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Alan Hale, Character Actor Support Par Excellence


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One of the great pleasures of viewing films from the studio system days is the joy in spotting certain character actors in support. We all have our favourites and long one of the faces that I most enjoyed seeing was laughing, jovial Alan Hale.

Perhaps best remembered today as a sidekick to Errol Flynn (with whom he was friends), Hale appeared in countless films, dating back to the silent era (1911 according to Wiki). Originally he had wanted to be an operatic singer but when that didn't pan out Hale turned to the movies for a living. As a side note he was also an inventor, credited with, among other things, a folding theatre seat, as well as a greaseless potato chip. Based on Hale's frame, I'd say he enjoyed a few of those chips over the years. Of course, he would also be the father of look alike son Alan Hale Jr., later to enjoy TV immortality as the Skipper in a certain '60s sitcom we all know which enjoyed syndication popularity for many years.

Hale's silent film career is not without having appeared in some films of distinction, including The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse (1921), with Valentino, and Robin Hood (1922), with Douglas Fairbanks, the first of three occasions in which Hale played Little John.

TCM viewers will have undoubtedly spotted Alan Hale in a number of his early talkies. He was a sexual predator, of all things, of Garbo in Susan Lenox Her Fall and Rise (1931), and can be heard singing as the seemingly happy go lucky crook who picks up Gable and Colbert in his car in It Happened One Night (1934). During these early stages of his talkie career Hale was not yet identified with any one kind of role, based upon the variety of them that he was given.

It was when Hale signed a contract with Warner Brothers in 1937 that his career finally struck gold and he would settle down to become one of the most recognizable and cherished character actor faces with that studio for the remainder of his career. Often cast in laughing, extroverted roles, he was a comforting screen presence of affable familiarity, enhancing the enjoyment of countless Warners products, from some of the studio's best to some of their minor efforts.

After 1942, it seems to me, as Hale aged, while still appearing in a large number of films for the studio, his roles seemed to get smaller and, while it was still a pleasure to see him as he got heavier and his hair whiter, he didn't have quite the same opportunities to shine as he had had previously. His last role of real note was when he was reunited with Errol Flynn for the final time, playing the servant Leporello to Flynn's title character in Adventures of Don Juan. Hale was perhaps a bit more subdued in this role than he had been previously, but the chemistry between the two actors was as strong as ever, and he hadn't lost his comic touch.

Hale's final screen appearance was in a minor swashbuckler at Columbia, Rogues of Sherwood Forest, playing Little John for the third time in his career. The film was released five months after Hale's liver ailment related death in February, 1950.

Here are a few of my favourite Alan Hale performances:

Adventures of Robin Hood (1938). Hale's second and most famous outing as Little John, pal to Robin Hood, playfully bantering with Friar Tuck. Aside from his good hearted laughter, Hale was in impressive physical shape in this production and looked like he really could best the Sherwood Forest bandit when they first met on that tree branch fallen over a stream. "A lusty infant," as Robin Hood called him.

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Dodge City (1939). Coupled with "Big Boy" Guinn Williams as a sidekick to Errol Flynn's town taming sheriff, Hale has some great scene stealing moments in this one as "Rusty" Hart. Highlight of the film for Hale is a demonstration of his marvelous comedy touch in his scene trying to be "respectable" with the temperance league of women as a distracting saloon brawl takes place next door. When the brawl finally breaks through the wall into the temperance hall Hale lets out a whoop and a holler of joy and joins into the fracas.

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They Drive By Night (1940). One of Hale's best performances, as the truck driving boss in perpetual laughter mode as he cracks corny jokes, all of which are driving wife Ida Lupino more than a little up the wall.

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The Strawberry Blonde (1941). Again, Hale lends strong comic support, this time to director Raoul Walsh's sentimental turn-of-the-century tale, now as the scalawag father of James Cagney's pugnacious character. Hale is forever flirting with the ladies here and complaining about his bad teeth. His charm in the role is really at a peak in this film.

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Gentleman Jim (1942). A father once again, this time to Flynn's boxing dandy Jim Corbett in another Walsh-directed turn-of-the-century affair. Hale has a riot in this film, constantly laughing, throwing phantom punches in the crowd at one of his son's fights, dancing an Irish jig with the family and getting drunk at a celebration party following Corbett's triumph in the ring over the legendary John L. Sullivan. At one point Hale is seen staggering home, staring at his outstretched hand, having just shaken the hand of the great Sullivan. When asked by his son what he's going to do with that hand now, Hale emphatically proclaims, "I'm not even going to wash it!"

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Adventures of Mark Twain (1944). Originally filmed in 1941. Hale is a joy as Steve Gillis, Sam Clemens' gold prospecting partner and participant in the leaping frog contest (loading a pile of buckshot into the mouth of the competitive frog to assure victory for his own amphibian jumper). Once Hale's character disappears the most enjoyment moments of this film biography are over.

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Any other fans of Alan Hale on these threads with any film moments or memories you'd care to share?

 

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I love Alan Hale in just about everything he was in. Most folks (even a lot of classic films buffs) only think of him as 'the Skipper's dad' but he was much more than that.

He was also Cagney's commanding officer in The Fighting 69th and had to put up with a lot of Cagney's character's smart aleck remarks and antics, but he also came to respect him by the end of the movie.

I love his Little John in Robin Hood, he and Errol Flynn had great buddy chemistry. You know that Little John would do anything for Robin and you believed it too.

I really liked Hale in They Drive By Night too, a decent, good natured guy always looking out for his friends but (SPOILERS) whose unlikable shrew of a wife (Ida Lupino) would literally be the death of him.

He was so funny in The Strawberry Blonde as Cagney's street-fighting, tooth aching dad.

Bottom line: you could always count on Alan Hale for great support.

 

 

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Has he ever been SOTM? If not, he should sometime. They would have to pick a month with 5 of one particular weekday in it, though, because he  appeared in so many films!

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On 12/17/2017 at 11:04 AM, HelenBaby2 said:

Stella Dallas where he plays Stanwyck’s drunken buddy and The Sisters where he plays Anita Louise’s much older rich husband. 

I saw Stella Dallas for the first time about a year ago. People always talk about Stanwyck's performance but what struck me was how excellent Alan Hale was in support, something that took me a little by surprise since I rarely hear his performance in this film mentioned. His loud, gregarious character in this film was about to become his screen persona at Warners, though the results would be designed to be more cherry there than they were in this well crafted soap opera. Here his character is decidedly flawed and an embarrassment.

stella+dallas+2.jpg

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6 minutes ago, scsu1975 said:

Great supporting actor. I really enjoyed him as the waiter at a beer garden in the Laurel & Hardy flick Our Relations.

Except that Hale's physically intimidating to Stan and Ollie, not exactly a brute, of course, but still a large man who is a foil for the boys. His characterizations would be more affable at Warners. Still, I agree he's effective in this Roach comedy. His screen persona was not yet established when this one was made.

our_relations__icon4_.jpg

 

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Manpower (1941) I just saw this movie for the first time and loved Hale as "Jumbo" the kind-hearted one in a bunch of crazy, tough-guy powerline workers. He was with Edward G., George Raft and Marlene Dietrich in this movie, and still he stood out. He was dumb, big, and lovable, and had some of the funniest lines in the movie. He was also really good at playing drunk in this film. He tried to settle fights and was always pulling some guy off of another guy in the midst of a fracas. I loved him in it.

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22 minutes ago, marcar said:

Manpower (1941) I just saw this movie for the first time and loved Hale as "Jumbo" the kind-hearted one in a bunch of crazy, tough-guy powerline workers. He was with Edward G., George Raft and Marlene Dietrich in this movie, and still he stood out. He was dumb, big, and lovable, and had some of the funniest lines in the movie. He was also really good at playing drunk in this film. He tried to settle fights and was always pulling some guy off of another guy in the midst of a fracas. I loved him in it.

Art imitating life. Here's a photo on the set of Manpower in which Raft and Robinson were ready to go at it with one another. That looks like Alan Hale behind them trying to break up the fight.

Ward Bond, on the other hand, looks like he's having a really good time watching this.

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Just now, TomJH said:

Art imitating life. Here's a photo on the set of Manpower in which Raft and Robinson were ready to go at it with one another. That looks like Alan Hale behind them trying to break up the fight.

Ward Bond, on the other hand, looks like he's having a really good time watching this

Pic didn't show up. But thanks I'd like to see it....

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4 hours ago, TomJH said:

Gentleman Jim (1942). A father once again, this time to Flynn's boxing dandy Jim Corbett in another Walsh-directed turn-of-the-century affair. Hale has a riot in this film, constantly laughing, throwing phantom punches in the crowd at one of his son's fights, dancing an Irish jig with the family and getting drunk at a celebration party following Corbett's triumph in the ring over the legendary John L. Sullivan. At one point Hale is seen staggering home, staring at his outstretched hand, having just shaken the hand of the great Sullivan. When asked by his son what he's going to do with that hand now, Hale emphatically proclaims, "I'm not even going to wash it!"

d027da56ab6ece2c827af93f4be0f39f.jpg

I couldn't find a photo of this moment on Google Images, but one of my favorite parts of Gentleman Jim is the end at the wild celebration party.  A chair is thrown through the glass doors, then Hale opens the door.  His hair is all mussed and with his eyes and mouth opened wide, and he yells "GIVE 'EM ROOM! GIVE 'EM ROOM!" 

I also like Alan Hale with Flynn  in The Sea Hawk.  At one point, both men (along with the rest of the crew on their ship) are captured and forced into being galley slaves.  Flynn and Hale orchestrate a plan to steal a knife from the guard and overtake him, take over the ship and free their crew.  

Flynn and Hale have such a great camaraderie in their films together and you can tell that they really were friends in real life. 

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Big fan of Alan Hale and since my initial push into studio-era movies 30 years ago was the Warner Bros. 30s and 40s films,  I have seen many of the films he was in.     

My first exposure to him was in the Leslie Howard \ Bette Davis RKO film,  Of Human Bondage and the Gable \ Colbert film It Happened One Night.     Minor roles,  but ones where he still made an impact.   

      

 

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1 minute ago, jamesjazzguitar said:

Big fan of Alan Hale and since my initial push into studio-era movies 30 years ago was the Warner Bros. 30s and 40s films,  I have seen many of the films he was in.     

My first exposure to him was in the Leslie Howard \ Bette Davis RKO film,  Of Human Bondage and the Gable \ Colbert film It Happened One Night.     Minor roles,  but ones where he still made an impact.   

      

 

I think It Happened One Night was one of the first films that I saw Hale in as well--before I discovered Errol Flynn.  I always loved Hale as the driver/thief who picks up Clark Gable and Claudette Colbert and won't stop singing. 

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In his autobiography Errol Flynn wrote the following about his pal:

Alan Hale was the film menace, the most feared character actor in Hollywood. He was such a good actor that if he was with you in a scene he could take it away from you, whether he was standing behind you, beside you or in front of you.

He was full of tricks.

Other actors of, say, my stature, hesitated to play with Hale because he was so good. Luckily for me, he liked me, so he never pulled any of his scene stealing with me. He could have stolen every scene, but he didn't. As a picture was being made I'd say to him, "Alan, if you poke your nose behind me, I'll jump on your **** instep."

He taught me a hell of a lot.

For example, take the playing of a very intense scene. Now a man in such a scene, who isn't vital to the success of the shot, all he has to do is twiddle his ring, look at it a bit, and the audience's attention is diverted. Alan would go so far as to turn his back and give you the impression he was yawning. That stole a scene easily. You can fix your belt in an interesting way and the attention is diverted to you instead of throwing the scene where it rightly belongs. That is scene stealing. It is bad manners and Alan - bless his heart - was an expert at it.

I got him and S. Z. "Cuddles" Sakall together one night at Mulholland.

Sakall was a funny old guy. I always liked him for his screwy, mushy personality, but most other actors hated him. He messed up the English language so much they couldn't get their cues. I let him run on. It was fun to see the effect of him on the other character players. He ran off with many scenes, and that was enough to make him despised by the others.

Hale couldn't stand him. They hated each other and refused to work with each other. To see them together was like a meeting of two prima donnas at a tea party. Naturally I brought them together as often as I could, and on this night Hale hollered, "For Chrissakes, Sakall, ain't it time for you to learn to speak English? You been here long enough!"

"And for vy I should **** Englich better, ven mitt dis Enflich I em makin more vot is you!"

1057a6e9ff1fec7bc09f3dd6c20e3b1d--errol-

 

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What a wonderfully magnanimous performer, skilled at both comedy and drama. Besides all the obvious important and famed roles he essayed, I particularly loved him in "Stella Dallas" and "The Sisters". He elevated any movie in which he has a role, and was an amazing counterpoint to Flynn in so many.

Gotta say I also love his son, Alan Hale, Junior who seemed to inherit that engaging mien of temperament and was also a joy to watch in anything.

Great topic!

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You won't see this very often, Alan Hale as romantic leading man in a 1931 submarine drama. The film gets some pretty poor reviews at IMDb which may help to account for the fact that his leading man days would be limited.

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I'm a late arrival to this thread, and many of his appearances have already been "taken". I will try to post a few that nobody's mentioned already, but I'm not gonna do a lot of scrolling up and down to double check, so apologies if I repeat one that's already been mentioned:

Imitation of Life (Universal, 1934) - As the furniture man who pretty much gets hornswaggled by Claudette Colbert to render his services for a fraction of the usual cost. He's also sweet on her. You kind of feel badly for him!

The Adventures of Marco Polo (Goldwyn/United Artists, 1938) - Been a long time since I've seen this one, but he's some kind of Mongol warlord or something and possibly shirtless!

The Man in the Iron Mask (United Artists, 1939) - Porthos!

Night and Day (Warner Bros., 1946) - I've forgotten. Possibly he's a song publisher Cary Grant is trying to push his material on.

Looking at his imdb resume, there are lots of other movies I've seen that he is in, though sorry to say I've forgotten his roles in them. They were probably just one or two scenes in a lot of those movies. A SOTM spotlight seems unlikely given the size of a lot of his roles, but I could certainly envision a SUTS day gathering together the movies in which he had the most screen time.

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19 minutes ago, sewhite2000 said:

The Man in the Iron Mask (United Artists, 1939) - Porthos!

 

That reminds me that father and son played the same role. Two years after his father's death Alan Hale Jr. would be Porthos in a 1952 Musketeers film, Lady in the Iron Mask. The same year Alan Jr. also played Porthos Jr. in At Sword's Point.

That reminds me, back in the '60s, at the peak of his Gilligan's Island fame, I sent a fan letter to Alan Hale Jr.. The main thing I recall about the letter was how much of it I spent writing about how great his father had been in the movies. It was the closest I could come to writing to Alan Sr, the actor, quite frankly, I really wanted to contact.

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17 minutes ago, TomJH said:

That reminds me that father and son played the same role. Two years after his father's death Alan Hale Jr. would be Porthos in a 1952 Musketeers film, Lady in the Iron Mask. The same year Alan Jr. also played Porthos Jr. in At Sword's Point.

That reminds me, back in the '60s, at the peak of his Gilligan's Island fame, I sent a fan letter to Alan Hale Jr.. The main thing I recall about the letter was how much of it I spent writing about how great his father had been in the movies. It was the closest I could come to writing to Alan Sr, the actor, quite frankly, I really wanted to contact.

You should have held a seance since Alan Hale Sr. died in 1950.   ;)

 

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One of Hale's trademarks was his great "jaw drop" double-take. Watching him and Flynn on screen together was pure joy. That's one thing that is missing from today's films - chemistry. We have great actors, but it doesn't appear that anybody is really having any fun up on the screen any more.

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On 12/19/2017 at 6:36 AM, Ray Faiola said:

One of Hale's trademarks was his great "jaw drop" double-take. Watching him and Flynn on screen together was pure joy. That's one thing that is missing from today's films - chemistry. We have great actors, but it doesn't appear that anybody is really having any fun up on the screen any more.

That's so true, Ray. Hale brought so much to the Flynn films beyond just his performance. You always had the feeling of observing two friends having fun together.

There are some scenes between them that I always love to watch in their final film together, Adventures of Don Juan. Hale plays Don Juan's servant, Leporello, always trying to assist the Don and extricate him from sticky situations, many of them of a humourous nature. But even though his character is a servant Hale plays the role like a friend.

When Flynn is interrupted in his attempted seduction of a woman by her irate husband he leaps from a balcony to the ground below, where Hale awaits dozing. They look a each other (oh, they have been in this same situation so many times before) and there is a simple two word exchange between them.

"Husband," Flynn's Don Juan says, a little out of breath.

"Horses," Hale replies pointing in their direction where they both begin to run.

One of my favourite little moments between them occurs towards the end. They are sitting at a table, hiding out in a cantina from the military which is hunting for Don Juan with prison, or worse, awaiting him if captured.

Flynn says he must leave Spain but he doesn't want Hale to accompany him to a life of uncertainty.

"Do you think I would let you go roaming about the universe without me?" Hale says, "I'm going with you!"

"And if I order you to stay?" Flynn says.

"Then I shall disobey you!" Hale emphatically replies.

There's a lovely closeup of Flynn's face, a look of warmth in his eyes, as he reaches across the table and briefly places his hand with affection on top of Hale's. Hale smiles. Done! They will stay together through thick and thin.

What always helps to make this little moment work so well is that it seems a reflection of the friendship that it existed between the two actors.

ADVENTURES_DON_JUAN-6.jpg

Steve Hayes is a writer, part time adventurer, who wrote two books about his Hollywood experiences called Googies Coffeeshop to the Stars. For a month he lived in a room in Errol Flynn's Mulholland home, and got to know the actor quite well, continuing to see him off and on afterward for a while. Among other things, he mentioned that Flynn went into a period of depression due to Alan Hale's death.

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