Thursday, September 30, 2021

THE BIOPIC BLOGATHON: The Five Pennies, 1959

The Biopic Blogathon is hosted by Dr. Annette Bochenek's Hometowns to Hollywood. Begin your journey through interesting life stories by clicking HERE.

Dena Productions, named for Danny Kaye and Sylvia Fine's daughter, was formed in 1953 and saw the release of the movies Knock on Wood, 1954, The Five Pennies, 1959, On the Double, 1961, and The Man from the Diner's Club, 1963. 

The Five Pennies written by Jack Rose and Melville Shavelson (The Seven Little Foys) and directed by Shavelson looks at the ups and downs of Red Nichols' career, and his triumph as a family man. Shavelson knew what worked for his star as he directed Danny Kaye on On the Double and wrote The Kid from Brooklyn and Wonder Man. Co-producer Sylvia Fine wrote four songs for the film: The Five Pennies, Follow the Leader, Lullaby in Ragtime, Goodnight - Sleep Tight, and contributed the special lyrics to When the Saints Go Marching In.

Note: in the film, Red Nichols played the trumpet for Danny Kaye and Eileen Wilson did the singing for Barbara Bel Geddes.

Loring "Red" Nichols
May 8, 1905 - June 28, 1965

The son of a music professor and a child prodigy inspired by the likes of Bix Beiderbecke, Fate (with a capital "F") had determined that Red Nichols be a musician. Red owned those dots on the bar line. He was a thoroughly polished cornetist who could cut loose with the popular jazz of the era, bringing it to popularity with hundreds of recordings and concert dates. Red and trombonist Miff Mole were an inseparable and unbeatable team in the 1920s and 1930s.

In his various bands, Red Nichols influenced and mentored many musicians including Glenn Miller, Benny Goodman, Jimmy Dorsey, Pee Wee Russell, Joe Venuti, Eddie Lang, Gene Krupa, and Jack Teagarden.

"Red made sure everyone was paid."
- Jimmy Dorsey on This is Your Life, 1956 

The course of time found Nichols falling out of favour with the intellectual critics who had discovered the sophisticated style of such as Duke Ellington and Coleman Hawkins. What in an earlier time was an appreciation of a fine musician turned to scorn forgetting that the music world is wide and encompasses many purveyors and many different tastes from audiences who can appreciate more than one thing at a time.

Red was married to dancer Willa Stutsman and the couple had one daughter. During the 1930s Red played in pit orchestras and show bands. He left music and worked at a shipyard during WW2 when he and Willa's daughter Dorothy was diagnosed with polio. After the war, Red revived his band at first in small clubs then progressively larger venues, and toured Europe as a goodwill ambassador. Red was performing in Las Vegas when he passed away in 1965.

Here's a treat, a 1929 medley from Red and the boys!

Danny Kaye, Harry Guardino, Bob Crosby

Ogden, Utah's own Loring Nichols arrived in NYC in the mid-1920s with his cornet, his Dixieland arrangements, and the certainty that "Someday you boys will all be working for me." Work is consistent if not always in line with Red's vision but he is one of those to-thine-own-self-be-true fellows.

Danny Kaye, Barbara Bel Geddes

Red is consistent as well in his personal life. He meets singer (society chanteuse) Willa Stutsman and after her original scorn for the "hick", they form a bond and marry. Like most marriages, they survive their ups and downs by supporting each other through the rough times.

Louis Armstrong, Danny Kaye

Red has the approval and the friendship of his fellow musicians. It is one of the things that keeps him going when times are rough. As he says later in the movie, "There was Louis, there was Bix, and there was me." Red and Louis perform The Battle Hymn of the Republic. Remember, that is Red Nichols trumpet that Danny is imitating.

Danny Kaye

Red takes the Five Pennies on the road. College dates plus their recordings really put the group on the map. Style-wise The Five Pennies cinematographer David L. Fapp (West Side Story) has fun with Technicolor through the opening credits and montages which advance the years of Red's career. 

Susan Gordon as young Dorothy

The early years on the road include Red and Willa's daughter Dorothy. It is a unique and exciting time for the youngster who loves being with her parents. When Willa decides she would like their daughter to be at least 8-years-old before she starts singing in nightclubs, the couple must come to a difficult decision. It is Red who deems a Boarding School the best solution and Daddy's girl Dorothy resents being sent away.

Barbara Bel Geddes, Danny Kaye

When Dorothy is diagnosed with polio the doctors declare that she will never walk again. Devastated, Willa and Red take over her treatment. Red quits the road and the band taking a job in a wartime shipyard, settling down in the sunshine of Los Angeles. The treatment of heat and rehabilitation as outlined by Australian nurse Sister Kenny is their guide. 

Tuesday Weld as teenager Dorothy, Danny Kaye

Through the years, Dorothy does walk with braces and a cane. Dorothy has forgotten those early years on the road and, in typical teenage fashion, scoffs at her mother's assertion that her father was once a famous musician. Slowly, Dorothy begins to remember the two separate phases of her life and what her father sacrificed for her sake. She joins her mother in convincing Red to return to what he was meant to do.

Ray Daley (Glenn Miller), Louis Armstrong, Harry Guardino, Danny Kaye
Tuesday Weld, Barbara Bel Geddes, Ray Anthony (Jimmy Dorsey)

Afraid that he has "lost his lip" after all this time, Red struggles with the idea of a comeback and the practice it will take but with the support of his family and old friends we leave him where we met him, back on stage making the music he loves.


Oscar nominations:

Best music, scoring of a motion picture - Leith Stevens
Winner: Porgy and Bess

Best music, original song - Sylvia Fine for The Five Pennies
Winner: High Hopes from A Hole in the Head

Best costume design, color - Edith Head
Winner: Ben-Hur

Best cinematography, color - Daniel L. Fapp
Winner: Ben-Hur

Golden Globes:

Winner: Most promising female newcomer, Tuesday Weld

Nominee: Best Motion Picture - Musical
Winner: Porgy and Bess

Grammy Awards:

Nominee: Best Soundtrack Album Original Cast Motion Picture or Television
Winner: Porgy and Bess

Writers Guild of America:

Winner: Best written American musical

Danny Kaye and Red Nichols

Note: Look for a quick cameo from Bob Hope. Red led Hope's radio orchestra for a while in the 1930s.

Note: Red Nichols was inducted into the Big Band and Jazz Hall of Fame in 1986.

Wednesday, September 29, 2021

THE SILENT MOVIE DAY BLOGATHON: The Last of the Mohicans, 1920


The first annual National Silent Movie Day has inspired Crystal at In the Good Old Days of Classic Hollywood and Lea at Silent-ology to host The Silent Movie Day Blogathon this September 29th. Your journey begins HERE

The first National Silent Movie Day will be celebrated on September 29, 2021 as established in January 2021 by Chad Hunter, Executive Director of Video Trust and Director of the Pittsburgh Silent Film Society; Brandee B. Cox, Senior Film Archivist at the Academy Film Archive, and Steven K. Hill, Motion Picture Archivist at the UCLA Film & Television Archive.

The most popular and enduring of James Fenimore Cooper's five novels which comprise the Leatherstocking Tales is the second in the series, The Last of the Mohicans published in 1826. The story is set in New York State in the mid-16th century during the French and Indian Wars (the North American site of the European Seven Years War).

James Fenimore Cooper, 1789-1851

The scout Natty Bumppo, known as Hawkeye, along with his close friends Chingachgook and Uncas, the last of the Mohicans become embroiled in the conflict and the danger that surrounds the Munro family, Colonel, and two daughters. 

Cooper's stories caught the imagination of filmmakers as early as 1910 and many adaptations for the big and small screens have been created in the hundred years since. 1920 saw a two-part German film that featured Bela Lugosi as Chingachgook. My contribution to The Silent Movie Day Blogathon is a look at the 1920 Hollywood film from Maurice Tourneur Productions.

The scenario for the film by Robert Dillon distills the epic story to the events surrounding the emotional and danger fraught story of the Munro sisters, Cora and Alice, along with the memorable characters of Uncas, Chingachgook, Hawkeye, and Magua. This story is enhanced by the location filming in Big Bear Lake, the San Bernardino Forest, and Yosemite National Park.

Lillian Hall, Barbara Bedford

Maurice Tourneur whose background in the theatre and in classical art informed his filmmaking directed and released the film through his own production company formed in 1917. The Last of the Mohicans bears his distinctive hallmark of excellence regardless of the illness which forced assistant director Clarence Brown (The Yearling) to take over the duties of his revered mentor.

"Maurice Tourneur was my god. I owe him everything I've got in the world. For me, he was the greatest man who ever lived."     - Clarence Brown

Wallace Beery

Magua: "Magua does not kill his prisoners - he tortures them!"

Fort William Henry was built in 1755 on Lake George in what was called the province of New York. Our story finds Colonel Munro in a stand-off with General Montcalm and his Huron allies. Nonetheless, when General Webb sends reinforcements to Fort William Henry among them are Colonel Munro's daughters under the protection of Major Heyward and the guidance of a Native scout. Magua played by Wallace Beery claims to know a shortcut to the fort but has nefarious plans of his own. Pride and vengeance against mistreatment by Munro motivate the Huron. 

George Hackathorne, Barbara Bedford

Cora: "Surely among his own people he is a prince!"

Captain Randolph: "You! - The daughter of Colonel Munro! - admiring a filthy savage!"

Barbara Bedford plays Cora, Munro's dark-haired, devoted and romantic daughter. Her imagination has been taken by the appearance in their lives of Uncas played by Albert Roscoe. 

Alice Munro played by Lillian Hall is a vivacious blonde protected by the love of her family and admired by the stalwart Major Heyward played by Henry Woodward.

Henry Woodward, Harry Lorraine, Albert Roscoe, Theodore Lorch 

Hawkeye: "I suspect the varmint covets your scalps! Come - these woods are no longer safe."

As the group of the Monro sisters, Major Heyward and Magua split off from the troops they come across David Gamut played by Nelson McDowall. The awkwardness of the preacher/musician adds a touch of comic relief to the tense situation as the travelers come to realize that Magua is not their friend. Friends will be found in the forest in the scout Hawkeye, Chingachgook, and his son Uncas.

Barbara Bedford, Albert Roscoe

Despite the knowledge and experience of the rescuers, escaping Magua and his Huron confederates is no easy task. A night spent in a hidden cave is an uneasy time for all. However, Cora and Uncas find they have a shared attraction and compatible souls. How inconvenient when they are faced with such challenges.

Eventually, our beleaguered group reaches Fort William Henry at the same time as the troops. Those troops and Colonel Munro are betrayed by the cowardly Captain Randolph to Montcalm. Under a flag of truce, the French commander informs Colonel Munro that he is aware that the British defenses are not what they should be and that no further help is coming. Montcalm and the Huron leaders pledge that the women and children, and soldiers may leave the fort under protection to which Monro reluctantly agrees.

Nelson McDowall, Barbara Bedford, Lillian Hall

Emboldened by alcohol and the urging of the magnetic Magua, many Braves turn their back on the word of their leaders and ambush those leaving Fort William Henry. It is a brutal scene that has not been equaled by many movies since. Cora and Alice are kidnapped by Magua who is pursued by Uncas, Chingachgook, Hawkeye, Munro, and Heyward.

Barbara Bedford, Albert Roscoe

Magua seeks his rights through the Delaware council. It is judged that Cora rightfully belongs with the Mohican Uncas, a cousin of the Delaware but that Magua may take Alice as the spoils of war. The protective nature of her relationship with her sister is overwhelming and Cora offers to exchange herself for Alice. The Delaware offer Magua safe passage until sundown at which time Uncas vows to follow.

Barbara Bedford, Albert Roscoe

After almost 200 years since the novel's publication, I have no fear of spoiling the story which reaches its tragic climax on a rocky promontory where lovely and often misunderstood Cora and her valiant protector Uncas lose their lives. Vengeance of a sort comes to Chingachgook with the death of the hated Magua but it does not assuage his pain.

Theodore Lorch

Chingachgook: "Woe for the race of red men! In the morning of life I saw the sons of my forefathers, happy and strong - and before nightfall I have seen the passing of the last of the Mohicans!"

Of note:

The Last of the Mohicans, 1920 was placed on the National Film Registry for culturally significant films in 1995.

You may be interested in my piece on the 1936 version of The Last of the Mohicans. The Dudley Nichols screenplay was a strong influence on the popular 1992 film, and its retelling of the story which sets the romance on its head is familiar to most film fans.

Maurice Tourneur is the father of director Jacques Tourneur who gave us such classics as Out of the Past and Stars in My Crown.

Barbara Bedford and Albert (Alan) Roscoe (Cora and Uncas) were married from 1922 to 1928, and again from 1930 to 1933 when Roscoe passed at the age of 46. The only child for both was their daughter Barbara Edith Roscoe.

Friday, September 24, 2021


A Shroud of Thoughts is the place to be this weekend for the 8th Annual Rule Britannia Blogathon courtesy of our host, Terence Towles Canote. Click on the highlighted blogathon title to access the contributions. My piece is a look at the old favourite from Ealing, The Lavender Hill Mob, 1951. 

"The events and characters portrayed in this film are fictitious and any similarity to any incident, name, or individual is coincidental."

The above disclaimer or any of its ilk make me somewhat dubious. Executives from The Bank of England helped devise the plot for The Lavender Hill Mob. The collaboration was pursuant to a request from journalist and novelist T.E.B. Clarke, who created many of the eccentric Ealing Studios comedies between 1943 to 1957. It makes one consider the inner life of bankers, doesn't it? Not to mention authors!

Alec Guinness

Alec Guinness as Mr. Holland (we may call him "Dutch") has carefully cultivated the persona of the loyal employee, the fussy little man with no imagination all the while devising schemes to rob his employers of the gold bullion under his watchful eyes. All that is required is a process in which the bullion may be smuggled to Europe.

When the artistic Mr. Pendlebury played by Stanley Holloway becomes the newest boarder at the Balmoral Residential Hotel on Lavender Hill, the way is clear. Pendlebury is the owner of Geegaws Ltd. His business is creating and selling souvenirs. The Eiffel Tower paperweights are a great seller in Paris. Pendlebury, like Holland, dreams of riches and is easily convinced to become a partner in the great bullion meltdown.

Stanley Holloway, Alec Guinness, Alfie Bass, Sid James

When Mr. Holland is kicked upstairs, that is promoted to an office job with an extra 15 shillings a week, plans for the robbery are rushed. Holland and Pendlebury ingenuously draw to themselves regular, working stiff crooks to assist in the caper. Enter Sidney James as Lackery and Alfie Bass as Shorty. They look to Holland as the boss and trust both Dutch and Pendlebury implicitly, babes in the woods though they may be.

Audrey Hepburn, Alec Guinness

While we cannot say with complete honesty that the heist goes off without a hitch, it does keep the police on their toes while the weeks pass, the bullion is transformed to mementos and the plan comes oh-so-close to fruition. We are so pleased to see that "Dutch" has made it to Rio de Janeiro and is obviously enjoying the good life. He has the regard of those who have an appreciation for his money, including the lovely and young Chiquita winningly played by 22-year-old Audrey Hepburn.

We quell our concern as our scheming dreamer relates the story of his misappropriation to an interested party. We know in our hearts that the interested party is in all likelihood a law enforcement official, but we hold onto the same hope we would have for ourselves in similar circumstances. What does that say about audiences and/or the paycheque to paycheque crowd?

The Lavender Hill Mob was directed by Charles Crichton who gave us the affecting drama The Divided Heart, 1954 along with great comedies through the years from The Golfer's Story segment in Dead of Night, 1945 to A Fish Called Wanda, 1988. The script is filled with sly asides and allusions, marvelous double-takes, and some delicious slapstick from Guinness, and the police who emulate their Keystone ancestors.

I selected this timeless classic for the 8th Annual Rule, Britannia Blogathon not only because it was one of my late father's favourites, but it has become one of mine over the years.  

Friday, September 17, 2021



Crystal Kalyana is back and In the Good Old Days of Classic Hollywood is hosting a blogathon tribute to the uniquely talented Anne Bancroft. The 90th birthdate celebration runs from September 17th to the 19th. Click HERE for the blogathon contributions.

The Raid, 1954 is a historical drama released by Twentieth Century Fox. The screenplay by Sidney Boehm (The Big Heat) is based on the story treatment of Francis M. Cockrell (Inferno) of the Herbert Ravenel Sass novel Affair at St. Albans. Hugo Fregonese (Saddle Tramp, Man in the Attic) directed. The Raid is based on a true incident that occurred during the American Civil War, the details of which are recounted here

Van Heflin, Peter Graves, Lee Marvin

A group of Confederate prisoners led by Captain Benton played by Van Heflin escape their captors in New York State. There were eight altogether and six will make it across the border to Montreal in Canada. One of the soldiers refuses to go as he cannot condone their plans should the escape prove successful and another was killed.  You win no prize for assuming that Lee Marvin as Lt. Keating is cast as the hothead. His character will bring trouble. Peter Graves as Capt. Dwyer is as dedicated and steady as their leader Benton.

When next we see Captain Benton he is posing as a Montreal businessman by the name of Neal Swayze. He has come to St. Albans on a reconnaissance mission. The Confederacy plans to bring the war to what they think of as the complacent North, to disrupt the flow of troops to the South, and to steal much-needed funds. St. Albans is planned to be the first of many such raids.

Anne Bancroft, Van Heflin

Benton/Swayze: "I didn't mean to stare at you but I had been told about Widow Bishop. I had expected an older lady."

Katy Bishop: "The war makes young widows."

One of the local bankers played by Will Wright advises the boarding house run by the Widow Bishop for good vittles and a clean atmosphere. It is here that Captain Benton will find more than he was looking for. 

In honour of Anne Bancroft's 90th birthdate, we will focus on her role in The Raid. At this point in her burgeoning career, she was generally cast as "the woman," in the picture. Nonetheless, Anne Bancroft brought depth and interest to her characters that were not always apparent in the scripts as written. The character of Katy Bishop has clearly taken control of her life in the midst of tumultuous times providing a haven for her guests and friends and raising her young son played by Tommy Rettig.

Van Heflin, Anne Bancroft

The relationship between Katy and the Confederate raider is not one of those great movie romances, but a subtle meeting of compatible personalities that begins when the Montreal businessman, as he is known, inquires about land that may be available for purchase. The attraction is noted with chagrin by Captain Foster played by Richard Boone. He is a longtime friend of Katy's and the recruiting officer for the district having lost his left hand early in the conflict.  

Benton, like most of the men under his command, has difficulty suppressing his hatred of the Yankees among whom he is living. However, as time wears on and plans for the raid are constantly being changed due to unforeseen challenges from Union Forces and from the explosive Lt. Keating, Captain Benton forges feelings for Katy, Tommy, and the town. His allegiance to the Confederacy has not lessened but he is beginning to appreciate the two sides to the conflict and he no longer fanatically craves the destruction of the entire town. 

Van Heflin, Anne Bancroft

A fundraising dance for the Union becomes an exchange of views and a contest of wills. Katy cannot understand the profound emotions that stir this supposedly neutral Canadian. The conflicted Captain Benton now finds the commitment to his cause equal to his need to be understood.

Van Heflin, Anne Bancroft

A violent incident precipitated by the desperate and irrational Lt. Keating places Captain Benton in a position where doing his duty for the Confederacy, he becomes a hero to the citizens of St. Albans. The look of pride and affection bestowed by Katy is perilously close to the love her friend Captain Foster fears she is feeling.

Van Heflin, Anne Bancroft

There is no stopping the raid, and there is no stopping Katy and Tommy from discovering the truth about the man they have let into their hearts. Captain Benton promises they will be safe and he practically begs for understanding as we hear the shouts and screams from the town square when the looting and arson begin.

Helen Ford, Anne Bancroft, Richard Boone

The destruction around them is a time for Katy and for Captain Foster to display their courage. It is an opportunity for Captain Benton to do the same; can he stay true to his mission and not sink to barbarism? His personal letter left for Katy asks much of her.

Tommy Rettig, Anne Bancroft

Captain Benton: "If they burned St. Albans, would you understand them? Will you forgive them?"

Peter Graves, Van Heflin

The Raid is interesting history, an adventurous story of espionage, and an understated character study that is able to rely on the talents of its leading players to bring layers to their roles. Anne Bancroft, in particular, has the ability to work compatibly with both Van Heflin and Richard Boone in bringing life to Katy Bishop.

Monday, September 6, 2021

NO TRUE SCOTSMAN BLOGATHON: Wagon Train, The Annie MacGregor Story (1958)


The No True Scotsman Blogathon is the brainchild of Gill at Realweegiemidget Reviews. Contributor's mission statement: "An actor or actress playing a Scot even though they themselves are not Scottish." Holy Scrooge McDuck, Batman! 
Day 1     Day 2     Day 3     

I am taking a look at an episode of Wagon Train from the venerable western's first season with the accents of guest stars Jeannie Carson and Tudor Owen.


Written by Frank W. Marshall
Directed by Mark Stevens
First aired: Wednesday, February 5th, 1958

Ward Bond and Tudor Owen

Major Adams: "Have you ever tried to argue with a Scotchman? Well, I have!"

The Seth Adams wagon train has come upon quite a sight in the prairie. A wagon train of kilt-wearing MacGregors dealing unsuccessfully with a broken wagon wheel. Their leader Angus MacGregor stubbornly refuses any assistance while his daughter Annie tries to play a conciliatory role between her beloved father and the kind strangers. Among the kind strangers is Jason Campbell and sparks are flying between the immigrant girl and the guest star wagon train scout.

Jeannie Carson as Annie MacGregor

Special Guest Star Jeannie Carson plays Annie. Born into a show business family in Yorkshire in 1928, Jeannie became a musical star in the 1952 hit play Love from Judy. Stage success led to movies such as As Long as They're Happy and An Alligator Named Daisy, plus an invitation to do American television. Jeannie played a Scottish lass in her CBS television series Hey, Jeannie!, 1956, and here in The Annie MacGregor Story.

Lest you think Jeannie was America's go-to Scotswoman at this point, in 1960 she played the Irish Sharon McLonergan in a Broadway revival of Finian's Rainbow where she met her husband Biff McGuire. They appeared together often on stage, including a tour of Camelot. The couple was married from 1960 to McGuire's passing in March of 2021.

Accent-wise, Jeannie gives her Scottish characters a lovely soft lilt most pleasant to hear. Her inflection has that slightly foreign feel yet at the same time is comforting. You can understand producers wanting to utilize that aspect of Jeannie's ability.

Tudor Owen as Angus MacGregor

Tudor Owen (The Black Castle) plays Angus MacGregor, the head of the clan and a most headstrong fellow. Owen was born in Wales and studied at London's Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts following Medical Corps. service in WWI. His Hollywood career began in the silent era and would eventually encompass not only film but television and particularly radio.

Owen didn't always play a Scot but when he did, it was the gruff fellow with a burr under his tongue and a grand yet controlled ability to go over-the-top. Of course, being an actor he still communicated with his audience. I note this particularly because I have Scots friends of whom I can say that their conversation can be unintelligible and it is not until hours after we have spoken that my brain deciphers what I have heard.

Richard Long as Jason Campbell

The MacGregors in our story have quit one wagon train due to the prejudices against foreigners they experienced from their fellow travelers. The experience has made Angus mistrustful of the genuine offer of help from Major Adams. Angus also bears animosity toward the scout who bears the name of Campbell due to a long-standing feud in the old country. Annie's romantic interest is played with sincerity by Richard "Be Still My Heart" Long.    

Complications arise between Angus and his clan, between Angus and a hot-headed passenger on the Adams wagon train played by Kevin Hagen (Little House on the Prairie), plus a subplot with some warring Kiowa warriors. Musical interludes are provided by Jeannie's charming singing, and reels, and sword dancing. To wit, all the Scottish stuff necessary to satisfy audience expectations. 

When we reach the last commercial and the final credits, Annie has helped us to see the softer side of her adored father. Romance is concluded satisfactorily as Major Adams is empowered to marry couples. As for the Kiowa, it appears they are as spooked by the sound of bagpipes as are American horses and cattle not used to the soothing sound! (Yes. They went there.)

Special guest star Jeannie Carson with series lead Ward Bond

This episode was written by Frank W. Marshall whose only other IMDb writing credit is for the fondly recalled The Seth Adams Story, a two-part episode of the series. The Annie MacGregor Story is one of several Wagon Train episodes directed by actor Mark Stevens (The Dark Corner).

Of note:

Jeannie and husband Biff McGuire 
Married 1960-2021

Jeannie's 93rd birthday was May 23, 2021

Jeannie and Biff sing Burton Lane and E.Y. Harburg's Old Devil Moon from Finian's Rainbow


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