TopBilled

TopBilled’s Essentials

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I should not have discussed THE PAGAN. Was just drumming up a movie to discuss movie "tastes" in general but that film is completely unrelated storywise and I went too far off topic. Probably confused everybody here. Sorry about that.

Tomlinson was also in TOM JONES (although he didn't do much in that one) and a few others I have seen. His two Disney performances were good even if he did not change much in personality for BEDKNOBS AND BROOMSTICKS. I do need to see the earlier (Tomlinson-less) ROME EXPRESS.

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Essential: THE CASSANDRA CROSSING (1976)

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TB: This week we're discussing a disaster film with an international cast, THE CASSANDRA CROSSING. It was made near the end of the disaster cycle and was produced by Carlo Ponti, husband of Sophia Loren. Ponti was eager to put his wife in one of these kinds of pictures, since they tended to do well with audiences in the 1970s. Loren is wonderful in it, though she's a bit past her prime. She costars with Richard Harris. And they are supported by an assorted cast of familiar faces, some of them a bit long in the tooth.

JL: I enjoyed this one for what it was. I can see why most high brows would not take it seriously but it is actually rather well-made, with tight editing and some spectacular action work. Although technically a seventies disaster film, it more properly belongs to the train drama genre that crested during the 1930s and '40s and then experienced a revival after 1974's MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS.

TB: Yes, I think that's a good way to categorize it. In many ways it's a remarkable film and somewhat ahead of its time. Especially in its treatment of themes about terrorism and health epidemics. So it's not the typical disaster film. As you said, this one takes place mostly on a train traveling across Europe, and there are plenty of subplots and there's plenty of action to sustain viewer interest. So let's get right to the main story.

JL: We open in Geneva at the International Health Organization. I got confused as to the “why” the U.S. mission there got attacked by Swedish (?!) terrorists but we only need this event to accomplish our primary goal: to spread a deadly contained virus via one escaped terrorist who boards a train full of passengers.

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It is no-nonsense Burt Lancaster as Col. Stephen MacKenzie, who first appears as a nice guy ready to save the day a.k.a Mel Bakersfeld in AIRPORT, but slowly develops a more sinister unraveling of character. After all, he and the U.S. government are responsible for tampering with diseases in foreign places to begin with and are overly secretive in how they handle all of the damage resulting. This film makes an obvious dig at how a country simply can not avoid causing trouble for the rest of the world, simply because it can.

TB: I would say it's an obvious dig, but it's not a direct dig about U.S. policies overseas. Though I am sure moviegoers were able to understand this.

JL: I can imagine moviegoers jeering at Lancaster during this post-Watergate/ Vietnam/Pentagon Papers period, particularly when Lancaster out-and-out fibs to the train passengers that there is no reason to panic because there is “no danger." Yes, but a lot of casualties are showcased in the final reel so we know that the lines of “nothing to worry about” are pointless.

TB: Exactly. He definitely lies to the people on the train, and mostly he is not shown to have remorse about that. Mainly, because he feels justified in sending those people to their deaths. He has to rid the world of those contaminants, or so he thinks.

JL: Speaking of Lancaster, it certainly helps to have a who's who of big names in the cast, making it is easy to keep track of the characters even if so many of them are looking around for something to do. Of course, I still think of Richard Harris as Richard Harris instead of his screen name Jonathan Chamberlain, a has-been doctor who first discovers the terrorist on board and becomes the real hero of our adventure. Ditto the characters played by Sophia Loren (the producer's wife and Harris' on screen ex-wife), as well as Martin Sheen and Ava Gardner. Gardner goes through almost as many wardrobe changes in this one train voyage than she did in her entire MGM career.

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TB: Ava still looks good in this film. All the soft-focus photography certainly helps. I read somewhere that she only did it for the money, but she does give a very credible performance in THE CASSANDRA CROSSING. Besides Gardner and Loren, there are other notable presences on screen as the story unfolds. For instance, we have Swedish star Ingrid Thulin playing a second-in-command under Lancaster. And we also have John Philip Law, among others.

JL: Although his role is small, Lou Castel gives one of best performances as the terrorist in question, all sweaty but with a face full of emotional expression.

TB: What did you think about Lee Strasberg's supporting role? He isn't seen too much in the beginning, but as the story progresses, he begins to play a much more integral part in the outcome of things.

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JL: Lee Strasberg didn't make enough movie roles so he is fun to watch here as Herman Kaplan, a Holocaust survivor who gets upset when he learns they will be using a familiar old haunt, a Nazi concentration camp in Janov, for emergency quarantine purposes. I also like the scenes of him with his card tricks, consoling the terrorist, cradling a crying baby and learning the truth from train conductor Lionel Stander in a dramatically evening-lit dining-car scene. I am rather disappointed that Stander (a favorite of mine from classic Warner-Vitaphone shorts, MR. DEEDS GOES TO TOWN, A STAR IS BORN and even doing the voice of Buzzy Buzzard opposite Woody Woodpecker) does very little on screen when the train conductor should technically have a bigger role in this.

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TB: I wonder if some of Stander's scenes were cut and left on the editing room floor. Perhaps his character was not considered as important as the others. Okay, we also had O.J. Simpson in this movie. Care to comment on him?

Jl: Although not every passenger is Caucasian, O.J. Simpson is the one here-for-race-representation who has a role big enough. He was cast based on his success in the earlier THE TOWERING INFERNO; these being his happier years two decades before the murder trial. Unfortunately he is not particularly good in his role as the narcotics agent out to nab Sheen's Robby Navarro. I also found it strange that the fellow musicians/friends accompanying Ann Turkel as she sang Dave Jordan's “I'm Still On My Way” were exclusively white twenty-somethings. Apparently everybody traveling through Europe sports an American accent apart from Loren.

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TB: Turkel was married to Harris at the time, so it was interesting to see them have a brief scene together when her character became ill. But mostly they were involved in separate stories.

JL: There are a few interesting scenes early at the train station in Switzerland I really liked because they foreshadow events to come. A basset hound refuses to drink from a water fountain; he is one cautious pooch, but he isn't so cautious later in the baggage car sharing water with the terrorist himself. Also Lee Strasberg's Herman hits the jackpot with a vending machine and impresses those around him, suggesting that he will always be lucky in his (soon to end) life. Sophia Loren's Jennifer doodles a mustache on her husband's picture on a Match magazine cover, establishing the kind of relationship they have right away.

I love the almost back to back woman laying on the bed shots. Loren is very sexy with ex-husband Harris' Chamberlain when working on her crossword puzzles and discussing her published trashy novel covering their doomed three marriages. (Later she is undressed under the covers when their bonding time is interrupted by news of more passengers getting sick, mirroring an earlier scene when the sick terrorist interrupts Ann Turkel trying to get a “rise” out of her boyfriend.) After that initial scene with Loren/Harris, we get Ava Gardner's Nicole Dressler smoking like a chimney. She is accompanied by swinging seventies side-burned Martin Sheen's Robby Navarro. He complains that he feels like a piece of luggage, like her basset hound.

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TB: I have to admit I liked Sheen's scenes with Gardner very much. Yes, he does get treated like an accessory, but she needs him for companionship. In a way she doesn't need the pooch, if you get my drift. And she seems to revel in their little affair. Of course, we come to find out he's suffering from some sort of heroin addiction. And he's wanted by the police. So this can't end well for them. I do like how she occasionally references her very wealthy, but off-screen husband. Gardner's a hoot in this role, and she etches a memorable character alongside Sheen.

JL: Sheen's Robby is so eager for a change of career, since being the hidden escort-lover of a German arms manufacturer's wife isn't cutting it for him. Nonetheless he gets to play a doomed hero on the train later in one of the best action scenes even if it involves a stunt double who doesn't look like him. One unintentionally humorous scene for lil' ol' me involves Robby getting shouted down by Harris' overly animated Dr. Chamberlain in a key gun-toting scene.

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Harris is such a ham. I also noticed that some of his lines here and there sound like they were re-dubbed on the soundtrack. No clue why since his speech throughout is flawless. Maybe his ego wasn't satisfied when viewing the rushes and he requested the lines of dialogue re-done?

TB: It's a flawed film...but it's an intelligent film, not the run-of-the-mill disaster flick so prevalent during this era. We get touches of biowarfare, cold war paranoia and references to the holocaust. All the characters are clearly defined, even Simpson's role is defined, since he has a clearcut purpose being on the train, though that's not revealed right away.

The one thing I wanted was a scene with Gardner after Sheen died. She never got the news that he didn't make it. She is off screen for awhile and is glimpsed briefly at the end, so we know she ended up surviving. But I think she would have had a strong emotional moment (anguish/regret maybe) to learn her young lover had died trying to be a hero. We do know she will go back to her husband, since at one point she took great pride in her husband's powerful career.

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JL: This would not be a seventies disaster movie if it didn't have some action. Lovely Sophia is not afraid to do a bit of stunt work (well, actually, make believe pretend “stunt” work) involving a rescue helicopter that takes the infected doggie first. The bridge itself plays an important set-piece here as it hasn't been stable since it was last used decades earlier. When a passionate Ingrid Thulin gets excited that the basset hound is recovering as she observes from video monitors at the Swiss headquarters (Thulin: “For your information, Colonel, the dog has completely recovered”. Lancaster's response: “Fine, why don't you go take him for a walk.”), The Plague is no longer the major danger threatening human lives. Now it is The Bridge... and the occupants of the train must subdue (and kill one or two) of the white-coated quarantine squad members who had invaded and are pushing the train to its destination regardless.

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TB: They never said why Lancaster was a villain. But I read it as a god complex he was suffering from...where he believed getting rid of the contamination warranted killing everyone. And even after he learned the disease was no longer proving fatal, he refused to change course. His agenda was like the train, on track towards destruction. What were your impressions about the special effects? Keep in mind we're talking about a film made in 1976.

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JL: Special effects with some miniatures and backscreen projection work fairly well here, highlighted by a train-car blow-up scene involving Herman returning to where he lost his loved-ones decades earlier. Obviously this is still pre-STAR WARS and the special effects revolution that followed.

I should point out that we see quite a few lives lost here a.k.a. TITANIC with bodies in the water resembling that famous film two decades later. Of course, several key stars manage to make it through, but overall this is a much bleaker film even for this genre compared to the AIRPORT franchise and THE TOWERING INFERNO. I especially like how it wraps up with everybody including those who died in a “containment” of a disease...and everything that the colonel is doing himself...is under surveillance. This too is an interesting sign of the future, both for movie and TV plots and in real life as well.

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TB: I thought it was brilliant how Lancaster kept close associate Thulin in place when she threatened to go over his head. He had a chilling way of justifying his actions. This was a screenplay that used disaster to present a real think piece about international politics. Anything else you'd like to add?

JL: Jerry Goldsmith's music is great here with some overtones of James Bond that speed up the suspense scenes. If his name sounds familiar even if you can't place the face, it is because he did many classics like PLANET OF THE APES and CHINATOWN up through animated features like Disney's MULAN and LOONEY TUNES: BACK IN ACTION. His particular specialty were those big budget sci fi and horror epics that the major studios spent more than usual on, including THE OMEN, ALIEN, at least two STAR TREK features, POLTERGEIST, GREMLINS, TOTAL RECALL and THE MUMMY.

Also Ennio Guarnieri's cinematography is gorgeous. But it is a trifle distracting in that we start in late autumn Switzerland and move to springtime Germany when you know the train trip didn't take THAT long.

TB: Thanks Jlewis. I've enjoyed discussing this film with you. It might be of interest for our readers to know that THE CASSANDRA CROSSING may currently be viewed on YouTube.

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A few other tidbits to add.

Martin Sheen once wrote that he loved doing this movie despite his character appearing frustrated and trapped in his relationship with Ava, whom he got along with quite well off camera.

Obviously the story has some silly and rather questionable aspects to it, but it still surprises me how much the critics of the time disliked it. Some of the scorn could have been due to disaster all-star spectacular burnout. Even though I consider it more of an old fashion train adventure than a disaster epic, it did come out during an avalanche involving this genre. One succeeding title was... what else?... AVALANCHE. Others released within a year or two include BLACK SUNDAY, AIRPORT '77, ROLLERCOASTER and THE SWARM. Sometimes they featured Olivia de Haviland looking far more stressed out than Ava Gardner here and sometimes not.

I might have been a tad critical of the all-white band performing here, but the song “I'm Still On My Way” isn't half-bad and Ann Turkel has a nice voice. The YouTube recording has many positive remarks, suggesting many fondly remember CASSANDRA CROSSING in a rosier light than those uptight 1976-77 critics. It did do well at the box-office regardless.

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This is our schedule for the rest of the year:

Women in Peril

October 5: MY NAME IS JULIA ROSS (1945)
October 12: SUDDEN FEAR (1952)

Vicious Rackets

October 19: THE MOB (1951)
October 26: CITY THAT NEVER SLEEPS (1953)

Their Love Is Impossible

November 2: OF HUMAN BONDAGE (1934)
November 9: INTERMEZZO (1939)
November 16: SEPTEMBER AFFAIR (1950) 

Making News

November 23: NOTHING SACRED (1937)
November 30: DEADLINE U.S.A. (1952)

Ingrid Bergman Directed by Alfred Hitchcock

December 7: SPELLBOUND (1945)
December 14: NOTORIOUS (1946)

Her Reputation

December 21: VIRTUE (1932)
December 28: TURN THE KEY SOFTLY (1953)
December 29: CAROLINE? (1990)

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Essential: MY NAME IS JULIA ROSS (1945)

JL: This Columbia Gothic ladies pic, directed by Joseph H. Lewis, got some good reviews in the ol' movie guides by Leonard Maltin and Leslie Halliwell, so I was at least half familiar with the title since the 1980s even though I only just watched it. James Agee also enjoyed it back in 1945, even if he didn't want to like it, stating in his typically acidic tongue that it was “a likeable, unpretentious, generally successful attempt to turn good trash into decently artful entertainment.”

TB: Agee never was one to heap lavish praise on a B-film, unless it was something made by Val Lewton. 

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JL: I found Burnett Guffey's atmospheric cinematography pleasantly reminiscent of such classics as Hitchcock's REBECCA and SUSPICION (shadowy large rooms lit by windows and curtains, waves along the coastline, etc.) and, despite a short running time, this was a classy A picture done on a B budget. From what I gathered, it enjoyed a cult following on the Late Late Show in the sixties and seventies since it is the type of entertainment that you snuggle under pillows for.

TB: This film grabs the viewer right from the start. I love the way the opening credits play, in such a way that you are just hooked and want to know what's going to unfold. There are storm clouds and then a sudden downpour of rain.

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JL: It opens with impressive establishment shots of rainy London. We do not see our Julia Ross at first, but watch and listen to the boarding lady Mrs. Mackie, wonderfully played by Doris Lloyd, complain to her with Julia's back to us. This adds a certain aura of mystery to our lead star and sets up the basic premise promised in the title: Julia must always be certain of who she is at all times in order to survive in life.

Regarding Mrs. Mackie, we viewers do not know what to think of her since she seems grumpy and sinister at first. Yet she is the one who saves Julia's life later when she discovers a letter addressed to Julia's former boyfriend Dennis (Roland Varno) suddenly stolen by a strange visitor at her rental house.

TB: Mrs. Mackie and her tenants are not at all like the nest of vipers Julia soon meets when she goes out in search of a new job.

JL: There is an interesting theme here: just because somebody is sweet, does not mean they have your best interests at heart. Julia tells her Allison Employment Agency lady and her new boss that they are “very kind” and they certainly appear to be. Sometimes those who have a rougher exterior are the ones whom you can really depend on.

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The basic plot involves a struggling Julia who gets a job as a secretary to an eccentric family and, after mysteriously getting drugged by tea, wakes up miles away from London along the Cornwall coast and in a rather familiar looking California mansion I have seen in other movies but, for various reasons, can not remember which ones. Suddenly she is no longer Julia Ross but Marian Hughes...with a husband and lovely “MH” initials on all of her bedroom linens!

TB: We should mention that the husband is portrayed by George Macready, who usually was assigned by Columbia to play less-than-savory types. So we know the minute he appears on screen that Julia/Marian is not going to have a "happy marriage."

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Macready has a slightly scarred face, which adds to the more menacing aspects of the character he plays. Julia becomes terrified, and so do the viewers. We are anxious for her to escape the husband's clutches. Of course, most of his problems stem from the strange relationship he has had for years with his controlling mother (Dame May Whitty).

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JL: Incidentally, we should give a nice shout-out to Mikhail Romanovich Bakaleinikov's music. It doesn't draw too much attention to itself like the louder stuff at other studios done by bigger names, but enhances all of the action on screen so that you can stay intensely focused. He was a veteran of the Columbia studio who covered practically every genre with titles stretching from BLONDIE to EARTH VS. THE FLYING SAUCERS.

Anyway, back to the main character and her story. Julia aims to figure a way out of the confined set-up she has found herself in. Also she does not want to be judged crazy by others outside her prison home for not accepting herself as Marian.

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TB: What I most enjoy about this movie is that everyone in the village thinks Marian/Julia is crazy...and all her attempts to convey the truth seem like lies. The sequence where she hides in the back of the car to leave with some guests is very well played. Nina Foch does it so remarkably, it's easy to become wrapped up in the story and sympathize with the character's plight.

JL: Nina Foch has a no-nonsense voice that often reminds me of fellow Taurus actress Anne Baxter, who got the meatier role as Nefertari in THE TEN COMMANDMENTS while Nina played Bithiah. She has always been an interesting, if underrated, actress who first appeared in Warner shorties like WAGON WHEELS WEST, then mostly B-movies before her supporting role of some attention in AN AMERICAN IN PARIS. Never a big name star, she was still durable in her profession and was still making making guest appearances well into her eighties on such hit TV shows as NCIS and The Closer, her final appearance on the small screen being a year before her passing.

TB: She had an Oscar-nominated turn in EXECUTIVE SUITE (1954), where she once again played a secretary. Though the dynamics were not the same in that film. In her later years, Foch was known in Hollywood as an acting coach. One of her students was Fred Dryer when he was transitioning from football star to TV star. In the last season of his hit series Hunter he had her on the show as a special guest, playing a Norma Desmond type that he and his partner met during an investigation. She was always great to watch.

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TB: Okay, so what did you think Whitty's performance in this picture?

JL: I must confess that most of the roles I have personally seen Dame May Whitty play (as in THE LADY VANISHES, SUSPICION, MRS. MINIVER and LASSIE COME HOME, for example), she is always such a sweet, dignified marm. Yet that is part of the fun of seeing her play evil here. The sweetest ones sometimes have the hidden agendas.

TB: Whitty had remarkable range. This character is so unlike the cozy dignified roles she was given to play at MGM. It's a bit startling at first.

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JL: She is dear mommy to Ralph (Macready) whom we are teased as to having a violent streak early on with his delight in sharpening knives. In a nutshell, these two need Julia to pose as Marian so they can inherit a much needed fortune.

When Julia discovers that her own life is also in danger much like the woman she is posing for, she writes a letter to Dennis and manages to get it past. That is, until they quickly catch on and the letter is retrieved in a rather interesting, roundabout way.

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TB: I felt these scenes were rather suspenseful. As well as the scene when she tried to escape in the guests' car, which I already mentioned. We want her to get away from this crazy bunch.

JL: We all know that crime does not pay and our heroine will succeed in the end. This is a nice, fast-paced woman-in-danger suspense, the kind that was so plentiful in the forties but got overshadowed in succeeding decades by far too many men-in-danger actioners that involved gun shooting and fast cars. The women must always figure their way out of danger by using their brains rather than their brawn.

TB: The film's relatively short running time makes it better than it probably would have been if they had padded the scenes and stretched it out to 90 minutes. It's sharply written and edited. There are no wasted moments, no extraneous filler scenes. All films should be made so economically and efficiently.

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MY NAME IS JULIA ROSS may currently be viewed on YouTube.

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Essential: SUDDEN FEAR (1952)

TB: Joan Crawford was one of the screen's most versatile, durable stars. Maybe her success can be attributed to her real-life ambition, but I think it's an indicator of her talent. She specialized in risky parts that other actresses were afraid to take. She didn't mind alienating the audience by playing against type and shattering everyone's expectations of her. She was bold.

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Speaking of bold, the performance she gives in SUDDEN FEAR is without question one of her most brilliant. There's an incredible sequence where she realizes her husband is a murderer and plans to make her his next victim. It's a master class in on-screen emotion, and she uses all the tricks she learned during the early part of her career in silent films.

JL: This is another of those familiar titles I only belatedly got to. It has been well reviewed in many texts due to Joan Crawford's excellent performance and is one of the crown jewels of that last great bumper-crop year of Howard Hughes' RKO Radio, 1952, although technically a Joseph Kaufman production merely financed by the studio. David Miller directs and his name is mostly familiar to me through his shortie work at MGM (the "Crime Does Not Pay" series, for example).

TB: Miller's first features were B films, but by the 50s, he had graduated to big budget "A" pictures, and he would also helm productions with Lana Turner, June Allyson and Doris Day. He directed Crawford again, in 1957's THE STORY OF ESTHER COSTELLO.

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JL: Elmer Bernstein's music begins ominously over the opening credits featuring a clock (and there are lots of clocks, watches and time tables throughout since “timing” is a matter of life and death), then turns romantic to let us know we are going to see a “woman's picture” if presented with noir-ish suspense. We then progress to a Broadway stage and I am instantly reminded of Bette Davis, Crawford's counterpart, in ALL ABOUT EVE but with a change here: Crawford plays writer/director Myra Hudson instead of another Margo Channing.

The play is called “Halfway to Heaven” and Jack Palace is in the Margo/Eve role as the performer, boasting a rather interesting name: Lester Blaine conjures up A STAR IS BORN's Norman Maine and Vicki Lester in my mind. Like the equally doomed Norman, Lester is not too successful at his career. Myra dumps him because she considers him “not my idea of a romantic leading man." He angrily storms back to her about her fixed opinions about how a romantic lead should be played, requesting she see a famous painting of Casanova sporting an eye patch and warts. 

TB: This is where the casting of Jack Palance, who is not quite a conventional romantic lead, works to the film's advantage. Originally Crawford wanted her old MGM pal Clark Gable for the lead, but he was deemed too old and she was talked out of that choice. She had to be persuaded to go with Palance, which she agreed to do after she screened his performance in PANIC IN THE STREETS. I think having her new husband be a younger ambitious man makes the story stronger.

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JL: Myra's play is a smash hit without Lester involved and she stumbles upon him on a train bound for San Francisco (“oh you will love *MY* San Francisco”), pretending to be forgiving of their earlier dispute. They proceed to play card games, which involve some interesting mind games and clever slight of hands... and we get plenty of mind games and close ups of hands doing sneaky activities throughout this picture.

In the dining car, she praises him: “I like people who make up their minds and then stick to it whatever the odds." As things get more emotionally and passionately invested, she asks “is that a wedding ring?” and he tells her it was his mother's, making him free for the taking. As her hand clenches his, we cut to the train making a weird S-move around mountain highlands that suggest both the train and Lester resembling a snake eager to constrict her in his coils.

TB: And as we soon find out, when the action moves to San Francisco, he does constrict her. But at first, she is unaware of his true motives.

JL: Yes. At one point, after much dating, he abruptly refuses her call at a party held in his honor. Clever editing shows her high heels walking back and forth as she keeps trying on the phone, inter-cut with his shoes pacing back and forth beside a bed stand that resembles a cage... potentially suggesting he feels too “caged” by this relationship of bedroom activities. Soon she is pleading with him on a stairway at his boarding house (and there are lots of stairways in this movie, just as there are clocks) that she “has nothing” without him.

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TB: Incidentally, this scene where Myra goes to Lester's place and tells him she needs him (right before they are married)-- that's the same stairwell used in CITIZEN KANE when Kane confronts Boss Jim Gettys about exposing his affair with Susan Alexander. So although SUDDEN FEAR was sort of an independent production, partially financed by RKO, they used RKO's facilities; the interiors were done on RKO's sound stages.

JL: Myra and Lester marry then have even more hot passion at a summer cottage. This culminates in a Scarlet O'Hara scene of her waking up feeling so refreshed in bed but, unlike Scarlet, not wearing her nightie under the covers. He returns in his robe to watch her climb out and change into her swimsuit. She pretends to be modest, stating she looks worse in the morning than at night. Cue THE infamous line that gets repeated oh so often by fans of this flick: “A woman has to wear lipstick. I feel positively naked without it."

The great ruin to all of this marital bliss is brought on by the arrival of Lester's ex-girlfriend Irene, presented by Gloria Grahame.

TB: I think that while Crawford had final casting approval on the picture, she was somewhat stuck with Gloria Grahame, who was at that time under contract at RKO. She didn't like Grahame at all and had her banned from the set when they were shooting scenes in which Grahame was not appearing. Grahame was having an off-camera affair with Palance, meaning Palance and Crawford did not sleep together (Crawford occasionally slept with her leading men). And perhaps that sort of tension-- with him actually involved with Grahame, whom Crawford detested-- gives the film an extra dimension, especially in those later scenes where Myra is supposed to be hurt and jealous, and she really has a reason to hate Irene.

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JL: We glimpse Irene seductively taking off her white head shawl at a cocktail party. Later a similar shawl is worn by Myra herself and their all too similar appearances in dress code prompts Lester to get them confused in the movie's climax. Yet despite occasionally dressing alike, there are clever back to back edits of these two women showcasing how very different they are. I particularly enjoy the phone conversation Irene has with Lester about Myra giving away much of her father's estate and play proceeds to the “hu-hmm foundation” (actually it is the Heart Foundation but she has trouble finding her own heart) while smoking a cigarette in her jammies with her hair all undone.

This is followed by a shot of Myra crooning at him while applying all of her flawless makeup and lipstick at her dressing table. Everything Myra does is done to great perfection. Irene is as simple as her pitbull wind-up toy dog, little realizing how easy it is for others to sneak into her apartment to snoop around when she is not around.

TB: And we should mention that Myra is able to gain access to Irene's apartment when Irene is out, because at one point, Myra has lifted the key from Lester's belongings and has had a duplicate made.

JL: Parts of this resemble DOUBLE INDEMINITY and other let's-get-rid-of-the-spouse murder plots, but with the added twist of Myra discovering the truth through the recording devices that she uses for her play writing. She demonstrates them early on for Lester as he recites gooey romantic lines from her plays, but he is kinda forgetful and dimwitted, discussing his schemes with Irene while these devices are ”bugging” him.

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TB: In my opinion, the best scene in the movie is the long scene at the 45-minute mark where she plays the record and hears them conspiring against her. To me, this is Crawford's finest cinematic moment. Even more powerful than her work in MILDRED PIERCE or POSSESSION (1947) for which she was also nominated. She has no dialogue in this lengthy scene, it's all her listening to them and reacting. It's brilliantly executed and could only have been done by an actress who started her motion picture career in silent films. By this point, 1952, we get an accomplished actress, with years of experience under her belt. She gives a masterful performance all the way through, but most especially in this sequence, where the plot takes a 180-degree turn and her character's life is turned upside down.

JL: Ironically Lester still thinks he has the upper hand, never realizing Myra is on to him until fairly late. There is a clever exchange at the summer cottage in front of a roaring fireplace. Irene asks “You don't suppose she could suspect anything, do you?” His response: “Not the way I make love to her.”

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Speaking of “making love,” it is especially noteworthy that he does it the same way before and after all of the plotting with Irene, but we the viewers can see a definite difference in Myra during the first and second half parts. The dialogue of “Good morning Mr. Blaine” and “Good morning Mrs. Blaine” is still going on, but there is a subtle difference in the way Myra says it later than she did before. She purposely suggests him going to the cottage to ready it for their second honeymoon getaway, knowing fully well that he will be all sneaky with Irene there. “I was wondering what I have done to deserve you” she croons as she kisses him. After closing his bedroom door, that romantic gooey face of Crawford the actress masterfully becomes a grim frown of “he won't get away of this."

TB: It is a bit of a stretch how she can count on them to see the notes she has written to them in their own handwriting. For instance she has no guarantee that Lester will find the note she plants inside his pocket.

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Also, when she does the sprained ankle routine, and the others leave the house and she is all alone with Lester in the bedroom, he could just as easily kill her and then stage a burglary. He's running out of time and needs to get rid of her, so she is taking a huge risk that he won't just get rid of her right then and there. Of course, if he did that, we wouldn't get that great climactic finale with her back at Irene's place.

The ending of the film is set up very smartly. We see Myra making a timetable, detailing how she intends to get revenge on Lester and Irene. She is making plans for Lester to die, and for Irene to take the fall for his murder.

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There is a very good shot of her after she makes the timetable...where she has a vision of how her plan will be carried out with Irene being convicted. We see Myra's face, and we hear the pendulum of the clock swinging...then the camera moves in for an extreme close-up of her eyes. She blinks once then holds a very long, vengeful stare. There is pure horror in that fixed expression-- the horror of what's being done to her, and the horror she intends to inflict on the others. It's a truly intense performance...and the way she conveys fear, which is what this movie is about, puts her on a level that actresses seldom reach on screen.

JL: Regardless of some flaws in the storyline and presentation, this is a great melodrama with three great performances. As much as I like Gloria Grahame, she pretty much acts the same as she does in many other movies. It is Palance and Crawford who are clearly at the top of their form. The final scene with Crawford holding her face and then looking towards the camera is as great as any Crawford fan expects it to be.

SUDDEN FEAR may currently be viewed on YouTube.

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Essential: THE MOB (1951)

TB: This week I am going to let Jlewis start, then I will provide some of my own comments at the end. I wanted to discuss this film, since I think it's a very slick B-crime film and the acting is first-rate. Jlewis liked it, but not as much as I do.

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JL: Directed by Robert Parrish with Columbia's top star Broderick Crawford capitalizing on past hits like ALL THE KING'S MEN and BORN YESTERDAY, we get another of the all-familiar “Johnny” characters in crime dramas. For some reason, every detective writer resorts to that name, I guess because it suggests innocence in a way that Charlie or Roger does not? Broderick's Johnny witnesses a murder and mistakes the killer as a fellow detective because he flaunts a badge like his. The victim is a testifying waterfront crime witness. When critiqued by his bosses at Hall of Justice headquarters, he gets to redeem himself by tracking down this mystery man.

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Although he has very dangerous work to do infiltrating the underground by posing as an ex-criminal himself, we suspect right away that Johnny will survive in the end just eleven minutes into the film. Why? Because he is engaged to get married to Mary (Betty Buehler), presenting her a ring. We've discussed this set-up before with the war movies. Those who are married or engaged (with the added plus of a little one on the way) are the ones who survive and those who are either womanizing bachelors or potentially in-the-closet (or so we think with our 21st century eyes) are expendable. On the plus side, neither future groom and bride are glamorous young people (looking late thirties/forties-ish) and Mary is clearly not an accessory here like some other films profiled, but actually plays a key role in the final two climaxes when her life is in as much danger as Johnny's.

I should add that Broderick's shorter than usual haircut and mustache in the beginning makes him more accessible to viewers as an Average Joe than his earlier exaggerated roles. Once on the job as “Tim Flynn” of New Orleans, the mustache is shaved off and we get the Bronx tough guy accent so he feels more at home on the NYC waterfront. 

The dock scenes themselves invite plenty of comparison to ON THE WATERFRONT, bankrolled by the same studio Columbia later to Oscar fame. The fact that this film features more rear-projection shots and studio mock-ups than the latter gives us an indication how much film-making changed at just one studio over two and a half years. (THE MOB was shot in early '51 and the latter in late '53.)

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I am not sure if the dialogue here was all original or copy-catted from others, but so much of it sounded eerily familiar. I was thinking of James Dean in the later REBEL WITHOUT A CAUSE, when “Tim” is taken for a ride in the back seat of a sedan (again resembling ON THE WATERFRONT and a famous back seat scene there), when his sarcastic comment about why he wasn't blindfolded results in a response of “you've been reading too many comic books." When introduced to mob boss Joe Castro, a young Ernest Borgnine, who cracks “My name is Castro and I don't have any boss”, the sarcastic “Tim” cracks the funny line “Not even a wife, Mister Castro?”

Another murder takes place involving a possible witness/stool pigeon, this time involving with “Tim” as the murdering suspect. Castro and his henchman Gunner (Neville Brand) have him set up here. A fist fight between Johnny/Tim and Gunner provides the bulk of the action in this otherwise more-talk-than-action gangster piece. Other characters of interest include a corrupt cop (Walter Klavum) and the bartender Smoothie (Matt Crowley) who gives him information on others for a price and is later revealed far more important than Johnny/Tim realizes.

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On the other side of the law and ready to retrieve him from this dangerous pit full of mob crocodiles are the feds played by Otto Hulett as Lt. Banks, whom he reports back to in periodic private car discussions, and Richard Kiley (easily recognizable by his distinctive TV and radio voice) as Thomas Clancy infiltrating the scenery as a fellow dock worker and sporting a wife (Jean Alexander) involved as well. The final investigation of the “wrong side of the law” involves a car that Johnny/Tim and Smoothie use that drips “stuff” on the road so it can be tailed and is wire-tapped so the feds can listen in... which makes me wonder why both was necessary when the latter worked just as well in exposing.

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Then Mary somehow gets involved and a rather un-climactic showdown takes place in a hospital, of all places. The ending involving another nurse of Mary's profession also being tied to the feds is a trifle silly but it does lead us to the adequate happy ending we expect. I have a feeling most moviegoers at the time were not terribly “wowed” by the action here, but nonetheless left feeling good that romance prevailed in the end even if Johnny gets kissed by another man's wife as a joke.

Going by the cars showcased early on, I initially thought the setting of this pic was the mid 1930s when the FBI was busy trackin' 'em down, but later we see some 1951 models on the road so it is revealed all contemporary. Nonetheless comparisons can also be made to Warner's G-MEN and the MGM “Crimes Does Not Pay” shorts with the good guys shown investigating step-by-step with maps, wire tappings and detail investigations. However the fact that Smoothie, Castro and Gunner don't seem all that threatening makes this picture feel too easily resolved.

***

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TB: It's interesting how a film resonates (or doesn't resonate) with two different viewers. On the IMDb rating system, I gave it a 9. Originally I had given it an 8 but increased my rating with subsequent viewings. I look at it as a very slick B-crime film. The acting puts it over, even if some of the plot devices are hackneyed.

The dialogue might seem familiar in THE MOB probably because it was copied later by other writers. I found a lot of the wisecracks to be expertly delivered, especially by Brod Crawford. I love the running joke of him playing a guy from New Orleans (while undercover) and having to continually order and drink beer and wine, something the real Johnny doesn't like mixing.

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The weakest part is them omitting how Mary got picked up by Smoothie's gang. We should have seen how they nabbed her. But I guess we were supposed to be surprised, along with Johnny, when he went into the other room and saw her there. But I would like it to have been explained, how they kidnapped her.

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I enjoyed the hospital sequence. I thought it was particularly suspenseful, notably the part where Smoothie entered the room and it looked like he was going to kill them both. The first time I watched it, I had no idea the nurse who came into the room was an undercover cop. I liked how Smoothie was gunned down by a cop shooting him from an upper window in a nearby building. It was definitely a tidy ending, but there really was no need to drag out Smoothie's demise.

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Jay Adler played the owner of the fleabag motel. Great character actor, brother of Stella and Luther. He has another memorable role in 99 RIVER STREET, a noir made shortly afterward.

The character of Mary was the only significant film role for actress Betty Buehler. She has just two credits on the IMDb, which leads me to believe she was either a stage actress or had acted under another name for other roles. I did find a nice write-up about her, after her death in 2012. It wasn't an obituary really, more an appreciation by someone in her hometown who knew her family. According to that column, she appeared in some 50s TV anthology programs. But none of that is listed on the IMDb.

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I thought Buehler had excellent chemistry with Crawford, and as Jlewis indicated, we didn't need a glamorous young couple cast as the leads. This film has more true-to-life types of people, and I think that's one reason why I like it so much. Even Kiley and his wife, despite their earlier deception, make a somewhat down-to-earth couple.

THE MOB may currently be viewed on YouTube.

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Any other interesting info you have collected on Betty Buehler? Despite limited screen time, she is interesting to watch. 

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Sadly this 1996 article states that she "was" the daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Gustave Buehler and is "hopeful" that she "will be remembered" as an actress as if she had passed on already, even though she "is now living in Massachusetts". It is totally unintentional, I'm sure. Yet the writer doesn't exactly give her adequate service by claiming FIVE actors appearing with her in THE MOB were on the "springboard" of superstardom.

Richard Kiley may have been marking his big screen debut with her, but he was already busy in live TV by this time and was soon more in demand for his voice; his first major credit listed on RadioGOLDINdex.com being a 1952 episode of CBS Radio's SUSPENSE and a whole generation grew up with him and E.G. Marshall alternating as key narrators of many memorable 1970s-80s National Geographic specials... a key reason why Spielberg hired him to voice all of the dinosaur information on a certain ride Jeff Goldblum, Laura Dern and Sam Neill were taking. As for the others: I guess Ernest Borgnine's earlier roles tend to be forgotten, while Neville Brand's career spanning back five years can be glossed over somewhat, but Broderick was hardly at the "springboard" with an Oscar on his mantle piece already and Charles Bronson is still un-credited on screen and a blink-and-you-miss face who officially doesn't count.

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48 minutes ago, Jlewis said:

Sadly this 1996 article states that she "was" the daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Gustave Buehler and is "hopeful" that she "will be remembered" as an actress as if she had passed on already, even though she "is now living in Massachusetts". It is totally unintentional, I'm sure. Yet the writer doesn't exactly give her adequate service by claiming FIVE actors appearing with her in THE MOB were on the "springboard" of superstardom.

Richard Kiley may have been marking his big screen debut with her, but he was already busy in live TV by this time and was soon more in demand for his voice; his first major credit listed on RadioGOLDINdex.com being a 1952 episode of CBS Radio's SUSPENSE and a whole generation grew up with him and E.G. Marshall alternating as key narrators of many memorable 1970s-80s National Geographic specials... a key reason why Spielberg hired him to voice all of the dinosaur information on a certain ride Jeff Goldblum, Laura Dern and Sam Neill were taking. As for the others: I guess Ernest Borgnine's earlier roles tend to be forgotten, while Neville Brand's career spanning back five years can be glossed over somewhat, but Broderick was hardly at the "springboard" with an Oscar on his mantle piece already and Charles Bronson is still un-credited on screen and a blink-and-you-miss face who officially doesn't count.

Well the parents could have been dead by 1996, which might be why that was indicated in the past tense. Betty Buehler lived until 2012.

The article mentions her appearing opposite Jose Ferrer on Broadway. Ferrer's credits on the IBDb list him having done 'Othello' in 1945. But there is no Betty Buehler included among the opening night cast. Nor is she down as an understudy. She could have been using a different stage name, or maybe she joined the play after opening night.

https://www.ibdb.com/broadway-production/othello-472238

Perhaps her motion picture career didn't develop at Columbia if she refused to sleep with Harry Cohn? Just speculating. There was obviously a reason she wasn't cast in any more films at the studio...she's certainly quite good in THE MOB.

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Essential: CITY THAT NEVER SLEEPS (1953)

TB: Today we're looking at one of the better crime dramas produced by Republic Pictures. Like we did last week, Jlewis will start with his observations and I will be back at the end to provide some impressions and concluding remarks.

***

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Jlewis wrote:

Our narrator is the great Spirit of the City, later revealed as Sgt. Joe. This is the legendary Chill Wills himself, whom we are all familiar with in oh-so-many classics (i.e. discussing Liz Taylor to Dennis Hopper in GIANT “I've always had a strange power over your mother”). He introduces us to “just one night” in this particular city and the key emphasis here is the “fallen” status of its citizens.

Greg (Wally Russell from WHITE HEAT), is introduced as a “once he was an actor and now he is down to this...” reduced to being a “mechanical man” in store fronts. This line I found peculiar because some of these display artists just might do better financially than struggling actors do, so why is it a “down to this” situation?

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Then we have another Johnny (since no crime film is complete without a Johnny), played by Gig Young, who slinks into the nightclub to observe his ex-girlfriend Sally (Mala Powers) whom he ditched when he found out she was a dancer. Yeah, but it is not like she is dancing in her all-together (along with other ladies in evening gowns with poodles on a leash) and is probably making good money as well. Sally ain't happy either, telling Johnny she had dreams of performing “in ballet slippers” but is now “grounded to this." She plans to hook up with Greg the “mechanical robot."

Then there's Haye Stewart (William Talman) and his pearly white bunny rabbit, being a magician who suffered because he got too greedy as a pick-pocket. We see him performing with a top hat for a visiting Stubby (Ron Haggerthy), busy munching on peanuts with little enthusiasm. He pulls out a pop gun just before a cut to the following character...

“... and here is my most brilliant criminal attorney being interviewed by the press as he stands by his lovely young wife” (Marie Windsor). Yes, according to the Spirit of the City, towering above them all is Edward Arnold at his swarmiest playing Penrod Biddel, whom, to “the eyes of the world”, he is the “ultimate success of fortune and good living." Plus Johnny needs him as much as Jimmy Stewart in MR. SMITH GOES TO WASHINGTON did not, since he is bored-out-of-his-mind living with affectionate “good” wife Kathy (Paula Raymond) and her annoying mother instead of “sexy” Sally and working as a cop with the force under the guidance of his father-in-law daddy, played by another familiar face, Otto Hulett from THE MOB.

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Soon the Spirit of the City shows up in person to meet Johnny. “You can call me Joe” our beloved Chill Wills tells him. Dressed as a sergeant, he is like Clarence the guardian angel in IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE in some ways, but is still a real character in our story who works at Johnny's unit. The two ride together in a car as Johnny makes a visit with Mister Swarmy to get conned into arresting The Magician out-of-state (this being Chicago and Indiana as the other state). “Get your errand squared away?" Joe jokingly quips... oh, he can see through Johnny like an X-ray machine.

One clever gimmick I like early in the film are the women smacking gum and Stubby eating peanuts. We see a very sarcastic showgirl with a New York accent posing as a French dancer; her gum-smacking suggests she is all about The Act, delivering a falsified image to a public. When Johnny delivers a baby unexpectedly to a woman whom a taxi driver is concerned about, we the viewers observe the crowd observing Johnny. One woman smacks her gum, suggesting she might have opinions as to why the woman was “in trouble” (thinking she might have been drunk or something?), but stops chewing as she watches in awe at Johnny's abilities.

We the viewers started out questioning Johnny's morals here since he is attracted to a woman he is not married to, is eager to leave the force despite how good he is at the role, wants to leave a loving wife and father-in-law who supports him and is willing to get bribed by Mister Swarmy, I mean Penrod. Yet we are learning quickly that he is just an average guy who means well but has faced a roadblock in his life and is questioning everything. In many ways he is like the two Jimmy Stewart characters in the popular Capra-Corn entertainments that I referenced already.

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It is interesting that Joe asks Johnny if he ever had children and Johnny sarcastically replies “at my pay?”, prompting a very abrupt edit cut to a shot of Haye Stewart's rabbit in a cage. On one level, this parallels Johnny feeling caged by both his job and marriage. On another level, according to Parker Tyler's excellent Sex In Films, rabbits were popular in Hollywood films from the 1920s through '50s as a symbol of one male character's “potency” or a female being desirable sexually to men merely because she is as innocent looking as a bunny (or “Angel Face” like Sally). Their frequent inclusions (Bugs Bunny not counting) were a clever in-joke for viewers in-the-know due to how much popular literature during the first half of the 20th century used rabbits in a similar fashion; in this case, film makers were getting around the Production Code. Are we being hinted that Haye might have fathered the child whom Johnny delivered suddenly?

We do learn shortly that he is sexually involved with Penrod's “lovely young wife”... and Penrod himself looks scornfully at an unmade bed at Hayes' apartment when he sees the two of them together but fully dressed.

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Intriguingly I found myself questioning why Stubby hangs out with him. Technically we are still in the pre-Stonewall era and should not be thinking this is that kind of relationship when it may not be. Haye to Stubby regarding his father (revealed to be Johnny's too and Stubby is his younger brother) “You ever told him that you... know me?” “You told me not to!” Stubby also feels “I am rotting away, standing at street corners whistling at dolls” since he isn't terribly fond of “dolls”. He wants to “turn a trick” with Hayes instead.

Of course, the “trick” turns out to be something different than some may suspect it is. They just want to steal (pickpocket style) some important documents from Penrod's office files because Hayes on again, off again works for Penrod in a dirty way and Penrod was trying to con Johnny into getting him arrested and out of his life. Love the little note Penrod left in his files to dupe Wayne: “You utter fool! Who do you think you are dealing with?” Yet you can not out-trick a magician for long and that same note shows up in Penrod's own safe later.

This deceptively standard B-budget cop film resembles that scrappily re-painted wall in your home. If you scrape off some of the old paint, you might find something interesting underneath. There are many layers covering other layers. It is a modern film in certain respects.

In other respects, it does show its age. One minor little detail that I am sure you will think I am just being nitpicky with involves a “deacon” in trouble for a crooked dice game. Far too many old Hollywood films showed African Americans obsessed with dice just as they were with watermelons and stealing chickens. Not that this film purposely stereotypes in any way and the scene is presented matter-of-fact with no ridicule or condensation at all. However, I wonder if they would have done better casting a Caucasian actor for this role while giving black actors other roles less demeaning (since we see none elsewhere). Animated cartoons (George Pal Puppetoons, Warner Looney Tunes, etc.) had stopped with the racial “dice” stereotypes by 1946 due to complaints from the NAACP and Ebony magazine editors, so I am all the more surprised that a mainstream feature-length live-action feature shot as late as 1952-53 with prominent stars resorts to this.

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Curiously this very questionable scene is jump-cut to a scene of Greg in an almost-but-not-quite “golden” blackface and white gloves resembling those used in minstrel shows trying to talk Sally into dating him. Not that a modern viewer would be questioning had that scene been edited in at a different point in the picture. Also Greg's get-up does play an all-important part when he becomes a witness of a crime while posing as a storefront animatronic mannequin. This is a very clever idea that makes this noir more distinctive than the competition.

The ending has our hero win out in the end and Sgt. Joe play up his Lewis Stone role in true GRAND HOTEL style as our Greek chorus... or is he really Clarence from IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE? However there are still some pleasant surprises along the way there involving a surprise family tragedy that gets Johnny to rethink his career and an action climax with our villain the magician aboard train tracks.

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Everybody winds up with their proper partners in the end (Sally hooks up with Greg I guess, unless he did get hurt in the surprise gunfire... since we don't get that resolved) and another marriage is kept in tact. Johnny and Stubby are reunited as brothers in a church scene as one carries the other on his back, prompting me to hum a certain Hollies tune of 1969 since Stubby ain't heavy.

At head quarters, Johnny gets his badge returned to him since he previously tossed it off the tracks. “You almost lost it” he is informed. “Yes.” And now “Johnny Kelly is home. Home to stay, while others are just getting up for work.” Thank you, Sgt. Joe.

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Republic was Hollywood's top B-factory and handled quite a number of modest budgeted noirs, but this one is slicker than most. The impressive musical score over the titles makes it feel like a Warner production with credited R. Dale Butts echoing Max Steiner a bit. Cinematography from John L. Russell of later PSYCHO fame helps this considerably as well, featuring very high contrast action shots with shadows that are literally shadows, diagonal streets creating a sense of anxiety to the characters involved and fast car chases inserted that look great at first until you notice a few stock shots repeated on screen. By and large, this is a B-pic looking very Grade A. Could it have been a great film rather than a satisfying good-but-average one? Perhaps. Yet I won't complain since it is entertaining enough.

***

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TopBilled wrote:

One of the plot points in CITY THAT NEVER SLEEPS is how Gig Young's policeman character makes less than his wife (Paula Raymond) who works outside the home. The script goes out of its way to have her feel guilty about it. She tells her father-in-law she plans to quit her job and will be satisfied with living on just a policeman's salary. The sexist message is that her success has threatened Young's sense of pride and masculinity.

The other message, besides the blatant sexism, is that women take on extra work not to pay household bills like electricity and rent, but they take on extra jobs so they can have money to buy new dresses, jewelry and fancy things their working class husbands can't afford. Raymond's character is made to realize she's been "frivolous" taking a good paying job and she has to right that dreadful wrong!

Also, in CITY THAT NEVER SLEEPS, we have Mala Powers as a show girl who seems to be unhappy until she decides to marry a guy beneath her station in life. And Marie Windsor plays the greedy wife of Edward Arnold's wealthy but crooked attorney. Windsor's character is definitely not shown in a good light, because she's not satisfied with the finer things in life her husband can afford to give her. She betrays him and gets killed as a result.

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Speaking of Windsor, I had talked about her noir work when I reviewed THE SNIPER, and in some ways her death in this movie seems inspired by her death scene in THE SNIPER. She's fantastic in both movies.

I don't really see the Chill Wills character as a spirit or an angel. I see him as a metaphor in the flesh, which gives this B film something extra and pushes it into the A- range.

This is one of Martin Scorsese's favorite Republic pictures, and one of the reasons why he has partnered with Paramount to re-introduce some of the recently restored Republic titles. He presented CITY THAT NEVER SLEEPS on TCM last year, then included it as part of a retrospective at MoMA in New York City. Now it's available on iTunes as part of a series of Scorsese's recommended films.

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The Chill Wills character is very complex and open to different interpretations. We will have to let others watch and decide for themselves whether he is flesh and blood or some spiritual being. The final scene of Johnny rediscovering his letter in the car made me think he was the latter, although he is seen by another character in the flesh but also questioned about his peculiar psychic ability in recognizing Johnny from a great distance. Remember too that Clarence the Guardian Angel in Frank Capra's IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE was occasionally visible to others besides Jimmy Stewart's George.

There are some striking similarities between this film and the Frank Capra one and I am quite certain the former was studied during the screenwriting for this one. The openings involve a bit of narration coming from "above" the cityscape and Joe and Clarence are doing much of the talking (although the former has two voices involved). Both Johnny and George are "average Joes" who feel unappreciated but others would miss them greatly if they were gone from this Earth. Had Johnny gotten "to see what it was like had he not been born", I am sure he and Joe would have learned that the woman's baby died because he wasn't there to help with the delivery or that his little brother too could have suffered some great misfortune resembling George's Harry. Note too how a man's father dying also plays a key plot point in both movies.

Still more... Mala Powers' Sally plays the more colorful rival to the more ordinary wife much like Gloria Graham's Violet in the former. Regarding the women, both films are equally sexist. Was it all that "bad" that Donna Reed's Mary could potentially be an unmarried librarian wearing glasses instead of a mother of three? Was she incomplete without being George's wife and mother of his children?* When the Savings & Loan is suffering, one minor woman character fusses about her husband being out of work and, yes, this was commonplace during the Depression setting of that scene but it felt to me that Capra the director considered women incapable of surviving without men at times. This relates back to your criticisms of MR. SMITH GOES TO WASHINGTON and its lack of female politicians.

In a curious way, the letter being rediscovered by Johnny in his car reminds me of the Tom Sawyer book getting rediscovered by George Bailey, even if the situations are different. It is the timing and the "gotcha" moment that is similar, with both Johnny and George rethinking of how their experiences with Clarence and Joe has changed them for the better. We don't see Joe anymore and we only reference Clarence when Zuzu comments on the bell ringing relating to angels getting wings. Both of these moments, in turn, bring me to a third movie: Powell & Pressburger's A MATTER OF LIFE AND DEATH, in which a book on chess is returned to David Niven's Peter by Marius Goring's "Conductor 71". The reason I mention this one is because you referenced Martin Scorsese here and he has always been gaga over this film as well. Scorsese always had a fetish for films that feature mundane characters going about their business in "earthly" fashion but with some supernatural/spiritual interference impacting their lives.

 

*little footnote: Both Johnny and George worry a lot about the expense of having children. Johnny is asked by Joe about them and claims he can't afford them on his salary. George is pleased that Mary is "on the nest" but later complains about the drafty house and having children when he fears financial ruin after Uncle Billy loses the money. I can go on and on with still more similarities... even though the church scenes in the earlier film are fleeting, the Capra film is still quite religious with discussions of God and praying while we get a very prominent church scene reuniting the two brothers here.

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I think your comment about Scorsese is right on target. We especially see his preoccupation with earthly travails and spiritual influences in THE LAST TEMPTATION OF CHRIST. (Maybe that's a film we should cover later on?)

I like how you are mentioning Johnny's brother. In a way CITY THAT NEVER SLEEPS plays like a soap opera, because we have all these people interconnected through various dramas. Johnny's brother is an Achilles heel for him, just like the Marie Windsor character is an Achilles heal for the shady lawyer played by Edward Arnold. Before the night is over, they all reach a mutual climax.

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Essential: OF HUMAN BONDAGE (1934)

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TopBilled wrote:

'Their Love Is Impossible.' That's what our theme during the first half of November is called. As the phrase suggests, we will be looking at films where a couple might be facing impossible odds. And in some of these cases, love leads one or both of them in new directions.

This weekend we're focusing on the original Hollywood studio version of Somerset Maugham's classic story 'Of Human Bondage.' When I was in college, a friend of mine read it and told me what happened in each chapter. There are a few different subplots in the book that have been cut from the 1934 film. And it's just as well, since RKO was not attempting any epic retelling of the tale; just a simplified version of the central 'love story.' And we do have to put those words in 'quotes.'

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Producer Pandro Berman was in charge of this glossy high-end literary adaptation. Just like the studio's production of LITTLE WOMEN a year earlier, the sets and clothing are very detailed. The make-up is first rate, especially as Bette Davis' character becomes more trashy. And there are some finely photographed scenes in terms of lighting and mise-en-scene (frame composition).

Recently Jlewis and I talked about this film after re-watching it (in our separate locations, since we live on different sides of the U.S.). He pointed out that there were two follow-up versions that had subsequently been filmed-- one made by Warner Brothers in 1944 (but postponed in release to '46) and one made by MGM in '63/'64. We both agreed that this precode version is by far the best.

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I think he's a bit more enthralled with Davis' acting than I am. Don't get me wrong, I'm a Bette Davis fan, but I think she does go a bit overboard here, especially in that one memorable scene which everyone associates with the film. Yes, I know it supposedly put her on the map as a star. But there's a little too much scenery chewing, and she could have dialed it down a bit and still given a highly effective performance. But that's a minor complaint. She does etch a strong portrait of a troubled woman who causes drama for everyone she meets. And Leslie Howard also does rather well playing a more put-upon romantic lead.

Before I let Jlewis take over and go more in-depth, I want to quote a portion of Pauline Kael's review. Mainly because I think she expresses something close to how I feel about the picture and about Davis as the ever-impossible Mildred.

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Kael says specifically:

"Bette Davis had a great slouch in the role of Mildred, the scheming deceitful Cockney waitress who sinks her hooks into the sensitive hero (Leslie Howard). Davis makes her role work through sheer will; she doesn't let it happen, she makes it happen...the other women in the hero's life are played by lovely young Frances Dee and the unusual, wry Kay Johnson."

Kael doesn't mention Alan Hale. I think he gives an underrated performance as one of Davis' conquests. Though I am glad she talks about Frances Dee. I think in some ways Frances Dee steals the picture out from Davis, because we want her to be Howard's reward in the end, for suffering through Mildred's cruel machinations. So Dee plays the character we end up rooting for. At least I ended up rooting for her. And of course, Dee is a much more conventional beauty than Davis, but playing a likable character helps considerably.

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Okay, on to Jlewis and his observations...

***

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Jlewis wrote:

This popular release by RKO made the movie history books because of Warner Brothers reluctantly agreeing to loan out Bette Davis to RKO in exchange for Irene Dunne. Davis was so eager to try something so radically different than the glamour-gal roles in which she was currently being typecast. She greatly impressed the critics and public alike, but failed to get nominated for an Oscar and this resulted in enough buzz in the industry that the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences was prompted to add write-in ballots and other new features to their voting system so that Davis and others had a greater opportunity next time.

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As history played out, this film was the springboard to two Oscar wins of hers since many, including boss Jack Warner, realized she had plenty of spunk that hadn't been tapped well previously.

I still have not seen the TCM documentary LESLIE HOWARD: THE MAN WHO GAVE A DAMN, but a few comments to add regarding him. He is very good in this film but I must admit that many of his characters tend to be too much alike in personality. There is little question how much loved he was by his peers and those in the industry, plus those in the stage profession in which he established a name for himself. He served his country in a most fascinating British Intelligence wartime way and died for it (this being a great topic for a movie adaptation itself), but equally important was how he took a back seat so new stars could have their breaks... both Davis here and Humphrey Bogart in THE PETRIFIED FOREST (also with Davis).

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His best Brit pics are perhaps THE SCARLET PIMPERNEL and PYGMALION, even though I favor Rex Harrison's Henry Higgins over his in MY FAIR LADY (but consider PYGMALION a better film overall). When fellow Brit star Vivien Leigh successfully played the most famous Georgia peach in GONE WITH THE WIND, Ashley Wilkes was essentially Leslie Howard playing, well, Leslie Howard and maintaining his Brit accent.

Adapted from a popular 1915 novel by the great W. Somerset Maugham (initially called Beauty from the Ashes), Howard plays a club-foot artist named Philip who moves from Paris to London and start a new profession in medical school, where he embarrassingly becomes the subject of interest over his handicapped foot. (Scenes like these showcase Howard at his best, since his facial expressions of frustration are quite good.)

He dates Mildred (Davis) who plays hard-to-get with her lines of “well... you don't take me out, some else will”. Apparently she notices his funny walk early on and seems a bit put off by that appearance, but they still go steady for a while... until she rejects him and he is heartbroken.

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Despite his depressing life, Philip has some friends who support him like buddy Harry (Reginald Denny). He then gets engaged to kind-hearted Norah (Kay Johnson), only to confront Mildred again...as a pregnant woman who was rejected by her “husband” Emil (Alan Hale). Emil is revealed to be married to somebody else since Mildred wasn't honest in her report to Philip. Poor Norah is left on the sidelines because Mildred was Philip's First Love and she must be catered to. Only Mildred then rejects Philip again by making a move on his buddy Harry! Curiously Philip does not go back to Norah, but meets up with alternative choice #2, Sally (Francis Dee) and her outspoken daddy (a role Reginald Owen makes his own).

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As the title suggests, Philip is in human bondage to Mildred who never loved him like he did her... or does she? Eventually he cools off towards her just as she had been cool and distant with him in the past. After borrowing his flat to raise the baby, she starts to develop a multiple split personality, getting “jealous” and Bette the actress gives us an early taste of later roles spanning from “Jezebel” Julie Mardsen to Baby Jane Hudson. I especially love how director John Cromwell and the camera crew pose her, sometimes strategically in front of Philip's lady sketches and paintings to contrast her real persona with his earlier fantasized image of her. Being Pre-Code, we see some female nude drawings on display that Philip worked on and Mildred tongue-in-cheep considers "indecent;" such stuff would disappear shortly from screens for a good many years.

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The big climax is one that completely rocked audiences back in the day, but provides the ultimate in high camp today. How can you resist it? 

“Me? I disgust YOU? You. You! You're too fine! You won't have me but you sit here looking at your naked females! You cad! You dirty swine! I never cared for you, not once. I was always making a fool of you. You bored me stiff. It made me sick when I let you kiss me. I did it because you begged me. You drove me crazy! And after you kissed me, I always use to wipe my mouth! Well, I made up for it. For every kiss, we laughed at you. Miller and me, and Griffiths and me. We laughed at you. You were such a mug, a mug, a mug! You gippy-legged monster! You're a cripple! A cripple!”

Soon she takes revenge on his art and books, even overturning his furniture. The classic butcher knife rip-up act is especially Freudian, with Bette the actress expressing her aggressive masculine side in all of its glory. She is equally good in that very last scene hunched with black circles around her eyes and a cigarette dangling from her hand.

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This is a visually appealing production. RKO had the best special effects and montage department in the business post-KING KONG and other classics. Emphasizing Philip's self consciousness over his foot, many key early shots focus on his shoes and peculiar walk, but we are later shown close ups of other people's feet walking normally and, even later, he himself is cured of his handicap but not his financial misfortunes as his now normalized walking combines with a montage of want ads and voices of “nothing for you."

While studying his medicine, there is a nice trick shot of a human body diagram morphing into Mildred, which today could easily be done with computers but obviously involved a great more effort back then. There are fantasy day-dream sequences involving multiple exposures that, by 1934, may have been old hat but still visually impressive just the same. Another clever gimmick is Emil telling Philip he refuses to take care of Mildred's pregnancy and, in the process, accidentally spitting a piece of his cigar on a photograph of his wife and daughter. Also we see theater tickets, a doctor's report and travel brochures ceremoniously ripped in two.

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I was particularly impressed by the final scene with the two lovebirds (not Mildred involved), but I do wonder about that other lady in his life) walking among honking car horns. This reminds me of later famous scenes like the one in NORTH BY NORTHWEST when airline noise obscures a key conversation that viewers already know about and the filmmakers don't wish bore them by repeating with more explanations. It is a clever visual and audio trick, this being among the earliest examples.

Key line towards the end that wraps up our delirious drama: “I had to be free to realize that, free to understand that all those years I dreamed of escape was because I was limping through life.” Time to get a taxi.

OF HUMAN BONDAGE (1934) may currently be viewed on YouTube.

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Regarding Bette Davis' performance, I think her reputation rests on that one key scene when she has her meltdown. The rest of her performance, especially in the beginning, is rather stiff. Much as I accuse Leslie Howard for being a trifle stiff, but his facial expressions throughout are very good. I even pointed out the scene when he is forced to show his foot to the medical students and he displays that emotional look of humiliation. Back to Davis, you have to understand that many moviegoers and critics in 1934 were totally unprepared for her climax, although we modern viewers would certainly view it as over the top. She had many better performances later on, but this was a key stepping stone.

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Just wanted to mention that Bette Davis is the November 2019 Star of the Month on TCM. And tomorrow evening, the 5th, they will lead off primetime with a broadcast of her star-making turn in OF HUMAN BONDAGE.

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Essential: INTERMEZZO: A LOVE STORY (1939)

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Part 1 of 2

TB: This weekend we are continuing our theme of "impossible love" stories. Specifically, we are looking at the 1939 remake of INTERMEZZO, which was originally called INTERMEZZO: A LOVE STORY. It would be Ingrid Bergman's first motion picture in Hollywood. Three years earlier she had been in the original Swedish version, which brought her to the attention of producer David Selznick when it screened in America. Selznick quickly signed her to a contract and he made arrangements to bring her to California.

I guess he thought she would be the next Garbo, though we know Bergman's acting style and persona were quite different from Garbo's. Bergman made a few more pictures in Scandinavia, one of them being the original version of A WOMAN'S FACE (1938) which MGM would buy and remake with Joan Crawford in 1941. It's really a shame Bergman wasn't allowed to recreate that performance too.

By the time the remake for INTERMEZZO was filmed, Bergman had completed her transition to life in America and Selznick was negotiating deals for her to star in other studio projects. Interestingly, her last Swedish movie from this period was JUNE NIGHT (1940), which did not premiere until after the remake for INTERMEZZO. That might have been confusing for fans in her homeland who probably thought she went to America to make one Hollywood picture and had come back. But in reality, Bergman did not go back to Sweden. She stayed in Hollywood for ten years, then went to Italy. She would not make another film in Sweden until 1967's STIMULANTIA.

***

TB: Okay, let's focus on the INTERMEZZO remake. It's a carefully constructed tale of love and adultery, inhibited somewhat by the production code.

JL: As you stated, this became Bergman's vehicle of introduction to U.S. audiences, courtesy of indie mogul David O'Selznick. Famously the producer made Technicolor tests of her in 1938 with the prospect of shooting her first vehicle in color...and co-star Leslie Howard was as well, being cast for Selznick's next color production, GONE WITH THE WIND. I suspect that the financial loss on NOTHING SACRED and the merely breaking-even results of THE ADVENTURES OF TOM SAWYER likely prompted the producer to go back to black & white with this one. It was a wise decision since I don't think color would have added anything substantial here, apart from Bergman looking radiant and maybe enhancing some of the travel scenes.

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TB: Yes. I think this version works just fine in black-and-white. A story about forbidden love and adultery would seem a bit cheery and less dramatic if it had been presented in Technicolor.

JL: Although Bergman would not return to the color cameras until the summer of 1942 when FOR WHOM THE BELLS TOLL was shot, there is little question that she was the big star here even in monochrome. She has a face that is so expressive in emotion that you can't keep your eyes off of her.

TB: Let's discuss some of the aspects of the story.

JL: Here, she plays Anita, who is hired by Leslie Howard's Holger Brandt as a music teacher for his family; Holger being a famous violinist. Holger's wife Margrit is affectionate if overly sweet at first and I am very thankful that actress Edna Best mercifully only plays it this way in the beginning, getting more sensitive and easier to relate to after she becomes more... aware of things going on that she can't stop. On the other hand, their daughter, Anne Marie Brandt played by another Anne...Anne E. Todd, is desperate to give us viewers massive tooth decay with awfully cute Bonnie Blue Butler mannerisms.

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TB: I love that expression-- "massive tooth decay." I think Bobs Watson and Margaret O'Brien are the biggest examples of this style of child acting in the 30s and 40s. But that's another topic!

JL: Anne Marie also has a brother named Eric (Douglas Scott) too, but he doesn't get nearly as much attention on screen until Daddy gives him a noteworthy speech towards the end as they are shown with their faces in shadow.

Alas... Anita and Holger have an affair, fall in love and he contemplates leaving his family for her. Being that this is post-Code and pre-MPAA ratings, we don't get concrete proof of it aside from her admitting that they are meeting in “out-of-the-way places” and “little dark corners." She mourns, “What am I? Your shadow. I don't exist without you.”

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JL: Of course, you can not help making comparisons to both stars' most famous roles in GONE WITH THE WIND, with Ashley being “mentally unfaithful” to Melanie as Rhett quips to Scarlet, and CASABLANCA, in which she winds up with Victor instead of Rick in the end.

TB: I'm always a bit cautious when it comes to comparing stars' work in one film with their work in another film, since they are playing different characters, even if they are playing the same basic type of role. Plus, the on-set atmosphere of each picture varies, and eventually the reality of one performance is rooted in something different than the extra-filmic reality of the performance in the other picture, no matter how well-known it may be. But let's go on...

JL: Holger tells good friend (of both him and Anita) Thomas Stenbough, played straight-faced by John Halliday, “I suppose you think I've behaved disgracefully?” Thomas' response: “It's easy to criticize, Holger. I don't pretend to account for someone else's feelings.” He is the voice of authority and reason, having discussions with both Howard and Anita separately. He counsels Holger when she must make a heartbreaking decision.

Tomorrow we will continue the rest of this discussion. Please join us..!

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I don't want to come across as too critical of poor Anne E. Todd here. She did a very good job as far as child actresses of the era are concerned. I just felt that scene with her and Cecil Kellaway at the dinner table was way too rehearsed and lacked spontaneity. She did not seem all that excited or shocked by his curious talk of China like you would expect a little girl to be. It was obvious that she had plenty of coaching.

To be fair, Mickey Kuhn and Cammie King in our much referenced above GWTW were probably worse than her in terms of sugary sweetness. In interviews, Cammie was always hilariously honest and objective about her performance as Scarlet and Rhett's Bonnie and frequently laughed at herself. It is interesting that the last remaining stars of the most famous movie Hollywood ever produced until the Star Wars franchise happen to be 103 year old Olivia de Haviland as Melanie, who actually dies at the end of the movie, and her son Beau, played by now 87 year old Mickey, who sobs to daddy Leslie Howard that he wants to go where mommie is going. Needless-to-say, I always cringe over his voice in that scene.

I think my problem with kids in movies stems from being so spoiled by Hal Roach's "Our Gang" comedies which set the bar so high for child acting in general. I am specifically referring to that series' peak period of circa 1929-1935 before it became more formalized. The Shirley Temple impact certainly influenced child acting in general that decade, probably for the worse even though Shirley herself was one powerfully gifted actress who deserved her success.

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The techniques for directing children in the 1930s and early '40s seems to be mainly based on 1) Mary Pickford - thus a long carryover from the silent era; and 2) Shirley Temple - suggesting her value as a revenue generator at 20thC Fox. One exception is George Cukor, with his handling of Freddie Bartholomew in DAVID COPPERFIELD and Virginia Weidler in THE WOMEN and THE PHILADELPHIA STORY.  (I suspect the GWTW scenes involving Bonnie were directed by King Vidor, though I don't know for sure.)

There may be other exceptions too, but the presentation of children as simplistic and idealistic objects of adult affection, regret, etc. seems to have lingered longest at MGM, into the late 1940s via Margaret O'Brien and Claude Jarman, while WB and RKO began working out more complicated tales of human behavior.

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4 minutes ago, Brrrcold said:

The techniques for directing children in the 1930s and early '40s seems to be mainly based on 1) Mary Pickford - thus a long carryover from the silent era; and 2) Shirley Temple - suggesting her value as a revenue generator at 20thC Fox. One exception is George Cukor, with his handling of Freddie Bartholomew in DAVID COPPERFIELD and Virginia Weidler in THE WOMEN and THE PHILADELPHIA STORY.  (I suspect the GWTW scenes involving Bonnie were directed by King Vidor, though I don't know for sure.)

There may be other exceptions too, but the presentation of children as simplistic and idealistic objects of adult affection, regret, etc. seems to have lingered longest at MGM, into the late 1940s via Margaret O'Brien and Claude Jarman, while WB and RKO began working out more complicated tales of human behavior.

At some point Jlewis and I could do a month on the evolution of child star performances. For a more "modern example" I'd include Macaulay Culkin's performance in HOME ALONE, since it was very popular and much imitated/spoofed.

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There is something about INTERMEZZO that feels entirely European in style, mood, pacing, etc. It's unlikely that anyone seeing it for the first time would believe it was made in Hollywood.

I don't know how closely the director matches the Swedish version, but I'd be surprised if there is much (or any) variance in the screenplay or shot set-up, or editing.

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30 minutes ago, Brrrcold said:

There is something about INTERMEZZO that feels entirely European in style, mood, pacing, etc. It's unlikely that anyone seeing it for the first time would believe it was made in Hollywood.

I don't know how closely the director matches the Swedish version, but I'd be surprised if there is much (or any) variance in the screenplay or shot set-up, or editing.

Some of Selznick's films seem European in tone. Especially things like PORTRAIT OF JENNIE (1948) and INDISCRETION OF AN AMERICAN WIFE (1953).

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Essential: INTERMEZZO: A LOVE STORY (1939)

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Part 2 of 2

TB: Okay, yesterday Jlewis and I began discussing David Selznick's Hollywood remake of the Swedish classic INTERMEZZO. Let's continue the discussion, by focusing on how the basic story in INTERMEZZO comes to a head, and how it concludes. The affair between the characters portrayed by Ingrid Bergman and Leslie Howard cannot really have a happy ending, due to the production code.

JL: A little almost tragedy occurs in the film's climax that brings the two characters out of their romantic disillusionment. This is a slushy-gushy Selznick production all the way through. The music is especially important here with major credit work going to Robert Henning and Heinz Provost, along with the great Max Steiner himself. The mix of violin and piano heard throughout, again, references that more famous concurrently-filmed-production (GWTW) that was also keeping Howard busy.

As for the stars and their own music talents, Bergman is quite convincing at the piano but Howard obviously was struggling with his role and needed a professional, Al Sack, as a stand-in for close-ups of the instrument being played.

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TB: Ingrid Bergman seems to put a lot of concentration into this story. I love how Leslie Howard plays the role so nonchalantly in the beginning, then all that changes when Bergman’s character performs at the birthday party.

Of course, because it is a drama about adultery, we’re not supposed to root for the main characters. Especially anyone that believes in upholding a certain morality. And the plot threads are all neatly tidied up when he goes back to the wife in the final scenes. But it leaves you wondering what happened to Bergman’s character. She may have provided an intermezzo for him but there’s a sequel in here somewhere. I can’t think that these two never met up again.

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TB: Thoughts about the director?

JL: Gregory Ratoff apparently did a good job directing the stars and I've read up that William Wyler helped a bit. Gregg Toland's camerawork is much more conservative than we are used to here. He soon moved on to the more Dorothea Lang photo-realism of GRAPES OF WRATH and all of the deep focus artsy innovation of CITIZEN KANE. He does succeed very well indeed in shooting the faces as their dramatic best, both in shadow as in the father-son talk and in the bright California-lit European settings.

TB: Anything else?

JL: Oh... I must add that Cecil Kellaway has a fun bit role as Uncle Charles. He was always a welcome piece of South African joviality in everything he did. His discussion of a China birthday party eating swallow's nest, roasted silk worms, snake soup and cricket eggs to the the kids is a delight. “You didn't eat that?” he is asked. “We had to take a double helping of everything or the mandarin would have murdered us.”

TB: I don't remember that part. I will have to rewatch it later.

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JL: The film is an acquired taste for many modern viewers. Some may love it because of it is weepy in its score and Bergman suffering in anguish, while others might roll their eyes for being a trifle old fashioned. To be fair, many other films imitated it and often over emphasized its theme of extra-marital romance that is only as good as it lasts. If you have seen its many “offspring” of the 40s and '50s, then its novelty value may be slim to you. However you can't complain about it outstaying its welcome since it runs a crisp 69 minutes.

TB: The story does seem a bit rushed in spots. I think we should’ve had the scene where he tells the wife he’s leaving her. The role of the son is very underdeveloped. But overall, the story is great. I haven't seen the Swedish version. It's 93 minutes long. So it would be interesting to watch and find out what Selznick and his scriptwriters cut for the remake. The original is available in a restored version.

JL: I watched parts of the 1936 version of INTERMEZZO  and it blows my mind how Selznick’s team really matched the scenery rather closely. I guess Hollywood money and professionals who know their business can do wonders. Bergman’s performance is fascinating to compare and contrast. She is more physically aggressive here, but is much softer and more mannered in the ’39 version. She was a perfectionist trying to correct aspects of her earlier performances she disliked.

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TB: Bergman had extensive lessons in English for about a year when Selznick brought her to America. So she not only was improving her performance but doing it in an entirely new language. Imagine the reverse scenario...being an English-speaking actor and having to redo your entire performance in another country in another language. So that gives us a newfound appreciation of what Bergman accomplishes here.

JL: At first, I thought Bergman was wearing the same dress in the dramatic stairway scene of both films but closer examination revealed they are different but still strikingly similar. I also think Leslie Howard looks much younger despite being less than three years younger in real life, compared to Gösta Ekman in the '36 version. Ekman died at only 47 a year and a half after filming and Howard, of course, died before his time (but in the line of wartime service action).

I also like how the seasons transition in both films. In this case, I favor the Swedish version over the Hollywood one, especially the shots of changing trees as the camera pans on Holger in his changing emotional state through the months. This is something that Swedish filmmakers mastered to perfection, especially in the great nature documentaries by Arne Sucksdorff that followed in the 1940s and '50s.

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TB: I should point that that there is some correspondence about the remake, which is included in the book Memo from David O. Selznick.

For example, in the Selznick book, there is stuff about the scenes with the violin playing. Mainly how Bergman was basically a technical consultant, letting her American bosses know how certain scenes were accomplished in the original. There were certain "tricks" with the photography to make it look like the lead actor was actually playing, when a stand-in was doing most of the work.

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TB: The memos also cover how Selznick used this film to get Leslie Howard to do the role in GONE WITH THE WIND, which Howard was quite reluctant to do. Selznick allowed Howard to work and receive credit as an associate producer on INTERMEZZO, as an enticement for the actor to play Ashley in the other film.

JL: Bergman gives the better performance in this 1939 version, because she is much more restrained. They also did a better job on her makeup here, since those earlier fake eyebrows are as distracting on her as they are on Jean Harlow. In '36, she gets a bit theatrical putting her arm in front of her face when she sees him downstairs, but is far more subtle in the later version. I also favor Leslie Howard's facial expressions over Gösta's in that scene because, despite my frequent criticism of Howard's performances blending in too much in my mind from picture to picture, he has mastered the innocent I-don't-suspect-she-will-leave-me look perfectly here.

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INTERMEZZO (1939) may currently be viewed on YouTube.

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