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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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: MIGHTY JOE YOUNG (1949)

 

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The following are my notes as I presented to my Film Study course, Ray Harryhausen. In this week’s class we discussed the big ape that continues to capture our hearts, sixteen years after the famous Pre-Code ape that started it all. Mighty Joe Young.

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Ray Harryhausen with one of his “Joe” models.

For this week, we will explore Ray Harryhausen’s first feature, MIGHTY JOE YOUNG (1949). While not his first solo feature, he served as lead special effects tech under the guidance of his mentor, Willis H O’Brien. (Note the full list of special effects team as mentioned below.) As discussed before, O’Brien’s work in stop-motion animation in KING KONG (1933) is what inspired Harryhausen his life’s work. This is where it all began for both O’Brien and Harryhausen.

THE APE THAT STARTED IT ALL…

The sequel to KING KONG (1933) was released less than 8 months later with SON OF KONG (1933). Robert Armstrong, who portrays Carl Denham the film director/ promoter in the original Kong, reprises his role in the sequel. We then see this same actor play essentially the same type of role with a new name, Max O’Hara. Instead of Denham traveling to Skull Island via the Indian ocean as in KING KONG and SON OF KONG, O’Hara travels to Africa to collect lions for his big night club act. This is where he meets a large and unusual gorilla.

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While most scenes were shot on set at the RKO lot (Paramount), the baby gorilla images were not taken at a zoo, but rather a film crew was sent to Africa.

Jill Young (Terry Moore) has raised this gorilla since “Joe” was an orphaned baby. Jill traded her toys for Joe and nursed him with love. When O’Hara and his safari pal Gregg (Ben Johnson in his first on-screen role) bring Jill and Joe to Hollywood to star as main attractions at O’Hara’s African-themed club. Over time, it becomes clear that Joe and Jill are unhappy and the race to escape from authorities and back home to Africa begins.

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Producer Merian C Cooper with KING KONG (1933)

LOOKS FAMILIAR?

MIGHTY JOE YOUNG is in essence a sister story to KING KONG. This film was also distributed by RKO and produced by the same creative team with a very similar plot. The differences however, are more family-friendly than in the Pre-Code KING KONG. Both films present an odd love triangle of a young woman, a young man, and a large gorilla. Both stories travel deep into the safari jungle, then discover more painful exploitation in their rags to riches adventure in the bright lights of the big city.

KONG vs JOE:

On a size scale, Joe is quite large (supposedly 12 feet tall and 2,000 lbs.) but dwarfs in comparison to Kong. In contrast, Kong was much taller. Creator Merian C Cooper originally envisioned Kong as being 40 to 50 feet tall. However, animator O’Brien built the sets and models scaling Kong to be only 18 feet tall on Skull Island then rescaled him to be 24 feet in New York. Someone had a big growth spurt in the Big Apple!

Unlike many of the mega creatures and characters Harryhausen would work later on, there are no atomic age threats, nor Greek gods at cause for these gorillas of freakishly gigantic growth patterns. What caused both Kong and Joe to reach such bizarre heights is not really explored in either film. Although in the case of Skull Island, including dinosaurs and other prehistoric creatures running amuck, the implication is that of a protected bubble out of step from the rest of the world’s evolutionary pace.

There are other striking differences between these two apes that go beyond size. You could say that Kong came from a dysfunctional upbringing in the mean, Darwinian jungles of a dark, violent world yet despite his tough exterior, there’s a softer side that only weakens around blond actresses. Joe, on the other hand, was raised in a loving and nurturing environment. Even Joe’s jungles appear friendly, happy and always with an undercurrent of light whimsy.

Kong is prone to rage, expressing violence and pain frequently. He only becomes gentle upon his rare interactions with his delicate beauty. He protects her at all costs like an obsessive lover. His tragic ending is almost a relief to an otherwise painful and doomed life.

Joe was lovingly raised by his beauty. Their relationship is vastly different from Kong and Ann Darrow’s. Joe is more akin to Jill’s well-trained dog. He is expressive, curious and intelligent but also protective. His life is a charmed one until his trip to Tinsel Town. There, he faces humiliation and disrespect despite his talents and kind demeanor. He always shows loyalty and gentleness with Jill. When the time becomes obvious for Jill to escape the big city to retreat back to their African homestead, we are hopeful they will make it.

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HEART and HUMOR:

Instead of a focus on action, tragedy and pain as in Kong’s doomed fate, Joe’s tale is sprinkled with light moments which are both heartfelt and funny. Examples…

While our introduction to ‘grown Joe’ is mostly action, including impressive scenes mixing live action of lions and men on horses, there are also sweet touches with Joe being scolded by Jill. This also includes Jill being picked up by Joe from above by hand. This is where we see Ray Harryhausen’s brilliance at work. The skills are superior in not only in blending the live action with the Joe model, plus also foregrounds and backgrounds seamlessly as possible. Additionally, note Joe’s facial expressions. Joe listens to Jill, but reluctantly. He picks her up gently. She trusts him implicitly. But like a child walking away with his mother after being scolded in front of others after a fight, Joe turns back to give a few threatening gestures behind her back to let the men know he could’ve won the fight if mom hadn’t come along to save their day. It’s a much lighter human touch than we see in Kong’s treatment.

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Joe was not the only stop-motion animated creature. Lions got into the act, too. 

Another example that is both humorous and heartwarming occurs after Jill and Joe premiere in Hollywood. The dialogue from The Golden Safari club attendees as they give feedback on the club’s ambiance and the lions behind the bar are terrific. Note the familiar faces of many character actors such as Charles Lane. The tug-of-war scene is especially funny- from the intros of strong men with women cat-calling from the audience to the competition itself as Joe toys with them. Again, notice how Joe initiates with kindness and only becomes frustrated if provoked. Ray often brings humanity to his creatures.

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Terry Moore takes a break with the strong men from the humorous tug-of-war scene. 

By the 17th week, Joe is literally being treated like a trained monkey. In an organ grinder routine, both Joe and Jill are humiliated and abused as targets on stage. When a few mean drunks sneak backstage and pour alcohol into Joe, the real mayhem begins when one of the jerks hurts Joe. Even in these small scenes, watch the detailed expressions and movements of Joe. Both expressive and realistically reflective of what we would imagine an ape might do in that drunk-meets-rage unfolding. Just as impressive are the sets being destroyed in stop-motion animation while humans and lions running about.

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The orphanage scene is an especially tense and heart-wrenching climax. There are many technical aspects to the scene that make it both challenging and unforgettable. The use of color tone, fire, set design, and special effects within live action added more layers to the suspense. You can see live action, animation, technical assets of set design, backdrop paintings, and stop-motion animation all beautifully orchestrated in this rescue scene.

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The color tinting adds to this nail-biting climax. 

Ray Harryhausen is said to be responsible for 80 – 90% of the stop-motion animation in MIGHTY JOE YOUNG, with the focus on the Joe model. As his first feature, we can already witness the mastery of his skills and yet this was only the beginning.

Trivia:

-Baby gorilla scenes were not shot in a zoo, they sent a camera crew to Africa.

-Most scenes were shot in Culver City on the Selznick lot (RKO).

-The early scene of lions in cages were shot at the lion farm in Tarzana.

-Ruth Rose’s inspiration for the Max O’Hara character was largely based on the director, Ernest “Monty” Schoedsack, who at 6.6 tall was a larger than life character in real life and was nearly blind (directed by sound and his asst. director). Ruth Rose was his wife.

-Of the 4 large Mighty Joe Young models, one was owned by Schoedsack and promised to Terry Moore upon his death but a maid stole it, another is Moving Image museum. An armature (not fully covered) is owned by Bob Burns.

-Ben Johnson was a real cowboy who wrangled horses in the Howard Hughes film THE OUTLAW (1943) before switching to acting in front of the camera. John Ford discovered him.

-The actual model for Joe was about 13 inches tall (smaller than Kong’s model.)

-Notable character actors: Ellen Corby (known best from The Waltons), William Schallert as the gas station attendant, Jack Pennick (familiar John Ford extra) as truckdriver of the stolen truck, and Irene Ryan (Granny from The Beverly Hillbillies).

– When Joe smashes through set at the night club, the first scream you hear is that of Fay Wray, stock audio from the original KING KONG (1933).

– All of the special effects sequences alone took 14 months to complete.

-The night club set was based on The Cocoanut Grove,” an LA club at the famed Ambassador Hotel.

-The early cowboys scene in Africa used footage originally shot to be used in a planned but not completed follow-up to KING KONG, (“The Valley of Gwangi”). In 1969, that film was eventually completed however by Ray Harryhausen.

-A sequel to MIGHTY JOE YOUNG was planned, “JOE MEETS TARZAN” to star Lex Barker [who starred as Tarzan in TARZAN AND THE SLAVE GIRL (1950)], but was canceled.

MIGHTY JOE YOUNG (1949)

Produced by: Merian C Cooper and John Ford

Director: Ernest B Schoedsack

Original Story: Merian C Cooper

Screenplay: Ruth Rose

Cast (main players):

Terry Moore … Jill Young

Ben Johnson … Gregg

Robert Armstrong … Max O’Hara

Mr. Joseph Young … himself

Frank McHugh … Windy

Douglas Fowley … Jones

Denis Green … Crawford

Paul Guilfoyle … Smith

Nestor Palva … Brown

Regis Toomey … John Young

Lora Lee Michel … Jill Young as a young girl

James Flavin … Schultz

Musical score: Roy Webb

Dir of Photography: J Roy Hunt

Special Effects:

Marcel Delgado … technical staff

Fitch Fulton … technical staff

Ray Harryhausen … first technician

George Lofgren … technical staff

Willis H O’Brien … technical creator

Pete Peterson … second technician

Visual Effects:

Linwood G Dunn … optical photography

Harold E Stine … photographic effects

Bert Willis … photographic effects

Harry Cunningham … model armature construction

Ray Harryhausen … technician

Jack Shaw … matte artist

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*See you next week as we take a journey with 20 MILLION MILES TO EARTH!

The Ray Harryhausen Film Study

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For a couple of years now, I’ve been teaching a series of classic film courses. Film Noir, Screwball Comedy, and Hitchcock are some of the topics we’ve tackled. Starting this week, we’re kicking off with a new adventure into a fantasy world of mythical creatures and monsters. A cinematic dream world created by Ray Harryhausen.

Harryhausen was so enthralled by the wonder of a stop-motion animated ape, created by Willis H O’Brien in KING KONG (1933) as a 13 year-old boy, it changed his life forever. Over the decades that followed, he obsessively and masterfully perfected the art of stop-motion animation, including a process he called “DynaMation.”

Most of the films where he served as the Special Effects creator and director, were more known for his work than the lead actors or director. This remains true to this day of his films. And yet how many Special Effects people can you name, and know so readily by their work like his?

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His craft often required months of long hours and solitary commitments for what would result in a few minutes on screen. His work ethic was exhausting to even consider. For this reason and the sheer brilliance of his artistry, and the timing of what is now a lost art, he stands alone in his legacy. Ray worked with greats like Ray Bradbury and Ted Geisel (Dr. Suess), and his work then inspired legendary filmmakers such as George Lucas, Steven Spielberg, JJ Abrams, Peter Jackson, and countless others.

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In our class, I will present Ray Harryhausen’s background history, the influences and influencers, but mostly we will discuss his filmography together. We’ll explore his Mother Goose Fairy Tales (1946), his contributions to MIGHTY JOE YOUNG (1949), his other monster and alien creations in SciFi classics such as IT CAME FROM BENEATH THE SEA (1955), EARTH vs THE FLYING SAUCERS (1956) and 20 MILLION MILES TO EARTH (1957). Then we’ll transition to the fantasy, mythical, and sometimes prehistoric worlds found in his Sinbad films, MYSTERIOUS ISLAND (1961), JASON AND THE ARGONAUTS (1963), and finally CLASH OF THE TITANS (1981).

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I look forward to enjoying these films through this deeper exploration in a shared experience. If you live in the Lawrence, Kansas area, please join us!

Announcement: 31 Days Of Oscar Blogathon 2019

Announcement: 31 Days of Oscar Blogathon 2019

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From the time Douglas Fairbanks, then President of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, hosted the first Awards dinner party for about 250 people on May 16, 1929, to this year’s host-free Oscars ceremony ninety years later, this iconic celebration honoring Hollywood’s finest continues to be just as spectacular and riddled with excellence and contentions as the films and filmmakers they honor.

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If you take a look back at the many Oscar moments in these past 90 years of Oscars ceremonies, you’ll find numerous surprises, disappointments and controversies, which continue to spark debate to this day. That’s where we come in. For the seventh consecutive year, I am joining forces with Aurora of Once Upon A Screen aka @CitizenScreen and Paula of Paula’s Cinema Club aka @Paula_Guthat to bring you the 31 Days of Oscar Blogathon. We hope you’ll consider joining us to make this the best and brightest Oscar blogging event yet.

Not surprising, this blogging event is inspired by Turner Classic Movies’ 31 Days of Oscar marathon, which begins its 24th installment on February 1 and ends March 3rd. This year the network presents the film schedule in a mixed topics potpourri surrounding the historic film industry. Topics range from “Grittiest Streets of New York” to “Favorite Singing Cowboys” to “Favorite Epic Soap Opera.” As the Oscars themselves, there’s something for everyone. See the full schedule here: http://prod-images.tcm.com/Microsites/31Days/31Days2019-Schedule.pdf

Since both TCM and the Oscars bring to mind our beloved host and favorite historian, Robert Osborne, we thought we would kick off our Blogathon with his words about the 31 Days of Oscar marathon…

“One thing seems to stir the souls of our Turner Classic Movie loyalists like no other: the 31 Days of Oscar salute.” 

Blogathon Details

This year, we will host all the contributing entries the weekend of the Oscars. That is from Friday, February 22nd through Sunday, February 24th, wrapping up just in the nick of time to watch the Oscars ceremony. We’re also combining all topics this year and simply presenting them over the three days. Any Oscar-related topic is fair game. We are not limiting this event to classic film fare as we’d like to see entries covering the entire span of 9 decades history of Oscar, including this year’s nominees. To help get you motivated, here are categories we have used in the past…

  • The Actors
  • The Directors
  • The Motion Pictures
  • Oscar Snubs
  • The Crafts (music, costumes, etc.)
  • New Idea – Oscar Controversies

Most of you know the drill, but as a reminder, adhering to the following is necessary:

  • Let us know what your desired topic is by leaving a comment on any of the host blogs
  • Include the title and link to your blog in the comments area
  • Advise if you have a date preference – Friday 2/22, Saturday 2/23 or Sunday 2/24
  • Include the event banner on your blog and in the entry post to help us promote the event

Restrictions – just two:

  • Please do not submit previously published posts
  • No duplicates will be accepted to ensure we cover as much of Oscar history as possible

We look forward to hearing from you and to reading your entries. As many entries as you want, actually, so get to it!

Until then here’s to Oscar, to TCM and to YOU! Happy Blogging!

Participating Blogs and Topics:

Caftan Woman… Irving Berlin at the Oscars

Once Upon A Screen… Interview with Kimberly Truhler- Fashion and Oscar

The Stop Button… Eleanor Parker: Oscar Nominee

Movie Night’s Group… Peter O’Toole in My Favorite Year

The Old Hollywood Garden… Best Supporting Actress of 1952 (1953 Oscars ceremony)

Outspoken & Freckled… Bizarre and Beautiful at the Biltmore: the 7th Academy Awards

 

Elisha Cook Jr

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A crazy-eyed neurotic. A nervous noir thug. A sell-out weasel. These are not exactly the most flattering depictions of a character. But these are just a few of the characters Elisha Cook Jr. was best known. “Cookie” was a true working actor with over 200 credits across stage, film, and television for a career that lasted nearly sixty years.

Starting as young as 14 years old, Elisha began in vaudeville and doing stage work. By the 1930s, Elisha kicked off his film career in Pre-Codes. Here’s a lip-sticked Elisha, along with Frances Underwood, from his first on-screen role in HER UNBORN CHILD (1930). The promotional marketing pitched, “A vividly dramatic all-talker of the Broadway stage hit which rocked the nation with its frankness.” I’m hooked.

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Soon, he transitioned from his squeaky clean, youthful roles into a much darker presence. With a petite stature of 5 foot 5″ he became known as Hollywood’s lightest heavy. He could gain the audience’s sympathy as the timid man with equal vigor as he portrayed the cowardly villains. It can be argued that he was the first emotionally-conflicted gangster heavy.

One of his most notable roles came in 1941 as “Wilmer the gunsel” in John Huston’s THE MALTESE FALCON. He is a vivid stand-out even though surrounded by a stellar cast. Even more impressibly, most of his scenes include very little dialogue. As Sydney Greenstreet’s gun for hire, he is frequently and frustratedly humiliated as sport by Humphrey Bogart’s Sam Spade. Unforgettable use of restraint and characterization by Cook’s performance makes him an iconic figure.

A year prior to THE MALTESE FALCON, Cook appeared in STRANGERS ON THE THRD FLOOR, considered by many film scholars as the original Film Noir. Elisha thrived in this style of film, finding a steady stream of work for his ‘type.’ According to a New York Times piece (written upon the occasion of his death 1995), Cook described this era in career…

“I played rats, pimps, informers, hopheads and communists,” he once said, recalling that as a character actor generally assigned to subsidiary roles, he had to take what was offered. “I didn’t have the privilege of reading scripts. Guys called me up and said, ‘You’re going to work tomorrow.”  (“Elisha Cook Jr., Villain in Many Films, Dies at 91” by Robert MCG Thomas Jr/ New York Times/ May 21, 1995)

And he kept working. One of the most memorable Elisha Cook Jr performances is his frenzied, drum solo from the noir classic PHANTOM LADY (1944). After exchanging flirtations with Ella Raines as Carol “Kansas” Richman on the hunt for evidence, Cook as drummer Cliff Milburn with the key to evidence, takes her to his jazz jamming session. There he works up a substance-infused, climatic drumming crescendo that can only be described as orgasmic. The censors must have sweat a few drumsticks of their own. Take a peek for yourself : http://www.tcm.com/mediaroom/video/1324863/Phantom-Lady-Movie-Clip-You-Sure-Know-How-To-Beat-It-Out.html  

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Beyond his work on film noirs and with legendary co-stars and filmmakers, Cook branched out into other genres. One of my favorite classic horrors is a William Castle classic, HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL (1959) starring Vincent Price. But as in all of his work, Elisha Cook Jr.’s small role leaves a strong impression. Here’s our spooky introduction to his role as Watson Pritchard:

 

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“The ghosts are moving tonight, restless… hungry. May I introduce myself? I’m Watson Pritchard. In just a moment I’ll show you the only really haunted house in the world. Since it was built a century ago, seven people, including my brother, have been murdered in it. Since then, I’ve owned the house. I only spent one night then and when they found me in the morning, I… I was almost dead.” Memorable, eh?

As many actors did, Cook garnered more gigs by moving to television in the 1950s, starting with the popular westerns (“Wagon Train,” “Rawhide,” “Gunsmoke,” “Bonanza”). One of his career highlights includes his bit role as Stonewall Torrey in SHANE (1953). Watch him being gunned down in the muddy streets by Jack Palance:

For the most part, TV is where Cook filled his resume for the decades that followed. From looking at his acting credits in the 50s, 60s, 70s, and 80s, I’m not sure if there was a TV show that didn’t include him somewhere. His last acting job was for 13 episodes of “Magnum PI” as ‘Ice Pick’ (1981 – 1988).

Because he worked nearly constantly, I cannot possibly list them all. But here are some fun favorites, in no particular order:

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“The Duo Defy” episode from BATMAN, aired March 30, 1967. Eli Wallach as Mr. Freeze, Leslie Parrish in fur, and Elisha Cook Jr. as Professor Isaacson.

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Ketty Lester sinks her teeth into Elisha Cook Jr. in BLACULA (1972).

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Cook as a hood Frank Lucas, opposite Laurel and Hardy, in A-HAUNTING WE WILL GO (1942).

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Elisha Cook Jr with William Shatner in the “Court Martial” episode of “STAR TREK” (1967).

Born Elisha Van Slyck Cook Jr. in San Francisco on December 26th, 1903, his 115th birthday is approaching soon. The other personal detail that seems very interesting of this reliable, working actor is his love life. Married twice, he married his first wife Mary Lou at the age of 25 and they divorced 13 years later. Mary Lou Cook was an actress as well and died just 3 years after they divorced. Two years after his divorce from Mary Lou, he married his 2nd wife, Elvira Ann “Peggy” McKenna in 1943. Peggy was a huge fan of Carole Landis and her fandom led to a close friendship. Elisha and Peggy divorced in 1968 and divorced. Oddly, they remarried just two tears later and remained married until her death in 1990. It was during the same year of her death that Elisha suffered a stroke that took away his ability to speak. Five years later, he died on May 18, 1995 in Big Pine, CA. Even in real life, he seemed to be pillar of hard work ethic, always sticking to it, no matter what.

Although thought of mostly as the bug-eyed psychotic or as the last surviving member of the MALTESE FALCON cast, Elisha Cook Jr. proved he may come in a small package and take on small roles, but he left a big impact in a variety of lasting work. I found this video tribute to Elisha Cook Jr. Hope you enjoy it, too..

My tribute piece to Elisha Cook Jr. is part of the 7th annual WHAT A CHARACTER! BLOGATHON, December 14, 15, 16th, 2018, hosted by Aurora @CitizenScreen of Once Upon A Screen, Paula @Paula_Guthat of Paula’s Cinema Club, and yours truly. Please enjoy all the fabulous entries from this fun weekend!

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Skelton Knaggs

This following is a guest post on SKELTON KNAGGS for the 7th annual WHAT A CHARACTER! BLOGATHON. The author is Bill Shaffer- President of the Kansas Silent Film Festival, recently retired as Director of KTWU for over 40 years, the go-to fella for anything happening in the “old movie realm” in this corner of the Sunflower State, a spaghetti western aficionado, and a helluva swell guy and personal friend…

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Skelton Knaggs is one of my favorite character actors because – wait a second! Skelton Knaggs? Who is that? Well, I often remember him as the creepy little guy in various 1940’s-era horror movies – three for Val Lewton’s unit at RKO and three more for Universal. However, the most famous bit I ever saw him in was as a menacing gunslinger hanging around Jane Russell’s hotel in Paramount’s terrific Bob Hope comedy, THE PALEFACE from 1948. One look at that face and hearing that voice like a rasping knife and he’s pretty hard to forget.

Knaggs was born in 1911 across the pond in the Hillsborough district of Sheffield, England. He moved to London where he attended the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art and became a Shakespearean actor. Aside from doing the Shakespeare plays on stage, Knaggs appeared in a few British films including 1939’s Michael Powell production, THE SPY IN BLACK where he was cast as a German orderly. He quickly found his way to Los Angeles and began appearing in Hollywood films including TORTURE SHIP (also 1939) and DIAMOND FRONTIER (1941). He was often cast in sinister parts in horror films due to his diminutive and eccentric looks, his prominent teeth and his bony, pock-marked face. He didn’t have too many lines. One look at that face and you’ll remember him.

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His first association with producer Val Lewton was not a particularly good one, although the film, THE GHOST SHIP (1943) turned out to be one of his best. Knaggs played the part of a mute sailor who narrates the story even though he never speaks. This impressively suspenseful Lewton film was directed by Mark Robson, but it became the center of a plagiarism case in which the plaintiff won and all prints of the film had to be pulled from theaters. It sadly did not see the light of a movie or TV screen until the mid-1990’s. A stunning DVD version appeared in 2006, thanks to Warner Home Video. For Lewton, there were also performances in ISLE OF THE DEAD (1945) and BEDLAM (1946), both with Boris Karloff. He also supported Karloff in DICK TRACY MEETS GRUESOME (1947) and landed another part in DICK TRACY VS. CUEBALL (1946).

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For Universal, Knaggs had good bits in THE INVISIBLE MAN’S REVENGE (1944) with Vincent Price, the all-star monster mash, HOUSE OF DRACULA (1945) and the Sherlock Holmes thriller, TERROR BY NIGHT (1946). In between all of these genre productions, Knaggs also managed appearances in some top-rated films like NONE BUT THE LONELY HEART (1943) with Cary Grant, THE LODGER (1944) with Laird Cregor, THE PICTURE OF DORIAN GRAY (1945) with Hurd Hatfield and Donna Reed, FOREVER AMBER (1947) with Linda Darnell and the aforementioned PALEFACE (1948) with Bob Hope and Jane Russell.

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After MASTER MINDS in 1949 with the Bowery Boys, Knaggs returned to London where he married Thelma Crawshaw and then returned to Hollywood for a number of film performances. There was CAPTAIN VIDEO: MASTER OF THE STRATOSPHERE, a 1951 serial for Columbia Pictures that ran for 15-chapters in as many weeks, BLACKBEARD THE PIRATE (1952) with Robert Newton, ROGUE’S MARCH (1953) with Peter Lawford and Richard Greene, BOTANY BAY (1953) with Alan Ladd, CASANOVA’S BIG NIGHT (1954) again with Bob Hope and finally, MOONFLEET in 1955, a period adventure film with Stewart Granger and James Mason. It was the final American film to be directed by German-emigre, Fritz Lang. It would be the last film for Skelton Knaggs. He was battling alcohol addiction and died of cirrhosis of the liver at the age of 43 in Los Angeles.  

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This post is an entry in the 7th annual WHAT A CHARACTER! BLOGATHON, as hosted by Aurora @CitizenScreen of Once Upon A Screen, Paula @Paula_Guthat of Paula’s Cinema Club and Kellee @IrishJayhawk66 of Outspoken & Freckled. Follow up with all 3 days of this mega blogging event, Dec 14 – 16, 2018, for informative contributions!     

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Day One: 7th annual WHAT A CHARACTER! BLOGATHON

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Today we bring you the first day of the 7th annual WHAT A CHARACTER! BLOGATHON, hosted by yours truly and my fellow co-hosts, the classic film loving ladies: Paula of Paula’s Cinema Club @Paula_Guthat and Aurora of Once Upon A Screen @CitizenScreen.

As promised, this annual event celebrates the character actors. Those unsung heroes of the silver screen, those familiar faces who often steal every scene from the leads… we salute you! Whether it’s the frustrated hotel manager, or sharp-witted maids, perhaps a 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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Gill of Reelweedgiemidget Reviews @realweegiemidge discusses the usually second- billing, yet always first-rate performances of Engaging Roles from Enigmatic ED HARRIS Read about it here: https://weegiemidget.wordpress.com/starring/actors-2/ed-harris/ 

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Maddy of Maddy Loves Her Classic Films presents SARA ALLGOOD. As Maddy affectionately adds, “She truly was one of the most gifted and natural actresses of the classic film era.” Read more: https://maddylovesherclassicfilms.wordpress.com/2018/12/12/the-seventh-annual-what-a-character-blogathon-sara-allgood/

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Paddy of the Caftan Woman @CaftanWoman scribes on The Villainy of JACK LAMBERT. She describes him, “His craggy face and intimidating physique made Lambert a tough guy walking.” Read all the details on memorable character: https://www.caftanwoman.com/2018/12/what-character-blogathon-villainy-of.html

Actor Nat Pendleton

Sarah of the Mrs. Charles blog scribes on NAT PENDLETON. Sarah explains how she came to know a great deal about this prolific character actor who was much more than just “a likeable, but not too bright policeman, gangster, assistant…” Learn more here: https://mrscharlesonline.wordpress.com/2018/12/12/nat-pendleton/

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Jacqueline of Another Old Movie Blog offers her thoughts on WALTER ABEL. As she writes, “He was worthy of lead roles, but he was one of those actors who managed to turn even a small character part into the lead for even just a few moments.” Find out more here: https://anotheroldmovieblog.blogspot.com/2018/12/walter-abel.html?fbclid=IwAR04JcaUXcv9VSoMrWNz2yYKSINLBaC8siSW5g0cEz2VfXf5VCxJpmvDr6I

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One Gal’s Musings presents, JEAN DIXON. As she describes this scene-stealer, “Jean Dixon was once Hollywood’s Everywoman.” Read more on this relateable character: https://onegalsmusings.blogspot.com/2018/12/what-character-jean-dixon.html

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Theresa of CineMaven’s Essays From The Couch joins us. She reached her choice of character actor as she explains, “And who better to dive into but the tall, dark, ruggedly handsome and oh so dangerous… STEPHEN MCNALLY.” When he’s bad, he’s good! We agree, Theresa! Read on, friends: https://cinemavensessaysfromthecouch.wordpress.com/2018/12/14/stephen-mcnally-when-hes-bad-hes-good/

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Quiggy from The Midnite Drive-In saddles up with a tribute to a frequent John Wayne cowpoke, HANK WORDEN. As Quiggy adds, “And I’d hazard a guess that if you thought of minor characters in Wayne movies, at least one or two in the top 10 would be a character played by Worden.  Some of them were quite memorable.” More: https://midnitedrive-in.blogspot.com/2018/12/hank-worden-and-john-wayne.html

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Next up, Constance of Silver Scenes pays tribute to GEOFFREY KEEN – The Minister From England. As she notes, “He cut an imposing figure, was always well-groomed and cultured ( you’d never catch Keen among lowly people ), and walked in an air of authority.” Read on here:  https://silverscenesblog.blogspot.com/2018/12/geoffrey-keen-minister-from-england.html

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Last but not least, Bill Shaffer as guest blogger on Outspoken & Freckled offers up the distinctively familiar face of SKELTON KNAGGS. As Bill observes, “One look at that face and hearing that voice like a rasping knife and he’s pretty hard to forget.” Discover more about this character with a lesser known name and better known face: https://kelleepratt.com/2018/12/15/skelton-knaggs/

Thanks so much to all of our talented participants (who allow me to learn new and interesting details about characters every time we host this) and big kudos to my fellow co-hosts Paula and Aurora! Be sure to read all of these fascinating entries to our blogathon all weekend long..

Day 2: Once Upon A Screen

Day 3: Paula’s Cinema Club

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