Frank McHugh, Everybody’s Pal

Frank McHugh (1898–1981)

Frank McHugh was never destined to be the top banana in a film. He lacked any traditional leading man looks. His voice was never skilled to ever become a songbird. And other than portraying a dancing cat with simple steps while chewing a cigar, he was certainly no Fred Astaire. But he had all the right stuff to be a very popular second banana in over 170 roles from 1929 to 1969, across Broadway, film, and television.

Francis Curray McHugh was born May 23, 1898 in Homestead, Pennsylvania into the entertainment industry to his vaudevillian parents, as he and his siblings joined the family business before Frank turned double digits. As a youngster in his parents’ McHugh Stock Company (Edward and Catherine McHugh based in Braddock, PA), he was schooled in Pittsburgh then joined the Marguerite Bryant Players at the age of 17, alongside Guy Kibbee. He went on to tour stages across the country, including a stint on Broadway in 1925. He married fellow actress Dorothy Spencer in 1928. He moved to Hollywood in 1929 and a year later, he was signed on as a contract player for Warner Brothers.

While he cranked out films in Hollywood like a racehorse, he claimed he never felt like one. If anything, he said that he found acting in Hollywood to be a pretty easy gig. He suggested that he never acted, instead his approach was natural and essentially himself. “Mostly I wound up as the friend- dumb but loyal. I guess my dumb look was convincing.”*

McHugh had the knack for the easy-going sidekick. Frequently as a drunken working guy. In those early talkies, when he wasn’t playing a drunk reporter, he was the prize-fighter’s second. Frank laughed, “… for the next three or four years I did nothing else but play drunken reporters. I finally had to call a halt to it. I didn’t mind being a drunken reporter, but it was getting to that the only time they called for me was for that role.”* 

By 1950, he was in his early fifties and moved his family from Hollywood to Connecticut, just outside NYC. Like many others of his experience and age, McHugh made the transition to television at this time, mostly of the ‘live drama’ productions. But he also found work on westerns, comedy, and variety shows like “F Troop” (1966), “The Red Skelton Hour” (1959), “The Lucy Show” (1967), and as “Willie” for 27 episodes on “The Bing Crosby Show” (1964-65). On September 11, 1981, at the age of 83, he died of natural causes.

Hollywood's Irish Mafia_All Irish Americans the original members of the group were Cagney, McHugh, O'Brien & Tracy_ Ralph Bellamy and Frank Morgan joined later

In the 1930s, decades before the ‘rat pack’ of Sinatra, Dino, Sammy and the rest of the swinging Vegas cool set, Hollywood originated the concept with an Irish-American version known as the ‘Irish Mafia,’ a term coined jokingly by columnist Sidney Skolsky, although they simply called themselves ‘the boys club.’ In addition to Frank McHugh, there was James Cagney, Pat O’Brien, Spencer Tracy. Later came Allen Jenkins, Lynne Overton, George Brent, Louis Calhern, William Gargan, Regis Toomey, Ralph Bellamy, Lloyd Nolan, Frank Morgan, with James Gleason and Bert Lahr tagging along.

In those early years, when he wasn’t paling around with his fellow Irish blokes off-set, he worked nearly every film Warner Brothers made….many with Cagney (11 films), O’Brien, and Jenkins. Because he often served as comic relief- with his unique laugh like a funny, wheezing squeezebox, “ha ha ha…”- he brought a good-natured ease next to some of the biggest names of classic Hollywood. Here are some stand-outs for me…

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In William A Wellman’s LILLY TURNER (1933), McHugh gives a compelling performance as a more complex alcoholic than his typical lighter fare of jovial drunk. It’s a meatier role for Frank. Co-starring Ruth Chatteron and George Brent, it’s a Pre-Code I recommend.

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During this same era of Pre-Code splendor, Busby Berkley musicals reigned supreme. Co-starring his friend James Cagney, Dick Powell, Joan Blondell, and Ruby Keeler, the same year turned out Lloyd Bacon’s FOOTLIGHT PARADE. McHugh gives a memorably funny spin on the exasperated dance instructor, who goes toe-to-toe with the great hoofer Cagney in a big musical production- of feline focus. Take a look as cigar-chewing Frank McHugh practices with crooning Dick Powell: CLICK HERE

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In Tay Garnett’s ONE WAY PASSAGE (1932), escaped murderer William Powell finds true love on the high seas with a terminally ill Kay Francis. McHugh is a mischievous petty thief who has some great albeit small scenes, including one where he fools a bartender. It’s a true Pre-Code so don’t expect a sunny or miraculous surprise. But you get hilarious McHugh (yes, he plays a drunk again but look for an especially funny gag with a mirror), plus Powell and Francis as the leads in a beautifully doomed romance, so who cares?

Frank McHugh (R) in Going My Way (1944)

Finally, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention Leo McCary’s GOING MY WAY (1944). Bing Crosby, Barry Fitzgerald, and Frank McHugh all as Irish-American priests… be still my shamrock heart. McHugh worked on many Academy Award nominated films, and this one, which won the Best Picture Oscar, along with many awards, is certainly a prime example. It’s a beautiful film saturated in Irish culture and McHugh does his smaller role justice aplenty.

Despite being such a reliable inclusion for decades in Hollywood, he earned few awards. He did earn accolades from both the US military and servicemen for his great contributions to WW2 war efforts. McHugh supported the war efforts through star-studded USO tours including the multi-city Hollywood Victory Canteen train tour. For more information, I encourage you to read this piece from the NY Public Library, based on his archived documents, the Frank McHugh Papers.

I don’t believe Frank McHugh gets the attention he deserves for such a prolific career. Hard-working folks like Frank rarely do because they are humble regarding their contributions and their talents make it look easy (when it’s not). What are some of your favorite FM films?


This article was my contribution to the WHAT A CHARACTER! BLOGATHON, Nov. 15 -17th, 2019. Hosted by Aurora @CitizenScreen of Once Upon A Screen, Paula @Paula_Guthat of Paula’s Cinema Club, and yours truly. We have enjoyed hosting this blogathon for eight years. I encourage you to read all entries and leave glowing comments on their sites. 

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*(“No Retirement For Frank McHugh,” The Blade, Toledo, Ohio, Nov. 19, 1967)

Seeing Donald Pleasence

Seeing Donald Pleasence

As a (slightly rusty) artist, I’m always people watching. I don’t sketch as much as I used to, and now it’s mostly dogs, but I still find myself looking deeply at people features, their body language, attitude, smile, and gate… but mostly I look at their eyes.

And it’s for that reason why my entry for the What A Character! Blogathon is the English Actor Donald Pleasence.

Donald had a remarkable demeanor which complemented any role he took on…with his bald, distinct look, his smile that could run the gamut from a sneer to a broad grin, and his eyes… eyes that could telegraph with equal weight and emotion… humor, madness, delight or sincerity. Couple that with his acting range and you find a memorable on screen, stage, and tv personality who will live on for generations.

Though he played a range of wonderful characters in his day, he became known as someone who could pull off the more extreme of character archetypes, from a fanatical President in Escape from New York (1981) to a double agent in Fantastic Voyage (1966) to the arch-villain Ernst Stavro Blofeld in You Only Live Twice (1969).

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But far and above my favorite role was an early one, that of Colin Blythe, a mild-mannered prisoner of a German POW camp in The Great Escape (1963)

He isn’t an exaggerated character in this role, but a struggling one, a gentle, quiet, intelligent, prisoner, who while playing a vital role in a choreographed escape, starts to rapidly go blind. And just as his blindness is discovered and his only hope of escape vanishes, his friend (James Garner) steps in with an offer to take care of him and to lend him his sight. It is throughout all of this I see Donald’s eyes, so expressive in humor, grief, fear, despair, and friendship.

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Beside Butch Cassidy and the Sundance kid (1969), and the trio of friends in Gunga Din (1939), this is my favorite buddy relationship in any film. My reasoning, the characters are heroic and sweet, charming and good-natured, burdened and generous. You feel their growing friendship and leave no man behind promise. To my mind, it’s THE most authentic of any buddy relationship I’ve had a chance to view on film.

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And throughout the film, as he experiences and expresses a range of emotion, from his early scenes forging documents for the escape, to when his realizes he would be a liability to the group, on up until the final moment when Colin meets his untimely end at the hands of a German patrol, I look at his eyes. For it’s there that I find the spirit of this character actor, time and again.


The above article and original artwork is a guest post- created by Gary Pratt. In addition to being my husband, Gary would likely describe himself as a Santa Claus wanna-be, who grew up on a pig farm, then became an artist. He has spent a majority of his adult years leading innovation in the corporate world, and loves being a dad when he’s not otherwise watching old movies and scribbling cartoons. 

This post is a contribution to the 8th annual WHAT A CHARACTER! BLOGATHON, hosted by Kellee Pratt @IrishJayhawk66 of Outspoken & Freckled, Aurora @CitizenScreen of Once Upon A Screen, and Paula @Paula_Guthat of Paula’s Cinema Club. Be sure to read all the entries from this multi-day event. 

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WHAT A CHARACTER! BLOGATHON: Day 1

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Today we bring you the first day of the 8th annual WHAT A CHARACTER! BLOGATHON, hosted by yours truly and my fellow co-hosts, your ambassadors of classic film: Paula of Paula’s Cinema Club @Paula_Guthat and Aurora of Once Upon A Screen @CitizenScreen.

In celebrating this annual event, this weekend we honor the unsung heroes of big and small screens everywhere, the unforgettable character actors. Who are those familiar faces who repeatedly steal every scene from the leads that you look for? Here and now, we salute you! Whether it’s the frustrated hotel manager, or sharp-witted maids, that sassy sidekick, or even the best friend… in so many ways, the character role is often our favorite, albeit small, performances of a film. We have invited bloggers to scribe on their favorite characters. Here they are!

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Joey at THE LAST DRIVE-IN aka @LastDrivein writes in his entry on THELMA RITTER… “With her warm and weather worn face, Thelma Ritter is the quintessential expression of a working class dame, the working class mother, the everywoman. And no one can deliver a snappy quip quite like Thelma Ritter.” Read on for What A Character! Blogathon 2019: Thelma Ritter “Always a bridesmaid and never the bride”  

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FlickChick over at A PERSON IN THE DARK scribes on ESTELLE WINWOOD, describing her as fascinating in her personal life as her on-screen persona… “She was smart, she smoked, she drank, she loved men and she looked down her veddy English nose at just about everyone. She lived to be 101 and remained feisty, irreverent and utterly charming in her crusty, dismissive and oh-so-British way.” Read more of, What A Character: The Ever Scandalous Estelle Winwood.” 

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Terry aka @mercurie80 at A SHROUD OF THOUGHTS outlines the prolific career of FRANK FAYLEN, including “…his three best known roles are very different from each other. Bim in The Lost Weekend is sadistic and actually takes joy in his taunting of the patients in his charge. Ernie Bishop in It’s a Wonderful Life is respected in his community and would do anything for his community. He truly has a heart of gold. Herbert Gillis is a bit of a curmudgeon, particularly with regards to his son Dobie, but in the end he is only looking out for his son’s best interests.” Discover more… “Frank Faylen: More Than A Cab Driver.”

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Patricia at THE MOVIE NIGHT’S GROUP GUIDE TO CLASSIC FILM presents FAY BAINTER in “The Lady and the Mob” (1939). As Patricia states, “It’s not often that Ms. Bainter gets to lead a film, but when she does, it’s always a pleasure. She takes an okay script and an average part, and gives the audience a decidedly better experience.” To read more… “Fay Heads The Mob.” 

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Maddy over at MADDY LOVES HER CLASSIC FILM offers us HENRY DANIELL. As Maddy explains, “Henry could dominate and steal even the smallest scene that he appeared in. He always brought his A game to every single performance. He was also one of those actors like George Sanders, Richard Burton, or Claude Rains, who had been blessed with a truly magnificent and distinctive voice.” Explore more of Maddy’s thoughts on him… “What A Character Blogathon 2019: Henry Daniell.”   

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Rich of WIDE SCREEN WORLD brings us UNA O’CONNOR. As Rich reveals, “Best known for playing saucy old broads with a wry sense of humor. A standout visibly as well as audibly: big round eyes and a, um, characteristic nose coupled with a sharp voice that was usually accented in either Cockney English, Scottish, or her own Irish brogue.” Explore more on his thoughts as he visits her gravesite… “Una O’Connor and Her Final Resting Place.”  


More entries are on their way. Keep check checking back with us here, and with my fellow co-hosts all weekend.

Saturday, 11/16: Day 2… Aurora/ @CitizenScreen at Once Upon A Screen

Sunday, 11/17: Day 3… Paula/ @Paula_Guthat at Paula’s Cinema Club

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Announcement: It’s the 8th Annual WHAT A CHARACTER! Blogathon

Edna May Oliver & James Gleason - The Penguin Pool Murder (1932)

It’s hard to believe we’ve been hosting this blogathon for eight years now. But perhaps not that shocking considering that discussing those scene-stealing character actors is a crowd-pleasing pastime amongst cinephiles.

Wise-cracking Eve Arden, nurturing Louise Beavers, sassy Thelma Ritter, double-take pro Edward Everett Horton, tart-tongued Edna May Oliver, gravelly-voiced Eddie “Rochester” Anderson, fatherly Charles Coburn, frazzled Franklin Pangborn, bull frog voiced, barrel-chested Eugene Pallette, cigar chomping Ned Sparks… these and so many more lovable character actors are who we look forward to seeing as our dearest ole chums. Couldn’t we all could use a trusted sidekick?

For the eighth consecutive year, we as the blogathon hosting trio of Aurora of Once Upon A Screen@CitizenScreen, Paula of Paula’s Cinema Club@Paula_Guthat, and yours truly- Kellee of Outspoken & Freckled/ @IrishJayhawk66 invite you to join us for the WHAT A CHARACTER! BLOGATHON 2019, November 15, 16, 17, as we pay tribute to the brilliance of the supporting players.

Our objective for the What A Character! Blogathon has always been to shed the spotlight on these lesser-known but equally talented thespians, whose names usually appeared below the title. If you wish salute your favorite on-screen character actor- the quirky maid, that ornery hotel manager, frustrated maître D’, sassy best friend, a hot-tempered heavy, flabbergasted father, sarcastic sidekick, grumpy boss, gobsmacked butler- then you’ve come to the right place. Please review the guidelines below first, and leave me a comment.

  • Let at least one of the hosts know which character actor is your choice.
  • Don’t take it for granted we know exactly who you are or where your blog resides – please include the title and URL of your blog, also your Twitter handle if you have one.
  • We will not accept previously published posts, or duplicates, since there are so many greats worthy of attention, but your choices are not limited to classics. You can choose any character actor from any era and from the medium of television, which has featured talented regulars since the beginning, and continues to do so.
  • Publish your WAC! post on either November 15, 16, or 17, 2019. Let us know if you have a date preference; otherwise, we’ll split publicizing duties equally among the three days.
  • Please include one of our banners (see below) within your What A Character! post.
  • Additionally, please include the WAC! 2019 event banner included in this post on your blog itself to help us promote the event.
  • Thank you for sending any of us the direct link to your post once you have published it. Searching on social media sites can lead to missed entries.
  • My contact info: prattkellee@gmail.com / twitter~ @IrishJayhawk66 ~or, simply leave a comment below
  • HAVE FUN and spread the word!

BANNER:

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Participating Bloggers/Character Actors:

Beulah Bondi / Once Upon A Screen @CitizenScreen

Frank McHugh / Outspoken & Freckled @IrishJayhawk66

Bratt Pitt / Paula’s Cinema Club @Paula_Guthat

Richard Erdman / Paulas Cinema Club @Paula_Guthat

Hedda Hopper / Carole and Co. @vp81955

Frank Faylen / A Shroud of Thoughts @mercurie80

Thelma Ritter / The Last Drive-in

Fay Bainter (in The Lady and the Mob (1939) / The Movie Night’s Group Guide to Classic Film

Barton MacLane / Silver Screen Classics Blog @PaulBee71

Charles Coburn / Second Sight Cinema @zleegaspar

Keenan Wynn / The Cinephile & Mrs. Muir

George Zucco / Caftan Woman @CaftanWoman

Una O’Connor / Wide Screen World @ratzo318

Charlie Ruggles / Nickie’s Vintage Life (Instagram)

William Powell / That William Powell site

Franklin Pangborn / Silver Screenings @925screenings

 

 

THAT TOUCH OF MINK (1962)

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Doris Day was 40 years old when Delbert Mann’s THAT TOUCH OF MINK (1962) premiered, cementing her ridiculous (yet popular) reputation as the “world’s oldest professional virgin.” At this point, she was flourishing in her career within a string of crowd-pleasing sex comedies and rom-coms from the late 1950s that continued into the 1960s. THAT TOUCH OF MINK followed a sure-fire formula with successful films like PILLOW TALK (1959) and LOVER COME BACK (1961), co-starring her good friend Rock Hudson and reliable sidekick, Tony Randall.

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Replacing Rock in this take is… wait for it… my favorite dashing hunk of the silver screen, Cary Grant as “Philip Shayne.” Replacing Randall as his second banana here is Gig Young as “Roger.” Replacing Thelma Ritter’s wisecracking maid from PILLOW TALK, or the more subtle spin of Ann B. Davis (yes, Brady Bunch’s family maid “Alice”) as her secretary in LOVER COME BACK, is the wonderfully sardonic roommate, Audrey Meadows, “Connie.” There are more recognizable character actors sprinkled about such as the creepy clerk from the unemployment office, “Everett Beasley” perfectly and hilariously portrayed by John Astin.

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Speaking of unemployment, that’s why I’m discussing this film. When Steve over at Movie Movie Blog Blog announced his “Unemployment Blogathon,” I immediately thought of this film. In the opening scene, Doris Day (my favorite actress, in case I failed to mention) as “Cathy Timberlake” makes her way to the unemployment office to file her weekly claim, with a job interview scheduled to follow. While filing her unemployment benefits claim, she runs into persistent obstacles from Beasley’s (John Astin) less than subtle pick up lines and sexual harassment. She thwarts his advances only to later have a long limousine splash her head-to-toe via a large mud puddle, as she waits to cross a busy NYC corner. Nothing makes for a solid first impression on a job interview than being drenched in mud. It’s wealthy business tycoon, Mr. Shayne’s (Cary Grant) limo, and he doesn’t stop.

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Frustrated, Cathy vents to her friend and roommate Connie (Audrey Meadows), who works at the automat across the street from Mr. Shayne’s. Spotting Cathy from his office window, Shayne sends his executive assistant Roger (Gig Young) over to apologize on his behalf. As you can imagine, this hands-off approach doesn’t fly with feisty Cathy.

Cathy Timberlake: How would you feel? Here I am, he practically runs me down and then drives right away! And doesn’t have the decency to apologize himself. Furthermore I have a job interview and have to go like this. He doesn’t care. 
Roger: Ohhh… 
Cathy Timberlake: You know what I’d like to do? 
Roger: Throw the money in his face? 
Cathy Timberlake: Exactly! I’d like to throw that money right in his face. 
Roger: Would you? 
Cathy Timberlake: Yes, I would. 
Roger: I’ve waited seven years for this moment. You come with me! 

She marches over to give Shayne a piece of her mind, with Roger cheering her on. But with one look at the breathtaking Shayne, her fire has fizzled and she suddenly turns doe-eyed, love-at-first-sight, and weak in the knees.

She proceeds to jet set around with him all day, as she charms his VIP business clientele. Impressed by her beauty as well as her business networking savvy, Shayne proposes a trip to Bermuda. Pretending to be more sophisticated than her “girl from Upper Sandusky” image, Cathy accepts despite her roommate’s discouragement. Things go rocky from there, as Cathy is nowhere near as cosmopolitan as she pretends to be. Certainly, not without a wedding ring first.

A funny scene revolving around unemployment occurs when Cathy lands a job in an office that appears to sort credit card accounts and billing. Her gig doesn’t last for very long. Upon discovery that it really wasn’t her own savvy that secured her position, but rather her Shayne connection, she’s infuriated. Again. In her rage, she randomly starts punching buttons on a huge sorting machine and marches out, unaware of her subsequent damage. In assessing the damage, Philip Shayne: “The Four Horsemen now have a riding companion. There’s War, Famine, Death, Pestilence, and Miss Timberlake!” There are few things more charming than Doris Day on-screen percolating frustration and anger.

You should note that these sex comedies from the 1960s played it safe despite the majority of the plots centered on sex, or the struggles around sex. Films like this were the bubble-gummed twist on an alternative to the ‘free love’ sexual revolution, which was blossoming just around the corner. Also, it may be tough for a modern, woke, #MeToo audience to watch them with today’s perspectives and not be aghast by the overt sexism. But keep in mind, even back then, they knew this was closer to parody than reality. (If you want to read more on this sex comedy sub genre from this era, take a look at my thoughts over at Classic Movie Hub: “Sex Comedies of Sixties”)

As for these caveman-like standards for gender equality, and societal norms for things like pre-marital sex, it’s a movie magic to imagine a vibrant, talented, and intelligent beauty like Doris Day approaching 40 years old playing the virginal, naive “girl” who is intended to be in her early twenties. Even Cathy and Connie’s apartment set-up feels more like a college dorm room, with their twin beds crammed into a shared room. Additionally, Cary Grant was 18 years her senior, and 58 years old when THAT TOUCH OF MINK was released in theaters. But do we notice or care about such glaring age issues? Not with the gorgeous, age-defying likes of Doris Day and Cary Grant. Such pesky truths melt away from the very moment our gaze first greets them.

An essential tool in this film’s charm box is an immaculate sense of style- from the set designs to the stunning wardrobes. The film delights us with a fashion show, too. Three-time Oscar nominee (including for this film) George Milo was the set decorator, and was notable for his work on several Hitchcock classics. The art direction came from two of the best in the industry, Robert Clatworthy (nominated for 4 career Oscars including Hitchcock’s PSYCHO and this film, plus a win) and Alexander Golitzen (nominated for 11 career Oscars, with 4 wins including SPARTACUS). The costume designer was Rosemary Odell, who was contracted to Universal from 1945 to 1967. She was adept in handling a variety of demands as she worked on westerns, noirs, and comedies from over a hundred pictures, including CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON (1954), TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD (1962), and horror-comedies like Abbott and Costello monster flicks.

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But here, the gowns and wardrobe pieces are as impeccable as Day and Grant themselves. Doris Day was a standout for her stunning fashions, and there’s no doubt Cary was known as the best dressed man in Hollywood for decades. He took a heavy hand in advising Day on her apparel and contributed his own personal books to enhance the set for key scenes. For example, he was the one who chose her raincoat, from an ad he saw, and arranged to get it in person. He was very meticulous in this regard.

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In her autobiography, Doris Day wrote: “Of all the people I performed with, I got to know Cary Grant least of all. He is a completely private person, totally reserved, and there is no way into him. Our relationship on That Touch of Mink (1962) was amicable but devoid of give-and-take…Not that he wasn’t friendly and polite – he certainly was. But distant. Very distant. But very professional – maybe the most professional, exacting actor I ever worked with. In the scenes we played, he concerned himself with every little detail: clothes, sets, production values, the works. Cary even got involved in helping to choose the kind of mink I was slated to wear in the film.” (source: imdb)

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The only problem the two faced on set was that each insisted a preference for a right profile for closeups. Cary Grant was the true professional and conceded. Not exactly the warm and fuzzies felt from the on-screen chemistry of leading men like Rock Hudson or James Garner, which better suited Day’s naturally warm and approachable persona behind the scenes.

Meanwhile, Grant assisted Gig Young in preparing for his role by suggesting he play up the neurotic obsessive character akin to Tony Randall’s similar roles, which worked well. Young often played the more serious or romantic types but I enjoyed him so much in this comic bit as Roger that I wish he did more like it. Tragically, Gig Young’s life ended in a murder-suicide with his fifth wife, 31 year-old Kim Schmidt, only 3 weeks after their wedding in 1978. As a big “Honeymooners”‘ fan, Grant rallied to get Audrey Meadows. I’m personally grateful because she’s delightful here as the protective pal with her maternal “honey” catch phrase on a loop.

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What does all of this have to do with unemployment? You’ll have to watch the film to see for yourself. Suffice to say, she may have started at the unemployment line, but she landed up getting the job she really wanted. Despite a few items here and there that don’t quite round the bases like PILLOW TALK, Mann’s THAT TOUCH OF MINK still packs an enduring punch with slapstick fare, style and solid performances.

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My aunt Carolyn

I don’t usually post items so personal. Something so removed from my classic film thoughts. But as my family will come together today to honor my aunt Carolyn’s life, I felt compelled to share a few thoughts of my own.

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My aunt Carolyn…

A summation of one’s life cannot be judged on only one slant of their personality, nor on the declining years if they battled health challenges. We are complex, or even mysterious to our closest loved ones, and Carolyn was no exception. As the oldest grandchild growing up with six aunts, who range from 5 years older than myself to a bit older than my parents, Carolyn was the eldest, and the head of the “coven.”

I wondered, if being the oldest daughter when your parents have 7 children, was the reason as to why she never married and never had children. My understanding is that she was engaged, more than once. Perhaps she grew weary of being taskmaster. But then again, she also seemed to love having her brood of younger siblings, nieces, nephews, etc. to extoll her outspoken opinions, advice and direction.

When I think of Carolyn, I recall what a beauty she was. There are several pictures of her from her youth that I distinctly recall. I was impressed that she looked so much like Elizabeth Taylor in those photos. Like me, she had fondness for old movies and many of our conversations would center on that. She was fortunate enough to travel many times in her life, to many cool and exotic places. She possessed the family trait for archiving, as can be seen in her many genealogy binders that she and her sisters would work on. It wasn’t until I came to her townhouse to help organize her personal possessions for an estate sale, that I discovered she had archived her entire life. In surprisingly INCREDIBLE detail. It was as though she needed us to know every aspect of her life. Of its significance. For posterity.

While she may have been known for her inflammatory and nearly combative rhetoric in her later years by the younger generations of her family, I also recall her immense kindness. She had a heart of gold when you were lucky enough to be the recipient, which I was upon many occasions. As our parents split in the mid 70s, my sister and I briefly stayed at a house in Westport, up the street from Guardian Angels church- the first floor belonged to Bob Daniels, the 2nd floor to Carolyn, and the attic apartment to my father. It was a lot more fun to sneak down to Carolyn’s and spy on her. Perhaps to ask her a million annoying questions, as kids often do at that age. It was around this time that I was obsessed with anything on ancient Egypt. Carolyn seemed to share my passion and gave me a coloring book, brimming with images reflecting the walls of the pyramids. She was kind enough to notice my interests and that means a lot to a kid going through hard transitions.

Carolyn also inherited the family trait of creativity and artistic skill. She was a very good artist. I was always fascinated by her latest projects, but it was her large portrait of her sister Debi that stays with me as her best work. I know she played a heavy hand in my lifelong appreciation for art.

Ultimately, one of my favorite memories of Carolyn is at Christmas time at Gardner Lake. In my childhood, we often would spend a chunk of the holiday season at my grandparents’ house. As a kid, I would get excited to see all of my aunts and cousins. Holidays meant crowded chaos, and I loved every minute of it. Sometimes I was a bit jealous of the big family dynamic- how cool to have that many sisters! But I never felt completely on the frayed edge. We were in the family, too. We’d pile in to that little cottage, sleeping on any spot available, from the floor, to a couch, to an old army cot. We’d play board games and Grandma would cook up a storm- leaving an orange and an Archie’s comic book in my sock, dangling from a hook. But I’ll always remember Carolyn skillfully taking the time to work on a beautiful gingerbread house with us. That memory stays with me, too.

In her later years, we didn’t always agree. If she dropped an especially painful insult, I would call her out on it. To call her “feisty” is an understatement. But that’s not the whole picture. There are many strong, intelligent, and yes, BEYOND feisty women in my family. They don’t always rub people the right way, but I’m forever grateful for them. They helped mold who I am today- and helped me pass on these traits to my own daughters. Everyone has their own snapshot into the mysteries of a person’s life. She cared for me. I cared for her. That’s the Carolyn I remember.

Carolyn Jeanne Shindler (December 25, 1943 – September 21, 2019)

 

BORDER INCIDENT (1949)

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Next month marks the 70th anniversary of the gripping film noir, Anthony Mann’s BORDER INCIDENT (1949). It’s a violent, intense, shocking, and visually stunning peek into the slave labor conditions of the braceros who work farming along the American/Mexican border. Here it is 70 years later, and I cannot think of anything more topically relevant.

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Don’t let the arid, sweltering heat of the Imperial valley farmlands setting fool you into thinking this film couldn’t possibly hold up in true film noir style. It does. Thanks to the brilliant teaming of director Anthony Mann and cinematographer John Alton, it doesn’t matter that we are hundreds of miles removed from typical urban streets like San Francisco. There’s plenty of grit and doom to be found in the Mexicali desert.

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In a similar fashion as other noirs at the time such as Mann’s T-MEN (1947) and HE WALKED BY NIGHT (1948), the film begins via voice-over narration in a government sanctioned, just-the-facts-ma’am style of police procedural. Based on a true story, we are introduced to the visual spectacle of the All-American Canal farmlands, the Mexican immigrants who work it-both legally and illegally, and the violent bandits that hunt them down. The tone is sympathetic to the plight of these illegal Braceros who are robbed and killed as they attempt to return to their Mexican homeland after long period of hard labor.

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In a federal law enforcement partnership between Mexico and America, enter dreamy Ricardo Montalban as agent Pablo Rodriguez and baby-faced George Murphy as agent Jack Bearnes (and later as fictional Jack Bryant), government agents working under cover. The two work different angles of the same corrupt operation- Montalban as the bracero being smuggled like a human sardine across the border, and Murphy as the gringo offering illegal immigration paperwork.

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Things get heated from the start, especially when Pablo has palms too soft to be a field hand, and they each are nearly found out, repeatedly, and constantly tested, along the way. Jack is robbed at knife-point then tortured via a truck battery by the bandits before he meets the head of the operation, sinister ringleader Owen Parkson (Howard Da Silva) and taken into confidence. The tension intensifies as both agents attempt to close in on the key elements of this dark world, while their own lives are in imminent danger. As the film progresses, Mann doesn’t hold back in intensifying the violence. One scene in particular, involving a tractor in a field at night, is rather gruesome.

Despite the mounting tensions and violence, the overall approach is very diplomatic and equitable as it promotes collaboration, politically-speaking. And the ending feels somewhat ‘typical Hollywood ending’ as it wraps it up with tissue paper and a pretty bow.

A couple of things stand out for me. The cast, for one.

Ricardo Montalban- Pablo Rodriguez

George Murphy- Jack Bearnes

Howard Da Silva- Owen Parkson

James Mitchell- Juan Garcia

Arnold Moss- Zopilote

Alfonso Bedoya- Cuchillo

Teresa Celli- Maria

Charles McGraw- Jeff Amboy

Jose Torvay- Pocoloco (as Jose Torvay)

John Ridgely- Mr. Neley

Arthur Hunnicutt- Clayton Nordell

Sig Ruman- Hugo Wolfgang Ulrich

Otto Waldis- Fritz

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Ricardo Montalban, born November 25th, 1920 in Mexico City, Mexico, was a dynamically handsome, force of nature. Ricardo made 13 Spanish-language films in Mexico before his debut American film, FIESTA (1947). He was a true working actor, with a variety of roles… romantic latin lovers in musicals, noir detectives (i.e. MYSTERY STREET, 1950), TV westerns, his powerful “Khan” roles in Star Trek, Mr. Roarke on TV’s “Fantasy Island,” and so much more. In 1970, he founded “Nosotros,” a non-profit whose mission is to help those of Spanish-speaking origin in the motion picture and television industry. With over 170 roles across seven decades in film and television, Montalban worked til the very end in 2009 at the age of 88. He will always remain in the hearts of many as the embodiment of the hardworking, virile movie star. For all of his performances in a storied career, this one stands out for me.

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When I think of Howard Da Silva, it’s easy to recognize that face in dozens of roles on stage, TV, and film. But it’s hard pressed not to recall him for his blacklisting in the early 1950s which curbed what could have been even more illustrious career. After being named by writer Martin Berkley, the HUAC (House on UnAmerican Activities Committee) called on actor Robert Taylor as a “friendly witness”, he pointed fingers at many of his fellow colleagues. Taylor said, “I can name a few who seem to sort of disrupt things once in a while. Whether or not they are communists I don’t know. One chap we have currently, I think is Howard da Silva. He always seems to have something to say at the wrong time.” Appearing in front of the HUAC, Da Silva refused to respond or name names, being the first in Hollywood to invoke the 5th amendment, and subsequently was blacklisted until the early 1960s when it was lifted.

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Although heavy ladened in Mexican stereotypes that were especially commonplace at the time, the performances by Alfonso Bedoya and Arnold Moss are truly memorable, as they steal every scene. Bedoya was born in Mexico City and worked small roles in nearly  60 films in the Mexican film industry before John Huston offered him his breakthrough role in THE TREASURE OF SIERRA MADRE (1947). To this day, his line of “stinkin’ badges” has since grown into a pop culture life of its own, including a parody moment in Mel Brooks’ BLAZING SADDLES. Bedoya has a very amiable and appealing quality that transcends the screen, even when he portrays despicable bandits as in this film. You find yourself conflicted in secretly hoping his character somehow turns a new leaf of an upstanding citizen, even as he cackles when committing mischief and crimes. In the midst of a long film career, he struggled with alcoholism and died at the age of 53, in 1957.

Brooklyn-born Arnold Moss possesses a distinctively smooth, bass voice that draws you in. Unlike Bedoya, Moss was trained on the Shakespearian stage and BORDER INCIDENT was only his 4th film role. Moss portrayed a variety of character roles, often as Arab sheiks, with a majority of his career spent working in television. He earned a PhD from NYU in 1973, at the age of 63. In 1989, he died at age 79 of lung cancer. The pairing of Bedoya and Moss as partners in crime here is wholly satisfying.

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I realize I should say something regarding George Murphy, as he was essentially the co-lead (along with Montalban) in this film, but I find him to be mostly stiff, and he feels out of place the entire film. Don’t worry, that doesn’t spoil a thing. The only performances of his that I find captivating and genuine, are when he’s being tortured or harmed. No, I’m not a masochist. But those scenes are more dramatically plot-driven; and like witnessing a horrific car accident, one cannot help themselves but to peek in horror, no matter who’s in the wreckage.

There’s no doubt that an enormous reason for loving this film can be credited to 3 men: director Anthony Mann, cinematographer John Alton, and screenwriter John C Higgins. If ever there was a perfect threesome in creating film noir, this is it. Mann, Alton, and Higgins were formidable in their contributions to some of the era’s best film noirs such as T-MEN (1947), RAW DEAL (1948), and HE WALKED BY NIGHT (1948). While these films were made at the poverty-row studio at Eagle-Lion Films, Mann got the chance to move up to the big leagues at MGM. Thanks to a story by George Zuckerman and Higgins, it was intended to be a ‘T-Men on the border” to replicate its success, but this time with LB Mayer’s fatter wallet. Mann’s only condition was that John Alton come along, too.

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Mann’s vision brought the brutality, Alton painted the beautiful imagery, and Higgins wrote the screenplay to make it all sing in harmony. One of the most telling lines in BORDER INCIDENT comes from favorite tough guy Charles McGraw who portrays Jeff Amboy, one of the corrupt henchmen along the trail of terror. It’s a wide-eyed revelation when bracero Juan asks why they would only get paid $.25 cents per hour, and not the $.75 cents they were told in Mexico. Amboy explodes, “Listen monkey, ya come in here like a crook, break our laws, expect to be treated like one of us?!” It’s more than a tad hypocritical, when it is they (Amboy and the fellow criminals) who are actually committing the much more serious crimes, both legally and certainly morally, as they take full advantage of these braceros in the most menacing ways.

For its time, this film’s stance on the issue of illegal passage of immigrants from Mexico to work American farms is taken somewhat neutrally with blame and credit laid out on both sides of the border. I find this topic especially relevant considering today’s headlines that reflect real dangers for asylum seekers and undocumented immigrants that seek nothing more than an opportunity to work hard to support and protect their families. In contrast to BORDER INCIDENT, we don’t see a cooperative effort today between our two governments with a goal of protecting such targeted people.

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Ironically, in modern politics, many agree that it is our own government’s policies which are placing undocumented immigrants in serious risk and harm. For a brief history lesson, the United States signed the Mexican Labor Agreement with Mexico on August 4, 1942, which was a wartime initiative to utilize braceros (Mexican laborers allowed into the U.S. for seasonal agricultural work) to meet the demands of produce farming. The problem is, the program ended in 1947, just as American politics took a turn to red scare paranoia. As a result, we still have a growing demand for these laborers but our current laws, plus the mountainous backlog of legal channels, are no longer in step with these demands, thereby forcing many to seek illegal routes. Sadly, more than 70 years later, our modern world hasn’t solved the immigration challenge as swiftly and cooperatively as BORDER INCIDENT. If only Ricardo Montalban were here to save us.

*This article was my pleasure and my contribution to HOLLYWOOD’S HISPANIC HERITAGE BLOGATHON, hosted by my dear friend Aurora of Once Upon A Screen aka @CitizenScreen, taking place September 29th, 2019. Be sure to read all the participating entries, honoring the many Hollywood talents of hispanic heritage.

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Fangirling Doris Day

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My love for Doris Mary Ann von Kappelhoff is no secret. As a classic film obsessive, I’m often asked who my favorite (male and female) movie stars are. With zero hesitation, Cary Grant and Doris Day. Even her name reflects that Day was destined to be star. Her mother gave her the name “Doris” after the silent film star Doris Kenyon. Later, “Day” was inspired from her early years singing with big band leader greats like Barney Rapp, who suggested she take the Day surname from the song, “Day By Day.” (Take a listen here: https://youtu.be/AqFfe6Y97Yc )

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Dancing was her initial attempt at stardom. She even won a $500 contest that routed her to Hollywood, but those dancing dreams dashed away the day before her trip, due to a car accident which seriously injured her. So her mother encouraged her to switch focus to singing. This landed her on the radio, followed by the concert stage, with bandleader greats like Bob Crosby and Les Brown and His Band of Renown. By the mid ’40s, her sultry yet approachable voice was quite popular, especially with the WW2 troops, and reaching the charts with number one singles such as “Sentimental Journey.” The time had come to transition that magical songbird to Hollywood musicals.

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She was a natural talent on screen. There was something so vibrant, so magnetic about her presence. As a novice to Hollywood in 1947, with her already seasoned voice combined with her stunning beauty, she was a standout even amongst the most shining constellations of stars. Beyond the colorfully light fare of musicals with the likes of Jack Carson, Doris sprinkled in more dramatic roles. In the ’50s, Day took on darker, juicier roles like the jazz singer paired with an obsessive Kirk Douglas in YOUNG MAN WITH A HORN (1950), as Ginger Rogers’ sister embroiled with the KKK in STORM WARNING (1951), as a desperate mother, along with Jimmy Stewart as the dad, fighting to save the life of their kidnapped son in Hitchcock’s 2nd attempt at THE MAN WHO KNEW TOO MUCH (1956), and as the abused singer Ruth Etting in LOVE ME OR LEAVE ME (1955).

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THE MAN WHO KNEW TOO MUCH (1956) helped solidify the featured song “Que Sera, Sera” as the reigning signature song of her career. Meanwhile, LOVE ME OR LEAVE ME stands as the most memorable of her dramatic roles. Unfortunately, this is in part due to the emotional pains Day suffered while filming the intense scenes of abuse paired with James Cagney. Day and Cagney were only performing roles of course, but during such pivotal scenes Doris couldn’t help but be painfully reminded of her first husband, jazz trombonist Al Jorden, who violently beat her while she was pregnant with her only child, Terry.

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As audiences said goodbye to the ’50s and mega musicals grew out of favor, Doris reinvented herself yet again with sex comedies in the 1960s. Many of these comedies are considered the most memorable of her career to this day. In films like PILLOW TALK (1959), LOVER COME BACK (1961), and THE THRILL OF IT ALL (1963), Day reflected society’s changing times as an empowered, talented woman with a career. Many of these films continued to focus on the battle of the sexes, sometimes as a savvy single gal in the workforce, sometimes as a mom juggling multiple roles while struggling to seek greater balance of power. And no one did all of this, while also projecting a powerhouse of stunning fashions, quite like Doris Day.

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Her career started as a jazz/big band singer in 1939 at the age of seventeen. On the Columbia records label, she created over 650 recordings within 2 decades from 1947 to 1967.

Day co-starred with some of the biggest names in the Golden Age of Hollywood during this time. Rock Hudson, Cary Grant, James Garner, Jack Lemmon, and Rod Taylor are just a few. With every role, and every A-list leading man, she shined even brighter. As for her reputation that she was typecast as the virginal girl-next-door, I wholeheartedly disagree. She was following the code handed down to her just like all the other actresses of her time. If you doubt her ability to exude a breathy, come-hither sex appeal, I highly suggest you watch her sex comedies again. (Or, schedule an appointment with your optometrist and cardiologist.)

Before I move on from my fangirling nirvana, I must point out what I believe to be her greatest strength: her instinct for physical comedy and masterful comedic timing.

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I don’t think Doris Day receives anywhere near the credit she wholly deserves for her innate sense of comedy. To me, it always feels like a fresh, new experience to witness her reactions, her interplay with fellow cast performances, her animated facial gestures. Absolutely- and hilariously- brilliant, every time. How is this even possible? I believe the answer lies in her authenticity. Her charisma was straight from the heart.

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Doris Day made her final feature film in 1968, co-starring with Brian Keith in WITH SIX YOU GET EGG ROLL. It’s such a funny and heartwarming movie that reflects very realistic challenges of blending families, a subject I’m personally familiar. Day’s career turned to television appearances, including her own show, “The Doris Day Show” (1968 – 1973).

Sadly, her main reason for even doing the show was because her manager/3rd husband Martin Melcher died, and upon his death, Day discovered he had made arrangements to terminate her Warner Brothers contract and start this TV gig, completely unknown to her. Tragically, she also discovered that Melcher, along with his business partner Jerome Rosenthal, had squandered over $20 million of Day’s earnings over the entire 17-year period of Melcher’s marriage to Doris. She had no choice but to do the show to earn back her money.

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Her strength and tenacity, in addition to her many assets, is impressive. But more so, my love fest with her also stems from those glimmers of a connection to my idol. I don’t share ANY of her talents. Not even close. But I love her fashionista goddess ways. I love that she had freckles. I love her deep passion for animals. (Yes, I belong to the Doris Day Animal Foundation.) I love her lifelong friendship with Rock. And I love that she was a survivor. She survived… a father that left/ran off with her mother’s friend when she was young, abuse from her first husband, death of her child, financial whirlwinds of great success to deeply in debt and back to into the black again, and four lousy marriages with men that clearly didn’t deserve her.

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In my own way, I felt a connection to Doris Day that went beyond admiration. I know many are mourning our darling of screen and song. To me, her light has not faded. Her gifts she bestowed to us continues to shine brightly. So, I’ll pop in my favorite Doris film, then play one of my Doris Day vinyls. See you on the flip side, Doris. I bet Rock is teasingly calling you Eunice right now.

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Ray Harryhausen Film Notes: 20 MILLION MILES TO EARTH (1957)

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*The following are film study notes, as part of an ongoing Ray Harryhausen course I instruct in Lawrence, Kansas. 

What do you do when you’re a hard-working special effects guy, but need a European vacation? If you are Ray Harryhausen, you kill 2 birds with one stone by simply creating a monster movie opportunity in Italy.

That’s exactly what Harryhausen did when he came up with the idea for 20 MILLION MILES TO EARTH (1957). Not only did he create a movie that allowed him to scout Italy for 2 weeks so he could work while sight-seeing, but how often do you hear of the special effects tech being the origin point for a film? As we’ve discussed before, Ray Harryhausen stood alone in his legacy.

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Building very loosely on the tried and true concept of a Kong-esque (but from Venus) story, of a tortured and misunderstood creature destroying a major city, Ray worked with Charlotte Knight for expanding “The Giant Ymir” idea. While never referred by name in the film, this strange friend from Venus was called “Ymir” on set, a name based on the Norse god of Scandinavian mythology. Ymir’s likeness will be repeated by Ray when we watch the Kraken creature in CLASH OF THE TITANS (1981).

While other studios shied away from Ray’s complex drawings that he pitched, Charles Schneer of the B-unit at Columbia Pictures accepted. He was already confident of Harryhausen’s abilities, with the proviso that the script be reworked from Knight’s treatment. Nathan Juran had the necessary experience with the giant-creature-on-the-loose genre, having also directed THE DEADLY MANTIS (1957). He would later helm the classic Harryhausen film The 7th Voyage of Sinbad(1958) as well as the TV series Voyage to the Bottom of the SeaLost in Space and Land of the Giants.

Noteworthy…

Rereleased under the title, “The Beast From Space.”

Most of the noises made by Ymir are recordings of elephant noises played at a higher speed.

Ray Harryhausen wanted the film to be shot in color, but the filmmakers were not given a budget large enough to accommodate color filming. In 2007, five years after the death of the film’s director, Harryhausen worked with the restoration and colorization experts at Legend Films to create a colorized version of the film.

Ray Harryhausen makes a cameo appearance as the zookeeper!

Talking Points/Questions for Discussion:

The narrative intro is placed in space with an image of a galaxy and discusses the atomic age and the burden of responsibilities of nuclear war, in addition to nods to the “race for space.” This film was released right on the cusp of that time- what are your thoughts on that influence in alien creature features like this?

This formula has several standards in storytelling. How does this film fit that mold and in what ways does it branch out?

Why do you believe this film became a cult classic?

What ways do you believe this storyline sent a message to 1957 audiences regarding international cooperation in space exploration, if any?

Ray’s Creature List:

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Space rocket- This giant craft crash lands in the water off the coast of Sicily, fresh from a trip back from Venus. In order to show this mega space craft fly through the skyline, crash into the sea, where fishermen climb in and rescue a couple of astronauts, and barely escape prior to sinking, Ray’s magic was on full display to blend stop-motion animation with live action.

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Ymir- We see this unique creature interact with stop-motion animated people, iconic buildings (like a bridge and the famed Roman Colosseum ruins), and even battle an elephant. Impressive special effects with Italy as the live-action background. Even more impressive is Ray’s marvelous ability to create an empathetic character in this creature, who evokes emotions and human-like mannerisms. I don’t know about you, but I was rooting for this fella!

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Elephant- This was an epic battle, where you cheer on both sides but mostly steer clear. The realistic details on this elephant are astounding even to this day, and the chest rising and falling upon defeat is an authentic and endearing touch.

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Producer: Charles H. Schneer
Director: Nathan Juran
Screenplay: Christopher Knopf, Bob Williams, based on a story by Charlotte Knight
Art Direction: Cary Odell
Cinematography: Irving Lippman
Visual Effects: Ray Harryhausen
Film Editing: Edwin H. Bryant
Original Music: Mischa Bakaleinikoff
Principal Cast: William Hopper (Calder), Joan Taylor (Marisa), Frank Puglia (Dr. Leonardo), Thomas Brown Henry (Gen. A.D. McIntosh), John Zaremba (Dr. Judson Uhl), Jan Arvan (Contino).

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Ray Harryhausen Film Notes: THE 7th VOYAGE OF SINBAD (1958)

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*The following are my notes as part of an ongoing Ray Harryhausen film study course, which I currently instruct in Lawrence, Kansas.

We are about to set sail for a new type of adventure in our quest to explore the world of Ray Harryhausen. In this week’s screening and discussion, we take a marked turn from the black-and-white science fiction monsters and aliens. In Nathan H Juran’s THE 7th VOYAGE OF SINBAD (1958), Ray Harryhausen ventures into a fantasy voyage- in color- for the first time.

Filmed in Technicolor, this kicks off the first of the three Sinbad films in the Harryhausen filmography. It also denotes the first time we see the term “Dynamation” used. Dynamation was a new brand for Ray’s style of stop-motion animation painstakingly blended with live action. Now filming in color, producer Charles Schneer felt they needed to market Ray’s special talents and designate his special effects as a modern update that is a significantly different effect from standard animation. Schneer was inspired by his Buick automobile that was embellished with the word “Dynaflow” on the wheel, which led to the new branding. Interestingly, this “Dynamation” term didn’t always stick. Other terms such as “Dynarama” and “SuperDynamation” were used in later films.

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As typical for many of the films partnering Ray Harryhausen and producer Charles Schneer, it all began with Ray’s drawings. Ray created a dozen such detailed drawings many tears prior to meeting Schneer, which he then presented for his concept for this particular film. Ray had his misgivings about the transition to color, which presented new challenges for his stop-motion animation techniques when sandwiching with live action. Ultimately, Schneer prevailed in convincing Ray to embrace color. Ray was able to produce this “dynamation” with stunning results.

Filmed in a remote section of Spain and on a tight budget, filming and production presented its own challenges. For example, after the long haul to this remote area in Spain far from any nearby cities, the prop crew realized the swords were left behind. So, they chopped down tree branches, formed and painted the wooden swords right on the spot.

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Most of the filming was done on a sound stage in Madrid. To capture the ‘princess on a pillow scene,’ Kathryn Grant stood on a giant pillow that was 25 feet high by 40 feet wide in size, occupying a corner of the sound stage. A camera crane then pulled back 70 feet to create the effect that she is doll-sized. In the end, this sequence and all the scenes were processed through a Technicolor optical printer in London.

After the live action sequences were all filmed, it was then turned over to Ray Harryhausen who spent 14 to 18 months splicing in his work.

Music:

This is the first, of four, film collaborations between Ray Harryhausen and composer Bernard Herrmann. They additionally collaborated on THE THREE WORLDS OF GULLIVER (1960), MYSTERIOUS ISLAND (1961), and JASON AND THE ARGONAUTS (1963). In my opinion, this score is truly magnificent and should be considered not only one of Harryhausen’s best music scores within his filmography, but also as one of Herrmann’s, as well.

When you listen carefully to the opening titles score of this film, which takes just under two minutes, it’s as breath-taking and heart-thumping as many of his most-popular scores composed for an Alfred Hitchcock film. For example, listen to the overture (opening title music) of The 7th Voyage of Sinbad (https://youtu.be/s9eBhmIIf8k ) then listen to the overture music for North By NorthWest: https://youtu.be/db4LjufUY-Y Additionally, Herrmann’s treatment of the skeleton warrior scene is especially playful and memorable; a true signature.

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Well-known soundtrack producer Robert Townson has worked on many Herrmann projects, including the extended re-recording of a 7th Voyage Of Sinbad score by The Royal Scottish National Orchestra. In an October 1998 interview, Townson was asked about his attraction to this particular film score, he replied…

It’s always been one of my favorites and I don’t think I’m alone in feeling that way. It’s so rich and vibrant. Herrmann is clearly having fun with it. I mean, he really just went crazy. It’s so witty and charming. He covers so much ground. I would cite The 7th Voyage of Sinbad as one of the scores which most validates film music as an art form and a forum where a great composer can write a great piece of music. As pure composition I would place Sinbad beside anything else written this century and not worry about it being able to stand on its own.

For the full interview on the Bernard Herrmann site:  http://www.bernardherrmann.org/articles/interview-townson/

Cast:

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Kerwin Mathews was under contract for Columbia and made the perfect choice for Sinbad. He was athletic, handsome, and adapted well to the unique skills needed for the action scenes to counter the stop-motion animation. From talking to a miniature princess on a pillow, to sword-fighting creatures like giant cyclops, a two-headed Roc, a skeleton warrior and even a dragon. Mathews worked with Italian Olympic fencing coach Enzo Musumeci-Greco for the fighting scenes. Greco stood in for the fighting skeleton but for the final shoot, Mathews had to pantomime fighting his opponent.

When Mathews was able to see the finished product for the first time at a premiere in Monte Carlo, even he was astounded by Ray’s work. He felt as though he was watching a completely different film from the one that he filmed in Spain, thanks to the magic of Ray Harryhausen. Mathews would work with the Ray Harryhausen magic again, when he appeared in the starring role in THE THREE WORLDS OF GULLIVER (1960), where once again he proved he could handle the task of portraying a ‘giant role’ in contrast to his miniature co-stars.

He retired from acting in 1978, when he moved to San Francisco to become an antiques dealer. He attended film conventions occasionally and always appreciated his fans and acting days. Overall, he kept his private life quiet. In 1961, he met Tom Nicoll, who was his life partner for 46 years, until his death. Tom was a British display manager for Harvey Nicolls. Kerwin died July 5th, 2007, at the age of 81.

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 Kathryn Grant portrays Princess Parisa, who spends a majority of this film appearing tiny enough to fit in Sinbad’s hand. You may also know Kathryn as Bing Crosby’s 2nd wife, Kathryn Crosby. When Bing married Kathryn, he had been a widower for 5 years. He was 54 years old at the time, Kathryn was 24. Born Olive Kathryn Grandstaff, she had been performing since age 3 and continued to find work on the big screen. But this film was a big break for Kathryn, giving her a starring role. This was not the first time Mathews and Grant performed together. They both appeared in a little film noir, starring Kim Novak, FIVE AGAINST THE HOUSE (1955). Usually playing small roles [such as an uncredited party girl at the song writer’s party in REAR WINDOW (1954), Lt. Betty Bixby in OPERATION MAD BALL (1957) with Jack Lemmon, and as Mary Pilant in ANATOMY OF A MURDER (1959)], her career was just starting to gain traction when she semi-retired after marrying Crosby. Kathryn remains active and is still with us.

In a 2016 interview, she was asked, “Did you enjoy playing the leading lady in “The 7th Voyage of Sinbad,” which is now a cult classic?”

“It was wonderful. Jean Louis, Columbia’s big designer, made me gorgeous clothes. And then we shot in Spain, in Granada and Majorca and Barcelona and Madrid. We didn’t know what was going on much of the time. During the swordfight with skeletons, Kerwin (Mathews) was looking at a stick, and then (visual effects master) Ray Harryhausen did all of the drawings afterwards. Columbia Pictures was wonderful.”

To read the entire interview:  https://www.newsday.com/entertainment/music/kathryn-crosby-bing-crosby-s-widow-brings-irving-berlin-revue-to-li-1.11563275

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Richard Eyer portrays the Genie boy. The studio cut costs by filming his scenes in California, at a salary of $600 per day. In comparison to his co-stars, Eyer’s acting career was in many ways more prolific, with twice the career under his belt by late puberty. He was a child actor with 54 acting credits from age 7 to age 22.

When I think of Eyer, I enjoy his role as little Billy Kettle in a couple of the Ma and Pa Kettle films, plus as the boy with the pet goose in William Wyler’s FRIENDLY PERSUASION (1956). But many science fiction fans may recall him more as the boy with Robby the Robot in the FORBIDDEN PLANET (1956) follow-up, THE INVISIBLE BOY (1957). Eyer was also known for westerns, many TV series, and even crime thrillers. After quitting acting, he married (now divorced), had three children, and taught elementary school in Bishop, California. He still resides in that area.

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Torin Thatcher, who spins troubles and magic as Sokurah in this film, boasted the largest filmography of them all, though. From 1927 to 1976, Thatcher performed 154 acting gigs. He firmly projects a commanding presence on screen and has a full resume of stern and villainous roles. Born to British parents in Bombay, India in 1905, he began with a more Shakespearean stage onset to acting, but then found his way to a multitude of genres on the big and small screen. He passed March 4th, 1981.

Ray’s Creatures Checklist:

Tonight, we will be looking for the following creatures of Ray Harryhausen’s creation…

Serpent Woman

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Cyclops- TWO of them!

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Roc Hatchling

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Roc

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Fighting Skeleton

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Dragon

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Questions and thoughts for discussion:

How does this film compare to the film Ray made just one year (release date) prior with MILLION MILES TO EARTH, in terms of his special effects?

Now in color, what are, if any, noteworthy differences from his black-and-white work?

What do you notice about lighting, shadows, and live action blending?

What are some examples of Ray infusing personality and/or humanistic qualities to a creature?

In this film, what is your favorite stop-motion animated character?

What impact did the performances, Technicolor, Bernard Herrmann, and Jean Louis costumes have in adding to the success of this film?

For a fun bonus, we listened to a promotional song called, “Sinbad May Have Been Bad, But He’s Been Good To Me.” It’s swinging, sultry, little number that was given to select theatre managers (for playing in the lobby), as a marketing tool for the holiday 1958 release. Sung by Ann Leonardo. Take a listen: https://youtu.be/S_qZWzzAM3A

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