Jump to content

 
Search In
  • More options...
Find results that contain...
Find results in...
TopBilled

TopBilled’s Essentials

Recommended Posts

2 hours ago, Jlewis said:

Earlier I had mentioned that this was probably the best of the five films these Q&As involved. That is, if we judge it by screenplay and cinematic details. Yet it may also be the dullest. Not that it lacks entertainment value. Just that you sense you may have seen something like this before. In hindsight, the one famous earlier title that jumps out at me as a comparison is Edward Dmytryk's Crossfire, another excellent-but-still-somewhat-dull-and-preachy film noir with a message. It does feel like something that Dore Schary would have greenlit at MGM had he not been canned three years earlier.

I think Dore Schary green-lighted CROSSFIRE when he was at RKO, before he moved over to MGM.

  • Like 1

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Yes, I know. You are right. 😉 In a way, Sapphire even feels more like an RKO than a MGM film. Well, pre-Howard Hughes RKO, that is. In addition, Schary was on his Civil War kick during his later years.

  • Thanks 1

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Essential: THE TAMARIND SEED (1974)

Part 1 of 2

Screen Shot 2019-06-25 at 3.08.08 PM.jpeg

TB: For our fifth and final week on British crime flicks, we are looking at the 1974 movie THE TAMARIND SEED. Star Julie Andrews had been off screen for four years, and this was heralded as a comeback of sorts. She would take a longer break after this, and have another comeback in 1979 with 10. These films, of course, were written and directed by Andrews' husband Blake Edwards. If you haven't seen THE TAMARIND SEED, it should be said upfront that her character Judith Farrow isn't very much like Mary Poppins or Maria Von Trapp. Though Andrews is still playing a very likable woman in this cold war espionage drama.

JL: I have not read Evelyn Anthony's book that this was adapted from, but I suspect some alterations were done to make it a better vehicle for Andrews, especially since Edwards was behind the camera and audiences were less enthusiastic for her vamp role in DARLING LILI than they were to the more wholesome Poppins and Von Trapp. However I also remember reading a comment of hers stating that she got pretty frustrated by this time with so many thinking she sported daisies “down under,” so this is why her later roles tended to be more along the lines of the popular Jane Fondas and Julie Christies of the period and, at least once, she dared to go topless.

JL: Julie Andrews wasn't doing much on the big screen during the seventies, though she stayed active on the small screen, most notably with her participation in opening Walt Disney World in Florida and twice singing with the Muppets. Therefore a film appearance like this was a rare treat for this era. As the credits roll, a close-up of her face is shown first, before Omar Sharif, to emphasize her being away too long.

Julie Andrews & Omar Sharif

Screen Shot 2019-06-25 at 3.13.55 PM.jpeg

TB: What do you think about the character she's playing? And about the characer Sharif is playing?

JL: The character of Judith Farrow, British Home Office assistant, had an affair with a married Captain Richard Patterson (David Baron)...and we are lead to believe that it started after her husband died, but are we really that sure? After all, she admitted she wasn't in love with him before he was consumed in a fiery car crash over a cliff. Yet we need this storyline because she later seeks Patterson for help and this prompts the wife (Carol Bannerman) to eavesdrop on their phone call. Also we need to understand the “why” of a Julie Andrews “type” allowing Omar's married Feodor Sverdlov to both woo her and admit he is a womanizer away from his wife.

screen-shot-2019-05-26-at-1.31.21-pm.jpeg

TB: Omar Sharif exudes charisma, doesn't he! He and Andrews share a palpable chemistry. I'd read somewhere that he often had affairs with his leading ladies. But because Andrews' husband is in charge and continually present, I would expect that Sharif and Andrews did not carry on once the camera stopped rolling. So I think that adds to the romantic tension here, especially since Feodor does want to take Judith to bed and the consummation of the characters' relationship is considerably delayed (until the third act of the movie).

JL: To his credit, Feodor does insist that Judith is different than the others and, like George Lazenby's Bond with Diana Rigg (ON HER MAJESTY'S SECRET SERVICE), he seems ready to settle down and be faithful for a change. This keeps Omar on his proper Zhivago footing by not only having him play a Russian who doesn't get along with his government but also one who is ready to stay focused on just one Lara.

Comparisons with other films

TB: Before I re-watched the film, you told me that you thought it reminded you of CHARADE. So let's go over some comparisons with CHARADE. Also the Bond films from the 60s and early 70s, since I think it shares similarities with those productions as well.

JL: Stanley Donen's CHARADE, made a decade earlier, was very Hitch-inspired and this film invites plenty of comparison. For me, the comparisons are more about the overall story arch of a romantic pair in which the woman isn't completely sure of her man's honesty at first and the overall chemistry of the pair. Plus Julie Andrews often competed for the same roles as Audrey Hepburn (most obviously, MY FAIR LADY) since both actresses have a certain refinement and are showcased in stylish wardrobes.

TB: Yes, I must interject briefly. We are told in the opening credit sequence that the wardrobe for this movie is provided by Dior. And the leads are very stylishly presented in this picture. So are most of the supporting players. What about the casting of Andrews and Sharif? Obviously Andrews could have had her choice of any leading man for this film.

JL: Key difference here are the ages: Julie is 37 here (filming started in May 1973) while Omar Sharif was only three and a half years older, unlike Audrey being 33 and co-star Cary Grant turning 59 in 1962-63. Then again, Omar's hair is quite gray here, perhaps done on purpose.

On-location filming

Screen Shot 2019-06-25 at 3.12.25 PM.jpeg

TB: I'd like to mention the on-location filming, which I think gives this film something extra. In a way, the film sort of functions as a glossy travelogue. The Bond films move much more quickly without a lot of rumination about the surroundings. But the pace of this story is a bit more leisure, so there's time to linger on the locales a bit more, which I love.

JL: Even without as much on-your-seat's-edge 007 suspense, we get a lot of 007-ish locales: Paris, London, Barbados especially... also some hilly country posing as Canada. Cinematographer Freddie Young had an impressive career stretching back to the twenties with a special emphasis on action films from THE 49TH PARALLEL, Walt Disney's TREASURE ISLAND, MGM's first CinemaScope swashbucklers, one 007 outing (YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE) as well as two key David Lean epics: LAWRENCE OF ARABIA with an Arab Omar Sharif and DR. ZHIVAGO with a Russian Omar Sharif like Feodor here.

TB: Tomorrow JLewis and I continue our conversation about THE TAMARIND SEED. We discuss the cinematography a bit, and we also focus on the film's superb supporting players. Please be sure to join us...

Screen Shot 2019-06-25 at 4.07.23 PM.jpeg

  • Like 2

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Essential: THE TAMARIND SEED (1974)

Part 2 of 2

Screen Shot 2019-06-25 at 3.06.52 PM.jpeg

TB: Okay, when we left off yesterday, we were going over the cinematography. Anything else you'd like to add about that?

JL: Well, with cinematographer Freddie Young, we are seeing a master at the peak of his career with everybody in flawless focus, great panoramas of blistering clouds in the horizons and intricate shots of people through windows… indicating that everybody here is constantly being watched. Regardless of how pretty the landscape and how far away you think you are from your troubles, you are never alone.

TB: I thought the film really came alive during the petrol bomb sequence. I liked how the Russian men were carrying a crate of beer bottles, with the explosives cleverly concealed. And I liked the small boat exploding as one of them tried to get away. That section was a nail biter. And it wouldn’t have been as good as it was without Young’s visual sense of how the action should be photographed. And despite the pandemonium that ensues, we still have Andrews’ character at the center of it. She’s a survivor.

Screen Shot 2019-06-25 at 3.18.19 PM.jpeg

JL: It is interesting to note that Judith is the one key character not smoking, perhaps because she is not so nervous about having so much to hide. Of course, we have the usual cigarette lighters that are not really cigarette lighters.

TB: Oh, but we don’t want to spoil too much about the cigarette lighter used by Stephenson (Dan O’Herlihy). Let’s discuss O’Herlihy’s character and the subplot with his wife (Sylvia Syms). Syms had previously played this type of material in VICTIM, albeit differently.

Dan O'Herlihy

JL: Dan O'Herlihy's Fergus Stephenson is a very important character here since he is doing the opposite of Feodor, a Brit establishing contact with the communists and, therefore, becomes a key asset for Feodor when he and Judith confront Jack Loder (Anthony Quayle), the Brit Intelligence officer. In addition to being a commie, he is also accused by his wife Margaret for being gay... and he's not exactly denying it either. However we never see him do anything on screen. But she needs an excuse to carry on an affair with George MacLeod (Bryan Marshall) who is an assistant to Jack and making good use of her pillow talk to learn more about her husband.

Screen Shot 2019-06-25 at 3.24.58 PM.jpeg

TB: At times I found the Stephensons to be more interesting than our main couple, Judith and Feodor. While Judith and Feodor are struggling to trust each other in the early phases of a relationship, the Stephensons are struggling to trust each other in the later phases of a relationship. And I think the Stephensons have much more baggage.

JL: This subplot, for me, felt rather dated for two key reasons. First, many gay men (not so much lesbians) were canned from government jobs in the 1950s in particular because they were widely believed to be the ones most guilty of communist influenced black mail.

TB: Yes. I haven't read the source material, but I wondered if the book had been written much earlier, regardless of when it was published. Because it did seem to suggest some narrow views about homosexuals being communists. Though I did not exactly think Mr. Stephenson was as sexually active as his wife. And as we saw in the film, her dalliances compromised them more than his did.

JL: Women were frequently suspecting their husbands and male lovers were gay simply because they weren't good at “performance”. This even became a joke with slang terms and the nearly always used F-word in such vintage comedies and dramas made just before THE TAMARIND SEED such as LOVERS AND OTHER STRANGERS. We look back at these films as time capsules of “the way we were” and remember that, even as late as 1973-74. homosexuality was only just starting to get removed from medical journals as a “disease.”

Sylvia Syms

Screen Shot 2019-06-25 at 3.55.37 PM.jpeg

TB: Thoughts about Syms as an actress?

JL: She is actually brilliant in her small role and deserved her British Oscar. I had temporarily forgotten her similar role in VICTIM, that being a more sympathetic film. This may explain why she plays her character as only mildly upset about him being gay (since they still had three children now grown up and she is getting what she wants with George) but is far more upset about him being a traitor to their country. This very emotional acting scene by her pulls all the stops.

TB: I see Mrs. Stephenson as a Lady MacBeth, and her husband obviously as MacBeth. And I do think that Syms and O'Herlihy nailed it. I especially love the scene after she learns he's a traitor. She's had her big outburst in the bedroom. But now she's had time to think. And she's calmer, cooler. She goes into the den to tell him she's not going to let him compromise their chances of being put in charge of an embassy. She's very cold-blooded at this point and says she's calling the shots. Though of course they will work together. This is followed by scenes with them in a car later on, where she learns more about how he communicates with the Russians. So ironically, the Stephensons become more of a team, more solidified in their corruption.

JL: Yes, I found the Stephensons far more engrossing than the Patersons and those two friends of Feodor, she not knowing any Russian apart from curse words even though they are needed to move the plots along. Although I think the movie did cut down their importance from the book in order to prevent the movie from getting too long. For example, I did not understand all of the fainting over pregnancy business.

TB: Well obviously the fainting scene was a plot device, so Mrs. Stephenson could find out that her husband's identity as a traitor may soon be revealed by Feodor. Mrs. Paterson had to innocently pass that nugget of info on to Mrs. Stephenson. What I realized about these scenes is that are stretches of the narrative where Judith and Feodor are off screen, and the supporting cast takes over and they propel the action forward. In that regard, it's a very well-balanced movie where everyone in the cast has something important to do, to contribute to the overall arc of the story. I have a feeling Edwards improved on the novel in these specific areas. What we get in this movie is really a bunch of characters that are playing one big game with each another.

Oskar Homolka as the Russian general

Screen Shot 2019-06-25 at 3.14.44 PM.jpeg

JL: Oskar Homolka, who plays General Golitsyn, was a great actor who deserves mentioning here. Did a bit of homework on him. I now finally recognize him for his boisterous role as Uncle Chris in I REMEMBER MAMA and he often played "heavies". He is uber confident in everything he does on screen.

TB: Yes, I love the old Russian general and the stooges he places in the Paris office, because that adds intrigue to the movie. And Homolka is very good in what is basically an extended cameo. Let's go over a few other tidbits...like thoughts on the cold war, on espionage in the mid-70s, superpower relations, etc.

JL: This was released at a time when there was some gradual thawing of the Cold War despite Vietnam still factoring, although the situation would increase in intensity by the early 1980s again. As a result, I felt that this movie might have worked a bit better had it been set in an earlier time period, if just a decade earlier like FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE, rather than the seventies. Yet it still seems somewhat realistic in part.

What are tamarind seeds?

Screen Shot 2019-06-25 at 3.22.16 PM.jpeg

TB: What did you think about the title and what it means?

JL: The tamarind seed is one the two leads discover in a museum. Long ago in Barbados, a slave was hung on a tree and seeds shaped like a face confirmed his post-death innocence. A seed pops up in an envelope twice in this movie to confirm Feodor's honesty with Judith. This includes his comments just before a major explosion when he says there is a “good omen ahead” when the music playing on the radio matches the same “we will swoon the night away” they danced to earlier. Of course, they reappear at a key moment in the finale.

TB: I think the story of the tamarind seed is really a comment on Judith's belief system. A few times Feodor gently mocks her, telling her they won't find a tamarind tree when they go searching for one. But of course they do, or else she wouldn't have received those seeds. Like seeds of truth. Also, since Edwards adapted the book and wrote the screenplay, and since he knew his leading lady better than anyone, I think some of Feodor's dialogue were his own thoughts about his wife, her beliefs, and her overall sincerity. In that regard, some of the movie seems like a rumination on the Andrews-Edwards partnership.

Screen Shot 2019-06-25 at 3.23.14 PM.jpeg

Final thoughts

TB: Anything else you'd like to discuss?

JL: Just a few other “seeds” of interest...All of the talk of colors is interesting. “Red” obviously suggests “the party” and I particularly like the rather close (if throwaway and possibly unintentional) shot of bright red luggage in an airport scene on the conveyor belt as Feodor stages a careful transfer of planes. There are discussions about fashions that include red ties being taboo in the west during certain time frames and not in others and a Russian empress who loved pink so much that she refused to allow other women to wear it. “True blue” is Judy's sense of British loyalty. In his conversation with Jack Loder, Feodore glances at Judith as he discusses another spy who is code named “blue”, somehow relating the color to her. Jack responds “You give us blue and we will see you safe and snug for the rest of your life.”

TB: Which of course is what happens.

JL: One particularly enjoyable scene that makes little sense to me but is still enjoyable involves Judith talking to Jack at a zoo and a tiger pacing a very confining cage. Obviously this is an important scene because the editors splice it right after the elevator “cage” that Feodor departs with his secret information. I guess one point made here is that he too is trapped in a cage, but why a tiger as a symbol? Is this supposed to suggest how Judith views him since they hadn't (at this point) had sex yet?

When they finally do, she has her repeating dream of her husband's death in a fiery car. He insists it is just a nightmare as he calms her under the covers. He is very honest with her...so should she stop dreaming it? After all, she didn't love her husband in the same way as Feodor.

Screen Shot 2019-06-25 at 3.27.25 PM.jpeg

TB: I interpreted it to mean that would be the last time she had that dream. Her recurring nightmare was now over. The final scene, where they reunite in Canada, leaves little doubt that they are on track and will continue this relationship, despite living in two separate countries.

THE TAMARIND SEED may currently be viewed on YouTube.

  • Like 2

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

As mentioned, Julie Andrews remained in the public eye with annual guest appearances on TV. Yet it is still rather unusual that an actress of her box office clout took such long breaks between big screen appearances during the seventies. Yes, family reasons are a good enough excuse and, no, she wasn't the only one who did so; Audrey Hepburn being another who comes to mind. Although released in 1970, DARLING LILI was actually completed in the summer of 1968 (just before her previous feature STAR! went into release). Thus, there is a gap of five years to the start of THE TAMARIND SEED in May 1973, followed by another five years before the comedy 10 with Dudley Moore and Bo Derek started filming in November 1978. Then again, there was the cut scene in a Pink Panther movie and an un-credited singing voice in another as I just discovered.

What makes the situation even more unusual is that she was, in fact, the top star on the box-office Quigley lists for both 1966 and 1967 and only went down to #3 in '68 when Sidney Poitier and Paul Newman passed her. She was also the last actress to top it until Julia Roberts toppled Arnold Schwarzenegger in 1991. Nobody, not even Jane Fonda, Barbara Streisand and Meryl Streep managed to go that far during the two decades in-between. Even though STAR! and DARLING LILI were unsuccessful and could have been an additional incentive for her, they weren't the colossal flop that HELLO DOLLY! was for Streisand, who kept chugging away.

  • Like 2

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
7 minutes ago, Jlewis said:

As mentioned, Julie Andrews remained in the public eye with annual guest appearances on TV. Yet it is still rather unusual that an actress of her box office clout took such long breaks between big screen appearances during the seventies. Yes, family reasons are a good enough excuse and, no, she wasn't the only one he did so; Audrey Hepburn is another who comes to mind. Although released in 1970, DARLING LILI was actually completed in the summer of 1968 (just before her previous feature STAR! went into release). Thus, there is a gap of five years to the start of THE TAMARIND SEED in May 1973, followed by another five years before the comedy 10 with Dudley Moore and Bo Derek started filming in November 1978.

What makes the situation even more unusual is that she was, in fact, the top star on the box-office Quigley lists for both 1966 and 1967 and only went down to #3 in '68 when Sidney Poitier and Paul Newman passed her. She was also the last actress to top it until Julia Roberts toppled Arnold Schwarzenegger in 1991. Nobody, not even Jane Fonda, Barbara Streisand and Meryl Streep managed to go that far during the two decades in-between. Even though STAR! and DARLING LILI were unsuccessful and could have been an additional incentive for her, they weren't the colossal flop that HELLO DOLLY! was for Streisand, who kept chugging away.

Natalie Wood is another one who took breaks from feature films in the 70s. After BOB & CAROL & TED & ALICE (1969), she just did a small cameo in THE CANDIDATE (1972). She finally had her next starring role in a feature in PEEPER (1975). Then she took another break until METEOR (1979).

Maybe these actresses, who had worked so much in the 60s, felt burned out and just needed time off.

But I agree that Andrews was really a superstar around 1970, so she had a lot more to "lose" if she quit making movies for awhile. However, her Hollywood career experienced an even greater resurgence in the 1980s.

  • Like 1

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I re-edited my post when I found out that she initially was in a Pink Panther film but her scene was cut. I also remember Natalie doing quite a bit of TV too, like Julie. Good example was her 1976 performance with hubbie Robert Wagner in Cat On The Hot Tin Roof.

  • Like 1

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
10 minutes ago, Jlewis said:

I re-edited my post when I found out that she initially was in a Pink Panther film but her scene was cut. I also remember Natalie doing quite a bit of TV too, like Julie. Good example was her 1976 performance with hubbie Robert Wagner in Cat On The Hot Tin Roof.

Yes that's why I said Natalie took breaks from feature films. Because she was still doing TV appearances.

Natalie spoke fluent Russian, which was needed for the lead role in METEOR. She was probably the only one of her stature in Hollywood who could do that sort of role. So sometimes a feature film career will get a new boost if the performer has a unique talent.

Julie Andrews, of course, had different talents.

  • Like 1

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I want to take a moment to thank Jlewis. I found our discussions about the British crime flicks we covered in June to be very satisfying. And I hope people reading the reviews enjoyed them.

Fortunately, I've been able to convince Jlewis to review some other classics with me in August. More on the theme for those films later...

In July I will be posting four individual reviews I have written. I wanted to look at some B films from the major studios, with a focus on characterization.

Screen Shot 2019-07-01 at 6.04.44 AM.jpg

Saturday July 6, 2019 

PENGUIN POOL MURDER (1932) starring Edna May Oliver & James Gleason. Studio/production company: RKO. Source: YouTube.

Saturday July 13, 2019 

THE SECRET OF DR. KILDARE (1939) starring Lew Ayres & Lionel Barrymore. Studio/production company: MGM. Source: YouTube.

Saturday July 20, 2019

CHARLIE CHAN IN RENO (1939) starring Sidney Toler & Sen Yung. Studio/production company: 20th Century Fox. Source: YouTube. 

Saturday July 27, 2019

SHERLOCK HOLMES FACES DEATH (1943) starring Basil Rathbone & Nigel Bruce. Studio/production company: Universal. Source: YouTube.

  • Like 1

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Essential: PENGUIN POOL MURDER (1932)

This month I thought it would be interesting to look at B movies with strong characters. Of course, who better to start with than Hildegarde Withers, the central figure in several delightful mysteries at RKO.

Screen Shot 2019-07-02 at 7.39.57 AM.png

PENGUIN POOL MURDER is the first of six films the studio made in this series. It introduces us to Miss Withers, a persnickety schoolteacher turned amateur sleuth (Edna May Oliver). Although Oliver only appears in the first three movies, she is very memorable and often the one most associated with the part. Helen Broderick's interpretation of the character just as enjoyable in the fourth picture, and so is ZaSu Pitts' more comedic portrayal in the final two installments. They're three very distinctive performers, and each one brings something unique to the character of Hildegarde Withers. But of course, Oliver provides the most stylized performance, and she's superb.

Screen Shot 2019-07-02 at 7.39.32 AM.png

Interestingly Hildegarde does not appear until after the 8-minute mark in PENGUIN POOL MURDER. It's only a 65-minute film, so a considerable amount of time is taken to set up the murder. We learn that a wealthy businessman has financial ties to the director of a city aquarium. There's a bit of blackmail going on, and the businessman is killed. The culprit might have been his unfaithful wife (Mae Clarke) or one of her many lovers.

Screen Shot 2019-07-02 at 6.25.09 PM.jpeg

The murder occurs at the aquarium around the same time Miss Withers brings her class by on a field trip. She has a very memorable entrance, sticking out her trademark umbrella to trip a thief who has run off with a lady's purse. Of course, while this is happening, they are unaware that a more serious crime (the murder) is occurring elsewhere inside the aquarium.

screen-shot-2019-07-02-at-7.41.31-am.jpeg

The kids are funny in this movie, and they represent different ethnic types that Miss Withers must deal with during the course of her work. But they're a helpful bunch, especially when she has lost a hat pin that someone else has found and used to stab the victim through the ear. In the course of helping Miss Withers find the hat pin, one boy sees the dead body floating in the penguin pool. It's a very vivid sequence, startling to say the least. But it sets Miss Withers on course to solve the crime, after the children are sent home.

screen-shot-2019-07-02-at-7.42.46-am.jpeg

At this point we meet Inspector Oscar Piper (James Gleason) who will match wits with Miss Withers. His entrance is also memorable, arriving through a side door at the aquarium and instantly sizing up the situation. Initially he considers Miss Withers a suspect, but that is quickly ruled out. He considers her a hindrance to his investigation, until he realizes she has darn good instincts and can actually help him solve the case. Of course, Inspector Piper will take credit for anything that Miss Withers learns about the crime.

Screen Shot 2019-07-01 at 6.04.44 AM.jpg

The dialogue in these scenes is very snappy, and the actors get some good zingers in as the main characters try to figure each other out. At one point, Inspector Piper says Miss Withers is someone who takes charge of everything, except her pupils. And Miss Withers' retorts are more along the lines of chiding the inspector for the way he conducts his job, then sarcastically encouraging him when he seems to be acting like a real policeman.

Screen Shot 2019-07-02 at 7.40.26 AM.png

Most of the action in the first third of the picture takes place at the aquarium. We don't see Miss Withers' home until the second act. But it's good that her domestic surroundings aren't revealed to us right away. Otherwise, she might have come across softer and warmer than she does in the beginning. We need to know that this is a smart, no-nonsense gal who doesn't let emotions get the best of her when she's snooping for clues and tracking down a killer. This is not to say Miss Withers doesn't have her tender moments. In fact a recurring theme in RKO's series is that she roots for the young couples involved in these cases, even if they seem mismatched and don't end up together!

Screen Shot 2019-07-02 at 7.47.06 AM.png

As for Miss Withers herself, the story's author, Stuart Palmer, based her on a spinster teacher who had taught him in high school. He went on to write over a dozen books about Marple-esque Miss Withers. But she is too busy in the stories to find time for a romance of her own. However, RKO did paste a happy ending on to PENGUIN POOL MURDER. The coda for this film, after the mystery is solved and the killer has been brought to justice, is for Miss Withers and Inspector Piper to decide to get married. The final scene has them rush off to find the nearest Justice of the Peace. But in the second film, no mention of their marriage is made; and they are back to being single and sparring with each other again on the next case. But they have definitely become friends. Partners in crime. There's no mystery about that.

Screen Shot 2019-07-02 at 7.39.06 AM.png

PENGUIN POOL MURDER may currently be viewed on YouTube.

  • Like 3

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

The stars' chemistry brought magic to those three films.

Helen Broderick, as replacement, tried her best, though.

But Zasu Pitts was quite a disappointment.

  • Like 1
  • Thanks 1

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
1 hour ago, rayban said:

The stars' chemistry brought magic to those three films.

Helen Broderick, as replacement, tried her best, though.

But Zasu Pitts was quite a disappointment.

The plot for the Broderick entry is quite gripping, with a sensational final sequence. If they had continued with Broderick, the series might have gone on awhile longer. But I do like Pitts' comic portrayal in the last two. I think each actress brought something unique and different to the Hildegarde Withers character. Though Oliver was certainly the best.

  • Like 1

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I wanted to add a few more comments about the actresses that played Hildegarde Withers. 

The plot for the Helen Broderick version, MURDER ON A BRIDLE PATH, is based on Stuart Palmer's book The Puzzle of the Red Stallion. As I said, I think it's one of the stronger entries in the series (in terms of the mystery, which is combined with horror elements). If it had come first, it undoubtedly would have established Broderick as Miss Withers. But she had been in musicals during this time, and seeing her as a sleuth was probably a bit jarring for audiences. Also she was in the shadows of Edna May Oliver's towering performance.

Oliver left RKO and moved to MGM in late 1934/early 1935. Interestingly, RKO did cast Oliver again-- in 1939's THE STORY OF VERNON AND IRENE CASTLE. However, from 1935 forward, Oliver was doing "A" films and probably had no desire to return to "B" films. And this was after the two films with ZaSu Pitts, by which point RKO had basically ended the series.

As for Pitts, she actually has the best camaraderie with James Gleason, who was in all six of these films. Pitts and Gleason had made other pictures together, and you can tell they are very familiar with each other. And I think that is to the later films' advantage, since by then, Oscar Piper and Hildegarde Withers have worked together on several cases and should be much more familiar with each other. Oliver plays the role with reserve and slight disdain for the inspector. There is none of that with Pitts.

Years later a TV movie was made in 1972 with Eve Arden reprising Hildegarde Withers. This version can be found on YouTube. James Gregory was her sparring partner, but Gregory plays the inspector more bombastically than Gleason did. The Arden-Gregory vehicle was technically a pilot for one of those rotating mystery series that wasn't picked up by the network. It's still a well-acted effort, and Arden's casting seems inspired since Hildegarde's a schoolteacher and Arden had played Miss Brooks.

In the first RKO film, which I reviewed this week, it is said that Hildegarde Withers is 39. I am sure this came directly from the text of Palmer's novels. However, it is clear that Oliver is considerably older. In fact, she was 49 at the time. When we get to Arden's version, she is now a retired schoolteacher solving crimes.

  • Like 1

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Too bad, Edna Mae Oliver and James Gleason should have done the entire film series.

  • Thanks 1

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Essential: THE SECRET OF DR. KILDARE (1939)

screen-shot-2019-07-08-at-12.30.03-pm.jpeg

Though the scenes are somewhat slowly played out, a lot happens in the third installment of MGM's Dr. Kildare series. First, I should say that Lew Ayres' character does have a secret-- namely that he's a doctor, which is kept from a debutante he's helping. Meanwhile, his father, the elder Dr. Kildare (Samuel S. Hinds), also has a secret-- that he might have a heart condition. However, only Dr. Gillespie (Lionel Barrymore) is brought in on that, since he is conferred for a second opinion; and much to the relief of Mrs. Kildare (Emma Dunn), there is no real heart condition, and everything will go back to normal.

screen-shot-2019-07-08-at-12.26.42-pm.jpeg

Added into all that drama, we have young Dr. Kildare pretending that he does not want to work with Gillespie to find a cure for pneumonia. He does this so Gillespie will take some much-needed time off, and also so he can treat the debutante who has a case of hysterical blindness.

Screen Shot 2019-07-08 at 12.27.32 PM.png

Plus there's the continuing story of Nurse Mary Lamont (Laraine Day) becoming more smitten with Kildare; as well as the ongoing battles between Gillespie and head nurse Molly (Alma Kruger), which manage to convey some tenderness despite their mostly adversarial interactions.

Screen Shot 2019-07-08 at 12.29.35 PM.png

What makes this entry in the series so good is that all of the introductions that took place in the first two films are out of the way. And the series hasn't been run into the ground yet, so the ideas still seem fresh. These ideas were probably relevant back in the day, even if some of the medical dialogue seems hopelessly outdated now. There are some implausibilities, like Gillespie thinking he can end pneumonia. Or young Dr. Kildare doing a make-believe eye operation on the debutante so she can see again.

Screen Shot 2019-07-08 at 12.27.05 PM.png

However, I think the series does a decent job conveying the fact that these people are working to solve the medical and psychological problems their patients face. And despite the conflicts that may occur among the staff, there is a sense of team work and people believing in the same cause. I also like the sense of humor some of the characters have; and no matter, how you slice it, Gillespie is a lovable curmudgeon. Barrymore plays his role to the hilt, but he's not too off-putting. I especially love how Gillespie and his protege seem to outfox each other, when they approach cases from different angles.

Screen Shot 2019-07-08 at 12.29.45 PM.png

The Kildare and Gillespie movies feature a fine assortment of character actors and actresses. Marie Blake doesn't have much screen time but when she's on camera, she always has a funny line at the switchboard. Nat Pendleton is fun in his role as a thick ambulance driver. And Walter Kingford is great as Carew the hospital administrator, a man that has his own tug of war going on with Gillespie. The series is expertly produced, and in this instance, Harold S. Bucquet's direction is excellent. It's not a secret these films were big money-makers for MGM. 

screen-shot-2019-07-08-at-12.26.32-pm.jpeg

THE SECRET OF DR. KILDARE may currently be viewed on YouTube.

  • Like 2
  • Thanks 1

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

The DR. KILDARE series is a good reminder that MGM had a 'stock company' of character actors, though MGM's B-movies are not as memorable as WB's or Paramount's may be. Samuel S. Hinds, Nat Pendleton, and Marie Blake are good examples of 'types' that showed up in MGM movies throughout the pre-war period. ...Blake, it's interesting to note, was the sister of Jeanette MacDonald, and she appeared professionally under several names, including 'Blossom Rock' in TV's 'The Addams Family', as Grandmama Addams.

  • Like 2

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
12 hours ago, Brrrcold said:

The DR. KILDARE series is a good reminder that MGM had a 'stock company' of character actors, though MGM's B-movies are not as memorable as WB's or Paramount's may be. Samuel S. Hinds, Nat Pendleton, and Marie Blake are good examples of 'types' that showed up in MGM movies throughout the pre-war period. ...Blake, it's interesting to note, was the sister of Jeanette MacDonald, and she appeared professionally under several names, including 'Blossom Rock' in TV's 'The Addams Family', as Grandmama Addams.

Sara Haden (typically used for the Andy Hardy series) has a small role in THE SECRET OF DR. KILDARE. She makes the most of her limited screen time. Also, I found Emma Dunn quite good as young Kildare's mother. Plus this particular installment features Lionel Atwill playing the debutante's father.

  • Like 2

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Sara Haden may be the best example of that MGM stock player. It should've occurred to me earlier.

  • Like 2

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
26 minutes ago, Brrrcold said:

Sara Haden may be the best example of that MGM stock player. It should've occurred to me earlier.

Connie Gilchrist is another one.

  • Like 2

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Essential: CHARLIE CHAN IN RENO (1939)

Screen Shot 2019-07-19 at 3.15.52 PM.png

This was the second film in the series to feature Sidney Toler as Chinese-American detective Charlie Chan. By this point, 20th Century Fox had made quite a few. And in fact, there would be another nine more with Toler before Fox dropped the series (and it moved over to poverty row studio Monogram). Apparently, this one had the highest budget, and in many ways it looks like an "A" mystery film. Especially since the sets are lavishly decorated, and we have people like Ricardo Cortez, Slim Summerville, Kane Richmond and Robert Lowery in key roles.

Screen Shot 2019-07-19 at 3.15.40 PM.jpeg

The set-up for this entry is fairly routine. Richmond is Curtis Whitman, a friend of Charlie Chan's in Hawaii. His estranged wife Mary goes to Reno to obtain a divorce. But a short time after her arrival there, she is mixed up in a murder. The police think she did it, since all the evidence seems to point to her. Of course, Curtis knows she can't possible be capable of murder, a sentiment that Charlie shares. So Charlie agrees to fly to Reno with Curtis to help exonerate Mary.

Screen Shot 2019-07-19 at 3.16.53 PM.jpeg

Of course, this wouldn't be a proper Charlie Chan story if one of the detective's sons didn't tag along to help solve the crime. In this instance, we get Victor Sen Yung as Number Two Son Jimmy. He is a novice at sleuthing and provides many of the film's lighter moments. Though he is very eager to help his famous father, he makes mistakes and assumes things that are not quite true about the case. Sometimes when Jimmy makes a mistake, we get a gentle lecture from father Charlie which in itself can be quite amusing.

Screen Shot 2019-07-19 at 3.18.45 PM.jpeg

The stories for this series work, because the characters are so well-defined. They're not meant to be characters we dwell on too deeply. However, they do cause us to think about how integrated they are despite some of the ethnic stereotyping that occurs. I don't find the characterizations too offensive, because I think the performances are sincere and Charlie's not being presented as a dumb immigrant. Instead Charlie's intelligence is very much on display, and he's a most respectable character. Jimmy's immature bumbling reminds us how superior his father's knowledge is and why Charlie is successful nabbing the culprits.

Screen Shot 2019-07-19 at 3.14.16 PM.jpeg

Though Earl Derr Biggers is the author who created our eponymous crime solver, the story for this entry in the series was furnished by writer Philip Wylie who later became known for his science fiction work. Since this is a mainstream studio production, not only will the crime be solved, but there will be a happy ending for the young couple. The basic situation pulls them from the brink of divorce and puts them back into each other's arms. Meanwhile, Jimmy picks up a girlfriend; and Charlie returns home to his wife in Hawaii and a home that is overflowing with many other children.

Screen Shot 2019-07-19 at 3.27.16 PM.jpeg

CHARLIE CHAN IN RENO may currently be viewed on YouTube.

  • Like 3

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Essential: SHERLOCK HOLMES FACES DEATH (1943)

Screen Shot 2019-07-27 at 1.29.31 PM.jpeg

Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce first teamed up to play Detective Sherlock Holmes and Dr. John Watson in 1939. Originally the series began at 20th Century Fox, and these were "A" films with larger budgets. Sometimes the featured actors at Fox were bigger names than Rathbone and Bruce, meaning that although Rathbone and Bruce were playing the lead characters, they were not necessarily top-billed. After two such pictures, Fox dropped the series-- probably because it still had the Charlie Chan and Mr. Moto franchises and the Holmes "A" pictures didn't do as well as the studio hoped.

Screen Shot 2019-07-27 at 1.28.41 PM.jpeg

A few years later, Universal secured the rights and kept Rathbone and Bruce in the main roles. However, Universal did not put as much money into the project, so these were definitely "B" productions. The first few Holmes-Watson titles at Universal dealt with topical war-related concerns. SHERLOCK HOLMES FACES DEATH, which hit screens in 1943, still has a few references to the war but it is less propagandistic and much more in the vein of the mysteries that Sir Arthur Conan Doyle had written.

Screen Shot 2019-07-27 at 1.32.26 PM.jpeg

In fact this film is based on Doyle's 1893 story 'The Adventure of the Musgrave Ritual.' It's one of Doyle's earlier pieces, and Watson is actually the narrator, describing a case where his close friend Holmes was challenged to decipher the meaning of an obscure family document. Several people have been killed because of the document, since it's very valuable and affects the Musgrave family's fortunes and everyone's prospects going forward.

Screen Shot 2019-07-27 at 1.30.05 PM.jpeg

In the Universal production, Watson is directly involved in the action and no longer narrating it. In fact, Holmes does not appear until the 11 minute mark (it's a 68-minute flick); so the first segment shows Watson meeting the people involved in this case. Instead of visiting the Musgrave family, Watson is visiting a patient who suffered war wounds. The patient is engaged to the Musgraves' daughter, but her brothers disapprove of the relationship. One brother is murdered, then the second brother is murdered a short time later.  Naturally, it looks as if the patient has some sort of psychosis and is killing off anyone who opposes his relationship to the girl.

Screen Shot 2019-07-27 at 1.30.57 PM.jpeg

After the first murder, Watson has called Holmes who joins him in figuring out who may be responsible for the deaths and why. They do not believe the patient is the culprit, and our sympathies as the viewing audience are meant to correlate with Holmes and Watson, rooting for the young couple to overcome this situation and eventually marry.  Ultimately Holmes and Watson realize another doctor that is checking on patients with Watson is the one behind the killings. This other person has been setting up the war veteran, in order to get him out of the way and marry the girl himself, since she now stands to inherit a great deal.

Screen Shot 2019-07-27 at 1.30.28 PM.jpeg

The Universal production has a wholly invented ending that deviates from Doyle's original story, where Holmes conducts an elaborate chess game to smoke out the killer. But Doyle doesn't go that route, and in fact, the main death in Doyle's story might have just been a tragic accident. Doyle's story also focuses more on the quaint rituals of the Musgrave family, and how certain things are passed-- or not passed-- from one generation to the next.

Screen Shot 2019-07-27 at 1.33.26 PM.jpeg

SHERLOCK HOLMES FACES DEATH is on YouTube. And 'The Musgrave Ritual' episode from the 1984 TV series starring Jeremy Brett is on Britbox. Brett's show is more faithful to Doyle's original material, but both versions are fine examples of how the Holmes-Watson dynamic can be used to entertain audiences. And with this particular story, we are able to ponder what it means to face death and go beyond it.

  • Like 3

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I will be taking some time week off the first part of August. So there will be only three reviews next month.

But when we resume, Jlewis will once again join me. Our discussions will focus on Universal war films from the 1950s. Please join us!

KT2t3zCVSFmw1DEJobL5Og_thumb_1039.jpg

Saturday August 3, 2019 

No review.

Saturday August 10, 2019 

No review.

Saturday August 17, 2019

RED BALL EXPRESS (1952) starring Jeff Chandler & Sidney Poitier. Studio/production company: Universal. Source: YouTube. 

Saturday August 24, 2019

AWAY ALL BOATS (1956) starring Jeff Chandler & George Nader. Studio/production company: Universal. Source: YouTube.

Saturday August 31, 2019

BATTLE HYMN (1957) starring Rock Hudson & Anna Kashfi. Studio/production company: Universal. Source: YouTube.

  • Like 2

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!

Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.

Sign In Now

© 2020 Turner Classic Movies Inc. A Time Warner Company. All Rights Reserved Terms of Use | Privacy Policy
×
×
  • Create New...