Monday, January 31, 2022



Frances Hodgson Burnett brought pleasure to countless generations of readers and earned herself critical praise with her writing, in particular three novels which have made the transition to the screen and stage countless times, Little Lord Fauntleroy (1886), A Little Princess (1905), and The Secret Garden (1911). 

It is difficult for me to imagine that The Secret Garden was first adapted for the movies in 1919 and the second feature was not produced until 1949. Since that time, there have been countless movie versions, television mini-series, an animated feature, and a Tony-winning Broadway musical among its incarnations.

Mary Lennox played by Margaret O'Brien is both a neglected and spoiled child. She is bitter and lonely and acts out on these emotions. Born in India to British parents whom she lost in a cholera epidemic, it is determined by authorities that the orphan be sent back to England and the care of a distant relative, an uncle by marriage, Archibald Craven played by Herbert Marshall.

Archibald Craven is plagued by a hunchbacked, guilt, memories, and secrets. He tries to bury these secrets, literally and through drink and absence. Prior to leaving on one of his frequent trips to London, Craven tells the orphan girl, whom he had hoped would be beautiful: "It's a poor house for children, Mary. Perhaps you're equal to it. I'm not." 

Mary finds her new home in Yorkshire very strange indeed. Gladys Cooper plays the cold and tyrannical housekeeper. Dennis Hoey is "Mr. Craven's man" who battles Cooper for control. Reginald Owen is the gardener who has his own secrets. Elsa Lanchester is a giggly housemaid who tolerates no nonsense from a headstrong girl, yet has sympathy for Mary's plight. Her brother Dickon played beautifully by Brian Roper is a nature boy who becomes a friend to the isolated orphan. He is an unaware yet remarkably perceptive friend and teacher. 

Brian Roper (Dickon), Margaret O'Brien (Mary), Dean Stockwell (Colin)

Norma Varden plays a nurse in the Craven household. Why is there a nurse in the house? It is to care for the "poor boy." Craven's son Colin is played by Dean Stockwell. The boy is a cripple with the threat of an early death hanging over him. Colin is a great one for giving the staff a hard time through his behavior and tantrums. Mary has finally met someone who matches her, fault for fault. These cousins are holy terrors who must raise themselves out of the depths of their despair. In an outburst for the ages, Mary breaks Colin down: 
"I was worse the day I was born than you are this minute!"

The secret of the Craven family and of the locked-up garden on the grounds will prove life-affirming and cathartic for our trio of youngsters. The adult cast is superb, especially George Zucco as a doctor with common sense and the correct prescription for the shut-up Colin and his father. 

Robert Ardrey (The Green YearsMadame Bovary) wrote the screenplay for The Secret Garden under the auspices of producer Clarence Brown for MGM Studios. The prestigious film was directed by Fred M. Wilcox (Lassie Come Home). 

I find in the best of Clarence Brown's work, producing and/or directing, a particular empathy for the outsider especially as represented by the lonely, isolated world of children in such films as The Yearling, Intruder in the Dust, Ah, Wilderness!, The Human Comedy, National Velvet, Angels in the Outfield, and this lovely version of The Secret Garden.  

TCM is screening The Secret Garden, 1949 on Thursday, February 24th at noon Eastern Time. Other classic novel adaptations in the lineup include Pride and Prejudice, 1940, Little Women, 1933, The Age of Innocence, 1934, Murder She Said, 1961, and The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter, 1968.

Previous titles in the Caftan Woman's Choice series.

Saturday, January 22, 2022



Rebecca at Taking Up Room and Gill at RealWeegieMidget Reviews are hosting The Odd or Even Blogathon from January 20th to the 23rd. It was a lot of fun to have a flip of the coin settle the topic for the contributors.  Day 1   Day 2   Day 3   Day 4   

Ma Harrington played by Marie Dressler has no favourites between her two daughters. Grace played by glamourous Jane Winton is the favourite for wearing the best clothes, attending the best functions, and moving up the social ladder. The pair have set their sights on handsome young real estate executive Tony Anderson played by Orville Caldwell. 

Patricia or "Pat" played by Marion Davies is the favourite when it comes to having someone to treat as a second-class citizen, who does all the work and takes all the grief from the other females in the family. Pat also has her sights set on handsome young real estate executive Tony Anderson. He's a sweet guy and Pat's knight in shining armour.

Marion Davies, Dell Henderson, Jane Winton, Marie Dressler

Pat: "Why do I always get the part of a chicken that goes over the fence last?"

The one person in Pat's corner is Pa Harrington played by Dell Henderson. Pa understands exactly how Pat feels.

Pa to Ma: "Maybe you don't believe it, but I've had a pain in the neck ever since we were married."

Orville Caldwell, Marion Davies

Pat confesses to Tony her unrequited affection for a man who doesn't know she exists. Tony, attempting to be kind advises her to "get a personality." Pat feels she does have a personality but tries some self-help books to improve hers. The title that makes an impression is What to Say and When to Say It. She memorizes the pithy bon mots and throws them at her family with no context. Ma is convinced that Pat is off her rocker as there is insanity on her father's side of the family.

Pa to Pat: "Let Ma keep on thinking you're a bit cuckoo and you can do anything you want to."

Lawrence Gray, Marion Davies, Jane Winton

Pat follows Pa's advice and has a lot of fun doing so. Grace is also having a lot of fun stepping out on Tony with local playboy Billy Caldwell played by Lawrence Gray. Pat also uses Billy as part of her plan thanks to Pa's recounting of a movie plot that impressed him. 

Pa to Pat: "I saw the slickest movie last night and the girl in it sure knew her onions."

Initially, the romances between both the older (Ma and Pa) and younger (Pat and Tony, Grace and everybody) generations don't exactly work out as anticipated, but this is a romantic comedy and I will leave it to you as to who gets their way when the dust settles.

The cast is uniformly expert at the comedy craft, making The Patsy a delight. Marion's character of "Pat" is a pro-active Cinderella who engages our sympathies. Orville Caldwell's "Tony" is such a sincere dope that you can't help but like him. Lawrence Gray's "Billy" has a goofy sense of humour that takes the sting out of his trying to steal his pal's gal. Jane Winton's "Grace" is nobody's fool except maybe her own. Dell Henderson's "Pa" displays a resigned dry wit that is quite captivating. Marie Dressler's tyranny as "Ma" could be overwhelming if played by an actress with lesser comedy chops.   

Barry Connors' play The Patsy had a successful 245 performance Broadway run in the 1925/1926 season. Ralph Spence (Cracked Nuts, Peach O'Reno) adapted the play for the screen. The movie features many amusing intertitles that seem to match the pace of the popular Jazz Age play.

Marion Davies (or is it Lillian Gish?!) with King Vidor

King Vidor and Marion Davis collaborated on three comedies, The Patsy and Show People in 1928 and Not So Dumb, 1930. Their screen work shows that the pair had a most simpatico sense of humour and working relationship. Show People, like The Patsy, gave Marion a chance to display her wonderful ability to imitate other actresses of the era with unerring precision. The two films also teamed Marion most felicitously with Dell Henderson.

Of note:

Claiborne Foster starred as "Pat" in The Patsy during its successful Broadway run.

Tuesday, January 18, 2022


Theresa, the CineMaven herself is hosting The Umpteenth Blogathon on January 18th. A tribute to those movies which have an addictive hold on our moving pictures loving souls. Every fan has many such films and HERE we get to gush about one of them. 

My selection is the energetic, music-filled, cynical, and hopeful 42nd Street released by Warner Brothers in 1933.

"Say, Jones and Barry are doing a show!"

The news rings out about a new show to all the hopeful dancers, singers, and actors who need that next job.

Ned Sparks (Barry), Guy Kibbee (Abner Dillon), Robert McWade (Jones)

The show is Pretty Lady and Jones and Barry (Robert McWade and Ned Sparks) have a financial backer in kiddie car magnate Abner Dillon (Guy Kibbee). Dillon has money that, apparently, is burning a hole in his pocket. He enjoys the sight of all the pretty girls, and he is involved with leading lady Dorothy Brock (Bebe Daniels). A match made in Heaven for the producers.

Warner Baxter (Julian Marsh)

Jones and Barry have their director in hitmaker Julian Marsh (Warner Baxter). Marsh was indeed a hitmaker but, like many others, he lost a bundle when the stock market laid an egg. His health has deteriorated and he needs to recoup some of his losses to keep body and soul together. 

George Brent (Pat Denning), Bebe Daniels (Dorothy Brock)

The star of the show, Dorothy Brock, isn't Abner Dillon's love match. That fellow is her former Vaudeville partner Pat Denning (George Brent). Pat doesn't want to stand in Dorothy's way to success, but meeting on the sly is putting a strain on their relationship.

Ruby Keeler (Peggy Sawyer), Ginger Rogers (Annie), Una Merkel (Lottie)

A newcomer to the Great White Way, Peggy Sawyer (Ruby Keeler) of Allenton, PA gets a break in the chorus. Down on her luck before the job came her way, Peggy gets somewhat involved with Pat Denning and somewhat involved Billy Lawler (Dick Powell), Broadway's "oldest living juvenile". What's a naive kid to do even if she can dance rings around Brock?

George E. Stone (Andy Lee), Warner Baxter (Julian Marsh)

Ann "Anytime Annie" Lowell (Ginger Rogers) and Lorraine "Lottie" Fleming (Una Merkel) are dancers in the show with guaranteed jobs because Lorraine's boyfriend Andy Lee (George E. Stone) is Marsh's stage manager. The girls are great kibbitzers, giving the movie a lot of its pep and pizzaz. Dance director Mac (Allen Jenkins) is a riot as the sub-task master under Marsh and Lee. Note: there is a treat for Charles Lane spotters.

The songs of 42nd Street are classics by Harry Warren and Al Dubbin: 42nd Street, You're Getting to Be a Habit with Me, Shuffle Off to Buffalo, Young and Healthy, plus the background love theme and dance music by Warren.

Al Dubin, Harry Warren, Warner Baxter

Warren and Dubin have an adorable cameo as the composers of Pretty Lady getting berated by Julian Marsh for their lack of originality.

Speaking of pep and pizzazz as I was earlier let's pause for a round of applause for the hard-working dancers who were more than put through their paces by the creator and stager of the mind-boggling routines, Busby Berkeley! Berkeley really put Warner Brothers musicals on the classic movie map.

42nd Street is a joy to re-watch. It crackles with wit and electricity as directed by versatile Lloyd Bacon from a screenplay by Rian James and James Seymour based on Bradford Ropes' novel. I haven't read the novel in many years as the copy I bought at a second-hand store in the 1970s was musty even then. The ending of that book has always stayed with me.

The Academy honoured the movie with two nominations: Best Picture (winner: Cavalcade), and Best Sound, Recording (winner: A Farwell to Arms). 42nd Street was placed on the National Film Registry in 1998.

Brooklyn-born Harry Warren (1893-1981) was one of the most successful composers of the 20th Century. Despite his great success with popular songs and movies, it looked like he would not have his dream of a Broadway Show until David Merrick produced 42nd Street as a major Broadway hit directed by Gower Champion in 1980.

There are two things to remember if you are coming across 42nd Street for the first time.

Number 1: Do NOT try to make sense of Pretty Lady. It can't be done.

Ruby Keeler, Warner Baxter

Number 2: "...Sawyer, you're going out a youngster but you've got to come back a star!"

Dick Powell (Billy Lawlor)

Admission: I am a theatre rat. It all began with the show business as depicted in movies and seen on late-night television. The glossy Technicolor offerings from 20th Century Fox and the gritty spins from Warner Brothers led to studies in music and acting, plus years of involvement in Community Theatre, which is a big scene in Toronto. Community theatre introduced me to my husband and many of my fondest friends. To this day, I love losing myself in the theatre world depicted by the movie makers.

Monday, January 10, 2022

Sailing Away on Charlie Chan's Murder Cruise, 1940


Charlie Chan Carries On, published in 1930 was the fifth of author Earl Derr Bigger's six Chan novels. Our premise finds Chan's friend and colleague Inspector Duff, from Behind That Curtain published 1928, pursuing a mysterious killer on board a luxury liner. Duff is wounded when the ship reaches Honolulu and Lt. Chan steps in as a matter of honour and friendship. 

Charlie Chan Carries On
was the basis of a 1931 film, sadly lost to us in a Fox Studio fire. The movie was Warner Oland's first foray as the Inspector and was directed by Hamilton MacFadden (The Black Camel).

The Spanish language version, Eran Trece produced in 1931 and featuring Manuel Arbo as Chan is available on the DVD collection, Volume 1. Fans will find it a treat to see the characters come to life.

Robertson White (Dick Tracy Meets Gruesome) and Lester Ziffren (Charlie Chan in Panama) reworked the story as Charlie Chan's Murder Cruise to suit the more contemporary sensibilities of the team of Sidney Toler and Sen Yung, who took over the popular series in 1938 with Charlie Chan in Honolulu. Eugene Forde directed the film, his only Toler outing after working on four of Warner Oland's Chan films.

Charlie Chan's Murder Cruise is a treat for fans of the series, fans of mysteries, and fans of the cast of great and familiar character actors featured in prominent roles.

Sen Yung, Layne Tom, Jr., C. Montague Shaw, Sidney Toler

We begin with a little domestic problem for "Pop" Chan dealing with Sen Yung as Jimmy and Layne Tom, Jr. as Willie. Layne Tom, Jr. appeared in three of the Chan films and they gave him a different name in each one! 

The arrival of Inspector Duff of Scotland Yard is a "saved by the bell" moment for the Chan offspring. Jimmy, of course, will be back later to "help" with the case. Inspector Duff had been traveling incognito with a party on a cruise, in pursuit of a fiendish serial killer. The Inspector is murdered while at Honolulu Police Headquarters and Lt. Chan request to be assigned to carry on with the case is approved. 

Before the ship sets sail for its final destination of San Francisco there is another murder among the party. A retired manufacturer called Kenyon is strangled under mysterious circumstances and his lawyer nephew played by Robert Lowery comes under suspicion. You needn't worry about him as he is involved with Paula Drake played by Marjorie Weaver and the young romantic couple in Chan pictures may get in trouble, but they always get their happy ending.

Cora Witherspoon, Marjorie Weaver, Sidney Toler, Don Beddoe

Susie Watson: "What an advertisement for Honolulu. Scream once and Charlie Chan appears."

We meet more of the party as hotel security played by James Burke joins Lt. Chan in the investigation. Guess what? Jimmy gets involved as well. Susie Watson played by Cora Witherspoon is a most insistent but not particularly reliable witness. She is a hoot who brings a lot of vibrancy to her role and the movie.

Sidney Toler, Leonard Mudie

Leonard Mudie appears as Pendleton, an extremely nervous man, with just cause. He is being pursued by a mad killer. On shipboard Pendleton remains in his cabin with a guard posted on the door. The details have yet to be revealed but apparently, the circumstances extend to his wife's first husband.

Lionel Atwill, Charles Middleton, Sen Yung, Claire Du Brey, Don Beddoe, Sidney Toler

Lionel Atwill plays Dr. Sudeman the organizer of the cruise party. It is his first and he fears the bad publicity - murders are not pleasant - will ruin his business. He desires everything to be handled discreetly. 

Charles Middleton and Claire Du Brey play the Watsons. Jimmy rightly calls them "bluenosers." They are killjoys and she claims to be psychic. Just the sort you want along on a cruise.

Let the hobby horse races begin!

It's all fun and games until there is another murder or two. One appears to solve the entire case but Lt. Chan is not so easily fooled. The confines of the ship keep the suspects too close for comfort and too convenient for destroying or creating misleading evidence.

Let the Coroner's Inquest begin!

Cliff Clark, Charles Middleton, Claire Du Brey, Cora Witherspoon, Marjorie Weaver
Robert Lowery, Lionel Atwill, Sen Yung, Leo G. Carroll, Harlan Briggs

Once in San Francisco, the Coroner determines it is quick work to determine the facts and truth of the case, but let's not be too hasty. Lt. Chan has a surprise witness and an even more surprising assistant in bringing the matter to its true successful conclusion. 

Sen Yung, Sidney Toler, Harlan Briggs

Jimmy Chan: "Gee, Pop. You sure figured that one out."

Saturday, January 1, 2022



Sitting atop the 1937 movie season box office we find MGMs adaption of Pearl S. Buck's The Good Earth starring Paul Muni and Luise Rainer, MGMs operetta Maytime starring Jeanette MacDonald and Nelson Eddy, and Paramount's Waikiki Wedding with Bing Crosby. It appears that the audience of that year enjoyed epic drama from best-selling novels, and a variety of music and musical performers.

The operetta Maytime premiered on Broadway in 1917 and ran for 492 performances, cementing Sigmund Romberg as a legendary composer in the field. Romberg collaborated with Rida Johnson Young (Little Old New York) on the book and lyrics which was adapted from the 1913 German operetta Like Once in May.

Noel Langley and Frances Marion wrote the screenplay from Claudine West's treatment for the MGM film. The Broadway play was a generational love story starring Peggy Wood (The Sound of Music) and Charles Purcell wherein the children of thwarted lovers themselves find romance. 

The film Maytime is the story of two singers who find romance while outside forces strive to keep them apart. Only one of the Romberg tunes made it to the screen, the hauntingly beautiful Will You Remember (Sweetheart). The rest of the tunes are classical pieces, opera excerpts, and contributions by Herbert Stothart, the film's musical director, and adaptor.

Nelson Eddy 

Nelson Eddy plays Paul Allison, who is studying voice in Paris. Paul and his teacher August Archipenko played by Herman Bing (Dumbo) live a hand-to-mouth existence with Archipenko constantly complaining about the young man's lack of dedication and ambition. Despite his grumbling, Archipenko couldn't be more fond of his young student if he were his own son. Paul is good-hearted and full of youthful joie de vivre. He has nothing in his pocket but lives life as if the world is his.

Jeanette MacDonald and John Barrymore 

Jeanette MacDonald plays Marcia Mornay, a soprano who is reaching the success for which she has striven and worked so very diligently under the tutelage of Nicolai Nazaroff played by John Barrymore (Counsellor-at-Law). Marcia, as she is constantly reminded, owes everything to Nicolai who has taught her to sing, and how to deport herself like a star. Nicolai loves Marcia, perhaps truly but most definitely as a possession. Marcia is grateful, feels her debt keenly, and is trying to convince herself that these emotions will equate or lead to love.

Nelson Eddy, Jeanette MacDonald, Herman Bing

The ebullient Paul falls madly in love with Marcia. Archipenko falls in love with Marcia, whom he sees as the one who will inspire in Paul some of the lacking ambition. Marcia is initially amused by her new suitor and soon learns to return the love that is offered so freely. However, Nicolai is not a power to be ignored and comes between the young lovers.

The passage of time finds both Marcia and Paul enjoying international success and, as will be expected in their world, the star-crossed lover's paths cross when Paul is hired to star opposite Marcia at the Metropolitan Opera. Is this the opportunity for true love to assert itself?

Nelson Eddy and Jeanette MacDonald

Maytime is a beautiful movie with an epic yet intimate romance, and music that will wash over your soul. Directed by Robert Z. Leonard, who directed the top box office duo of Jeanette MacDonald and Nelson Eddy in five films, Maytime is an example of the best of that dream factory of Metro Goldwyn Mayer.

Adrian's sumptuous costumes are time-appropriate and awe-inspiring. Cinematographer Oliver T. Marsh's glorious black and white cinematography bring us a world of sunshine days and dark nights, reminiscent somewhat of his work on The Merry Widow, 1934. His two Oscar nominations were for work in color, and with Nelson and Jeanette for Sweethearts, and Bitter Sweet.

TCM is screening Maytime on Thursday, January 13th at 5:45 PM as the final film in a daytime lineup that appears to be spotlighting movies about opera singers. Look for other MGM stars like Kathryn Grayson, Mario Lanza, and Walter Pidgeon.

Sigmund Romberg
July 29, 1887 - November 9, 1951

Note: MGM also produced a biopic of Sigmund Romberg in 1954 called Deep in My Heart. It may pique your interest in the composer, and your admiration for star Jose Ferrer, along with the opportunity to see many studio stars performing the composer's timeless music. 

Note: Previous titles in the Caftan Woman's Choice series. 


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