Jump to content
 
Search In
  • More options...
Find results that contain...
Find results in...

TopBilled’s Essentials


Recommended Posts

Essential: SEPTEMBER AFFAIR (1950)

screen-shot-2019-11-17-at-7.33.40-am.jpeg

TB: This week we are going to cover SEPTEMBER AFFAIR (1950), a Paramount production that features two of David Selznick's top performers-- Joseph Cotten and Joan Fontaine. This is the third and final film we're discussing as part of our "impossible love" theme. In some ways it is like INTERMEZZO, since again we are dealing with a musician in Europe; and again, we have a single woman falling for a married man. Feelings are reciprocated, and the affair is more frankly presented, despite the production code being enforced.

JL: SEPTEMBER AFFAIR has more of a story than INTERMEZZO, with the longer running time developing it more substantially, even if it is less innovative and stylish. However, I do consider INTERMEZZO the superior production, but what works against INTERMEZZO a bit is the condensation of events. 

TB: Yes, totally agree. INTERMEZZO has no substantial subplots, no padding and the events are not at all drawn out...which works against it a bit. Mainly because it's so condensed and "efficient" that it doesn't allow us to linger on the characters or other parallel concerns in the periphery. Probably because Selznick was anxious to make Bergman a Hollywood star, so the focus has to be on her almost exclusively. But with something like SEPTEMBER AFFAIR and its longer running time, we are treated to a more luxurious story, with all the trimmings.

Screen Shot 2019-11-17 at 8.24.16 AM.jpeg

TB: What do you think about Walter Huston's participation in this film? He doesn't appear on screen, but we hear him.

JL: I had heard Walter Huston's 1938 recording of “September Song” many times, being a frequent CD track of mine. It was a song that made my grandmother cry although most modern listeners may find it icky. The main titles of SEPTEMBER AFFAIR feature just the melody, but then the entire song is heard later as a 78 rpm that our two stars, Joan Fontaine's Manina and Joseph Cotten's David, listen to at a Naples restaurant. We hear lyrics like "those precious days I spend with you” which signal that nothing lasts forever.

Screen Shot 2019-11-17 at 8.57.52 AM.jpeg

TB: Because of this film, Huston's recording became a hit again. Interestingly, Huston died in April 1950, and this film did not receive its premiere in Italy until August. It would not reach American screens until early 1951.

JL: I believe SEPTEMBER AFFAIR had been filmed in the autumn of 1949, over a year after the modest but critical success of Fontaine's previous romance drama, LETTER FROM AN UNKNOWN WOMAN. We can compare both films, as well as compare SEPTEMBER AFFAIR along with Audrey Hepburn's ROMAN HOLIDAY (with its Italian scenery especially), the combo of LOVE AFFAIR and AN AFFAIR TO REMEMBER (in certain parts but not as a whole), DODSWORTH (with a non-singing Walter Huston tinkering with playful projects in Italy like Cotten's David here) and, of course, David Lean's duo of SUMMERTIME (i.e. the man is married and the lady a spinster who fears she is over the hill). Yes, I did feel a little déjà vu watching this.

Screen Shot 2019-11-17 at 8.32.34 AM.png

TB: Yet, it works so well. Cotten is not a traditional leading man but the relaxed, unforced chemistry between Cotten and Fontaine works to the story's advantage. We start to believe that they are finding comfort in knowing each other, avoiding the troubles of their previous lives-- her life as a much-in-demand pianist; and his life with a wife back home (Jessica Tandy) that he may no longer love. In addition to the chemistry between the leads, we have all this wonderful Italian ambience that takes us into a whole new realm with them.

JL: A little note on Charles B. Lang and Victor Milner's cinematography, a key selling point. There is an interesting shot early on with our love birds in Naples that reminds me of the key reason some of these scenic films were shot in black & white. You can just barely, very barely, tell that they are in a studio setting against a back-screen scenery view which, in color, would have been way too obvious.

Thanks to all of the pleasing gray tones, it blends in nicely with the actual you-are-there shots interspersed that moviegoers at the time would have just assumed it was all shot in Italy rather than Hollywood. This is also why the Technicolor ROAD TO BALI is so disappointing in comparison to the monochromatic ROAD TO RIO because you are more convinced that Hope and Crosby are traveling internationally in the earlier film rather than between Paramount studio interior “tropics."

Screen Shot 2019-11-17 at 7.44.10 AM.jpeg

TB: True. We should point out, however, that much of SEPTEMBER AFFAIR is filmed outdoors. So while might have been California substituting as Rome, we are led to believe this is a much more "realistic" drama. Plus the editor cuts to on-location shots whenever possible, which also creates more authenticity in terms of the setting.

JL: We later see the center of Florence in travelogue fashion, followed by Robert Arthur and Jessica Tandy's characters arriving by cab with familiar Florence buildings in the background. The second shot is actually a studio one with rear projection, but the mastery of the editor (I am assuming Warren Low and/or his assistant) in matching these together is absolutely brilliant that only we avid movie buffs can catch the difference.

TB: Let's discuss the more romantic elements of the plot. This is what I would call an upper class soap opera. Did the basic love story work for you, as it did in INTERMEZZO, or did you find it all a bit contrived? I did like the fact that the plane they missed had crashed, so they had this perfect opportunity to just disappear together and live that forbidden life together, if for only a little while. With all their previous cares and responsibilities pushed to the side. Again, it works for me, due to the easy rapport of Fontaine and Cotten, whom I feel genuinely liked working together on this movie.

Screen Shot 2019-11-17 at 7.43.11 AM.jpeg

JL: Honestly, it took me a while to warm up to these two stars together even though I like each of them individually. Joan Fontaine gave some excellent performances in her career, even though I hate to admit that I always favored sister Olivia de Havilland over her in the acting skills and kinda wish Fontaine pursued writing and some other career like Jackie Collins, sister of that Joan. She operates at her very best when up against sinister characters, as in REBECCA with Judith Anderson and the equally unhinged Lawrence Olivier, so that she must prove herself and we the viewers root for her to succeed. Yet when the co-star isn't giving her much challenge, like Joseph Cotten here, she isn't quite as exciting to watch.

JL: There is a certain Saturnian persistence to many of Fontaine's characters, eager to climb the mountain at all costs, that needs to be tapped into. I absolutely love the scene of her playing piano in the concert hall with great passion and emotion (regardless if she is any good at piano playing off screen) but less so many of her scenes with Cotten...and I feel very guilty in this because romantic movies are all about you wanting the couple to be together regardless whether or not “they were meant to be."

Screen Shot 2019-11-17 at 7.41.30 AM.jpeg

TB: Interesting. I agree that the concert hall scenes are very well staged and they are a highlight of the film. Ironic, given that some of these scenes mean she is separated from her new lover and back to her life as an independent-minded artist. However, there's an important scene earlier in the film where she does play for him. So that later, when they are separated, we might infer she is still "playing for him."

screen-shot-2019-11-17-at-7.44.47-am.jpeg

JL: Sometimes certain relationships on screen are ones that we are only supposed to support half-way rather than all of the way. Maybe that was the point of William Dieterle's direction? One important scene that happens early in the characters' relationship involves them laying in their swimsuits. Joan closes her eyes when kissing him and, while she may have been thinking about somebody else when he kissed her, the way she does it suggests a woman who wants to cherish this very moment like some precious image in a necklace locket.

Screen Shot 2019-11-17 at 8.39.08 AM.jpeg

JL: Cotten fiddles with her hair (a very touching moment) but only fleetingly glances at her when he does it and this suggests he is too distracted. Then she herself abruptly jumps up to have a swim, a move that totally ruins the initial effect she was achieving of wanting the cherished moment to last.

TB: So did you buy the plane crash twist? Or did you feel it was too far-fetched?

JL: The plot twist is a novel idea that isn't tried often enough in rom-coms: prolong your time together because of a newspaper story suggests that the two of you died in a plane crash, thus giving you the option of either starting up a “second” life or at least getting more time to be together before the truth is revealed.

You may not get away with it as easily today in this modern age of instant communications as back then, especially with our leads both pretending to be “dead” in America while still managing to purchase a Florence villa together. Yet this film doesn't ignore the improbabilities and this is why Françoise Rosay's role as a piano teacher Maria Salvatini is so very important. She not only aids their deception with an important bank transfer but keeps reminding them that this deception won't last long.

Screen Shot 2019-11-17 at 8.44.58 AM.jpeg

TB: And of course, it doesn't last. It can't really last, because of the production code. But also because these are fundamentally decent people. So they may want to escape their pasts, but ultimately they have to return to their former lives to feel a sense of completion.

JL: The 5th of September, David's son David's birthday and the day or two before they visit Michelangelo's David, is an important turning point in the story. Manina sports her glasses that attract him even more to her. It also indicates to both of them that they must now “focus their sights” on the practicality of continuing a second life built of romantic deceptions when the first life has yet to be settled. When David and Manina meet up with a slightly drunk younger American soldier (Jimmy Lydon) at a cafe, David gives him romantic advice that “you can't be in love with two women at the same time”, which prompts an interesting reaction from Manina that impacts her decisions later.

TB: Yes. This is a very simple, but very powerful scene. The casual viewer may not realize this will signal a change in Manina's attitude, but of course, it does. Let's discuss David's wife a bit since she plays an important role in his life, even if she is largely backgrounded in the narrative.

Screen Shot 2019-11-17 at 7.42.15 AM.jpeg

JL: You get a sense that David's wife Catherine, played by Jessica Tandy, still loves him despite saying she doesn't after 18 years of marriage. She tells her lawyer “I should have given him his freedom” (and it is the greatest act of love to set one free rather than in bondage). Intriguingly she already knows about her husband being seen with Manina in Italy before his “death," even if she gets the face mistaken at first and doesn't recognize the real woman upon their first meeting. David Junior (Robert Arthur) is also involved and, when he learns his father is still alive, initially says he wishes his father was dead.

TB: The son is not exactly pleased that his father "survived" the plane crash. And that is a sort of family drama that isn't fully explored, but we get a sense of their relationship.

JL: After these two visit Florence and Manina, after Maria initially puts on a charade for them, the storyline starts to stretch a bit. Yet this is Hollywood fluff and I accept it according without too much nitpicking. I also understand better why Cotten plays David in such an easily distracted manner because it is important that David not learn the truth of his family's visit too early. The romantic couple are roughly the same age but Manina is the one who acts older and wiser. David is still a fifty year old “boy” tinkering with his engineering stuff, even in his sketch book during their final plane voyage back to the states.

Was Catherine's observation about him drifting in regards to the romance in their marriage or just a preoccupation with his career? (David Senior reminds me a bit of Robert Ryan's George Leslie in ABOUT MRS. LESLIE also being more “married” to his career than either his wife or Shirley Booth, his home away from home romantic partner.)

Screen Shot 2019-11-17 at 8.42.58 AM.png

TB: Yes, great comparison. SEPTEMBER AFFAIR, like ABOUT MRS. LESLIE, is a Hal Wallis production at Paramount. And there are similarities in the two stories.

JL: Plus we have interesting visuals late in the game that add to other interesting visuals. When David reunites with Catherine, they are in a dark room shown mostly in silhouette. A lot of interesting psychological interpretations can be made here, suggesting that maybe they don't need any illumination because what they have together can penetrate the darkness. Obviously this is a different, but potentially more important and more long lasting, relationship than that of David/Manina.

Just when you think we are getting a happy ending, this story has one more trick up its sleeve. Remember that “September Song” is not a tune of forever lasting. On the plus side, Manina conquers her fear of flying the friendly skies so you know she can take another leap of faith forward.

Screen Shot 2019-11-17 at 7.39.23 AM.jpeg

SEPTEMBER AFFAIR may currently be viewed on YouTube.

  • Like 1
Link to post
Share on other sites

I was watching the first episode of the 1995 series American Cinema: One Hundred Years Of Filmmaking, which is hardly one of my favorite series. (In contrast, I am far, far more gaga about Brownlow & Gill's Hollywood, the earlier silent film history series from 1980 with James Mason narrating.) Yet there were some interesting observations made in that particular first show, titled The Hollywood Style, in regards to romantic movies. The ones that everybody remember best from Casablanca to The Way We Were... and we can include the lesser but interesting ones like September Affair as well... are all doomed romances. As Sidney Pollack commented, the parts of his famous 1973 movie that he had the most difficulty with involved those showing Redford and Streisand contented because such scenes always wind up resembling Hallmark TV commercials. The parts that most viewers, as well as he himself, are most interested in are the first meetings and the final breakups, not any of the material in-between. Likewise Casablanca pretty much condenses the Bogart-Bergman Paris romance to a montage sequence, while the rest of the film shows them separated and struggling.

  • Like 2
Link to post
Share on other sites

I should point out that the American Cinema series is a good series worth watching in its edited form on YouTube even if I have my wish-it-could-be-better misgivings. It is a very generalized overview that is not going to satisfy we "specialists" who like to get deep into such topics on a forum like this one. (I personally would have preferred it to at least acknowledge more that many great movies existed before 1930, but average TV viewers in the 1990s obviously had no interest in movies that old so it had to cater accordingly.) Yet sometimes this looking at the forest rather than the trees approach does educate in interesting ways.

One episode involves Romantic Comedy, not Romantic Drama as INTERMEZZO and SEPTEMBER AFFAIR are strictly defined. Intriguingly the comedies do tend to have stronger statements to make on gender and relationships and are more forward moving on a social conscious level than the dramas in general. This is simply because they are comedies focused on making audiences laugh and can, therefore, get away with examining serious issues by pretending to not be serious. In the features discussed here, we see Bergman and Fontaine's characters making very serious decisions as they reflect on what is happening. In contrast, the characters featured in the comedies basically do NOT reflect and pretty much bumble their way through. Viewers do the same in their own lives and, accordingly, have an easier time relating to them, as well as learning a lot about themselves and society at large.

The comedies, more than the dramas, are also a fascinating "read" on the periods in which they were made. This show defined the golden age of the screwball comedy, with its heavy emphasis on very strong women who make sure they are equal to their male counterparts, as the decade between 1934 and 1944, when many women had to work, first to support their families during the depression and, secondly, to replace servicemen during the big war. A comparison is made between the earlier The Front Page and later His Girl Friday with Rosalind Russell taking over the previous male role as a star reporter, for example. Later His Girl Friday is compared with Broadcast News to demonstrate how Russell's character reflected the same role that Holly Hunter was playing in the more adjusted-to-women-in-careers oriented 1980s. Both characters are equally conflicted with what role they must play: should they always be supportive of The Man or should they support themselves more?

The show ever so gingerly gets into gay relationships with the famous final "Nobody's perfect" line in Some Like It Hot, but coyly doesn't go further since average PBS viewers in the 1990s were probably not ready to delve into all of THAT yet. On a more generalized level, Billy Wilder's film gets much of its appeal from letting go so much angst that was suppressed in the 1950s when the genders were at their most confined and restricted. There was no war allowing women to make bomber planes or drive taxis and roughly half of the female population seemed stuck in the kitchen and nursery... or as sex objects for the opposing gender (cue scenes of The Seven Year Itch and The Girl Can't Help It). This is reflected in how the Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon characters learn what it is really like to be a woman by playing women themselves. Although the story setting is 1929, the movie had plenty to say about how many women felt in 1958 when it was filmed.

Although this show totally ignores Doris Day and her very dynamic career gal roles of the late '50s/early '60s (another gripe I have with it), it does address the dramatic decrease in women roles in comedy by the time THE ODD COUPLE and other "bro-buddy romance" comedies crested in the late '60s and '70s. Part of the blame goes to a nervous Hollywood establishment that was financially unstable and not sure how to deal with the burgeoning women's liberation movement without alienating the gender that paid the most in ticket sales at that time. This show could have also addressed, but did not, the curious fact that no actress topped the annual Quigley polls between 1967, when Julie Andrews was at her peak, and Julia Roberts replacing Arnold Schwarzenegger in 1991, with every top box office draw being male in the years between.

Yet, looking back, I must admit that some of the 1980s romantic comedies have aged rather well, WHEN HARRY MET SALLY being a key example showcased. Had that been a drama, I don't think it would have continued to be a go-to reference film in regards to relationship discussions.

  • Like 1
Link to post
Share on other sites
36 minutes ago, Jlewis said:

I should point out that the American Cinema series is a good series worth watching in its edited form on YouTube even if I have my wish-it-could-be-better misgivings. It is a very generalized overview that is not going to satisfy we "specialists" who like to get deep into such topics on a forum like this one. (I personally would have preferred it to at least acknowledge more that many great movies existed before 1930, but average TV viewers in the 1990s obviously had no interest in movies that old so it had to cater accordingly.) Yet sometimes this looking at the forest rather than the trees approach does educate in interesting ways.

One episode involves Romantic Comedy, not Romantic Drama as INTERMEZZO and SEPTEMBER AFFAIR are strictly defined. Intriguingly the comedies do tend to have stronger statements to make on gender and relationships and are more forward moving on a social conscious level than the dramas in general. This is simply because they are comedies focused on making audiences laugh and can, therefore, get away with examining serious issues by pretending to not be serious. In the features discussed here, we see Bergman and Fontaine's characters making very serious decisions as they reflect on what is happening. In contrast, the characters featured in the comedies basically do NOT reflect and pretty much bumble their way through. Viewers do the same in their own lives and, accordingly, have an easier time relating to them, as well as learning a lot about themselves and society at large.

The comedies, more than the dramas, are also a fascinating "read" on the periods in which they were made. This show defined the golden age of the screwball comedy, with its heavy emphasis on very strong women who make sure they are equal to their male counterparts, as the decade between 1934 and 1944, when many women had to work, first to support their families during the depression and, secondly, to replace servicemen during the big war. A comparison is made between the earlier The Front Page and later His Girl Friday with Rosalind Russell taking over the previous male role as a star reporter, for example. Later His Girl Friday is compared with Broadcast News to demonstrate how Russell's character reflected the same role that Holly Hunter was playing in the more adjusted-to-women-in-careers oriented 1980s. Both characters are equally conflicted with what role they must play: should they always be supportive of The Man or should they support themselves more?

The show ever so gingerly gets into gay relationships with the famous final "Nobody's perfect" line in Some Like It Hot, but coyly doesn't go further since average PBS viewers in the 1990s were probably not ready to delve into all of THAT yet. On a more generalized level, Billy Wilder's film gets much of its appeal from letting go so much angst that was suppressed in the 1950s when the genders were at their most confined and restricted. There was no war allowing women to make bomber planes or drive taxis and roughly half of the female population seemed stuck in the kitchen and nursery... or as sex objects for the opposing gender (cue scenes of The Seven Year Itch and The Girl Can't Help It). This is reflected in how the Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon characters learn what it is really like to be a woman by playing women themselves. Although the story setting is 1929, the movie had plenty to say about how many women felt in 1958 when it was filmed.

Although this show totally ignores Doris Day and her very dynamic career gal roles of the late '50s/early '60s (another gripe I have with it), it does address the dramatic decrease in women roles in comedy by the time THE ODD COUPLE and other "bro-buddy romance" comedies crested in the late '60s and '70s. Part of the blame goes to a nervous Hollywood establishment that was financially unstable and not sure how to deal with the burgeoning women's liberation movement without alienating the gender that paid the most in ticket sales at that time. This show could have also addressed, but did not, the curious fact that no actress topped the annual Quigley polls between 1967, when Julie Andrews was at her peak, and Julia Roberts replacing Arnold Schwarzenegger in 1991, with every top box office draw being male in the years between.

Yet, looking back, I must admit that some of the 1980s romantic comedies have aged rather well, WHEN HARRY MET SALLY being a key example showcased. Had that been a drama, I don't think it would have continued to be a go-to reference film in regards to relationship discussions.

Thanks Jlewis for this great additional commentary.

As you know we've already discussed our ideas for the films we want to cover during the first half of 2020. 

Maybe we could do some Doris Day career gal films in July, when we begin the second half of 2020. I'd be open to doing that, because as the above comments suggest, there is a lot going on in films like PILLOW TALK and LOVER COME BACK. Also THE THRILL OF IT ALL, which pairs her with James Garner. In that one, she goes from being a perfectly contented housewife to having a career outside the home as a soap commercial star.

I'd like to discuss the original version of THE STEPFORD WIVES (1975) at some point too.

Link to post
Share on other sites

Essential: NOTHING SACRED (1937)

TB: Welcome to our theme called 'Making News.' This week we're going to focus on a comedy about the newspaper business, and next week we will cover a drama that centers on the way news is reported.

Screen Shot 2019-11-22 at 4.27.23 PM.jpeg

TB: Carole Lombard excelled at screwball comedy, and it wasn't until she made NOTHING SACRED for David Selznick that she had ever been photographed in Technicolor. So it's a real treat for Lombard's fans, and for fans of the genre, since the early use of Technicolor seemed to be reserved for musicals or big scale epics.

NOTHING SACRED is only 77 minutes. Ben Hecht is the credited screenwriter, though supposedly at least a half dozen other writers contributed material. 

JL: Oh yes...Budd Schulberg, Ring Lardner Jr. Dorothy Parker, Sidney Howard, Moss Hart, George S. Kaufman and Robert Carson all contributed but I still think of this as...oh heck, Hecht's film.

Screen Shot 2019-11-22 at 4.38.48 PM.jpeg

JL: NOTHING SACRED is a title I have seen quite a few times, stretching back to the early-mid 1980s when it was frequently seen on PBS late at night and widely available on public domain VHS. My copy is from Kino Lorber that is mastered from Selznick's 35mm print, although a supposedly better upgrade was also put out by Kino for Blu-Ray a year ago that might be worth comparing it to.

TB: Sounds like you are a real fan of the movie.

JL: Yes. But although it is a fun screwball comedy, it is a bit blah for a Technicolor 30s film in comparison to Selznick's other pre-GWTW efforts: THE GARDEN OF ALLAH, A STAR IS BORN and THE ADVENTURES OF TOM SAWYER. The Wikipedia article indicates it sports a number of firsts, like the first all-color montage sequence and use of back projection, but that can be questioned. The earlier Warner Brothers Technicolor short subjects of 1936-37 that feature cinematographer W. Howard Greene are quite experimental if ignored by many modern movie buffs merely because they are "shorts." UNDER SOUTHERN STARS was a two-reeler released in February 1937, nine months before this feature, and it boasts an impressive battle scene montage with various flags superimposed.

TB: No idea who added the information on the wiki page, but maybe we can say these so-called firsts were firsts for feature films. Let's talk a bit about the cinematography. What are your thoughts about the way the scenes are lit and photographed?

Screen Shot 2019-11-22 at 4.31.28 PM.jpeg

JL: My basic problem is that everybody is lit much the same apart from a few night and sunset scenes and, as a result, there is a pink blandness to all of the faces, in addition to Carole Lombard looking a bit too pale. (Yes, she is pretending to be sick, but still.) The one plus is a certain New York grittiness being preserved in thirties color since this is not your usual period costume drama, fantasy or flashy musical.

TB: Agreed. In some ways the grittiness of the setting reminds me of a Damon Runyon story. There are outlandish situations and colorful characters, and it all blends together in a frenetic and rather amusing way. This is kind of new territory for a David Selznick picture, since his productions tend to be much more high brow and focusing on members of the upper class.

Screen Shot 2019-11-22 at 4.43.23 PM.jpeg

JL: The film has Ben Hecht's super cynical stamp pounded on it with a hammer. I always think of him by that prediction he made for Hollywood's future twenty years later in a famous 1957 article: “It'll be a tourist spot like Tombstone, Arizona, before the century's done.” Likewise, he is particularly pessimistic of the newspaper business, the dominant “mass media” before the television and internet age; THE FRONT PAGE is the obvious precursor here with its “anything for a story” theme.

TB: Oh yes. It's that sort of theme and its inherent outlandishness that makes the film so enjoyable to watch. There are a lot of funny moments. How do you feel about Fredric March playing Wally Cook, the reporter?

JL: Frederic March is good, but more of the straight man. He is given plenty of memorable lines and is believably gullible as a reporter who does not mean to deliver "fake news." He defends himself to his boss by saying he did not know the Sultan of Marzipan was a fake and we the viewers want to believe him with those baby eyes looking innocent. His boss' remedy is “removing him from the land of the living” by sending him to the obituaries page, located among basement file drawers with people using ladders above him, which he initially handles with great humility.

Screen Shot 2019-11-22 at 4.36.39 PM.jpeg

JL: I liked Wally discussing his boss, newspaper editor (not film director) Oliver Stone: “He's sort of a cross between a Ferris wheel and a werewolf. But with a lovable streak if you care to blast for it.” Playing Oliver is the ever hyper Walter Connolly, who probably plays his role a bit too over the top here.

TB: Lombard's character, Hazel Flagg, is brought into the story in a very clever way.  After Wally has been sent by Oliver to work in the obituary department, he reads a blurb about some Vermont woman named Hazel who apparently has radium poisoning and is dying. He then travels to Vermont to learn more and to meet Hazel. They have an interesting first meeting. But then of course, things become quite exaggerated. At first, I wasn't sure if she was really sick or not. We know that whether or not she is, that's besides the point. The main point is that March's reporter is going to milk it for what's worth, to generate a ton of sympathy for her.

Screen Shot 2019-11-22 at 4.33.12 PM.jpeg

JL: Yes. Headlines constantly exaggerate Hazel Flagg's situation and funny little shots get tossed in to showcase just how disconnected the writers of those headlines are with the general public reading them. For example, one reads “Hazel sets new high point of courage,” according to the mayor who is up for re-election. This is followed by a shot of a construction worker thousands of feet up eating his lunch while reading that very paper with little excitement. A subsequent shot shows a lady at market using another key headline to wrap the raw fish she bought, a bright red one with dead eyes to match.

TB: I took these moments to be Hecht's disdain for "important" news. That he was saying most of what is printed is barely worth wrapping up a fish, or lining the bottom of a birdcage. It's very tongue-in-cheek, most of these quick scenes in the movie.

Screen Shot 2019-11-22 at 4.30.44 PM.jpeg

JL: When Hazel faints from too much champagne and everybody but Charles Winninger's good doctor Enoch “Downer” (what a name!) thinks she might have died, greedy Oliver the news editor whispers “Doctor, I wanna know the worst. I don't want you to spare our feelings. We're going to press in 15 minutes!”

TB: That part made me giggle. The dialogue is definitely over the top in that scene. Winninger's line delivery is great. But even though this is supposed to be funny, there is a bit of tragedy on screen. Mainly the fact that everyone else is deeply concerned about Hazel Flagg, thinking this is the end for her.

In the next part she is taken to a hotel suite where they think she is going to die. And in that sequence, we get some ironic commentary about Hazel's life and the thought of her passing from this life so young. All more poignant since Lombard herself would die just four years later.

Screen Shot 2019-11-22 at 4.41.39 PM.jpeg

JL: After she is exposed as a fraud who is not dying from radium poisoning, Wally counter-attacks Oliver: “Remember she was just a circulation stunt for you. You used her like you've used every broken heart that's fallen into your knapsack to inflame the daffy public and help sell your papers.”

TB: What did you think of some of the other supporting characters?

JL: Lots of minor characters are borrowed from Hollywood's stock supply of wonderful supporting players. Hattie McDaniel's part is brief but she practically steals the show exposing an African “prince” that Wally made famous through the Morning Star paper, a man who was really a Harlem shoe shine man (Troy Brown).

Screen Shot 2019-11-22 at 4.44.27 PM.jpeg

JL: In another sequence we have Margaret Hamilton playing a Warsaw, Vermont drugstore lady who gives Wally a lot more words than the standard “yup” and “nope." Then there's the head of the goofy doctor team who expose Hazel's big lie. He is wonderfully played by Sig Ruman.

TB: And don't forget the maintenance man!

JL: The maintenance man played by boxing champ Maxie Rosenbloom is quite funny. Particularly in his reactions, since apparently he used to sell papers as well, just not like Oliver but as a street corner boy in his youth. “That's enough about sellin' papers!” he shouts before attacking Wally with full force. (Off camera, Rosenbloom taught Carole Lombard how to properly sock Frederic March in the jaw, making their later skirmish all the more effective.)

Screen Shot 2019-11-22 at 4.23.21 PM.jpeg

TB: I love the scene where Hazel socks Wally in the jaw. I think it's definitely Lombard's best moment on screen, and it's easy to see why Lombard would tell people this was her favorite film. She really gets into it. It's a very well-rehearsed choreographed moment for her. And it ends with her collapsing on the bed. It's perfect from start to finish.

JL: Although it is a very minor scene, I love the nameless gray squirrel who follows a singing children group visiting Hazel's hotel. When it wanders into her bed, her reaction is much the same as if it had been a rat. Her reaction is so spontaneous, I suspect director William Wellman did not prepare Lombard for that surprise.

TB: Watching something like this, you really get a sense for Lombard's greatness. I think she was ahead of her time in many regards. I especially like her impersonating Garbo in a Paramount picture she made around this time with Fred MacMurray. In this film, she is also doing a bit of a caricature; and her timing is impeccable. She likes to satirize things, to spoof situations and Hecht's story is right up her alley.

JL: I personally prefer her performance in MY MAN GODFREY but she does display a wider range of emotions here. As a bored young lady eager to see the Big Apple and get away from her confining hometown like so many other bored young ladies stuck dealing with Depression woes, she is willing to fool millions that she is gravely ill when she's not. Then she gets emotionally invested in how emotionally invested others are in her.

Screen Shot 2019-11-22 at 4.32.22 PM.jpeg

TB: I think that's it exactly. It starts as a ruse. But then the ruse becomes something very real to Hazel. And Lombard accomplishes that transformation with the character expertly. But she never lets it get maudlin; she keeps it fun.

JL: The scene with her calling Wally's attention to “the man with the toupee” (Alex Melesh) gets me every time! When handed the key to the city, she can not figure out where to put it and almost sticks it through the bosom of her blouse. Clearly she enjoyed every moment of her performance, almost as if Hazel Flagg discovered that she was dying for real and must enjoy every last moment of her life to its fullest.

Screen Shot 2019-11-22 at 4.34.42 PM.jpeg

JL: Over the years, this film has mellowed a bit. If you think about it, the story is deceptively simple even if it does raise some interesting commentary on the notion of famous-for-fifteen-minute celebrities (as Andy Warhol defined us all decades later) and the cutthroat business of news reporting. It is surprising to learn that it lost money in its initial release, which could be blamed on Selznick producing it in Technicolor and increasing the budget past a million as a result when most screwball comedies were more economical.

TB: Thoughts about the ending?

JL: I must admit that it took me many viewings to finally understand the ending and I have a feeling many thirties audiences also missed the sophistication of the humor as I had done. As our couple slink away married with her name changed as the public “mourns” Hazel's passing (headlines declared that she left to die alone like an elephant), a fellow passenger thinks she recognizes her on a cruise ship. Of course, Hazel denies she is Hazel and is merely mistaken for “that fake”, prompting a how-can-you-say-that? response from the still mourning lady. Hazel then tells Wally her new husband “Why, right now, millions of people are crying just thinking about me.”

When I first saw this movie as a teenager and heard a drunk Dr. Downer holler “Run for your life! The whole town is flooded!”, I initially thought that the ship itself was sinking and the real Hazel was going to die on her honeymoon. Actually Hecht and Wellman were merely having one last dig at the “crying” town of New York City.

Screen Shot 2019-11-23 at 8.13.34 AM.jpeg

NOTHING SACRED may be viewed on YouTube.

  • Like 1
Link to post
Share on other sites

The images look nice. I wonder how this movie looked to viewers back in 1937 when it was in its new and pristine shape. We see these films in their aging states, but often with some sprucing up digitally. In films like THE WIZARD OF OZ, this sprucing up even goes to the 3-D level that is well beyond its original look.

  • Like 1
Link to post
Share on other sites
18 minutes ago, Jlewis said:

The images look nice. I wonder how this movie looked to viewers back in 1937 when it was in its new and pristine shape. We see these films in their aging states, but often with some sprucing up digitally. In films like THE WIZARD OF OZ, this sprucing up even goes to the 3-D level that is well beyond its original look.

Yes. Or if viewers even paid attention to things like print/image quality back in those days.

A few of these shots I did as screen captures while I was re-playing the movie on YouTube, then I sharpened them with iPhoto. I did not enhance the color, since I wanted readers to see them in the truest form, in the way the Kalmus process first rendered the Technicolor back in 1937.

  • Like 1
Link to post
Share on other sites

Essential: DEADLINE U.S.A. (1952)

TopBilled wrote:

For the second part of our 'Making News' series we are looking at one of Humphrey Bogart's lesser known films. It was produced in the early 50s, after the star had left Warner Brothers and had begun to freelance. Jlewis provided such excellent detailed comments there really isn't anything else I need to add. 

screen1.jpeg

Jlewis wrote:

Despite its big cast of Humphrey Bogart, Ethel Barrymore and rising newcomer Kim Hunter (along with other familiars like Martin Gabel, Paul Stewart, Ed Begley, Audrey Christie and even Jim Backus) and a high profile producer named Sol Siegel, this is not a high profile feature I was all that familiar with. Apparently it did well at the box office at the time and was a key breakthrough for Richard Brooks, one of the fifties darlings-among-directors who would team up with Bogie once more. Yet it tends to be chucked to the sidelines by many modern movie buffs as a lesser Bogie vehicle even if no Bogie vehicle is ever “lesser” in any way.

Yes, this film has plenty of merit too and is quite entertaining in its own way. This rather modest production (but with great inside scenes of a news press facility) was filmed in roughly a month or so just before a much more famous Bogie, THE AFRICAN QUEEN, had its gala premiere, and 20th Century Fox swiftly released it to New York City theaters barely five days before Bogie's big Oscar win.

Screen Shot 2019-11-30 at 8.52.26 AM.jpeg

Oh... by the way, Kim Hunter also won an Oscar for A STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE so she gets pretty prominent billing in the opening credits despite a relatively small role.

Screen Shot 2019-11-30 at 8.55.10 AM.jpeg

Opening shots involve a mob boss Tomas Rienzi (Gabel) being questioned by the authorities as TV cameras and press photographers document. He is a respectable member of the community who is careful to eliminate evidence of his crimes. The smug look speaks volumes.

Screen Shot 2019-11-30 at 8.56.28 AM.jpeg

Then we dive into a newspaper office for The Day with talk about some guy undressing with the shades up and a woman reporting it to the press, followed by talk of another woman found dead wearing only a mink coat and nothing underneath. Both discussions are a sign that the news business needed more “flesh” and morbidity to sell stories during these trying times, competing with the early days of television. This latter story would be an important one to the plot, however, as the woman turns out to be the mistress of Rienzi, who also had ties with her brother (Joe De Santis).

The employees including supervisor Frank Allen (Ed Begley) learn from the Associated Press, no less, that they are being sold by the widow owner Margaret Garrison (Barrymore) and her daughters (played by Joyce MacKenzie and Fay Baker) to a rival news company The Standard that may potentially dissolve it. Poor editor Ed Hutcheson (Bogart) is given the unhappy task to inform the staff that they will soon be losing their jobs.

Screen Shot 2019-11-30 at 8.59.58 AM.jpeg

At least they have an old fashioned wake at a bar for the business as pessimistic Ed mourns how the tabloid nature of the business has taken over when giving advice to a green-under-the-collar admiring reporter.

Screen Shot 2019-11-30 at 8.42.33 AM.jpeg

After good drinks at the wake, we are introduced to Ed's ex-wife Nora. Kim Hunter doesn't get to do much with her role, although her purpose is blatantly obvious. Even though she divorced him and is ready to marry somebody else, we know Ed still loves her and, like all married or engaged heterosexual men in these crime and war movies, she is his “insurance” for survival. Other instead are destined to perish. She is also cynical of Ed as much as he is cynical of himself and his occupation, but all of this can change suddenly for the better.

You see...our mob boss who opened the movie alters the future of the newspaper by roughing up one of their star reporters, George Burrows (Warren Stevens), who also loses his eye in the process. His boss Ed tries to learn all that happens and soon finds himself involved in a big story that the public needs to read about. As he tells Frank, “if anything saves the paper, this is it.”

Screen Shot 2019-11-30 at 8.42.14 AM.jpeg

When the first cover story is a success, it even prompting the key editor-in-chief of The Standard to reevaluate his own paper's sensationalist reporting.

This is another of those investigation stories starting with a woman (Bessie Schmidt is the name of the deceased one found with the mink coat) whom we never see alive but is talked about with various witnesses. Paul Stewart is almost unrecognizable as another involved in the investigation, eventually getting Bessie's brother to also be a stool pigeon on Rienzi.

Unfortunately we all know what happens to stool pigeons regardless of how much “safety” a newspaper provides, but his blight is more unusual than some of the others when rounded up by henchmen in cop uniforms and literally “stopping the presses." Ed himself also “takes a ride” with Mister Rienzi and his personal lawyer and, refusing to be bribed, talks his way out of a life or death situation there. One memorable line of Rienzi's is that he is in the “cement and contract business” and I can only imagine what often might be found underneath quite a few sidewalks.

Screen Shot 2019-11-30 at 9.02.59 AM.jpeg

Meanwhile the great Barrymore as Madame Garrison over-rides her greedy daughters in preventing the newspaper from being sold. We get some morality talk about how “I will not let this paper die” on account of its renewed integrity on getting a story to the public. Yet even she proves powerless in the final act.

Cyril Mockridge's music score is not terribly distinctive but I found it interesting how “glory, glory hallelujah” gets referenced whenever Ed is talking at his most pessimistic, then over the victorious end. It is a cue to tell viewers that he is a crusader despite how down and out he sometimes talks.

screen-shot-2019-11-30-at-8.43.07-am.jpeg

Not only does Ed get his co-workers and ex wife to feel highly of him and of themselves, but also his boss owner Mrs. Garrison who even fixes his drink for him when he visits. He reminds her of her late husband who worked so hard to make The Day an all important information source for the general public.

screen4.jpeg

This is an uplifting story of David the reporter vs. two Goliaths, one a crime boss and the other a bigger rival that wants to take it over. At a court hearing in which the fate of The Star vs. The Standard is decided, Ed gives a sermon on integrity and the journalists' duties to the public.

Although Bogie gives a good speech worthy of his talents, I found this whole scene too much like so many others I have sat through involving other Good Guys like Jimmy Stewart and Gregory Peck, all with a similar moral message about some of the biggest causes worth fighting for that are seemingly lost causes. Likewise, we get a fellow Little David, a female version in the form of Bessie and Herman Schmidt's mother, to provide the final ammunition for Ed to win his battle.

Screen Shot 2019-11-30 at 8.40.14 AM.jpeg

So...all in all, this is a good if not revolutionary social conscious piece. When I find myself spending more time narrating the plot and less discussing the production aspects and the performances, it doesn't mean I dislike it in any way. Bogart is always great in just about anything he does. I like Audrey Christie as the good gal committed to her boss and her co-workers, maintaining an upbeat personality even when the times are rough. Jim Backus has a minor comic scene but is mostly playing his role in a serious tone.

Everybody, in short, does their job well for the cameras even if I didn't get a sense that, aside from Joseph de Santis' doomed Herman Schmidt, they were particularly challenged in their roles. Martin Gabel is a surprisingly mild-mannered criminal but he does show a bit of noteworthy rage and defeat in the final moments.

Screen Shot 2019-11-30 at 9.05.23 AM.jpeg

DEADLINE U.S.A. may currently be viewed on YouTube.

Link to post
Share on other sites

Again, very good picture selection. The bottom poster is particularly intriguing, suggesting to patrons that this is a very action packed vehicle rather than a fairly straight forward newspaper drama. There was some suspenseful action, of course.

  • Like 1
Link to post
Share on other sites

Wanted to say thanks to everyone who keeps up with the reviews posted in this thread.

Jlewis and I are taking a short break. It's my fault (busy with work commitments and Christmas shopping!).

But we'll be back next weekend with a discussion about a precode film starring Carole Lombard and Pat O'Brien. 

And there will be some more great reviews in the weeks that follow!

***

Her Reputation

December 14: VIRTUE (1932)
December 21: TURN THE KEY SOFTLY (1953)
December 28: CAROLINE? (1990)

Link to post
Share on other sites

Essential: VIRTUE (1932)

TB: This month our theme is "Her Reputation." It means we are looking at films with female protagonists who might have a criminal past. But because they are mostly uplifting dramas, the women in these stories strive to overcome past mistakes and live a more productive life. 

screen1.jpeg

TB: For our first week on this topic, we are highlighting a Columbia precode starring Carole Lombard called VIRTUE. It can currently be found on YouTube under the title GOODNESS. I should mention a bit of background about the production. Lombard was locked into a long-term contract at this time at Paramount. However, she was fighting boss Adolph Zukor about the sort of scripts that would best serve her talents.

At an impasse, Zukor placed Lombard on suspension. She promptly went to Columbia where she struck up a friendship with Harry Cohn. Cohn was eager to use Lombard to bring more prestige to his then-poverty row studio. He offered Paramount money to borrow Lombard, which meant her suspension was lifted. Lombard was able to get away from her home studio for awhile, and she was able to do material that interested her. She made several films for Columbia during the next few years. And one of them (TWENTIETH CENTURY) firmly established her reputation as a screwball comedienne.

Screen Shot 2019-12-14 at 8.49.54 AM.jpeg

In VIRTUE, she is playing a much more dramatic part. And she handles the role with ease. Her character Mae is a down-on-her-luck prostitute that meets a brash but vulnerable taxi driver (Pat O'Brien). And from there, a rather interesting relationship-- and sudden marriage-- occurs.

JL: One of the virtues of early '30s Hollywood is that the average feature running time was 65-70 minutes with only prestige productions being longer. This was to accommodate all of the short subjects and newsreels, occasionally double features for matinees (although this trend was more commonplace mid-decade after the consolidation of several B-studios under Monogram, Republic and the like). Thus, every storyline gets right to the point and we never get a moment of boredom. 

VIRTUE, directed by Edward Bussell (who also acts in a few scenes as well), may not be a masterpiece but certainly deserves more attention than it gets since it satisfies with its speedy storytelling populated by speedy talkers.

Screen Shot 2019-12-14 at 8.43.50 AM.png

TB: Yes. That is worth mentioning. Both Lombard and O'Brien deliver their lines quickly. There are no belabored moments, or drawn out pauses. This gives their scenes a lot of energy. O'Brien had sort of perfected this delivery style a year earlier in the original version of THE FRONT PAGE.

JL: Carole Lombard's Mae has been run out of town because she's a lady-of-the-evening working in the oldest profession and only her commitment to marriage to honest and straight forward Jimmy, played by O'Brien, prevents the fire-and-brimstone crowd from getting all up in arms.

TB: I like how O'Brien's character is a bit tough at the beginning. Jimmy's charmed by Mae, but he's also a bit skeptical. Probably because while driving cab around town, he's met other gals like her before. He doesn't intend to get burned. However, she does get a ride from him without paying.

Screen Shot 2019-12-14 at 8.44.18 AM.jpeg

JL: Yes. Jimmy thinks all dames have “some kind of a racket” when he lectures his roommate Frank (Ward Bond) who is getting married. He stumbles upon Mae in his taxi and she gyps him for a free ride, an interesting introduction for a couple destined to fall for each other. Also, when back with her roommate Lil (Mayo Methot), Mae receives instruction resembling what Jimmy gave his roommate in regards to love, telling her to never fall in it and “get out while you can." Since her earlier escape from Jimmy's taxi involved a damaged window, Mae's take on the subject runs like this: “yeah, try and get out. Once you are in, you're in. It is like hopping out of a window. When you jump, you just naturally gotta keep going.”

Screen Shot 2019-12-14 at 8.43.12 AM.jpeg

TB: Of course, we know our two main characters will cross paths again. Or else there wouldn't be a love story. I like how the writers contrive to throw them back together. It's because Mae has developed a conscience, and decides she needs to pay Jimmy for the fare, after all.

JL: She does this in front of other mocking taxi drivers. Pat O'Brien gives a great performance trying to act cynical in front of his buddies, then gets irritable when their laughter gets the best of him and snaps “shut your trap." I call this “tough love." He doesn't want to show his true feelings in front of his fellow dudes but Mae clearly has him hooked.

TB: We should point out that while he might initially suspect she is a prostitute, Mae doesn't ever confirm this to Jimmy in the beginning stages of the relationship. So he's a little gullible and chooses to believe she's a good girl. Obviously, because he's hooked as you say, and he can't admit he's falling for a prostitute. When they impulsively marry, she has certainly given up her former life.

screen.jpeg

JL: As I've mentioned before, romantic movies are less about the happiness of the couple together and more about the unusual circumstances that bring them together and the turmoil that they face when either breaking up or being tested for a possible break-up. Our happy scenes in the fair grounds with the little kisses and other expressions of affection are confined to a brief montage sequence a la CASABLANCA style. Inevitably the truth of her, um, working gal profession is unveiled when a private investigator finds her after running her out of town. Jimmy slaps her and leaves to drown his sorrows at the bar. Soon he decides to forgive her and instructs her to end contacts with her “old gang."

TB: This is where the soap opera aspects of the plot kick into gear. We know that she won't be able to totally disengage from the gang. And of course, this is going to cause a huge disruption in the marriage.

JL: Exactly. When another friend of hers, Shirley Grey's Gert, needs extra cash for a doctor due to “trouble," Mae gets scammed by her and her "p" Toots (Jack Le Rue), resulting in Mae borrowing from Jimmy's funds being saved for a garage he wants to be co-owner of some day. Her second confrontation with Gert lands her in even bigger trouble since Toots accidentally kills Gert in a skirmish and Mae gets arrested at the scene of the crime.

Screen Shot 2019-12-14 at 8.43.30 AM.png

TB: I didn't expect there to be a killing. But certainly knew there would be some sort of trouble, some sort of violence. Jimmy becomes Mae's staunchest supporter through all of this.

JL: Fortunately, he has been tailing her and has noticed Toots in the same apartment complex where he observed his wife venturing. Jimmy ends up pleading in her defense at headquarters. In addition Toots is involved romantically with Mae's always understanding ex-roommate Lil, who uses her feminine “wiles” to trick him into going to police headquarters. Although everything gets resolved in the end, we don't often see relationships built on “for better and for worse” with the worst being showcased on screen. This makes VIRTUE good Depression Era entertainment that reflected real America on screen instead of the usual reel America.

TB: Great point(s). And we're getting strong issues depicted on screen. How women struggle to support themselves; how a couple struggle to make a marriage work; friends who have their own problems; references to prostitution, economics and abortion. There's a murder. Etc. Ordinarily, a story like this might get a bit heavy handed. But in this case, it doesn't; and I think much of that is the way the cast pulls it off.

Screen Shot 2019-12-14 at 8.55.38 AM.jpeg

JL: This is a classic example of proper casting work done in a well-oiled Hollywood studio like Columbia Pictures. Pat O' Brien and Carole Lombard are both wise-crackers who fit naturally together as a couple. There is a natural flow to their relationship, beginning when he tells her how much he does not want to get married and she certainly doesn't pressure him in any way, but still mentions all of those lonely single bachelors she has acquainted herself with (ahem... we can let that one slide). He may not act lonely in any way, but you sense that he is nonetheless, especially when he is away from her at the bar after their first marriage trial. Also the scene when his buddy gets him to come to her defense, we see Pat in a very untypical scene (for him as an actor) all depressed and melancholy.

TB: Anything else you'd like to mention?

JL: Not much more to add here but there are a few curios that tickle me. Obviously society was more innocent back then since doors are not locked. Mae just asks for the room number of Gert from the front office man and he doesn't question her at all, not that Mae looks sinister in any way before she gets arrested. Yet we live in an age of tight security and so much red tape that such material like this in old movies is still surprising to us.

Screen Shot 2019-12-14 at 8.43.20 AM.png

Again, VIRTUE may currently be viewed on YouTube under the title GOODNESS.

  • Like 2
Link to post
Share on other sites

That poster at the beginning is so provocative: “Many men filled her life...” in addition to the letter V bordering a couple shown struggling rather than wooing each other. Those Pre Code advertisers certainly caused plenty of wrath at the pulpit each Sunday. Yet few of these films delivered as much “sin” as they suggested. This one is still a fluffy romance that could hardly hold a candle to Pretty Woman.

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

That poster at the beginning is so provocative: “Many men filled her life...” in addition to the letter V bordering a couple shown struggling rather than wooing each other. Those Pre Code advertisers certainly caused plenty of wrath at the pulpit each Sunday. Yet few of these films delivered as much “sin” as they suggested. This one is still a fluffy romance that could hardly hold a candle to Pretty Woman.

Yes. There is really only one confrontation scene between them...that is when her sordid past comes to light. They argue and he goes off to the bar to drink and decide if she's worth forgiving. He never gets violent with her, like that poster suggests. But I think the poster might have been from a re-release, after the code had been enforced. They are playing up her sinful ways and that he is apparently putting the fear of God into her.

As you said, it's really a love story where they are courting each other and making their marriage work despite the obstacles.

Link to post
Share on other sites

Essential: TURN THE KEY SOFTLY (1953)

TB: This week Jlewis and I continue our discussion about films that feature women trying to overcome their criminal pasts. This time we have a British story that involves three protagonists. What's interesting here is that they're all in prison when the story starts, and we follow them out on the day they are all released. They have bonded while inside and plan to meet up for dinner later on this fateful day to remain supportive of each other.

Screen Shot 2019-12-22 at 7.35.07 AM.jpeg

While Jlewis likes the film as much as I do, I don't think he feels it has the right title. But I happen to like the title. Mainly because they've been locked up all this time, and the turning of the key is significant. Also, these are still women who are soft and delicate, somehow (and miraculously) not hardened by the system. 

Screen Shot 2019-12-22 at 7.33.26 AM.jpeg

Yvonne Mitchell has the lead role. She played a killer in the previously reviewed SAPPHIRE, and this time she's the victim of a con artist ex-boyfriend (Terence Morgan). She paid for his crimes. A youthful Joan Collins at the start of her career plays a prostitute struggling to go legit, in the same way Carole Lombard's character did in VIRTUE. And venerable character actress Kathleen Harrison plays a derelict whose only serious companion in life is a ragtag dog.

JL: Jack Lee directed and Maurice Cowan produced and co-scripted this drama about a trio of women leaving prison and experiencing their first day on the outside, even reuniting at Monte Cristo for a get-together.

Screen Shot 2019-12-22 at 7.35.44 AM.jpeg

The most recognizable face in the cast is Joan Collins, roughly 2-3 years before her LAND OF THE PHARAOHS cult fame and decades before Dynasty, looking eerily like Elizabeth Taylor in her facial appearance and distinctive eyebrows. She plays Stella, an ex-“lady of the evening” like Carole Lombard's Mae in VIRTUE. Yvonne Mitchell is Monica, who was well-to-do at one time but fell for the wrong man, a burglar named David  who ran out on her to save his own skin.

Kathleen Harrison plays the elderly widow “Mrs.” Quilliam. There are a few similarities here to other post-war women pictures, mostly churned out of Hollywood, such as the delightful A LETTER TO THREE WIVES even though the characters generally did not have criminal pasts.

TB: We should point out that Harrison was known for the popular Huggett family films. So she tended to be typecast in comedic roles, usually as befuddled mothers. But in this story, Mrs. Quilliam is anything but comical and her situation anything but funny.

JL: When the prison guard opens the gate, he announces “there you are, ladies, London... the biggest city in the world and it is all yours." All three express great anticipation on their faces since they have grown accustomed to their surroundings and are being freed like children leaving “the nest” into a world that are no longer familiar to them.

04d4d0cea7fa9db4be6d04ddf5d9639c.jpeg

Collins' Stella seems to have the most anxiety because she was engaged to get married to a man who promised he would be willing to wait even six years for her, but we know promises must always be questioned. Monica's initial reaction to the outside is a particularly effective one: we hear sparrows chirping in the trees and busy traffic in the distance, sounds that she clearly missed for a while and that is enough to give her satisfaction.

TB: Yes, I am glad you brought up the subtleties of the soundtrack. Often what we see in this film is supported by natural sound or realistic background noise, things that reinforce what is going on in the narrative, even if it is not blatantly obvious. 

Screen Shot 2019-12-22 at 7.38.06 AM.jpeg

JL: Monica's struggles to find employment with a criminal record are realistic ones many modern day viewers can relate to. Ultimately her honesty about her situation pays off and we as viewers are just as happy as she is when one business man takes a chance on her. (In her excitement after getting her first job out of prison, we get a nice extra touch by Yvonne the actress: she gleefully picks up a pillow on the street and gives it to the toddler in a stroller, only for him to toss it back out on the street after she leaves him.)

TB: Though Mitchell is playing the lead role and her character's drama seems to have a bit more prominence, all three women do seem to share roughly the same amount of screen time. In that regard, it's a well-balanced tale. But I feel Collins' story is probably the more interesting one.

Screen Shot 2019-12-22 at 7.32.56 AM.jpeg

JL: I guess some may consider Monica's story less interesting to watch on screen than pretty-but-sleazy Stella and the strange old lady who goes home to be reunited with her dog (“Johnny” is initially thought by others to be her boyfriend), but Monica may be one that more of us can identify with...she, of course, has to end her relationship with David, but residue feelings get the best of her and she is again wooed and “bedded” by him (love how the Brits are more ho-hum about such things than the prudish Yanks) despite her attempt to leave him. Oh well. She had been in prison and had no contact with a man for twelve months so I guess everybody is entitled to a few mistakes.

TB: One thing I enjoy about the film is that while there is some cross-cutting, when they go off in separate directions at the beginning (before they are reunited at dinner), their scenes seem to complement each other.

Screen Shot 2019-12-22 at 7.38.54 AM.jpeg

JL: Yes. It is interesting that we follow a key scene of Monica trying to break up with David while wearing the orchid he gave her over lunch with scenes of Mrs. Quilliam inspecting other flowers outside a shop and one very suspicious owner asking “you wanted something?” (Later she even gets Monica's orchid.) Quilliam was put in prison for shoplifting and, despite her petty sins, she is mistreated a lot by others (but not by her two friends, of course) since she is past her prime and down on her luck. Her own daughter (Hilda Fenemore) won't socialize with her beyond what is necessary due to Mrs. Quilliam's embarrassing past. Johnny her dog is the one who remains faithful to her and his sudden disappearance in the city streets provides drama for the film's final act.

TB: Let's talk a bit more about Stella, the character that Collins plays.

Screen Shot 2019-12-22 at 7.35.32 AM.jpeg

JL: There's a nice shot of Stella looking at Susan Hayward billed on a wall-poster for a currently playing SNOWS OF KILIMANJARO: one future star, Joan Collins, idolizing an established star on screen. She wants to be a walking fashion plate and her need for such accessories like earrings are what often get her into trouble. Bob is her beau, played by Glyn Houston in a nice Average Joe sort of way, and his job as a bus conductor resembles Jimmy the taxi driver in VIRTUE, also involving a woman who previously sold her body for profit wishing to settle down in marriage despite her questionable past. Needless to say, I am less confident that she and Bob will survive as a couple as Mae and Jimmy do in the other film since she isn't always convincing in her “I've changed” ways.

TB: I might disagree with this, because I do think the film shows that Stella does have a change of heart. And it's particularly significant when she does break away from prostitution for good and chooses to go off and have a married life with Bob. She might be tempted from time to time, but I think we can assume she's made a choice she intends to stick with for the rest of her life.

Screen Shot 2019-12-22 at 7.34.42 AM.jpeg

JL: The trio later wind up together at Monte Cristo for champagne, but the story doesn't end there. We get more with Monica trying to stop David going back to his old criminal ways. Johnny the dog gets lost in the city streets and his reunion with his mistress is... oh, I won't spoil it. Stella needs money badly and decides to return to her “working girl” profession with an older drunk guy, not even thinking of Bob in the moment, but she soon develops a conscious and tries to become a “good” girl in the end.

To be honest, I felt these later climaxes to be a bit distracting, compared to the rest of the movie. It felt like I was watching separate movies involving the same characters and wondered if this would have worked better as two episodes of a TV show. Don't get me wrong. It is still a very well-made movie with good performances and, typical of the Rank film empire, excellent production values.

TB: Not that I am trying to defend the film, but I think it has to be episodic...because while the women are connected due to their time in prison...it's clear that they all have unresolved pasts to contend with, pasts that do no involve each other. Your mentioning of television is interesting. This film is sort of like an episode of an Aaron Spelling TV drama (Fantasy Island or Hotel) where they all start and end at the same place, but what happens in between is quite separate. 

Screen Shot 2019-12-22 at 7.36.02 AM.jpeg

JL: The scenes of David getting caught on the rooftops Hitchcock style are visually impressive with great stunt work and expert camera angles. Yet we the viewers don't care as much for his plight as we do for the women because we have not gotten to know him all that well, apart from Monica's perspective.

TB: I would agree with this point. David is sort of surplus to the requirements. It's really a story about women's empowerment. But I guess we have to see Monica finally deal with David and what David's crimes have cost her.

JL: I also feel I need more of a reason as to the “why” he continues the career of a thief despite Monica's pleas, which is more thoroughly explained in, to mention one example, BONNIE & CLYDE with Warren Beatty's character discussing his dreams to Faye Dunaway's Bonnie of starting over in a place where he won't be recognized. This is suggested, but not explained further, with David. The problem is simply this: there are three stories competing for running time here and the David/Monica one needs the most development and doesn't quite get it all covered adequately.

TB: Let's discuss how the film ends.

JL: The ending is a real downer but we do get a new family started between a canine and his new human owner. It certainly would fit well in the company of many earlier doom-and-gloom 1930s French dramas like PORT OF SHADOWS a.k.a. LE QUAI DES BRUMES. As we all know, life throws us curve balls and we must just suck it up and accept what is given to us. I certainly would recommend this as an interesting drama of post-war British cinema, if a trifle disjointed in structure. That is, if you expect a certain structure in your cinema. Who is to say that it is needed when life itself is never as structured as we want it to be in the movies? Maybe the movie should have been twenty minutes longer to resolve the stories better? I don’t know.

Screen Shot 2019-12-22 at 7.40.12 AM.jpeg

TB: I think the writer was trying to neatly wrap up the plots in TURN THE KEY...obviously...and yes, it's a stretch that (spoiler) Monica would find the dog at the end. But I think all three women are meant to be part of a greater whole woman, as it were, so we sort of have Monica becoming Mrs. Quilliam. Meanwhile, Stella becomes what Monica might have been before, a woman in a stable loving relationship.

Screen Shot 2019-12-22 at 11.02.55 AM.jpeg

I really love the scene where Stella chooses Bob. Because up till then it seems like she's regressing and will end up back in prison. But she does get a happy ending, and it's a sublime moment.

TURN THE KEY SOFTLY may currently be viewed on YouTube.

screen.jpeg

  • Like 1
Link to post
Share on other sites

Your explanation of the title fits how I was interpreting the connection. Personally I don't have a problem with the title, but it is a hard one for me to remember since its connection to the story is more symbolic than direct. We could go back through the full dialogue to see if those words were mentioned, if fleetingly. Quite often a movie title comes from a specific line.

Another tidbit to add, since my wording was a bit off in my descriptions above. I do agree with you about Stella changing her life and settling down. I just question whether or not she can succeed with Bob since their personalities are so different. He seems better matched with Monica. To be fair, I have more confidence in the couple featured in VIRTUE mostly because we see a lot of them together, while the Stella/Bob scenes are brief here. I do not think her questionable "working gal" history has anything to do with it. This is a classic example of why good casting is always important. You want the viewers to instantly see Joan Collins and Glyn Houston as  a "couple" and, yes, we have to take short cuts in terms of outward appearances here when we know that is NOT what relationships are about. It is possible that the actors were quite chummy off screen.

  • Like 1
Link to post
Share on other sites
2 hours ago, Jlewis said:

Your explanation of the title fits how I was interpreting the connection. Personally I don't have a problem with the title, but it is a hard one for me to remember since its connection to the story is more symbolic than direct. We could go back through the full dialogue to see if those words were mentioned, if fleetingly. Quite often a movie title comes from a specific line.

Another tidbit to add, since my wording was a bit off in my descriptions above. I do agree with you about Stella changing her life and settling down. I just question whether or not she can succeed with Bob since their personalities are so different. He seems better matched with Monica. To be fair, I have more confidence in the couple featured in VIRTUE mostly because we see a lot of them together, while the Stella/Bob scenes are brief here. I do not think her questionable "working gal" history has anything to do with it. This is a classic example of why good casting is always important. You want the viewers to instantly see Joan Collins and Glyn Houston as  a "couple" and, yes, we have to take short cuts in terms of outward appearances here when we know that is NOT what relationships are about. Mind you, it is possible that the actors were quite chummy off screen, but we may have needed more scenes of them together to get a better feel for that relationship.

At first I questioned the casting of Glyn Houston as Bob. He seems a bit plain. I had thought if the producers had cast a much more attractive man, then we would see why Stella would certainly gravitate to him. But then if that had been the case, she would not have been sleeping with other men as a prostitute. So the story sort of necessitates that he be a good, solid dependable man but not quite an Adonis. And he is still fairly handsome, so she will definitely be happy with him.

Re: the title...the word "softly" or "soft" is key here. None of these women are like Eleanor Parker's hardened Marie in CAGED.

Link to post
Share on other sites

I was trying to remember how long these women actually were in prison. I think Stella merely stated that her man was willing to wait six years if that was the case, but she probably wasn't in any longer than the others. The Oldest Profession didn't necessarily get her arrested; just "where" she was doing it. None of the crimes these women committed was any big deal. One was caught shoplifting (although her daughter was certainly outraged enough) and another was romantically involved with a bank robber who didn't get caught. Often the characters are put in prison for something much more serious like murder. Then we retrace the "how" and "why" in flashbacks. If we are supposed to sympathize, then the killing was by accident but difficult to prove as such. With Stella, her main weakness was her attraction to shiny glittery things she can not afford by other occupation.

  • Like 1
Link to post
Share on other sites

Essential: CAROLINE? (1990)

TB: This week we are looking at an Emmy award winning telefilm from 1990. Again, the theme is about a woman trying to overcome her past. Only in this case, the woman is dead. Or was she merely presumed dead? One of the ads for this CBS Hallmark Hall of Fame presentation says Caroline is a prodigal daughter who has returned for family reasons. But it may actually be that she's an impostor, and that she's here for financial reasons. 

UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_4f7.jpg

Stephanie Zimbalist has the title role, a short time after her hit series with Pierce Brosnan, Remington Steele, had left the airwaves. It's a juicy role for the actress and she makes the most of it. I had recently found a copy on YouTube, and because I had never seen it and had heard good things about it over the years, I was eager to take a look. I enjoyed it so much, I persuaded JLewis to also look at it. And we agreed that it should be reviewed here as an Essential.

JL: SEPTEMBER AFFAIR was a vintage Hollywood romance we discussed before, in which a couple try to change their identity and start a new life when they discover that the plane they failed to board crashed with no survivors. This one shares just that one plot element: a plane crash and the possibility that Caroline Carmichael (Zimbalist), the wealthy and rebellious daughter of business tycoon Paul Carmichael (George Grizzard), did not boarding a plane which crashed, and she ended up living a different life for 15 years.

WTiRkSGkQ7qsT62P+1X4wQ_mini_4fa.jpg

TB: I was glad the writers established Caroline's backstory immediately, though we are definitely made to wonder if the real Caroline did in fact survive and if this woman that shows up on the Carmichaels' doorstep is an interloper. Zimbalist's acting is so good that we cannot really tell if she's a fake or the genuine article.

JL: In the 1950s (1952 according to the novel by E. L. Konigsburg, Father's Arcane Daughter), she returns from “the dead” to get re-acquainted with Daddy. Apparently he was widowed shortly after the tragedy when Caroline's mother died of grief and, rather shortly later, remarried to Grace (Pamela Reed) and produced two newer children, a very suspicious 12 year old Winston (Shawn Phelan) and his handicapped but very rambunctious sister Heidi (alternate name Hilary, played by Jenny Jacobs in a particularly scene stealing role here).

TB: The supporting cast is amazing. I think Pamela Reed is quite stellar. She nails the b*tchiness of the stepmother character, but also conveys some vulnerability where it is needed. Like the scene where Grace describes how Heidi/Hilary had once been tested and what that entailed. I agree that the child who plays Heidi/Hilary does steal the movie. But Zimbalist and Grizzard are quite strong in their central roles as well. As I said above, Zimbalist does keep you guessing throughout, but of course those scenes with the half-smiles suggest she may very well not be who she claims to be.

ikDly38VS6OjWDgypArFOA_thumb_4fb.jpg

JL: Caroline claims to have lived in India as Martha Sedgewick, which checks out when Grace does an investigation on her. There is much fuss over an inheritance here (which is revealed in more detail at the film's climax with Dorothy McGuire playing a key role), but Caroline claims her return isn't about the money. Early on, there is a key shot of a half smile as she is leaving the house after her first reunion scene, and that probably makes viewers question her motives. She also half-smiles in other scenes when the son cross questions her, as if she is mastering some sort of performance.

TB: Zimbalist works well with the boy who plays Winston. Winston is meant to be suspicious at first, then he eventually comes to respect Martha/Caroline, even if she is not really his sister. So the relationship between them evolves during the story. I should point out that Shawn Phelan, who played Winston, had a tragic life. Details can be found on his wiki page. But he did not live very long afterward. He was a good performer and no doubt would have given more great performances over the years if his life had not been tragically cut short.

Let's discuss some of the other performers.

Yigtkd4WTJOLsEeaJ9NiNQ_thumb_4f5.jpg

JL: Patricia Neal has a standout bit role as Miss Trollope, who cross questions Caroline about India at a party. Cynical and very impish Grace to Trollope: “I think the party is a success and Caroline looks so well. How does she seem to you?” “Peculiar” is the clever response from that fine actress in her role. She does catch-up Caroline on a specific memory detail in a key later scene when Caroline visits Trollope's school. But Miss Trollope is mighty impressed by her ambition and great affection for the younger siblings.

TB: Neal certainly makes the most of her screen time, and it's a good role for her. She's playing a brittle woman, but a woman that also has some softness, or tenderness, towards others.

Dw7bq7biTRehrgiTGOxsYA_thumb_4f9.jpg

JL: Much of the story is shown from Winston's view-point as a child (reflected later as an adult when Caroline...or her impostor?...dies a second time in the present time. He is suspicious of Caroline just like his mother but is impressed by what Caroline does with his handicapped sister, involving a friend who is a specialist teacher. Meanwhile, a competition begins between Grace and this invader into her and her children's lives. There is a tearful separation scene and one that dramatically alters the relationship between mother and daughter, the latter getting a taste of the wide-wide world full of possibilities away from her controlled and pampered home life. “Mommy wants me to be a baby forever.” (No, she doesn't stay a baby forever, as we learn in the finale.)

TB: Anything else that you'd like to mention?

JL: This is fun entertainment, if slightly restricted in its CBS movie-of-the-week budget. For example, although the bulk of the story is set in the 1950s, they did not have the budget as many major theatricals had for getting the settings all accurate historically. The cars and clothes are vintage but domestic situations are more vintage 1989 with a more modern copy of Wind in the Willows being read, electric can openers, more up to date decor, etc. Not that most viewers would even notice since the time frame is far less important than it being a human interest story. 

VrpqcPM5QcW7atuLgWWIxg_thumb_4fc.jpg

TB: I googled this phrase: "when were electric can openers invented" and the response is 1931But I agree that some of the film does feel late 80s/early 90s, particularly the attitudes of the party guests.

JL: The can openers were starting to be marketed more widely in the 1950s but were not popular at first, according to Wikipedia. Yet I think you know what I meant there since it looks more 80s-ish than 50s-ish.

TB: Yes, of course. What did you think of Dorothy McGuire's extended cameo at the end?

JL: We eventually learn the truth of Caroline in a letter written to Winston, which he is given the adult decision (for a 12 year old) to either keep or destroy. Flora, his grandmother, played beautifully by Dorothy McGuire in a hospital bed, has the all important role in getting Caroline as nurse Martha to the Carmichael family. “Those children need you."

dw%fNgXTSR2n%MN9cwt9QQ_thumb_4f6.jpg

TB: It is a stretch that Martha would be a true doppelganger for the late Caroline...unless they had just made it that she looked like Caroline to Flora, due to poor eyesight or mild senility. Then Martha could have studied the old photographs and changed her look to become more Caroline-look in appearance. That is how I would have done those scenes. The key point is that Flora believes this is Caroline...or rather that this can be Caroline and save those children. And as we watch the story play out on screen, Martha does succeed as "Caroline." 

What I love most about the story, and it ties into our theme, is that the real Caroline before she died did not seem to have a very positive reputation. But this second Caroline who shows up sort of redeems her, in a most ironic way.

CAROLINE? may currently be viewed on YouTube

  • Like 1
Link to post
Share on other sites

Good to refresh myself on this one. Stephanie Zimbalist looked familiar but I could not remember her other TV work. As mentioned above, a lot of TV movies made on a budget and other restraints did not always capture the period settings as well as bigger budget theatrical movies (not that they were all that successful back then either a.k.a. Dirty Dancing being so much an eighties rather than a sixties movie with all of the poofy hairdos and newer clothing styles). This was pretty good for its time, can openers aside.

  • Like 1
Link to post
Share on other sites

Essential: ONE IN A MILLION (1936)

screen-shot-2020-01-04-at-2.54.18-pm-1.jpeg

TB: This weekend and next weekend we are looking at two Sonja Henie vehicles. Her seven year reign at Fox helped to popularize the ice skating musical, and there were several imitators at other studios. People like Monogram's Belita, and Republic's Vera Hruba Ralston. In Ralston's case, she married Republic studio boss Herbert Yates and transitioned into leading roles across a variety of genres. But Belita and Henie did not really transition, so when their style of movie went out of vogue, their screen careers abruptly ended.

Henie was more interested in advocating physical fitness and the Olympics, so I am sure the end of her movie career was not a big blow to her. Plus she had shrewdly negotiated with Zanuck and made enough money from those pictures to sustain her for the rest of her life.

At first I debated our covering a few Henie titles, since it could be said that she turned out cinematic fluff. But I do think there is quite a bit of talent on display and certainly a level of artistry in terms of art design, music and direction. Plus, as Jlewis discusses below, Henie's Fox vehicles always included the top character actors and actresses.

This week we are looking at Henie's motion picture debut-- ONE IN A MILLION (1936)-- and next week we will discuss one of her later projects, the sublime SUN VALLEY SERENADE (1941) which is certainly a classic.

Before I turn things over to Jlewis, I want to say that I think he's a bit kinder than I would have been. I don't consider ONE IN A MILLION a very exciting film. It has a few dull stretches in it, but it's a good showcase for the neophyte actress; and I think overall it retains a fair amount of entertainment value. The film we will cover next week is much better. But if you've never seen a Sonja Henie film before, then at the very least ONE IN A MILLION is a good introduction to her unique charms.

***

JL: Obviously 20th Century Fox was not just about Shirley Temple in the mid thirties. This title makes ample use of several familiar contract players like Don Ameche and the Ritz Brothers in addition to the main attraction, Sonja Henie. Also Adolphe Menjou, who was traveling from studio to studio.

Screen Shot 2020-01-04 at 2.50.47 PM.jpeg

The introductory music over the title cards seems influenced by the Busby Berkeley musicals that Fox head-honcho Darryl Zanuck helped initiate earlier when he worked at Warner Brothers. There is a jolly let's-get-right-to-it and put-on-a-show quality that fits the era, plus plenty of sarcasm regarding the not so jolly side of life.

Screen Shot 2020-01-04 at 2.47.01 PM.jpeg

In the first dialogue sequence, Menjou as struggling bandleader Thaddeus Spencer aboard a train reacts to one complaint: “We are all hungry. We are all cold. In an hour, we will all be warm and we will be eating.” The response: “Yeah... each other.” There are plenty of wise cracks like this that amuse on the soundtrack, particularly from Arline Judge as Thaddeus' wife; her main job being to smack Thaddeus across the face in words rather than hands when he gets too pompous and idealistic.

Jack Haskell gets credit for staging the “skating ensembles” and was Oscar nominated as well, but I am certain he did not have to aid Sonja Henie all that much. I find it all too tempting to compare and contrast her to Esther Williams because both had very specialized talents exploited by a major studio over an 8-9 year period. As Thaddeus describes her skating, it is like “dancing on ice”, much like Esther's “dancing” underwater in the later MGM aquamusicals.

Sonja did very well indeed in the Quigley box office polls of the time (making the top 10 cut in 1937-39 and peaking at #3 in '38, with just Shirley Temple and Clark Gable above her), but clearly her first love was promoting skating as a professional sport and educating the public in tours more than movie stardom itself. (Part of her dip in popularity could have been some backlash to her being too accepting of Adolf Hitler's congratulations at the Olympics, but Fox made sure she proved where her alliances were by casting her in the anti-Nazi EVERYTHING HAPPENS AT NIGHT.)

Screen Shot 2020-01-04 at 2.23.17 PM.jpeg

As Greta, the daughter of Swiss inn-keeper and ex-Olympic champ Heinrich Muller (Jean Hersholt), she aids Thaddeus' band at a promotional event and then temporarily gets disqualified at the Winter Olympics because that may have been too “professional” of a deed to do before the tournaments.

A throwaway side-story involving a burned down hotel near the Mullers' in Switzerland and a possible suspect, dubious “Ratoffsky” (Montagnu Love), gives us the modus operandi to bring Don Ameche's reporter Bob Harris to Greta's little world to become her love interest.

Screen Shot 2020-01-04 at 2.27.04 PM 2.jpeg

In the typical boy meets girl situation, she initially rejects him after seeing him give another girl neck massage, then changes her mind as she sees how he repeatedly defends her. (He also has a photographer sidekick, but poor Ned Sparks's wonderful comic skills are completely wasted on his boring role.)

As they say, the beauty of a vintage Hollywood studio era production is less about the story and more about the talents that make up the whole production. In this regard, many musicals of the period have an ensemble feel that may seem disjointed to some who are more accustomed to a stronger focus on one story, a lead character or special effect. Quite often what involves the lead characters is halted so that we can see some comedy or musical group perform.

Screen Shot 2020-01-04 at 2.25.17 PM.jpeg

The Ritz Brothers were not quite in the same league as the Marx Bothers and the Three Stooges but there is a nice surrealistic quality about their schtick that is exploited better here than in other films of theirs. I particularly like the early scene on the train when they take off more jackets than are humanly possible to wear in order to emphasize how cold they are. Quite ambitious is their own skating Horror Boys of Hollywood comic routine dressed as the Frankenstein monster, Napoleon and Peter Lorre with a mis-mash of familiar tunes that even includes the Disney favorite “Who's Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf?” (and the Disney animators occasionally referenced both them and Sonja herself in such cartoons as THE AUTOGRAPH HOUND).

Screen Shot 2020-01-04 at 2.51.24 PM.jpeg

Less successfully utilized is Borrah Minevitch, shown later in the film with his fellow Rascals, doing the harmonica novelty routines. The three “Melody Master” shorts that the group did for Warner Brothers are quite hilarious and well worth catching when they occasionally air on TCM, but like many of the more eccentric talents in Hollywood, Borrah was not somebody who could successfully carry a full feature film on his own. I don't get the sense that director Sidney Lanfield and the crew knew what to do with him. We even have scenes of Thaddeus stopping his playing altogether as an annoyance, as if somebody high up in management must have felt the same?

The songs performed, including the title tune, are all... passable. Hey, it ain't rock & roll and it is hardly swing either. Don Ameche has a nice voice, reminding me of Rudy Vallee if softer, in his rendition of Sidney D. Mitchell and Lew Pollack's “Who's Afraid of Love?” That one was quite a hit in its day and I particularly enjoy Fats Waller's scat version recorded December 24, 1936 just before the movie's release:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wgmOo7LvY5M

Footage culled from the Movietone newsreels of the previous Winter Olympics are put to good use, yet this modest production does look very studo bound otherwise. Even the winter scenes involve the familiar indoor “snow” and painted backdrops. The final mock bull fight with the Ritz Brothers followed by one more go-around with Sonja on skates brings this adequate vintage musical fluff to a surprisingly abrupt The End. I have a feeling some modern viewers will ask “is that all?”, although I doubt thirties audiences minded at all since it was a big hit.

Screen Shot 2020-01-04 at 2.26.26 PM.jpeg

ONE IN A MILLION (1936) may currently be viewed on YouTube.

Link to post
Share on other sites

No, this is not exactly an exciting film. I do agree that the 1941 offering we will cover next has quite a bit more substance to it. Not to mention the real Glenn Miller acting on screen, instead of Jimmy Stewart playing him, and a knock-out dance number by the Nicholas Brothers to add novelty value. Oops! Getting ahead of schedule here. Since she was temporarily #2 on the Fox lot after Shirley, I guess her fluff pieces were no worse than the Curly Top's fluff pieces and she certainly brought in the revenue.

Apparently Walt Disney was a bigger fan of her than I realized. Not only does she appear in THE AUTOGRAPH HOUND with Donald Duck, but there were initial plans to make a part animated, part live action feature to be incorporated in reissued showings of FANTASIA. The project did not make it past the storyboard phase in 1946.

  • Like 1
Link to post
Share on other sites
14 hours ago, Jlewis said:

No, this is not exactly an exciting film. I do agree that the 1941 offering we will cover next has quite a bit more substance to it. Not to mention the real Glenn Miller acting on screen, instead of Jimmy Stewart playing him, and a knock-out dance number by the Nicholas Brothers to add novelty value. Oops! Getting ahead of schedule here. Since she was temporarily #2 on the Fox lot after Shirley, I guess her fluff pieces were no worse than the Curly Top's fluff pieces and she certainly brought in the revenue.

Apparently Walt Disney was a bigger fan of her than I realized. Not only does she appear in THE AUTOGRAPH HOUND with Donald Duck, but there were initial plans to make a part animated, part live action feature to be incorporate in reissued showings of FANTASIA. The project did not make it past the storyboard phase in 1946.

Thanks for adding more background information here. It is most appreciated.

There's a gracefulness that Henie displays on screen that is in some respects without peer. I particularly like how she walks on the tip-toes of her skates as if it's the most effortless thing in the world. When she is doing a big ice revue number, usually at the end of her films, we see a master show(wo)man in all her glory. She obviously enjoyed entertaining audiences and she exudes confidence at every turn, especially on the ice.

I think her acting improves in her later films. She made two features with Tyrone Power, with whom she was involved off screen, and reportedly those were her favorites (THIN ICE and SECOND FIDDLE). But SUN VALLEY SERENADE is probably regarded by fans and critics as her best.

***

Re: harmonica player Borrah Minevitch, he's certainly a novelty act. And he is not without talent. But once you see one of his numbers, there's nothing else to see with him. So while he gets a fair amount of screen time at the beginning, the shtick wears thin fast, and his later "numbers" are truncated...for good reason.

The script could have used a rewrite or at least a slight polishing. Henie's vehicles with Power and Glenn Miller are much more polished. And those films benefit from the inclusion of Joan Davis who handles the comic relief with great skill. In ONE IN A MILLION, much of the comic relief is left to Arline Judge and the Ritz Brothers.

  • Like 1
Link to post
Share on other sites

Essential: SUN VALLEY SERENADE (1941)

Screen Shot 2020-01-11 at 2.20.58 PM.jpeg

TB: This week we are continuing our theme of Sonja Henie ice skating musicals. SUN VALLEY SERENADE, considered by many to be the highpoint of Henie's career in Hollywood, probably features a bit more skiing than it does ice skating. Henie and her athletic costar John Payne are put through the paces in what would have been a routine romantic comedy under other stars. They make the most of the script, and there are some inspired moments along the way.

This was Henie's eighth film at 20th Century Fox. She would just make two more for the studio, before freelancing. Glenn Miller and his orchestra receive top billing alongside Henie and Payne. It was Miller's first feature for Fox. He would make one more (ORCHESTRA WIVES) a year later before his untimely death. 

JL: Saw this one decades ago but forgot a lot over the years. Revisiting it, I am impressed by all of the now familiar names in the opening credits, thanks to my gradually increasing movie knowledge. We have Hermes Pan, famous for his work with Fred Astaire, doing dance direction. Otto Lang, who made several Oscar winning shorties in addition to hit features for Fox, is credited with the ski scenes.

Screen Shot 2020-01-11 at 2.21.44 PM.jpeg

TB: Don't forget the comic relief with Milton Berle and Joan Davis. Davis had been in two previous Henie vehicles, and she had actually been given more to do in those films. This time most of the comedy is handed to Berle, who does very nicely.

Screen Shot 2020-01-11 at 2.18.39 PM.jpeg

JL: I half forgot about Milton Berle being in this, although I remembered Glenn Miller's role. Berle was already familiar to many long before his explosive TV success in 1948, but it is still fun seeing him so young here and in earlier films like the decade earlier shortie POPPIN' THE CORK. Most of us Generation X'ers remember him with the Muppets and as a “grandfather” on several eighties sitcoms. He is essentially the second banana “buddy” of John Payne, sort of like “funny” Danny Kaye with “romantic” Dana Andrews and “loony” Jerry Lewis with “smooth” Dean Martin.

TB: That's an apt comparison. Sometimes, like most vaudeville comedians, Berle mugs a bit too much for the camera. But his line deliveries are always fantastic. Fox put him in B comedies after this, so he really didn't get too much exposure in big budget fare. You mentioned John Payne, who of course, is a completely different type of male presence in this picture.

Screen Shot 2020-01-11 at 2.20.22 PM.jpeg

Payne was one of the studio's hunkier actors, rugged like George Montgomery, less on the pretty boy side. Though he certainly photographs as well as Tyrone Power did. Payne's athleticism makes him a perfect costar for Henie, and I also think Payne projects an innocence, or rather a wholesomeness, that plays well against Lynn Bari, who is cast as the shrewish other woman.

JL: John Payne plays Ted Scott, a pianist working with a struggling band with both buddies Phil (Miller) and Jerry (Berle). A lead singer giving them their break is a prima donna named Vivian Dawn (Bari) who agrees to work with them if she can date Ted, who obviously has taken a liking to her. Then all of the ease of their new fortune is disrupted when an earlier commitment Ted made to accept a refugee from war stricken Norway... whom he was expecting to be a little child, winds up being sexy grown up Karen Benson (Henie). Thus, we get the great triangle dilemma of one man juggling two women and not sure which one he loves.

TB: I think the way Henie's character is introduced is quite uproarious. We are expecting to see a baby arrive at the airport, and certainly we are as shocked as Ted and the guys that this "baby" is one hot babe. The audience knows she is going to fall for Ted, which she does in record time, and that he's going to fall for her, though he tries to resist her charms throughout much of the story. There's a lot of good romantic chemistry and romantic tension in their scenes together. It's rewarding to watch them finally unite as a couple at the end.

Screen Shot 2020-01-11 at 2.22.30 PM.jpeg

JL: Yes. Sonja Henie is a lot of fun as Karen here. I actually favor this one more than ONE IN A MILLION since she had several years getting comfortable in her movie star role in between 1936 and 1941. She isn't at all stiff like she was earlier, although her accent is exaggerated more. She displays great emotional depth when the man she loves agrees to marry Vivian but...as we all know, fate has a funny way of working itself out. For her part, Lynn Bari's Vivian displays the pride of a lioness. His “You are the swellest girl I ever met” gets her tongue-in-cheek response of “that is what I think of me too." That is, until jealousy takes over and she decides to abandon him. It is Karen's job to then step in to save the day. 

TB: Let's talk about the setting. It starts in New York and there's a sequence at Ellis Island when Karen arrives. But a few minutes later, we find out that Jerry has booked Ted, Phil and the guys to play at a resort in Idaho. Of course Karen wants to tag along, already having decided she should marry Ted. But Ted doesn't want her to come along, and it is up to Jerry to work out a plan to sneak Karen on to the train. Jerry, for his part, thinks he has a chance with Karen and this adds to the Midsummer Night's confusion of things. 

Screen Shot 2020-01-11 at 2.21.33 PM.jpeg

When they get to Idaho, we enjoy shots of skiing, skating and frolicking outdoors. The scenery is breathtaking. And scenes where they are on sleds gliding across the firmly packed snow feel authentic and magical.

JL: Sun Valley is a great ski tourist trap that was familiar to a generation of moviegoers thanks to numerous 30s-50s travelogue shorts and newsreels featuring Hollywood celebrities recreating there. Fox made some sports-reels like SNOW TRAILS around this time that utilize virtually the same footage as this feature, much like ONE IN A MILLION tapped similar shortie material of the Olympics. Their incorporation was intended to make each film feel less studio-bound, but they weren't totally successful.

Even in black and white, you can see painted backdrops in the skating scenes along with the usual fake winter set-ups, plus some rear projection in the ski close-up shots, all made more obvious when stitched with you-are-there scenics not involving the lead stars. Olympic champ Sonja doesn't ski on film, but another Olympic champ, Gretchen Fraser, covers her in long shots that Otto Lang supervised.

TB: There's a fantastic musical number a bit later on, when Ted goes skiing and finds Karen on the slopes. They play a game of cat-and-mouse, while Phil and the band are back at the lodge rehearsing. We are treated to Miller and his orchestra performing a rousing version of 'Chattanooga Choo Choo.' Certainly one of the film's highlights.

Screen Shot 2020-01-11 at 2.22.08 PM.jpeg

JL: Glenn Miller may not be much of an actor in his supporting role, but remember that he was as popular at that time as Elvis, the Beatles, Michael Jackson, Madonna and Beyoncé were in their own eras. His band, with Tex Beneke, Paula Kelly and the Modernaires doing vocals, initially recorded “Chattanooga Choo Choo” on May 7, 1941 for (RCA) Victor's Bluebird label, but its release was strategically postponed to be released simultaneously with the movie showcasing it in August.

The marketing was great since the 78 rpm sold an astounding 1.2 million copies during the autumn of 1941 and right through 1942. It was #1 on Billboard when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. Too bad the popular version we are most familiar with on discs does not feature Dorothy Dandridge and the Nicholas Brothers wowing us in both vocals and dance routines; thus, giving us a nice interracial mix ahead of its time. Unfortunately most bands were still segregated at this time and, therefore, we don't actually see Miller perform with those stars.

Screen Shot 2020-01-11 at 2.21.58 PM.jpeg

TB: Of course this is still a Sonja Henie film, and that means there will be a spectacular ice skating finale at the end. After Karen and Ted give in to the feelings that have been building between them, and Vivian has left the scene, we cut to Karen putting on an ice show. Interestingly, it is not said how this came about; but I suppose we can guess that Jerry arranged it. And now Karen is just as popular with audiences as the band is. The skating finale is certainly done indoors, because at various points during Henie's routine, she is skating through slight puddles. Meaning the ice was melting under the hot studio lights. But it's a great number nonetheless. 

JL: The climax that closes the film is especially impressive visually against its wintertime backdrop. Skating aside, I got the impression that Fox was eager to branch her out into other types of roles to keep her relevant at the box-office. She does quite well in her comic moments with Payne dealing with her faked ski injury even if the screenwriters don't provide particularly funny lines for her. With better material, I could see her as a potential wartime successor of great screwball blondes of the Carole Lombard mode.

TB: Yes, I think Sonja Henie did have the potential to branch out into other roles. I'm glad we spent these two weeks discussing her films. This has been most enjoyable!

Screen Shot 2020-01-11 at 2.21.18 PM.jpeg

SUN VALLEY SERENADE may currently be viewed on YouTube.

  • Like 1
Link to post
Share on other sites

Essential: ROBIN HOOD (1922)

TB: This weekend, and next weekend, I am turning things over to Jlewis. Ordinarily I will come up with a theme, or suggest movies we might cover here. But I thought it was only fair that Jlewis have a bit of free-reign to pick a few films. He decided to focus on silent swashbucklers starring Douglas Fairbanks Sr.

I want to thank Jlewis for choosing these titles, because I have not seen them. And reading his review of ROBIN HOOD makes me quite eager to watch it tonight on YouTube.

***

Screen Shot 2020-01-18 at 3.54.35 PM.jpeg

JL: It's otherwise known as DOUGLAS FAIRBANKS IN ROBIN HOOD, its copyright title, even though Fairbanks is billed last in the title credits. There is so much to discuss with this one. Where to begin? Well... let us start with some trivia fun tidbits.

It is doubtful there is an accurate tally online as to how many times Robin Hood and his Merry Men have graced movie and TV screens, but Douglas Fairbanks' version for United Artists was likely the 7th since 1908 and certainly the first with a budget ranging somewhere between $930,000 and $1.4 million, depending on whom you ask. If the latter financial figure is correct, then ROBIN HOOD cost a bit more than Erich Von Stroheim's FOOLISH WIVES, which got a lot more publicity over its expenses from its very panicky studio, Universal.

For a while, the castle itself, built at the Fairbanks studio on Santa Monica Blvd. in Hollywood along with a full Nottingham town to accompany it, was the largest set constructed for a U.S. feature. It surpassed D.W. Griffith's earlier Babylon of INTOLERANCE and remained unrivaled until Steven Spielberg's Devil's Tower setting for CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND.

Screen Shot 2020-01-18 at 4.09.58 PM.jpeg

After Fairbanks got over his initial shock over the expense and effort involved, he decided that it needed to be even bigger for the screen. Thus, the cinematography team of Arthur Edeson and Charles Richardson, along with director Allan Dwan and set designer Wilfred Buckland, had to use matte paintings and hanging models to expand its size. Frank Lloyd Wright's son Lloyd was involved in some of the set construction.

There are a couple repeating performances of note. The character of Richard the Lion-Hearted had much more screen time due to Wallace Beery the eternal Hollywood Ham and scored so well with audiences that Beery repeated his role in a United Artists follow-up the following year, titled... what else?... RICHARD THE LION-HEARTED.

Screen Shot 2020-01-18 at 3.52.39 PM.jpeg

Likewise, Alan Hale was such a hit as Little John here that he too repeated the role in the even more famous Errol Flynn version for Warner Brothers almost 16 years later and... again in ROGUES OF SHERWOOD FOREST a dozen years after that. However sonny-boy Douglas Fairbanks Junior refused Jack Warner's offer to appear in the 1937-38 filmed production because he did not want to compete with daddy's performance, although he would later accept the role of Wallace Beery's King Richard in a 1968 TV series.

At least 1,200 extras were used in one scene... or so they say. Most of the Merry Men were culled from the Los Angeles Angels baseball team. A stickler for getting details accurate, Fairbanks initially used his own dog Zorro for the scene of Wallace Beery's meat tossing scene but then learned that the Airedale breed did not exist in 12th century England and cast Great Danes instead... even if they too only stretch back in European history to the 16th century. Prince John's falcon was purchased from England for $250, which was a bargain compared to the other expenses involved.

Screen Shot 2020-01-18 at 4.12.21 PM.jpeg

Its run at Grauman's Egyptian Theatre, beginning October 18, 1922, was among the longest running shows of the twenties and, according to Kevin Hagopian's Film Notes, street conductors soon got used to saying “All out for Robin Hood” when stopping there. The New York premiere was even more entertaining than the Hollywood one, with Douglas himself pulling a publicity accident that cost him an additional $5000. Although out of costume and dressed in his usual attire, he flaunted his bow and arrow technique for fans and one of his arrows went through a tailor window and hit somebody in the... well, as Forrest Gump would say, it was actually a million dollar wound even though that victim didn't get to see the full amount.

So... how does the movie entertain today?

Screen Shot 2020-01-18 at 3.50.16 PM.jpeg

Hopefully the version you watch is the latest put out by Kino Lorber with the Sherwood Forest scenes tinted in lovely green, night scenes in blue and daytime scenes in golden yellow. It does run a bit too long; the longest version supposedly being 160 minutes and the one I have seen a few times comes close to that. Yet I tend to view the Fairbanks swashbucklers, along with some of the most famous Buster Keaton comedies like SHERLOCK JUNIOR and THE GENERAL, as the “go to” silent films to introduce to those who usually won't sit through entertainment that much older than their parents.

There is plenty of violence in many silent epics that you saw less of in the post-Production Code thirties and forties, so that can be a drawback to any “concerned” parents who allow their tiny tots to view roaring twenties fare. We get some medieval torture with Marian's servant, played by Billie Bennett (no relation to the Australian born Enid who plays Marian), being forced to confess with her hands being scarred. Compared to the later Technicolor THE BLACK PIRATE, this is still a much tamer film with most of the action involving leaping and dueling.

SCREEN.jpeg

The stunts are visually impressive even today. Fairbanks took pride in doing most, but certainly not all, himself. As with all action adventures, professional stunt men were used in long shots since not even the best eyes can identify exactly who is performing. In addition, much engineering know-how is required in all set-ups so that the stunt can be pulled off successfully. For example, the classic slide down the castle curtain was achieved with an actual slide underneath the cloth. Probably the most repeated shot, covered in many retrospective documentaries, involves Fairbanks leaping onto a rising castle draw-bride. It is fun to follow this with Chuck Jones and Michael Maltese's 6 minute ROBINHOOD DAFFY for comparison sake, with Daffy Duck doing the total opposite of Fairbanks by hitting below the draw bridge instead.

Screen Shot 2020-01-18 at 3.48.23 PM.jpeg

In other Robin Hood movies, the Sheriff of Nottingham gets more attention on screen (for example, Claude Rains beautifully milked the role well in the first Technicolor version) but William Lowery doesn't get to do much here. He is pretty much pushed to the background with Sam de Grasse's Prince John being the main villain here. Also the character of Sir Guy (Paul Dickey) has a slightly bigger role ambushing the Earl/Robin Hood and getting him in prison temporarily as a deserter of the Crusade. Not a whole lot of Friar Tuck (Willard Louis) and Will Scarlet (Bud Geary). As mentioned before, Alan Hale was so good as Little John that he repeated his performance more than once.

Screen Shot 2020-01-18 at 3.51.29 PM.jpeg

Early '20s cinema is a lot of fun to psychologically analyze in a “battle of the sexes” sort of way, being that this time period shortly followed women getting the vote, gaining more political and financial power in society, wearing shorter skirts, bobbing their hair, smoking in public, etc. There was a curious explosion of he-man adventures at this time, with Wallace Reid cresting just above Fairbanks in box-office popularity in very outdoorsy roles (until his heroin addiction killed him abruptly).

Screen Shot 2020-01-18 at 3.48.49 PM.jpeg

Such entertainment helped ease masculine anxieties at this time when many hot-blooded men were genuinely worried about the sudden changes in society, kitchen and bedroom. One can see a similar parallel in the early '70s post-Gloria Steinem with the dramatic return of John Wayne to theater screens already dominated by gun happy Clint Eastwood, Charles Bronson and company. Plus, in real life, Fairbanks was married to Mary Pickford whom everybody knew wore the pants in that household.

Our hero, as Earl of Huntingdon, is initially afraid of women in the early scenes, including Maid Marian. For her part, Enid Bennett as Marian is your typical non-challenging sweetheart who does not out-stage her man on screen. Interviewed by Kevin Brownlow in the sixties, she joked “Of course, the part was not too demanding. I just walked through it in a queenly manner.” Wallace Beery's King Richard is quite condescending of Earl/Robin Hood's nervousness and prolonged virginity; the title cards are quite amusing to read in this regard.

Screen Shot 2020-01-18 at 3.55.44 PM.jpeg

We do get an awful lot of King Richard here. While most other versions just show King Richard showing up in the final act, here we see him chewing up the scenery in the beginning, then flaunting his warrior persona on the Crusade and, after Robin Hood's return to deal with his brother, more than enough of him in the final act to compensate for the whole time he was off screen. A little Wallace Beery goes a long, long way.

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 | Cookie Settings
×
×
  • Create New...