TopBilled

TopBilled’s Essentials

604 posts in this topic

On 4/14/2018 at 8:35 PM, Jlewis said:

I watched this one on American Movie Classics back when it aired old movies, pre-1990s. For a while it was hard to get on DVD, although multiple radio adaptations (like the Screen Directors' Playhouse version) were always accessible online. It doesn't get nearly enough promotion like other classics of its era, which is a shame.

It is one of the cinema's great horror films.

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On 4/14/2018 at 5:35 PM, Jlewis said:

I watched this one on American Movie Classics back when it aired old movies, pre-1990s. For a while it was hard to get on DVD, although multiple radio adaptations (like the Screen Directors' Playhouse version) were always accessible online. It doesn't get nearly enough promotion like other classics of its era, which is a shame.

In 2013 Robert Osborne and Rose McGowan presented this film on TCM, calling it an Essential. I am surprised THE SPIRAL STAIRCASE does not air more often on the channel. What's not to love about it.

One professional critic claims THE SPIRAL STAIRCASE is a precursor of the modern slasher movie, which I think is a bit of an exaggeration. This is because there are mostly women living in the house and a few of them are targeted by the killer. But George Brent's character is not a slasher, he's a strangler.

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Here's the introduction Osborne and McGowan did for THE SPIRAL STAIRCASE. I found it on YouTube:

 

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If you like ink blot tests then you won't want to miss my upcoming review for

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Essential: THE DARK MIRROR (1946)

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In this film Robert Siodmak directs Olivia de Havilland as a pair of twins who foul up a murder investigation. The murder takes place in the opening shots, and it's shocking. Siodmak's use of unlit stage areas deliberately keeps us at a disadvantage and increases the mystery. We know the assailant is in the room, having just stabbed Dr. Peralta with a sharp object, but we cannot see her face.

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A veteran homicide detective (Thomas Mitchell) is determined to solve the case as quickly as possible. But just when it looks like he is about to nail Terry Collins, his investigation hits a snag. Eyewitness accounts that place her at the scene of the crime are contradicted by several other people who can vouch for Terry's whereabouts when the murder was committed. Of course, none of the witnesses know Terry has a twin; and neither does the detective until he stops by Terry's apartment.

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The women are coy with him. They admit nobody at the high rise building where they work know they are twins. This includes the elevator boy Rusty (Richard Long) who has a crush on Terry; as well as Dr. Scott Elliott (Lew Ayres), a psychiatrist with an office in the building who also has romantic feelings for Terry. Both Scott and Rusty become confused when they learn the truth and realize they actually might have had feelings for Ruth, the sister.

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Soon the ladies are arrested on suspicion of murder. But the witnesses still can't positively identify one sister over the other. There is a lineup, and more interrogation. But they cover for each other. Their game prevents the police and prosecutors from successfully charging either one of them with murder. Though it is obvious they are obstructing justice, they are allowed to leave the station. But as luck would have it, there might be a way to pin the killing on the correct culprit after all.

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It seems Scott Elliott has written a book about twins. He convinces the women to be part of his ongoing research. Scott is in love with Terry, and he is anxious to prove she is innocent and that Ruth belongs in the electric chair. The script, written by Nunnally Johnson, gets a bit technical in spots with its share of psychological mumbo jumbo. But mostly Johnson and Siodmak keep it simple enough for viewers to understand. And Siodmak's staging and camera work assist the story at every turn.

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There are some neat twists in the second half of the story. It veers into melodrama when it is revealed that Ruth loves Scott, and she's jealous of Terry. This reflects the motive for her killing the other doctor, since Peralta had also loved Terry, and not Ruth. In a jealous rage she stabbed Peralta, and now she is going to set Terry up to take the fall so she can swoop in and win Scott, by posing as the more innocent Terry.

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The acting is uniformly good, and Olivia De Havilland gives a standout performance (two standout performances). She has a field day with the 'which one is she' set-up, and the scenes where the twins undergo ink blot tests and lie detector tests are expertly played. Given what we know about her real-life conflicts with sister Joan Fontaine, I couldn't help but think Olivia was deftly spoofing Joan.

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Ayres is also effective, showing the quiet desperation of a man eager to help the woman he loves. This was Ayres' first picture since the war. A few years earlier he had been unceremoniously dropped by MGM after claiming he was a conscientious objector. It would have been objectionable if Ayres' career had not been allowed to continue. Just as it is objectionable for one sister to steal the happiness of another sister who still has so much to give.

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THE DARK MIRROR may currently be viewed on YouTube.

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On 4/7/2018 at 11:05 AM, TopBilled said:

 

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THE SUSPECT may currently be seen on YouTube.

Excellent write up on this film.  One of the things i love about the film, and you pointed out, is the setting. I love British settings in movies.  This film captured it perfectly.  As you pointed out, the wardrobe, characters, everything, really captured London.  I saw this on Youtube.  There are copies at a couple of mom and pop retailers online.  Amazon has a region 2 for almost $68 which shows you the rarity of this film.  SOMEBODY has got to get the rights and give it a proper treatment.  Again, excellent review you did.😃

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On 7/30/2016 at 3:11 PM, TopBilled said:

Essential: THE DIVORCE OF LADY X (1938)

 

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THE DIVORCE OF LADY X was released in North America by United Artists and was made by Alexander Korda’s London Films company. It boasts impressive Technicolor as well as elegant costuming and sets. It’s safe to say many films in 1938 were not this technically advanced. It had an American director, so its humor seems to translate well. Plus the cast was already becoming known in Hollywood productions– a group which includes Laurence Olivier, Merle Oberon and Binnie Barnes.

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Olivier and Oberon would soon pair up again for a completely different type of film– Samuel Goldwyn’s adaptation of WUTHERING HEIGHTS. But in this picture, they are playing characters and a scenario that is about as far from Bronte as you can possibly imagine.

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It’s a shame Oberon wasn’t photographed more often in color during the 1930s and 1940s, when she was at her peak. Her complexion is absolutely flawless. 

Wow!  I kid you not.  I decided to go to the beginning of this thread and see the gems you have posted that i haven't seen.   BEFORE i even got to this movie, i started thinking about the movie The Lady and the Cowboy starring Gary Cooper and Merle Oberon and how its another unknown film that I love. Next thing you know, i'm scrolling down and seeing this post. I was smitten by Oberon in The Lady and the Cowboy.  I'm gonna check this recommendation out and post a review. Thanx...

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Essential: THE FILE ON THELMA JORDON (1950)

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J for Jordan. There it is. Right after I for Ivers, which of course comes after D for Dietrichson. Thelma Jordan's file is thick. Like Martha Ivers and Phyllis Dietrichson. They sure had their share of trouble. Maybe that's what makes them so much fun to watch on screen, thanks to Barbara Stanwyck, who expertly plays three distinct yet related faces of evil.

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Robert Siodmak's production shares thematic similarities with earlier pictures by Lewis Milestone and Billy Wilder, but this story contains a shadowy subtext. Stanwyck is in full femme fatale mode, playing a woman trying to break free of the past. This time she is involved in the death of another "loved one." It's her Aunt Vera (Gertrude Hoffmann). Vera has taken her in, and Thelma functions as the elderly woman's companion. Though Vera is frail she is nowhere near dying. So Thelma decides to hurry things along one night during a storm.

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Thelma blames her aunt's murder on a prowler, but the police figure she's behind it. In order to get away with the crime, Thelma needs the help of a lawyer (Wendell Corey). Cleve Marshall works in the district attorney's office. He's very skilled at his job, and he's very married. He previously met Thelma when she turned up to see his boss. They ended up having a drink and spending time together. He fell in love with Thelma, which she realized she could to use to her advantage to create a new life.

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After Thelma is arrested on suspicion of murder, she works her feminine wiles on Cleve so he will throw the case in her favor.  There are trial scenes which Siodmak and cameraman George Barnes stage very precisely. While the ins and outs of the legal system are observed, most of the action is focused on Thelma's ability to manipulate the judicial process. Part of her case involves the existence of a "Mr. X" who was with her the night of Vera's death. Cleve's boss (Paul Kelly) is unable to figure out Mr. X's identity until the very end.

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Perhaps the best sequence is the part where the verdict comes in and Thelma is marched over from the women's jail across the street. She passes reporters on the sidewalk and heads up the steps into the courtroom. Siodmak's direction is straight forward, and the sequence has a semi-documentary feel to it. It works very well, especially when Thelma is exonerated by the jury.

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One can only imagine how many other crimes Thelma committed that aren't included in her file. Siodmak and writer Ketti Frings could have added flashbacks, where we saw Thelma pulling earlier scams. And we could have learned what brought her to live with her Aunt Vera in the first place. Then how Thelma persuaded Aunt Vera to change the will and make her the sole beneficiary. Did Aunt Vera see something good in her?

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Of course there wasn't anything good in Phyllis Dietrichson; she was rotten to the core. And there was very little evidence of goodness in Martha Ivers. But Thelma Jordon's personality is different. For awhile things are going her way. Until she decides to do the right thing and let Cleve go. After a car accident, she's taken to the hospital where she confesses some of what she's done. But she does not want to reveal that Cleve was Mr. X, because he was Mr. Right. And for a time, he made her forget everything that was so schizophrenic about her life.

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...may currently be viewed on YouTube.

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Coming up in May:

Telling their own story

The real version and the slightly fictionalized account.

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5th: JUST ANOTHER MISSING KID (1982)

12th: INTO THIN AIR (1985)

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19th: News clips of Audie Murphy

26th: TO HELL AND BACK (1955) 

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Essential: JUST ANOTHER MISSING KID (1982)

The Fifth Estate is an award-winning Canadian news program, sort of like 60 Minutes. It's been televised since 1975, and typically its broadcasts are an hour long. In 1982 a special 90-minute edition was produced about a case that had captured the Canadian public's interest. It was called "Just Another Missing Kid" and was so well-received the producers released it as a documentary film in the U.S. where it won an Academy Award.

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Young Eric Wilson was not just another missing kid. He was a college student who came from a good background and his disappearance was quite different from most teens who go missing each year. Eric's parents were separated; he and two brothers lived with their mother in Ottawa; while their father had moved to Los Angeles. Eric enrolled in a summer writing course at a college in Colorado and drove a van that he and his brother owned to Boulder. His mother Marilyn asked that he check in while he was on the road. The last call Eric made was from somewhere in Nebraska on the 10th of July in 1978. Then they never heard from him again; he and the van both vanished without a trace.

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The documentary chronicles the family's search to find out what happened to Eric after they lost contact with him. It plays as as a mystery and a family drama. "Just Another Missing Kid" is different from other non-fiction films because Eric's parents and brothers retrace their steps and re-enact portions of what happened. The idea of using real-life subjects to portray themselves and act out scenes was not usually how documentaries were made at this time. In case things start to seem too staged, director John Zaritsky wisely cuts to more traditional interview segments where the participants describe their feelings about what was occurring.

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The family would of course find out that Eric was murdered and the van was stolen. So when we reach that part of the story, the narrative becomes more about their quest for justice and ensuring that Eric's two killers were brought to trial. Because the Wilsons were a Canadian-based family that approached the situation from the outside, they learned the hard way about jurisdictional procedures and how the law worked across international and state borders. The police made a lot of mistakes which the filmmakers are not afraid to depict. As Eric's brother Peter says at one point, justice probably would not have been served if the family had not persisted and hired their own investigator to do the police's job for them.

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The Wilsons are very stoic and do not tear up on camera. They are very matter of fact and seem to be saying through their actions and commentary that they experienced a terrible ordeal but it did not devastate or destroy them. The situation was placed on them and they dealt with it. They followed through for Eric's sake because he was not just any ordinary kid who decided to run away from home one day. Something horrible happened, and they needed answers.

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JUST ANOTHER MISSING KID may currently be viewed on YouTube.

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Wasn't this terrible story turned into a tv movie that starred Ellen Burstyn?

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7 minutes ago, rayban said:

Wasn't this terrible story turned into a tv movie that starred Ellen Burstyn?

Yes, Ray. I am going to review the TV movie next weekend. So stay tuned!

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Essential: INTO THIN AIR (1985)

Last week I reviewed the documentary "Just Another Missing Kid." It was about college-aged Eric Wilson who disappeared without a trace. He'd been traveling from his home in Ottawa to school in Colorado one summer when he was kidnapped and killed. The van he was driving turned up on the east coast, where the Wilsons hired a detective to find out what happened. The police did not seem too interested in the case, since according to them there are many young adults who go missing each year (as if it's no big deal).

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The documentary was produced in 1982 by Canadian television and screened as a documentary feature in the United States, where it won an Academy Award. Three years later ITC secured the rights to dramatize the story as a made-for-television movie. The result was Into Thin Air which aired on CBS in late 1985 and starred Ellen Burstyn. Though the Wilsons had told their own story in the first film and even re-enacted key sequences, network executives wanted to tell it again with professional actors.

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In a production like this comparisons to the actual story are inevitable. The producers of a TV drama are going to take liberties, though it often isn't necessary. One major difference is the Wilson name has been changed to Walker. I suppose that was done to protect the family. However, the detective does not have an alias; so actor Robert Prosky is portraying Jim Conway as Jim Conway.

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When you watch the documentary first, followed by the TV movie, you can see how much hokum Hollywood screenwriters and directors like to put on screen. They go out of their way to make Eric as fun-loving as possible in the first ten minutes, playing loud music and goofing around with his brothers; so we can see what a "real" teenager he is (by 1985 standards). Also, the mother keeps telling him to call home when he's on the road. All this is done to signal the viewer he won't call home anymore after a certain point, and this loving perfect family will be shattered into a million pieces.

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There is a segment after he's gone missing, where the oldest brother and father search for him in Nebraska. In the documentary, the brother tells us they were haunted every time they saw a van pass by thinking it must be Eric. If Alfred Hitchcock had filmed this TV movie, he would have shown their psychological torture in close-ups every time a van drove by. But in the TV movie, the director wants to give us something more-- some big heart-pounding action-- so when they see a van drive by, they chase after it down the highway like a bat out of hell. They end up pushing the van off on to the shoulder of the road, the tires practically leaving skid marks on the pavement, just to see if Eric's inside. I can only imagine what the Wilsons thought when they watched it.

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To its credit the TV movie does keep us fairly entertained, if that's the right word. Ellen Burstyn and Robert Prosky do an admirable job conveying the predicament the characters are faced with, which helps the whole thing. Burstyn catches herself using Method Actor tricks and refocuses on the gravity of the situation. There are a few lines where she is supposed to rail at the ineptitude of the American justice system, and while the dialogue was cringe in those instances, she overcomes it with a realistic performance.

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When you watch something like this, you realize just how important it is for a grieving family to get assurances from a detective. Often the detective is the only one who gives them anything solid to go on. It's a meaningful relationship that occurs in spite of tragic circumstances. Circumstances where their idyllic suburban life went poof.

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INTO THIN AIR may currently be viewed on YouTube.

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47 minutes ago, ChristineHoard said:

Did Eric's family ever get justice?

It took awhile but yes.

Eric's body, if you can believe it, was held as evidence until after the trial. But because there were considerable delays extraditing one of the killers from another state to Colorado to stand trial (where the murder took place), this dragged out for a few years. Eric Wilson was murdered in July 1978 but the killers were not convicted until 1981.

Therefore, the Wilson family had to wait three years before they could bring Eric home to Canada. They had him cremated, which is mentioned in the documentary. But in the TV movie, the producers wanted a big scene with the body being flown home on a plane, so no cremation is mentioned. I guess it's not dramatic enough for a box with an urn containing ashes to be shipped home to the grieving family.

The TV movie also gave us a different kind of death scene. In the documentary it is mentioned how Eric was driven off the main road, tied up in the back of the van, to a remote desert area outside Grand Junction Colorado. He was killed in the bushes and his body left to decompose. In the TV movie they had him thrown off a bridge into icy cold water with his body washing up on a snowy bank. That was certainly ridiculous because again he died in July when there would have been no snow.

Both killers wound up with a reduced sentence with a maximum of 25 years. They were eligible for parole after 10 years. The longest either one of them served was 13 years. Meaning they were both back out on the streets by 1994.

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Proving that the pursuit of justice can be just as dire as the crime itself.

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2 minutes ago, rayban said:

Proving that the pursuit of justice can be just as dire as the crime itself.

Yes. Exactly. Since both the documentary and TV movie are currently on YouTube, I highly recommend watching them. If you only have time for one, pick the documentary. There's a reason it won an Oscar. It's really well done, covering the whole thing from 1978 up through 1981. The TV movie ends with the killers confessing. But the documentary takes us into the process with the courts and how long it took for them to be convicted.

One of the killers struck a deal with prosecutors to rat out the other killer, on the condition he be given a jail term in a separate prison because he was afraid of reprisals from his partner in crime. However, the prison he was sent to had a riot and he ended up being sent back to the original prison where the other guy was incarcerated. So the documentary also touches on the problems within the American prison system.

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On Saturday I will go over some news clips of Audie Murphy. 

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Join me.

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Essential: Audie Murphy

This week I thought I'd highlight three clips I found on YouTube. They help us understand Audie Murphy not only as a decorated hero, but also as a humble American.

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https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wF1F1kRTpWE

Audie Murphy Discusses WW2

This short clip is from a radio interview Audie did on Veterans Day in 1963. The interviewer, Vince D'Angelo, tells us Audie was at that time a major in the U.S. Army reserve, and he was widely respected in the military for his service during the Second World War.

Audie says he was originally in the army for three years but it felt longer. He had basic training in his home state of Texas, then additional training in Maryland before he was shipped overseas. He saw action in North Africa and in France. Audie is asked to describe his most memorable day during the war, and he says it was the day he learned the war was over. He had been traveling by train to the French Riviera on a three-day pass.

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https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zbCAjOeZPUo

Audie Murphy - America's most decorated soldier of WWII awarded Texas Supreme Military Honor

This one is a recording of a Texas legislative session in 2014. Audie was posthumously awarded the state's highest military honor by the governor, Rick Perry, after a long grassroots effort. The recording is about eight minutes, and the first five minutes provide a good overview of Audie's relationship with the army, not only during the war, but long after the war ended. He worked with the government on several documentaries, helped with recruiting, and also spoke openly about the effects of post-traumatic stress. You can't help but get choked up listening to it.

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https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZX2PbzV1go8

The History of Audie Murphy

This piece is more kid-friendly, though I'd recommend it for people of all ages. It is a short educational video that covers Audie's life with a focus on his military heroism. The narrator tells us Audie was too young when he tried to enlist in the army after Pearl Harbor so the following June when he turned 17, his sister helped him lie about his age (by adding a year) so he could join up. He was almost rejected again because of his short height and meager weight. He was accepted in as a cook but convinced officers he could handle combat. This video mentions that in addition to his service in Africa and France he also saw action in Italy.

The video describes some of the hardships he faced overseas, including a bout with malaria. His battle with a German machine gun crew is recounted as an example of his bravery. This led to his being given the Distinguished Service Cross, one of many commendations he received. Other heroic adventures are mentioned and we're told that altogether he received 33 different medals or citations.

The clip goes beyond his time in the war. His movie career is discussed, as well as his later years. We are told about his autobiography TO HELL AND BACK. It was turned into a Universal motion picture in which he starred as himself. I will review that feature film next week.

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You do realize that some of us are clicking on the images that look like videos first rather than the links. (Yes, I am not the brightest bulb in the box.) I think it was Audie's personality that is what sold him as a star more than his military decorations. James Cagney certainly saw star power in him, giving him his first big break. Only 45 when he died in an airplane crash not far from all-mysterious Roanoke.

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1 hour ago, Jlewis said:

You do realize that some of us are clicking on the images that look like videos first rather than the links. (Yes, I am not the brightest bulb in the box.) I think it was Audie's personality that is what sold him as a star more than his military decorations. James Cagney certainly saw star power in him, giving him his first big break. Only 45 when he died in an airplane crash not far from all-mysterious Roanoke.

On my blog, the links are embedded. But here I had to add screen shots, then put the text for the links underneath. This is because TCM is now clamping down on what kinds of links are embedded that come from YouTube. This just started happening. Sometimes the links from YouTube are allowed, and sometimes they are not. I included the screenshots so everyone could see the images to help decide if they wanted to check out the clips.

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Hopefully none of the "antiques" I post in the short film threads cause panic.

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