She Kills Her Husband Once but THE POSTMAN ALWAYS RINGS TWICE, 1946

The postman always rings twice doesn’t refer to a mail carrier’s methodology of delivery in this 1946 film noir directed by Tay Garnett, starring John Garfield and Lana Turner. This is film noir, friends, so we are addressing the subject of dark and dirty crime. Not just any crime but murder. Mariticide, to be exact.

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Mariticide is the act of killing one’s husband. Not exactly a new concept in film noir. As a matter of fact, many parallels can be drawn between this film and Billy Wilder’s DOUBLE INDEMNITY (1944). In THE POSTMAN ALWAYS RINGS TWICE (1946), the title alludes (spoilers ahead!) not to the beginning fiery heat of two lovers, not to the detailed steps of planning the murder of a spouse, but moreso to the aftermath and ironic justice in how this ill-fated romance ends.

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Many crime stories and film noirs focus on the tension, motivation and players that lead up to or explain the crime. While THE POSTMAN ALWAYS RINGS TWICE (1946) does a marvelous job in that arena, a good chunk of the story focuses on good ole karma that comes along not on the first ring, but on that second ding. I’ll save those scrumptious details for you to savor when you watch the film.

Before I get ahead of myself, let’s start at the beginning and chat about the sparks that brought this doomed couple of criminal lovers together. John Garfield as Frank Chambers is perfection as the casual drifter who floats in to the Twin Oaks roadside diner on a breeze. Actually, he wanders in via hitchhiking with the local district attorney (who lives closeby and will become a key factor in his undoing) and is soon greeted by the local motorcycle cop who is often witness in rather inconvenient ways.

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He soon meets Nick Smith (Cecil Kellaway), owner of the cafe, and they quickly conduct a job interview via on-the-spot character reads. Note: we will discover later that Nick fails miserably at both job interviews and character assessments. After Frank confidently and casually pushes his loosely tied commitment for the position, Nick dashes off to greet a gas customer outside as Frank is introduced to his platinum blonde doom aka Mrs. Smith inside. We meet Lana Turner as Cora Smith in a memorable character debut where the camera follows her from her ‘accidental’ lipstick drop and roll to the slow pan up her legs to her petite frame in iconic ivory shorts, crop top and turbin.

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The heat and tension is palatable from the very first exchange. Frank wastes no time in making his move. But first, and what plays out as a very interesting foreshadowing, is the power struggle gauntlet is thrown down upon their very initial exchange- over lipstick, no doubt. Before their first first kiss, which Frank plants boldly and rather assumedly, Frank issues the challenge of who is in charge. Cora plays her best game of sexy meets coy to lure Frank close to the flame via handing her the fiery red lipstick. But watch Frank pause, lean back and challenge Cora to come to him. She succumbs allowing Frank to think this was his game. But is it? This initial exchange was the true precursor and warning for them both.

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Through a botched attempt to run away, Cora symbolically morphs from pristine and crisp white to dirty, sweaty, and dusty hitchhiker as she has a change of heart. This is not how she planned. They go back. Narrowly escaping Nick’s discovery, Frank has an opening to leave. But as countless film noir anti-heroes eventually do, he ignores any instinct to do the right thing. Frank: “Right then, I shoulda walked outta that place… She had me licked and she knew it.”

After initial and seeming resistence, we later learn that she was actually the one strategically in charge all along. And he acted helpless in acting better on his own behalf. Once the hooks were firmly embedded deep, even the red flag of ‘if you truly love me, you’ll murder for me’ couldn’t stop her quest to fulfill her ambitious needs to “be somebody.” Cora challenges Frank: “Do you love me? Do you love me so much that nothing else matters?”

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Watching this trainwreck of an excuse for love unfold, as the audience we see the red flags, the road signs of dangerous curves up ahead… everywhere. From our lofty tower of wisdom, we see the mistakes, the grave errors in judgement. While this film spends a good chunk of time and detail serving justice post-mariticide in an ironic twist of fate for these two with a one-two punch, the fascinating components remain the motivations and evolutions of behavior.

Why this film remains a classic, besides enjoying the sexual tension sizzle off the screen and the nail-biting moments of thrills and suspense, what keeps us riveted as the voyeurs to this obsessive, dysfunctional romance is the undercurrent of self questioning, playing out in our own hearts and heads of how obsession can turn oneself against their own morality. Where is that line drawn? What does it take to push someone over the edge? This film ultimately begs the question: if a smart, non-commitment, non-romantic type like Frank can fall into such a deep, tragic trap, could something like this happen to anyone? Yes, perhaps even you?

I think that is what is at the heart of THE POSTMAN ALWAYS RINGS TWICE (1946). Even the sharpest cynic can blunder and fall prey. Not that murder is a very likely result, but I wager to guess that a significant number of people have experienced a type of obsessive love that has altered their judgement in morality, which was not in their own best interests. So, let that mail courier ring your doorbell twice, even three times. But watch out for the Lana Turner cunning beauties of the roadside cafes. More importantly, watch out for the little voice in your heart and head whenever you hear it crying out “NO!!” – sometimes it’s important to listen.

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This post was my contribution to the ‘Til Death Us Do Part Blogathon on CineMaven’s Essays From The Couch. As this is sure to be a rousing assembly of blog posts of spouse-murdering twist and turns, I encourage you to read all the other contributors!

 

 

 

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Joan Blondell, Shining Star Forced to be a Satellite

“I don’t know what the secret to longevity as an actress is… maybe it’s the audience seeing itself in you.” … Joan Blondell

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Joanie should know. Joan Blondell, born Rose Joan Blondell on August 30, 1906, in NYC, lived her entire life performing on stage and screen. She died of leukemia on December 25, 1979 in Santa Monica, CA. It is bittersweet to honor this remarkable woman so close to what will be the 37th anniversary of her death this Christmas day.

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Joan was born to entertain audiences. She cut her teeth working with her comic parents on the vaudeville stages from age three to seventeen, while educated at the Professional Children’s School. She was a seasoned pro by the time she transitioned to the Ziegfeld Follies and then onto the Broadway stage.

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It was a Broadway production that paired her with James Cagney, which lead to five more celebrated film features, starting with John G. Adolfi’s SINNERS’ HOLIDAY (1931) where they reprised their stage roles. The other Blondell/Cagney paired films that followed are:  William Wellman’s OTHER MEN’S WOMEN (1931), William Wellman’s THE PUBLIC ENEMY (1931), Howard Hawks’ THE CROWD ROARS (1932), Lloyd Bacon’s FOOTLIGHT PARADE (1933), and HE WAS HER MAN (1934). The chemistry sizzle on the screen was visible between these two talents, making for memorable performances that launched both of their careers into an explosion of roles in the Pre-Code era. While they supposedly kept their romance limited to the screen, Cagney said she was the only woman other than his wife he ever loved.

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But to give you some perspective on just how much Blondell worked starting with the early talkies of the Pre-Codes and throughout the duration of the 1930s, she was in over fifty films during that decade alone. Most of this ridiculously busy schedule could be attributed to her contract with Warner Brothers. They kept her working fast and furious in roles at a time when being employed was a very good thing. And she enjoyed her WB family of co-star friends and filming crews immensely. The problem was, while she found herself in-demand and in work, she was not only typecast but stuck below the top tier of the marquee.

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While others demanded more and knew how to cause ripples within the political studio system in a persuasive way (like her good friend Bette Davis), Blondell thought of her job as a job. Joan punched the clock and went home when the job was done. She worked extremely hard, acted consistently professional, but didn’t desire to play the ambitious game.

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Working free of the studio playbook in the 1940s and 1950s, the work was less frequent and the pace less brutal; yet offered some meatier roles, such as Gail Richards in TOPPER RETURNS (1941), Aunt Sissy in A TREE GROWS IN BROOKLYN (1945), Zeena Krumbein in NIGHTMARE ALLEY (1947), and Annie Rawlins in THE BLUE VEIL (1951) for which she was nominated for An Oscar, Best Actress in a Supporting Role. Even still, she struggled to garner critical acclaim in a way that moved her name up to the leading lady, mega star status.

The 1950s ushered in the television age and Joan Blondell was determined to be a player. The frequency of roles kept her busier but yet again, she found herself working harder, not smarter in struggling to move her name to the top position in billing.

The 1960s and 1970s brought memorable roles such as Jenny in SUPPORT YOUR LOCAL GUNFIGHTER (1971), Lady Fingers in THE CINCINNATI KID (1965), Sarah Goode in OPENING NIGHT (1977) and Dolly in THE CHAMP (1979). Her TV work continued with roles such as Lottie Hatfield in “Here Come the Brides.” Fans unaware of her saucy and leggy days as a Pre-Code platinum blonde may know her more for her later work such as Vi in GREASE (1978) or caught her in reruns from retro TV networks such her bit parts in 50’s TV westerns, Starsky and Hutch (1976), The Love Boat (1978), Fantasy Island (1979) and so much more.

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She worked right up until the end, even while battling the Leukemia that ultimately took her life in 1979, with her last role being Aunt Coll in THE WOMAN INSIDE (1981), released posthumously. With 160 acting credits to her name, and after publishing her popular 1972 autobiographical novel “Center Door Fancy,” Joan never quit.

Married three times, divorced three times, her first husband famed cinematographer George S. Barnes (m. 1933-1936) was a decision reflecting her “naive sophisticate”(as James Cagney called her) ways of a younger Joanie, fresh in her film career. Emotionally dysfunctional, this relationship was fated for disaster. Barnes was still married to his third wife as their romance grew and he assured her the marriage was on paper only and would be ended swiftly. During this time of officially divorcing his third wife and marrying Joan (he went on to marry for a total seven times), she became pregnant and he arranged for the termination. Their son and only child from the marriage, TV producer/director Norman Scott Barnes was born in 1934 but later changed his last name to Powell in 1938 when Barnes relinquished all parental rights and he was adopted by Joan’s second husband.

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Her second marriage to actor Dick Powell (m. 1936-1944) was more stable but tepid in romance. In addition to adopting Norman, they had a child together, Ellen Powell, who is known for her makeup department work in film and tv, such as her Emmy nominated work in hair styling.

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Joan and Dick made ten musicals together. But after they both had grown weary of the incessant typecasting of formulaic musicals each began over a decade prior, just as they attempted to move their careers in more dramatic roles, their marriage also became stagnant. Right up until the time Dick left Joan for actress June Allyson. In this same pivotal year Dick Powell left one marriage for another, he left his sugary musicals and boyish charm behind with MURDER MY SWEET (1944), launching a dramatically different type in his cinematic world with film noir and never looked back.

Her last husband (m. 1947-1950), producer Michael Todd was said to be physically abusive and a financial mess, thanks to heavy gambling and repeatedly poor investments. She found this relationship to be her most passionate. Great for the bedroom initially but later his behavior revealed itself into abuse. His chaotic ways also wiped out her savings. So she continued to work for the next three decades-because financially she had to.

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She wasn’t always lucky in love or ambition, but certainly made up for it in talent, enduring work ethic and generosity of spirit. Time after time, this unforgettable performer played second-fiddle, the rapid-fire, sharp-tongued best friend, the second lead, the snarky office gal, the lingerie-clad roomie, the sharp opportunist, the frowzy, lovable saloon owner, the gangster’s girlfriend, the wise aunt, and the down-to-earth, tell-it-like-it-is scene-stealer. She was all these nuances of woman and more. She mastered tv and film, Pre-Codes, dramas, and comedies. But she never truly reached the well-deserved splendor of consistent top billing.

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While I admire the entire breadth of Joan Blondell’s work, I am always biased towards her early days of Pre-Codes. You couldn’t find a better pair of sexy gams in those Busby Berkley musicals and she delivered such hilariously sassy lines with the perfect punch. Take a look at her delicious delivery of “As long as they’ve got sidewalks, YOU’VE got a job!” as she proceeds to kick the woman out the door, right in the tuchus, in Lloyd Bacon’s FOOTLIGHT PARADE (1933) or her haunting “My Forgotten Man” in Mervyn LeRoy’s THE GOLD DIGGERS OF 1933. There are too many to list here (because the woman was a damn work-horse during those years!) But no matter how small the role, Joan Blondell made it her own and she made it memorable. So yes, Joanie, you did know the secret to longevity as actress, and perhaps your greatest role in life was that of survivor- a role this audience member and countless other fans can relate.

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*This was my contribution to the What A Character! Blogathon, hosted by Aurora of Once Upon A Screen, Paula of Paula’s Cinema Club, and yours truly. Please review all three days for a recap of fantastic character actor tributes… THANK YOU & ENJOY!! 🙂

day one: kellee

day two: aurora

day three: paula

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Victor McLaglen – A Man as Big as the Screen

*The following is a guest post by my husband Gary, aka Santa on twitter as @SantaIsThinking

I signed up for the What A Character! Blogathon to write a post on one of my favorite character actors, Victor McLaglen (pronounced Muh-clog-len, not Mack-loff-len) because he appears in my favorite movies, adorns one of my walls at home, and reminds me in so many ways of my dad.

As I did research on him I realized that plenty had been written on him so what could I possibly add to that? He’s very loved by so many. So I decided, as I sit here with a Guinness, to focus on two things that I find most interesting about him, his adventurous youth and his big screen (grin) charm. vm-image-1

Victor Andrew de Bier Everleigh McLaglen (10 December 1886 – 7 November 1959)

His Adventurous Youth – Boers, Boxing, and Baghdad

Victor McLaglen was big enough at 14 to enlist in the English Army to fight the Boers. (Sounds like a young English lad’s dream, until he was found out a short time after and had to exit the Army.) When he was 18, he moved to Canada, became a wrestler and a boxer and toured with circuses, vaudeville and Wild West shows.

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He fought under his own name and took on the nickname ‘Sharkey’ McLaglen. In 1909, he survived a 6-round exhibition bout with heavyweight champion Jack Johnson. Commenting later on the fight, “He never knocked me down . . . but he sure beat the livin’ be-Jesus out of me.” In 1918, he was named the heavyweight champion of the British Army. For the record, Victor’s lifetime boxing record (as far as is known) was 11-6-1, with 9 KOs.

He returned to Britain in 1913 and enlisted in the Army, then served as captain (acting) with the 10th Battalion, Middlesex Regiment. Besides serving in WW1, other early chapters in his life included serving as a bodyguard for an Indian Rajah and later as Provost Marshal (head of Military Police) for the city of Baghdad. In the 1920’s, he was off to Hollywood.

His Career – Big Screen Grins and Bromance

Though a big man at 6’ 2 1/2” and broad-shouldered, it was his roguish charm and big toothy smile that took up most of the big screen. He often grinned and fought his was across the screen with the biggest Hollywood stars of the day (including Cary Grant, Douglas Fairbanks, John Wayne, and Maureen O’Hara). The ease and charm with which he interacted with his co-stars served to compliment and enhance their own substantial on-screen charisma.

Victor appeared as MacChesney, in the original bromance adventure movie Gunda Din (1939). The chemistry he had with Cary Grant and Douglas Fairbanks is why this film is in my top 5 films of all time. His comic timing and dialogue delivery was on par with his co-actors. If you’ve not seen it, rent it or buy it. And if you have seen it, might be time to watch it again (so says my Guinness). As you watch these three British sergeants and their native water bearer take on a murder cult in colonial British India, you’ll see a “best buds” heroic action movie DNA that has been passed down and continues to make ripples through many more modern flicks (and not just that poor Temple of Doom movie.)

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In The Quite Man (1952), McLaglen (now late in his career) played the role of Squire “Red” Will Danaher, resident loud-mouthed brother to Mary Kate Danaher (Maureen O’Hara.) In it, Victor squares off with Sean Thornton (John Wayne) over his sister, a farmstead, and that ornery Irish pride. It’s got romance, drinking, brawling, and… brawling. And the extended cast is a who’s who of some of the best character actors of the day. By the time this was filmed, Victor was 64, but he still gave John Wayne a run for his money with his hulking physical presence and personality (though John Ford and Wayne did have to take it easy on him during filming). His performance got him his second Academy nomination for Best Supporting Actor.

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This post isn’t an exhaustive overview of McLaglen’s life and family; others have done a better job of that. Rather it’s a feel-good loving tribute to someone I love watching on film. But if you want a few other notable movies to watch to get his range, try The Informer (1935) for which he won the Academy Award for Best Actor, She Wore A Yellow Ribbon (1949) another great pairing with Ford and John Wayne and The Lost Patrol (1934). The last Pre-Code feature has Boris Karloff in it and is a great survival story.

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McLaglen received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame on February 8, 1960. I discovered his films in the early 70’s with my dad and continue to re-watch them today with my Irish wife. That lovable, hard-nosed character actor will always have a place in my heart…and I hope he can find a place in yours.

This is my entry to the 2016 What A Character! Blogathon, hosted by Kellee at Outspoken & Freckled, Aurora at Once Upon A Screen, and Paula at Paula’s Cinema Club, taking place all this weekend. Check all three day’s of posts this weekend for other fascinating character actor profiles. Catch me as @santaisthinking on Twitter.

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It’s here! 5th annual WHAT A CHARACTER! BLOGATHON: Day 1

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The day has finally arrived to honor those unsung heroes of the silver screen, the character actor. For the 5th year, the classic film obsessed trio of Aurora aka @CitizenScreen of ONCE UPON A SCREEN, Paula aka @TCM_Party & @Paula_Guthat of PAULA’S CINEMA CLUB and yours truly, Kellee aka @Irishjayhawk66 of OUTSPOKEN & FRECKLED bring you this film community tribute to the marvelous scene-stealers.

DAY ONE:

Movies Silently profiles the popular character actor known for his soothing voice, EDWARD EVERETT HORTON in one of his early talkies, After The Silents: LONELY WIVES 1931.

The Wonderful World of Cinema explains How Arthur Kennedy Changed My Cinematic Life.  As Virginie writes, “Arthur Kennedy was Arthur Kennedy, he couldn’t have been anybody else and nobody could have been him.”

Real Weegie Midget Reviews revisits a tribute post with Looking Back at the Actor, the Voice and Movies of ALAN RICKMAN.

Jack Deth, as guest blogger on Paulas Cinema Club, offers up a “Shot and a Chaser” of two works of M. EMMET WALSH:

As he summarizes, “Though I was well-versed in Walsh’s work prior to these initial meetings, it’s these two roles which reached out, took hold, and shook me to this actor’s grossly underestimated talents.”

Then, Theresa of CINEMAVEN’S Essays From The Couch takes on a “Mighty Roman”, RUTH ROMAN, in her performance in “Tomorrow Is Another Day” 1951. 

As she describes Roman, “There’s a touch of danger in her. Her performances are believable and with conviction. I’m not quite sure why she really wasn’t a bigger star.” Read more to see what Theresa unveils.

Next, Thoughts All Sorts examines the many character lives of MICHAEL WINCOTT.

As this blogger aptly scribes on Wincott, “There was something about him that just drew me in…Or, maybe it’s just that he’s a great artist, understated but vital.” We couldn’t agree more.

Next up, The Last Drive In views All Kinds of Observable Differences in the World of RUTH GORDON for us.

As this blogger writes, “There’s a vast dimension and range to Ruth Gordon’s work both her screenwriting and her acting, the effects leave a glowing trail like a shooting star.” Amen to that!


I will continue to update this list throughout the day and don’t forget to look on twitter for contributor shout-outs, too. So check back frequently! These participating writers continue to educate and dazzle us so I encourage you to not only read, but give lovely feedback, to these fine folks.

Look for day two and day three of this mega blogging event via my co-hosts, Aurora and Paula… much more to enjoy throughout the entire weekend!

A huge THANK YOU to all the contributors and my cinematic charming co-hosts! … Kellee

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Announcement: 5th annual WHAT A CHARACTER Blogathon

“What’s great about being a character actor is you know that you can survive forever. It’s not about the gloss of your eyebrows.” – Martin Short

We’re back for a fifth consecutive year to honor the versatility and depth of supporting players with the WHAT A CHARACTER! Blogathon.  Based on a phrase borrowed from Turner Classic Movies (TCM) the WHAT A CHARACTER! Blogathon is an event that many look forward to each year.  Your enthusiasm for paying tribute to the oft nameless faces that appear in countless beloved classic movies is admirable.  Aurora, Paula and I extend a sincere thanks to all the bloggers who have joined us in the previous four years and invite you all to help us make the fifth anniversary extra special.

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By now you know the drill.  This is for the Louise Beavers and Eddie Andersons of the world, the names that never appeared above the title.  If this is right up your movie alley then give us a shout out…
Kellee at Outspoken & Freckled and (@IrishJayhawk66) and Kellee Pratt

Paula at Paula’s Cinema Club and (@Paula_Guthat) and Paula Guthat

Aurora at Once Upon a Screen and (@CitizenScreen) and Citizen Screen

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And please adhere to the following:

-Let one of the hosts know which character actor is your choice.
-We will not accept repeats 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 featured a number of talented regulars.  Scroll down to see the list of chosen characters.
-Don’t take it for granted we know exactly who you are or where your blog resides – please include the title and url to your blog.
-Publish the post for either December 16, 17 & 18.  Let us know if you have a date preference, otherwise we’ll split publicizing duties equally among the three days.
-Please include one of Paula’s beautiful event banners on your blog to help us promote the event and include it in your post.
-It would be really helpful if you can send any of us the direct link to your post.  Searching on social media sites can lead to missed entries.

HAVE FUN and spread the word!

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#WhatACharacter Roll Call

Outspoken & Freckled – Joan Blondell

Cindy Bruchman – Eileen Brennan

Blogferatu – John Carradine

Film Noir Archive – Elisha Cook, Jr.

Wanna Be Film Critic – Jack Davenport

Critica Retro – Margaret Dumont

Shadows and Satin – Hope Emerson

Immortal Ephemera – Stanley Fields

The Last Drive In – Ruth Gordon

Old Hollywood Films – Sidney Greenstreet

Once Upon a Screen – Edmund Gwenn

The Midnight Drive-In – John Hillerman

Movies Silently – Edward Everett Horton

The Wonderful World of Cinema – Arthur Kennedy

A Shroud Of Thoughts – Charles Lane

Gary Pratt/ guest post on Outspoken & Freckled – Victor Mclaglen

Anna, Look! – Ben Mendelsohn

In The Good Old Days of Classic Hollywood – Agnes Morehead

Phyllis Loves Classic Movies – Mildred Natwick

Wolffian Classics Movies Digest – Una O’Connor

RealweegieMidgit Reviews – Alan Rickman

Life’s Daily Lessons – Margaret Rutherford

Christina Wehner – Takashi Shimura

Movie Movie Blog Blog – JK Simmons

CineMaven’s Essays From The Couch – Art Smith

Phyllis Loves Classic Movies – George Tobias

Jack Deth/ guest post on Paula’s Cinema Club – M Emmett Walsh

Blog Of The Darned – David Wayne

Thoughts All Sorts – Michael Wincott

Caftan Woman – Cora Witherspoon

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A big thank you – HAPPY BLOGGING!

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Hometown Pride Honors Robert Taylor in Beatrice, Nebraska

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Traveling across the highways and roads under dark, stormy skies, I recently found my way to Beatrice, Nebraska. As a Beatrice native, attorney by day and film historian by passion, Jeanelle Kleveland shared, “Beatrice’s population was about twelve thousand when I was born and it’s remained about twelve thousand to this day.” While many things about this small Nebraska town appear relatively unchanged over the decades, with a few signs of modern times sprinkled here and there, one constant remains… this town takes their pride of their native son and screen legend Robert Taylor seriously. Very seriously.

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I was invited to experience the Gage County Historical Society’s Gage County Classic Film Institute‘s tribute to Spangler Arlington Brugh and Ellen Martha Clancy to see this for myself. That’s quite a mouthful and by now many of you are muttering, “Spangler and Ellen… who?” Ellen Martha Clancy became known in Hollywood as Janet Shaw, born in Beatrice in 1919.

And yes, Robert Taylor, that devastatingly handsome and popular star of Golden age of Hollywood, was born Spangler Arlington Brugh in Filley (pop. 194) a nearby township near Beatrice (pop. 9,664 at that time) on August 5, 1911. The only son of the town osteopath doctor, his parents raised him in Beatrice, and he was better known as “Arlington” or “Arly.”

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On a Friday evening, I drove up in time to see the first event in the festival’s lineup, a screening of W.S. Van Dyke’s PERSONAL PROPERTY (1937), starring Robert Taylor and Jean Harlow. As a fan of silly, over-the-top 1930s comedies, I was pleased as punch.

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The next day began with a morning devoted to speakers presenting background histories and a few personal stories of both of these locals that went on to stardom. E.A. Kral, author and local walking Wikipedia of Beatrice and its famed citizens, Lesa Arterburn, Museum Director, Frank W. Smith, first cousin to Janet Shaw, and Linda Alexander, author of newly re-released Robert Taylor biopic on his political controversies “Reluctant Witness,” all indulged us with details on Arly and Ellen.

It became clear that Arly was quite a popular kid, very athletic, excelled in dramatic arts and academics, played cello and always involved in the community. After two years of studying music and dappling in the performing arts at nearby Doane College, he followed his cello teacher to Pomona College in Claremont, California. Before long, he was spotted by a talent scout, enrolled in the MGM dramatic school, and eventually landed a contract with MGM.

According to Kral and Sanders’ “Profiles of Nationally Distinguished Nebraskans” (a book generously given to every attendee in a nice bag of local goodies), “After his father had unexpectedly died in October 1933, Arlington and his mother settled in Hollywood, where he re-enrolled in the MGM dramatic school, and on February 6, 1934 signed a contract with MGM for $35 per week, which made him the lowest paid actor in Hollywood history, where he remained for 25 years, longer than any other star at any Hollywood studio. He was also given the name Robert Taylor to increase his general appeal to more Americans.”

He was very close and devoted to his parents so it was incredibly hard on Taylor when his father died. The picture painted of Robert Taylor was of a very traditional, conservative and obedient man. He thrived and enjoyed the structure of the studio system, under Louis B. Mayer. Furthermore, the speakers supported a vision of Taylor being extremely loyal and obedient to LB Mayer, to his mother, and despite their long periods working apart and big differences in interests, to his first wife Barbara Stanwyck, married in 1939.

The speakers didn’t give a concise image on what the relationship was between his mother and his first wife, who each appeared to rule the roost when it came to Robert Taylor. But I did receive the strong message that Stanwyck never appreciated Taylor’s more humble Nebraskan roots. He traveled back home occasionally, for having a fruitful career in Hollywood, yet Stanwyck did only once- on April 28, 1939 for the premiere of her film, Cecil B. DeMille’s UNION PACIFIC (1939) in nearby Omaha. They shared a strong work ethic and helped balance each other during the transition to fame. Opposites do attract but he never let go of his small town values, his thirst for outdoorsy hobbies and easy-going style, which did not always match well with Stanwyck’s more sophisticated and cool style. And so the city mouse and country mouse divorced after 12 years, with no children together.

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Taylor’s second marriage in 1954 to German actress Ursula Schmidt Thiess was a much better fit, and more traditional balance of power. With two children from her previous marriage and two more of their own together (Terry and Tessa who have visited Beatrice for this event a few years ago), Taylor was finally a family man as he always envisioned.

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The most intriguing information was presented by author Linda Alexander, author of “Reluctant Witness: Robert Taylor, Hollywood and and Communism.” She gave a brief overview of Robert Taylor’s political life. Alexander touched upon the intense scrutiny and fears of Communist influences within the industry of the 1930s and 1940s that led to the formation of organizations such as Motion Picture Alliance for the Preservation of American Ideals and the HUAC (the House Un-American Activities Committee), and how his forced testimony affected his career and reputation.

In Hollywood at that time, key figures were targeted and played roles in “outing Communists,” were called to testify and asked to name names. Basically, pitting colleagues against one another and the studios themselves were under the same pressure. Some played ball, some did not, some were blacklisted and some felt the sting of loyalty to cooperate via scorn within their own ranks. It’s hard to imagine now that it was actually more protected and less openly scorn to be a member of the KKK than being a member of the Communist Party. Neither are illegal then or to this day.

But it was a complex time of paranoia, fear and betrayal. With a reputation of extreme obedience and conservative values, Robert Taylor was hand plucked to be the party lackey and studio stooge. It likely helped to keep HUAC off the studio’s backs by offering up the sacrificial lambs that not only named names but of course the victims of the witch hunts too.

Alexander’s book surmises that Robert Taylor was a “reluctant witness.” He did out Communists by name but did so under grave moral inner-conflict, a decision that plagued him for the rest of his career. While he continued to work in Hollywood and continued to be a staunch conservative, he faced scorn from many of his colleagues as a “fink.” Linda Alexander called Robert Taylor a victim of “reverse blacklisting.”

In interviewing Linda after her presentation, I discovered that his political entanglements were so controversial that the author initially received an even colder Nebraskan reception than Stanwyck. The town was quite sensitive and protective of their hometown hero. But Alexander was determined to explore the man behind the myth, a man that reminded her of her own father, and she has since enjoyed open arm welcomes by Beatrice after her book was published.

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The focus on Ellen Clancy aka Janet Shaw was more brief. Born in Beatrice on January 23, 1919, with a determined mother to create a starlet out of young Ellen, the Clancys moved to Hollywood in 1935. Jack Warner signed her with a seven year contract at the mere age of sixteen. With 71 acting credits in film and TV from 1935 to 1955, Shaw remains most known for her roles in JEZEBEL (1938), WATERLOO BRIDGE (1940) and SHADOW OF A DOUBT (1943). For me, her portrayal as Louise Finch the waitress in Alfred Hitchcock’s SHADOW OF A DOUBT is priceless.

Her first cousin, Frank W. Smith, was charming and heartfelt when he stood up and regaled stories of Ellen as a young girl, of visiting her and her mother in Hollywood, and full circle back to when he returned her home to Nebraska, already suffering from Alzheimer’s.

The rest of the afternoon included an old-fashioned church luncheon (where Taylor’s family belonged) and a matinee screening featuring both Taylor and Shaw along with Norma Shearer, Nazimova and Conrad Veidt in Mervyn LeRoy’s nail-biting, thwarting-nazis thriller, ESCAPE (1940). The film was terrific and I recommend it, by the way. A book signing, with Robert Taylor biographers Linda J. Alexander and Charles Tranberg, and banquet followed with Tranberg as key note speaker. Screening of Roy Rowland’s MANY RIVERS TO CROSS (1955) finished out the fest.

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I was unable to stay for the banquet and final screening, and unfortunately unable to chat more with author Charles Tranberg, who is a biographer of seven Hollywood star biographies. I believe a follow-up is in order with Chuck. I did speak with FB friend Bruce Crawford, host of Omaha’s Film Event and friend to countless Hollywood connections, who shared exciting news of his next mega event being a tribute to Christopher Reeve this November. Expect a very beautiful, former co-star as guest to headline the screening. Stay tuned to his site for more info to follow.

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One of the more fascinating attendees was a 92 year old woman named Elsa who flew in from Sacramento, CA. She claims to be the biggest Robert Taylor fan and after speaking with her, I’m convinced she deserves the title. Jeanelle Kleveland overheard her refer to “Bob Taylor” (she’s so intimate with her Robert Taylor fandom she calls him Bob) at the last TCM Film Festival. A fast friendship was formed and an invite to this event was a must. Elsa revealed that she keeps a calendar that marks significant Robert Taylor dates (birth, death, etc…) and she even sends flowers to his grave four times a year. Now that’s a fan!

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Overall, it was a delightful weekend devoted to classic film history, shared with fellow fans and friends. A special shout-out to Jeanelle Kleveland for inviting me, for emceeing the film screenings and generously driving us around to see the three childhood homes of Robert Taylor.

Living in a small Midwestern town myself, I can see how Robert Taylor never let go of Spangler Arlington Brugh and his earnest beginnings of a small, Midwestern town. It shapes its citizens. They realize their common bonds are what keeps them forging through the hard work, simple rewards and those harsh weather extremes uniquely of the Plains. Common bonds like taking joy in celebrating a hometown kid named Spangler who made it big. Really big. He never forgot his small town roots and even to this day, they’ve never forgotten him either.

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The Black Pools of Noir in MURDER, MY SWEET 1944

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It’s dark. Too dark to see without assistance from a handy flashlight to confirm the time on his watch. Private dick Philip Marlowe is scouting out the meeting place in a densely wooded area, just off the road. He walks cautiously as dense, smoky fog crawls along the ground, in his tipped fedora and buttoned up trench coat. He hears the snap of a twig underfoot, close range, and turns abruptly only to see a deer.

He heads back to his parked car. Leaning against the large, open top convertible and without looking down, he tells the man hiding in the back of his car- the same man who just hired him to go into those dark woods to help him buy back a stolen jade necklace- that they’re likely being watched and tested for obedience, for this mysterious exchange. Unexpectantly, Marlowe is suddenly struck from behind on the head. Hard.

As he slumps to the ground we hear him narrate in a raspy-smooth voice, “I caught the blackjack right behind my ear. A black pool opened up at my feet and I dived in. It had no bottom. I felt pretty good… like an amputated leg.” Visually we see black edges closing in on his unconsciousness body until total darkness fills the screen.

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This is just one scene from Edward Dmytryk’s MURDER, MY SWEET (1944) which perfectly evokes the many hallmarks of a signature film noir. Even before I completed the TCM/Ball State University course in Film Noir last summer, I had seen this film prior and knew this was what film noir is supposed to be.

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All the beautiful shades of shadows and light are glowing on the screen. Dick Powell as Philip Marlowe drops bitter and sarcastic cynacism in descriptive lingo that his profession as a hard-nosed private investigator affords. From time to time, he narrates to us. Often with uniquely descriptive metaphors. He’s no hero charging in wearing a ten gallon white hat, but he’s not exactly the villainous anti-hero either. Ultimately he does the right thing, but not out of conformity to society rules. He’s in business for himself.

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He fully appreciates a pretty dame- good or bad. And speaking of bad dames, a good film noir isn’t complete without a beautiful and cunning femme fatale. Enter Claire Trevor. He doesn’t fool easily, although he sometimes likes to lead on as though he does. And a typical film noir is based on a crime drama. The crime is presented via a missing girlfriend and jade necklace. But were they ever missing/stolen or merely borrowed? And why are so many people interested in hiring Marlowe to find- or bury -the truth? Time will reveal all as Marlowe finds himself a very popular dick for hire.

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And what about those black pools? Another calling card of a film noir is a dream sequence. The more trippier, the better. Marlowe swims in that black pool more than once and it gets saturated wet in trippy.

Now that we’ve laid out all the evidence why MURDER, MY SWEET (1944) qualifies as   a definitive film noir, let’s discuss why it’s also one of my favorites of this genre (and perhaps should be yours too):

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Dick Powell. Dick Powell has always been one of my favorites of the silver screen. But like so many, we were introduced to him through Pre-Codes. In the thirties, he shined as the upbeat, charming crooner of those terrific Busby Berkley musicals and other classics. He was usually the guy singing and smiling his way into the hearts of the sweet girl next door or sassy sidekick (like cuties Ruby Keeler and Joan Blondell). But for the first time in his career, MURDER, MY SWEET took a dramatic turn of character for Powell. His role as Philip Marlowe was a major risk that paid off successfully and launched him into the noir world and other dramatic roles. Not all actors can boast such a successful breaking of typecasting and transition so effectively into the changing times of the big screen. He would transition again post-noir as a producer and director.

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Because of his prior roles in the thirties and his natural skills in comedy, I’ll admit there were times in viewing this film for the first time that I expected him to go more campy. Especially considering the dialogue, one could easily play it as dark humor and break character. But he delivers with a five o’clock shave, a heavy-smoky voice and candidly acerbic tone that a gumshoe Marlowe demands.

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Claire Trevor. This role came right between her big roles as Dallas, a woman of ill-repute and good intentions, in STAGECOACH (1939) and Gaye Dawn, the complex mess of a lush in KEY LARGO (1948). The deeper I look into these roles, the more I’m convinced Claire Trevor is a highly underappreciated actor. The variety and nuances across these three roles are a testiment to her range. Here in MURDER, MY SWEET she plays the femme fatale very well, with sophisticated beauty masking her street-wise naughtiness as Helen Grayle.

Anne Shirley is another underrated actor. Her portrayal as Ann Grayle keeps you guessing sometimes to see if she plays the sinner or the saint, but the good girl emerges ultimately to give great contrast to Trevor. The role is not quite as meaty as it could be, so Trevor tends to steal the scenes.

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The love/hate dynamic between Marlowe and Moose Malloy. Mike Mazurki appealingly plays the big thug with a broken heart who possesses more brawn than brains. Malloy is more than a typical hired heavy. He’s an unexpected romantic yet also like a big, dumb animal that can’t figure out if he wants to play with his food. Unfortunately for Marlowe, he’s often on the dinner menu. But I like the way that, no matter how many times he gets hurt, there’s a part of Marlowe that looks upon Moose like a big puppy that somehow just doesn’t know any better.

Dialogue. Oh the writing in this film is priceless!

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In introducing Marlowe, he narrates, setting up a scene with visual artistry and coarse flair, as the camera cuts a path through images of the city at night with all the neon flashing landscape:

“It was seven o’clock. Anyway it was dark. I’m a homing pigeon. I always come back to the stinking coop no matter how late it is. I’d been out peeking under Sunday sections looking for an old barber named Dominic, whose wife wanted him back. I forget why. Only reason I took the job is because my bank account was trying to crawl under a duck. And I never found him.  I just found out all over just how big this city is. My feet hurt and my mind felt like a plumber’s handkerchief. The office bottle hadn’t sparked me up, so I’d taken out my little black book and decided to go grouse hunting. Nothing like soft shoulders to improve my morale. The soft shoulders had a date, thought she could do something about, was going to check right back. There’s something about the dead silence of an office building at night. Not quite real. The traffic down below was something that didn’t have anything to do with me.”  

What a fascinating way to introduce a character. It’s so quintessentially noir. Thanks to the stylistic writings of Raymond Chandler (novel) and John Paxton (screenplay), it strongly influenced an entire genre and style of film. Here are some more lines that make me smile…

On women:

“She was cute as lace pants.” (Moose Mallory)

“She was a charming middle-aged lady with a face like a bucket of mud. I gave her a drink. She was a gal who’d take a drink, if she had to knock you down to get the bottle.”

On love and such romantic notions:

“I tried to picture him in love with somebody, but it didn’t work.” (Marlowe on Malloy)

“He’s in love and in a big hurry. He’ll get over that.” 

Helen Grayle: “I find men *very* attractive.”
Philip Marlowe: “I imagine they meet you halfway.”

On being roughed up or drugged up:

“My throat felt sore, but the fingers feeling it didn’t feel anything. They were just a bunch of bananas that looked like fingers.”

“‘Okay Marlowe,’ I said to myself. ‘You’re a tough guy. You’ve been sapped twice, choked, beaten silly with a gun, shot in the arm until you’re crazy as a couple of waltzing mice. Now let’s see you do something really tough – like putting your pants on.'”

And these lines gave me a chuckle:

“He died in the middle of a glass of beer. His wife Jessie finished it for him.”

“It was a nice little front yard. Cozy, okay for the average family. Only you’d need a compass to go to the mailbox. The house was all right, too, but it wasn’t as big as Buckingham Palace.”


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This post was my contribution to the Film Noir Blogathon, hosted by Quiggy of The Midnite Drive-In, Aug. 12-14. And kudos to Connie of Silver Scenes for the fabulous banners. With a tremendous list of participants, I encourage you to read these noir knock-outs.

Annette & Frankie’s BEACH PARTY Ice Cream Social

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When I heard Fritzi of Movies Silently had this cool idea for an Ice Cream Social themed blogathon, serving up some sweet treats to kick off the summer, I was on board. Surf board, that is. According to Fritzi, the idea is to review a movie, post an article or share a recipe that has a sunny plot or has the power to cheer you up when you’re feeling down. She also encouraged us to write an article sharing happy movie memories, classic movie humor, and/or share an ice cream/frozen dessert/summer sweet recipe based on a star or film.

So when I noticed that William Asher’s BEACH PARTY (1963) was in the Roger Corman guest programmer line-up of AIP films this week on Turner Classic Movies, all those childhood memories flashed before me of cooling down hot summer days at my grandparents’ lake house by watching beach party and surfer flicks as ice cream and Bombpops melted down my sticky hands. Seemed appropriate to this blogathon to share a sweet treat or two, inspired by Frankie and Annette, along with all the kookiest surfer kids (plus cameos of September screen legends) in those silly, nonsensical films.

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[For an overview of the cultural influences of all five of the American International Pictures’ “Beach Party”movies, including BEACH PARTY (1963), click HERE.]

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When I think of Annette Funicello, three things pop in my head: her Disney Mousketeer days, her “beach party” roles, singing with her helmet of hair-sprayed do and perfectly tailored bikinis, and Skippy peanut butter ads. Let’s serve up an ice cream sandwich with creamy peanut butter that even Annette would approve…

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Peanutty Ice-Cream Sandwiches:

Ingredients:

2/3 cup butter or margarine
2 cups quick-cooking oats, uncooked
3/4 cup firmly packed dark brown sugar
1/2 cup finely chopped dry-roasted peanuts
1 large egg, lightly beaten
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup chunky peanut butter
3 cups vanilla ice cream, softened
1 cup coarsely chopped dry-roasted peanuts
Preparation
Prep: 20 Minutes
Cook: 5 Minutes
Bake: 11 Minutes
Freeze: 1 Hour, 30 Minutes

Melt butter in a Dutch oven over medium heat. Remove from heat, and stir in oats and next 7 ingredients. Drop oat mixture by tablespoonfuls 3 inches apart onto a parchment paper-lined baking sheet. Spread each dollop of cookie batter to form a 3-inch circle.

Bake at 350° for 9 to 11 minutes or until edges are golden. Remove from pan, and cool completely on a wire rack.

Swirl peanut butter into softened ice cream. Freeze 30 minutes. Scoop ice cream evenly on flat sides of half of cookies; top with remaining cookies, flat sides down. Roll sides of sandwiches in coarsely chopped peanuts. Place in plastic or wax paper sandwich bags, and freeze at least 1 hour.

Note: Do not substitute a greased baking sheet for parchment paper. Cookies will slide and tear.


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For a yummy treat to cool down Annette (“Dolores” in BEACH PARTY) after chasing charming Bob Cummings (“Professor Robert Orwell Sutwell”) sporting his Tiki hat as she attempts to make Frankie (aka “Frankie”) jealous, this cool dessert should do the trick…

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RASBERRY ICE BOX CAKE:

Ingredients
24 graham crackers, crushed
1/3 cup butter
1/4 cup packed brown sugar
1 (6 ounce) package raspberry flavored Jell-O(R) mix
1 cup boiling water
 15 ounces frozen raspberries
20 large marshmallows
1/3 cup milk
1 cup heavy whipping cream, whipped
Directions
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C).
Mix graham cracker wafer crumbs, butter and brown sugar until well combined. Set aside 1/4 cup of this mixture for a topping and press the remainder into one 9×13 inch pan.
Bake at 350 degrees F (175 degrees C) for 10 minutes. Set aside to cool.
Dissolve raspberry gelatin in the boiling water and add the frozen raspberries, stirring until melted. Chill until partially set and spread on wafer base.
Melt marshmallows with the milk. When cool, fold in whipped cream and spread on top of raspberry mixture. Sprinkle with remaining crumbs. Chill for 3-4 hours before serving.

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*This post was my contribution to Movies Silently’s Classic Movie Ice Cream Social (a blogathon of cheer!), taking place May 20-23, 2016. There’s a sweet list of scrumptious bloggers on the menu of participants so scoop ’em out!

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A PreCode Paralyzed Piranha: Walter Huston in A HOUSE DIVIDED (1931)

One of the many joys of attending a classic film festival such as the recent TCM Classic Film Festival, sometimes you get a chance to screen a film for the first time. When seeing a decades old film for the very first time, yet on the big screen, it’s like momentarily slipping back in time. I imagined what it may have been for audiences of the past.

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Recently at #TCMFF 2016, I experienced such a unique pleasure in screening William Wyler’s A HOUSE DIVIDED (1931). It’s a PreCode with such dark tones, that Czar of Noir Eddie Muller himself introduced this screening with a brief interview of Wyler’s son, David Wyler.

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The story takes place in a small fishing town, centered on the main character, Walter Huston as Seth Law. He’s a strong, mean, miserable son of a bitch. As low brow as that sounds, I’m underselling it. Seth’s wife has just died so he takes his son, Douglass Montgomery/Kent Douglass as Matt Law, to the local dive to get drunk. Initially we give him some slack in his aggressive handling of the situation, assuming temporary grief. Soon Seth’s true nature becomes clear as he cruelly berates his son to prove his manhood and by attempting to force him to drink heavily. Matt is uncomfortable and offended by his father’s behavior but not strong enough to stand up to him. In his aggression, the father openly manhandles women as he slings back shots then starts a violent brawl that finishes with Matt out cold.

In striking contrast to his father, Matt is a kind, gentle and handsome blond lad. Back home, Seth announces he will simply replace his wife with a mail-order bride of strong stock. He has plucked her from a simple description in a catalogue (in “Heart and Hand” magazine, selecting a 35-year-old, hard-working good cook named Ada Peterson); not unlike picking out the strongest draft horse for the farm. Calculated enough to know his son would make the more persuasive communicator, Seth tells Matt to write the letter. Matt gingerly approaches his domineering dad with a trade. Now that he’s older and there’s help on the way, he wants to branch out on his own. He’s never liked it there. And who could blame him?

On the day of the new bride’s arrival, Matt is unable to convince his father to ‘clean up’ to greet his betrothed. Instead, he treated it like any other day, went about his fishing business and left it up to Matt to welcome her. A true romantic. When a young, very attractive, slight wisp of a gal shows up at the door, Matt is confused.

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This nineteen year old is evidently not the Ada Peterson as advertised. Young Ruth Evans (Helen Chandler) explains that she came in her friend’s place because the original bride-to-be had already married another by his letter’s arrival. There is an instant chemistry between the two. She initially assumes Matt is her groom.

Reality comes crashing in soon enough after he explains the mix-up and Pops walks in. In his socially inept and jarring method, Seth inspects his new livestock with disapproval. Ruth begs for him to reconsider because she has no where else to go. Besides, if his son is so sweet, how bad can dad be, right? Ruth eventually convinces him to change his mind after he realizes his pretty new bride can provide assets that a housekeeper cannot. Now he inspects her with hungry eyes. She’s switched to deep regret. Apprehensive, she ponders her mistake yet reluctantly moves forward with the wedding. It’s clear that without someone to stand up to Seth, she is not strong enough, physically nor rhetorically, to persuade him otherwise.

At the wedding ceremony, a crowd of unruly, drunken locals align with Seth’s behavior yet widen her eyes to the grim future before her. She’s sunk. After the spectacle of ill manners, Seth approaches Ruth back at the house. He’s ready for bed time, looking at her like she’s a gazelle dinner at a lion den. She openly states she’s made a big mistake; she tries to talk him out of it. Her pleas fall flat on his ears. He wants his dinner and he doesn’t care if she doesn’t comply.

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Matt finally intervenes and a violent confrontation ensues. The fight ends with Matt assuming he’s accidentally killed his father. No such luck. The town doctor is called and he says Seth will likely never walk again. Ruth and Matt feel doomed and torn, trapped by an obligation to stay. Meanwhile, this tragedy and a bond of fear of Seth has only drawn them closer together.

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Seth is determined to grow stronger and defy the doctor’s diagnosis. He is more ruthless than ever before to assert his bullying power over his son and display his machismo to his young bride. It’s nighttime. An intense storm is brewing outside. Matt slips into Ruth’s room. She confides in him that she is too afraid to stay a moment longer. They plan to escape together.

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Seth, whose bed has been set up on the main floor downstairs for obvious reasons, picks up that something is going on. With paralyzed legs, he pulls himself off the bed and crawls along the floor towards the staircase. Slowly and surely, he drags his body up each spindle of each step, along the outside of the staircase. His strong and determined arms pull him up as he peers onto the second floor. There light coming from underneath Ruth’s door.

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Sitting on her bed, as Ruth and Matt find love and solace in each other’s arms, Matt attempts to convince her to stay until morning, after the storm settles down. Ruth expresses that she is too filled with fear to wait. Just then, Seth bursts in. What follows is a frightening, suspenseful explosion of violence, fear and a chase through a horrific stormy sea.

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I’ve never been so freaked out by a paralyzed cinematic figure before. When Walter Huston crawls and drags his way upstairs, you do not think of him as having the disadvantage in power. Not in the slightest. Instead, you are biting your nails and gripped by your own fears that his son Matt will meet his doom.

That’s how intense, strong and cruel he comes across. It also has an eery quality that reminded me heavily of Tod Browning’s FREAKS (1932) when you see them crawl in the muddy muck under the circus trailer, with knife clinched in teeth, to hunt down their deserving victim.

The violent explosion between Matt and Seth is indeed a nail-biter. Seth pulls his body around the room on the floor, posturing his body to block, shoving chests of drawers and beds around like they were kindling, and one-handedly throwing a chair down the stairs after Matt, knocking him out. Trust me, there is no handicap on Seth’s part.

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I won’t give up the exact ending but the climax is palatably intense, with Seth remaining a terrifying threat right up to the end. Walter Huston makes this role. In his PreCode days, he sometimes played a father figure, or a cop, but was a master as the villain. There is something about his presence. When he says something, you believe it. His face scrunches up in an evil snarl. He’s defiant, intimidating, menacing, with a confidence deep in his bones that comes across boldly on the screen. There are many great screen villains, but I guarantee you’ll never forget this one.

This was my contribution to The Great Villains Blogathon, hosted by those lovely blogging ladies Kristina of SPEAKEASY, Ruth of SILVER SCREENINGS and Karen of SHADOWS and SATIN, May 15-20.

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Happy #ClassicMovieDay! My 5 Movies on an Island

 

May 16th is National Classic Movie Day.

Rick of CLASSIC FILM & TV CAFE chose to honor this with the 5 Movies On An Island Blogathon. As Rick states, “the intent is for participants to write about the five classic movies they’d want to have with them if stranded on a deserted island. (Yes, you can assume you have electricity, a projector, big screen, and popcorn!)” I’m so glad Rick allowed us the popcorn. I’ll take it a step further and assume a comfy couch, dark chocolate and my family and friends.

Five Movies Blogathon

I’ve thought long and hard on this daunting task. Daunting, that is, for any true classic film fan whenever asked to narrow down their top films. Especially when one enjoys such an eclectic variety of film. But to add to the challenge, this isn’t as simple as listing off your favorite five films. Au contraire. One must consider these would be your ONLY five films.

So I thought of all the factors that must be considered. What films could be watched hundreds of times over? Staying power… check. What if you have nothing but the beautiful sunrises and sunsets, the warm sand, gentle ocean breezes and cocoanuts to entertain you? Alright, obviously that sounds beyond terrific, but even in paradise we Old Movie Weirdos need our cinema. Entertaining, got it. Also, what films (and charismatic stars) would keep you company over the years stuck on that island? Even Gilligan had an entourage after all. So, a large ensemble of cast may be in order. Hmmm… check.

Comedy has always been my favorite genre, especially when the chips are down. As my predictament of being separated from society would more than likely present an earnest challenge to my serious need for socialization, comedies would be a must. Check. But then I paused for a moment… I needed the inclusion for inspiration of the human spirit. It may be the magic elixar for the optimism required to keep hope of being rescued someday. Ah yes, that would be a nice feather in the cap, too.

Noting all of these factors with this belaboured process, I reached the following results:

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  1. THE GREAT RACE (1965). It’s no secret this has been a favorite of mine since childhood. It hit most of the check marks too. Definitely a comedy. And not just any comedy, but a comedy dedicated to the great Laurel & Hardy and director Blake Edward’s own way of paying homage to that entire wonderful era of comedic filmmaking. Ensemble cast. And what a terrific cast- Tony Curtis and Natalie Wood in their prime, with Jack Lemmon and Peter Falk that make me laugh until I cry, and a team of funny character actors like Keenan Wynn, Larry Storch and Vivian Vance, too. For for a full review and details on this one, click HERE.

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2.  IT’S A MAD, MAD, MAD, MAD WORLD (1963). Here’s another film that I’ve seen countless times over and have no issue in seeing it another hundreds of times more. Additionally, this one also checks the boxes for both comedy and ensemble casting. With a terrific sense of adventure, I know all of these comedy legends would keep me laughing and company on those lonesome nights with only the gritty sand in my toes. Click HERE for more details on why I think this film would be perfectly suited in my island of five.

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3. ARSENIC and OLD LACE (1944). I wouldn’t dare be stuck on a stranded island without my Cary Grant, of course. And a screwball or romantic comedy would be just the ticket. But the Sophie’s Choice faced me down. Which Cary Grant film? THE PHILADELPHIA STORY? BRINGING UP BABY? THE AWFUL TRUTH? MY FAVORITE WIFE? It was practically a coin toss but I finally came to the decision to go with the screwiest one of the lot. And while it may be Grant’s least favorite of his films, in many ways it’s my most. Besides, nothing makes you feel better about your crazy predicament than knowing at least you’re not with a bunch of murderers where insanity runs in the family so much that it “it practically gallops.”

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4. GOLD DIGGERS OF 1933 (1933). I knew a musical would be on my list. Oh sure, a grand and technicolor MGM sort would be delightful, or perhaps the SOUND OF MUSIC would be a fine choice for something uplifting with a plethora of earworms to sing along on the beach. Or even some Ginger and Fred or Gene Kelly? For me, a Busby Berkley vehicle from the deliciously naughty PreCode era is more my style. But again, the task of narrowing it down faced me. FOOTLIGHT PARADE ? 42nd STREET? Truly tough options but GOLD DIGGERS OF 1933 was my first BB love. And with a cast that includes Joan Blondell, Aline MacMahon, Warren William, Ginger Rogers, Dick Powell, Guy Kibbee, Ned Sparks, Ruby Keeler (hello, PreCode dream team!) with toe-tapping tunes as “We’re In The Money,” “Pettin’ In The Park” and “Remember My Forgotten Man,” my lonely troubles would easily melt away.

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5. IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE (1946). When addressing the very last slot, it’s a real toughie. I won’t deny that films like THE THIN MAN, CITY LIGHTS and a variety of Hitchcock films ran through my mind. I wanted to pick an inspirational film. One that moves me to tears. One that’s so classic it will feel moving every time. With just the right amount of comedy and still uplifting in the end, despite the dark tones, Frank Capra’s IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE fits the bill. When straddled with a bleak outlook and challenging obstacles, George Bailey is my go-to guy.

Hope you enjoyed my list and process. As you can see, I enjoyed it too but it was not an easy endeavor. What are your classic five films if stranded on a deserted island? And why? Whatever your picks may be, go enjoy National Classic Movie Day this May 16th by enjoying one or several cinema treasures. If you’re a classic film freak like me, it’s a holiday to celebrate all year long.

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