening in the previous year's Here Comes the Groom. In fact, the new song did get itself an Oscar nomination, losing to Dimitri Tiomkin and Paul Francis Webster's Ballad of High Noon. Click on the link above to enjoy the song from the movie and give yourself a bonus point for spotting Julie Newmar (in the photo above), her first year in the movies. She is easy to spot in the big dance production numbers.


Bing Crosby, Jane Wyman

Just for You is a sumptuous treat for the eyes thanks to George Barnes Technicolor cinematography, and a treasure of mid-century design in sets and costumes. Robert Carson's (A Star is Born) screenplay is based on Famous, a short story by Stephen Vincent Benet. 

Elliott Nugent (The Male Animal) directed the movie, the final of three with Bing Crosby including She Loves Me Not, 1934, and Welcome, Stranger, 1947 (plus Bing's cameo in My Favorite Brunette, 1947).

Bonus treat:

Here's Bing and Ben Lessy performing a little number at the St. Hilary's tea and recital. On the 10:10 (from Ten-Ten-Tennessee).











Saturday, May 1, 2021

CAFTAN WOMAN'S CHOICE: ONE FOR MAY ON TCM


Isolation, illness, and fear; humanity's history and misery can be tracked through its battle with plagues. Isle of the Dead is a 1945 release from the Val Lewton production unit at RKO, noted for their non-traditional horror tales. The movie is a character study of people grappling with overwhelming disaster.


Swiss artist Arnold Bocklin's 1883 work Isle of the Dead inspired the film. Ardel Wray (I Walked with a Zombie), Josef  Mischel (Prison Ship), and uncredited Val Lewton wrote the story and screenplay. Film editor turned director Mark Robson (Bright Victory) proved himself adept at the relatively modest tales released by the unit. Cinematographer Jack MacKenzie (Two O'Clock Courage), in films since the teens, worked in B films for the studio and helped create the shadowy atmosphere.

Marc Cramer, Boris Karloff

Our setting is 1912, the War of the Balkans. The battlefield is strewn with corpses and the threat of plague is in the air. General Pherides played by Boris Karloff is an old campaigner and a stern officer. Marc Cramer plays Oliver Davis, a war correspondent from Boston assigned to follow the General. He will follow him to an island cemetery to pay respects to the General's long dead wife.

Skelton Knaggs, Jason Robards Sr., Boris Karloff

The Island and its odd component of residents are placed under quarantine when funny little Andrew Robbins played by Skelton Knaggs. The traveler only wanted to return to the sound of Bow Bells, but he staggered to his death on the desolate island. The army physician Dr. Drossos played by Ernst Deutsch issues the quarantine orders and instructions regarding hygiene and distancing yourself from others. Once contracted, there is no cure for the illness. Hope is held out in a watch for the warm sirocco which will clear the area of fleas. 

Jason Robards Sr., Ernst Deutsch, Boris Karloff

The owner of the home belongs to an archeologist, Mr. Albrecht played by Jason Robards Sr. He does not discount the doctor's science, but steeped in an antiquarian's mindset he amusingly says he will pray to the god Hermes, and see who helps their plight first. 

Ellen Drew, Katherine Emery, Alan Napier

A married couple, the St. Aubyns played by Alan Napier and Katherine Emery have secrets to keep and to share, involving Mrs. St. Aubyn's delicate health. Thea played by Ellen Drew is a companion to Mary St. Aubyn. The St. Aubyns love and trust the young woman, but Madame Kyra played by Helene Thimig is suspicious, perhaps jealous, of the younger woman's blooming health.

Helene Thimig, Boris Karloff

Kyra spreads old country superstitions about the evil spirit of the undead vorvolakas. In her eyes, Thea is to blame for the troubles that have befallen them. Sensing a kindred soul in Pherides, Kyra turns the General against Thea.

Death, fear of death, superstition, and fear of the unknown are among the plagues that come to the small island. Will the wind change? Will it be too late? 


Boris Karloff

RKO Studios and Boris Karloff had a felicitous teaming in the mid-1940s when the actor appeared in a series of pictures for the B unit run by producer Val Lewton. "B" in budget and expectations, but "A" in the care given, the ensemble casts, and Boris Karloff following his phenomenal Broadway success with Arsenic and Old Lace. The pictures include one of his finest performances as the grave robber Gray in The Body Snatcher, the sadistic Master Simms in Bedlam, and General Pherides in our picture. Karloff also struts his stuff in a 1947 release for the studio, Dick Tracy Meets Gruesome.


TCM is screening Isle of the Dead during the daytime of Tuesday, May 18. Islands figure prominently in the lineup which includes Robinson Crusoe, The Most Dangerous Game, and The Little Hut

















THE CHRISTOPTHER LEE BLOGATHON: How the West Was Won, 1978

Cinematic Catharsis and Realweegiemidget Reviews present The Christopher Lee Blogathon , May 21-23, 2021. Thank you, Barry and Gill.  Day ...