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Bogart Vs. Cagney Vs. Robinson

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No offense, CB, but I see so many statements listed as "fact," particularly on a message board such as this, that it's always nice to see, if possible, the original source for a statement, particularly if it's one that I find questionable.


I also realize that sometimes you think you read or hear things and have a difficult time afterward being able to verify the statement. I've been guilty of the same thing myself.


Aside from the fact that I've never seen any reference anywhere of Cagney accepting the role in Tribute to a Bad Man as a way to help out Tracy, Cagney himself made no reference to it either in his autobiography, saying only that it was an offer he accepted from MGM after his friend had taken ill. (Again, since Tracy was actually fired from the project, I think Cagney was being kind to an old friend's memory by not mentioning that fact).


I have the Mister Roberts DVD, as well. It says that Marlon Brando and William Holden were the two actors either offered or considered for the title role in the film project before Henry Fonda was signed. There is no mention at all of Tyrone Power who, as you say, had enjoyed a success in London in 1950 when he played the role on stage.

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Henry Fonda was cast in the movie of *Mister Roberts* at the insistence of John Ford who made that a condition of his (Ford's) taking the directors job. Ford said essentially "No Fonda, no Ford". Ironic considering the clashes that the two men then had during the filming (which we have covered rather thoroughly in previous discussions). The studio felt Fonda (pushing 50 years old) was too old for the part, and Fonda had been out of movies for some time and would the public have any interest in seeing him. I mention this because guys like Tracy and Cagney (and Bogart and many others) were all getting up in years and would the public accept any of these old men in young man roles. Time has shown that the public would often give a lot of slack to these older male actors and accept them in these parts. The gals weren't so lucky , many were "over the hill" before they reached mid 30's. I have misplaced my Cagney auto biography book (that's driving me crazy) and I have little recollection about the situation with the film Tribute To A Bad Man and Tracy's removal from it.

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Well, Tom, I guess you have a different dvd of Mr. Roberts. Mine mentions Tyrone Power than William Holden. Also, I found online where it was mentioned that Tyrone was thought of first after Fonda. As far as TRIBUTE TO A BADMAN some books say different things. MCcabe book says Cagney took over the role as a gracious gesture for Tracey who didn't like the role or the script. In the Offen book it says Cagney did it to help out Spencer Tracey who had become ill. And in Cagney by Cagney, Cagney says that Tracey became ill. In 2 other books it mentions Tracey being fired. But if Tracey was fired than why would Cagney, who was good friends with Tracey take over?

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Tom, I just read another version of BADMAN story. Tracey left the film when Grace Kelly didn't want to do it. And Tracey was looking to get out of his MGM contract so he could pick and chose his own roles/films. I guess we will never know the real reason.

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CB, here's an article from the Greenbriar website, trying to sort fact from the fiction, stating that director Robert Wise had Tracy fired from Tribute to a Bad Man and saw the actor break down in front of him over it:




At the same time here is a TCM article about the film which supports your statement that Cagney was hired to help Tracy.




The same article is a bit ambiguous as to the reason for Tracy's departure but makes no reference to his being fired. My question: Assuming (and many sources say this was the case) Tracy was fired and Cagney hired afterward, just how was Cagney helping his old friend by stepping in after he was already gone from the production?


The reality is that with different books having different accounts of what occurred, not to mention different internet sources, it becomes a real challenge to sort the wheat from the chaff.


There are also, apparently, two versions of a Mister Roberts DVD, one mentioning Ty Power and the other not. You didn't say that the DVD actually said Power was offered the title role for the 1955 film, or, at least, considered for it. If it does, this is the first I have heard of it.


In the overall scheme of things, this is much ado about little, I suppose. It points out, however, the frustration, at times, in trying to know the true facts about an incident or casting in a film.


If a false statement is repeated enough times, it may be regarded, with time, as "fact." I am sometimes leery of blindly repeating what others have said because it may have nothing to do with reality.


A "fact," for example, that appears all over the internet and was once stated by Robert Osborne while introducing a film was that Michael Curtiz, director of Casablanca and Yankee Doodle Dandy, among many others films, was briefly married to French actress Lili Damita during the 1920s.


Damita later went on to have a highly tumultuous marriage to Errol Flynn, who was, ironically, directed countless times by the same Curtiz (Robin Hood, among other films). Interesting except for one thing. There is no documentary evidence that I have ever seen that Curtiz and Damita were married. Nor is there a single quote in existence from any one of Curtiz, Damita or Flynn about a marriage between the director and actress.


Yet the Curtiz-Damita "marriage" is broadcast loudly all over the internet. Not for a single second do I believe this "fact" to be true. Others, however, don't challenge it, or more likely, don't think to challenge it, and, therefore, make casual reference to the marriage (that never was, I more than strongly believe).

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I have a bio of Tracy that I bought back in 1970, it's by Larry Swindell. There the story goes that MGM decided to sack Tracy after one of his "disappearances" keyed to his alcohol consumption. The MGM of the mid-50s was a different studio from a decade earlier, and as with the other majors, it was a studio that was trimming down overhead by getting rid of senior players with lush contracts and ebbing appeal.

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Thanks, clore, and, yet, still ANOTHER version of what happened, this time blaming Spencer Tracy's drinking as a cause for his getting sacked from the film. I have heard, though , that, alcohol caused or not, Tracy was late to the set (something like six days) and generally unprofessional. He had been difficult while making Bad Day at Black Rock, as well, just before Tribute to a Bad Man.

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Well, at least this story combines some of the others into it. He was hard to handle, sick from drinking and fired. Tom, I understand what you mean about facts and all the stories going around. As far as Ty Power, I read it on the internet and I know on something I watched recently[maybe it wasn't on Mr. Roberts dvd, I will have to watch that again, the specials on dvd]. It could have been on a special VHS version that someone gave me recently. But I know they said Ty Power was considered for the role first. I'll get back to you once I find the source. I remember telling my mom when I heard it because she loves Ty Power.

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Other than mentioning that Cagney was Tracy's replacement, no mention of any favors being done. As the book was more hagiography than biography, I found it interesting that Tracy's alcoholic bouts were mentioned.


Some other thing that I read years ago, I think it was in Films in Review, mentioned that Tracy had left the set several times in a temper which gave him an excuse to get loaded and that he was warned. Having done a disappearing act yet again after the warning, he left Metro no choice but to stick to its threat.

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Tom, Please don't think I am arguing with you. Maybe, I came across that way, I didn't mean to. I can't believe all the different stories about Tracey and BADMAN. And 2 stories combined all the others. And the same story went around for years about why Tracey didn't leave his wife. It said because he was a Catholic. Tracey said that wasn't the reason, that there was more to it than that. I think it was because he had a son that was deaf and needed him.

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With all this talk about how hard to handle Tracy was, I just finished watching an old TCM recording that I had of a James Cagney film with that title, Hard to Handle. This was a film released in one of the actor's busiest years, 1933.


This was one of those typical mile-a-minute pre-code comedies, which moved faster and then still faster hoping that the audience didn't notice that the film had almost no story. Cagney is a joy, of course, as a wheeler dealer, constantly coming up with get-money-fast schemes, ranging from promoting a dance marathon (the film's fun opening sequence, which includes Allen Jenkins as the master-of-ceremonies) to an 18 day grapefruit diet fad (and, oh, how the script writers were clearly making inside reminders of the actor's previous famed connection with that same fruit, courtesy the hapless face of Mae Clarke just two years before in Public Enemy).




Cagney was known for his many hand gestures in scenes throughout his career but I doubt that there are many, if any, other films in which he indulges in them quite so much as in Hard to Handle. He's in constant hand motion in this film, rubbing them, pointing with them, waving them, making finger gyrations in the air even when he's in a clinch with his leading lady.


The actor was known for his spontaneous "bits of business," anything he could add to a scene to spruce it up, and he appears to be in full sprucing up mode in this production. Also throughout the film, after frequently receiving an "Owww" from leading lady Mary Brian after kissing her a little too hard, Cagney's justifies it by pointing at her and exclaiming "That's love!"


Anyone ever notice how seemingly "vacant" Cagney appears to be in any real life photos taken of him, particularly in his early Hollywood period? That's because we are so used to seeing him with all the eye shadow that Warners makeup personnel used to pile on him. (MGM tough guy heart throb Clark Gable had much the same thing). Well, in this film Cagney's eye shadow seriously competes in darkness with that of his leading lady, normally a brunette, her hair dyed blonde in this film (or is that a wig?).


As much fun as Cagney is to watch, the film comes close to being stolen from him by Ruth Donnelly, who plays Brian's blatantly gold digging momma, always ready to do whatever scheming she must in order to get her little girl to marry into money (with Momma perhaps gaining from that, just a tad, as well).


Donnelly is frequently hilarious, whether adopting a hoity toity English accent as she sells apartment furniture ("Chippendale" she beams over a chair that could have been thrown together by a carpenter living next door) that doesn't belong to her, or she is listening to a conversation at a key hole, falling face forward into the room when the door is suddenly opened.


Donnelly's dialogue delivery is almost as fast as Cagney's, and it's fun to watch these two great pros banter with one another.


After haggling over some money Cagney owes her, he then assures her, "You stick with me and I'll put a gold spoon right in your kisser."


Donnelly reponds, "You better come back with that 500 bucks or I'll put my foot right in your kisser!"


Cagney then points at her feet and shoots back, "My mouth ain't that big!"


He laughs and giggles, escaping out a window, as Donnelly charges across the room at him.


Aside from the comedic escapist elements of Hard to Handle, this kind of film must have been a tonic for depression weary audiences, watching the high energy actor playing a fast talking street guy doing whatever he can (within the law but, perhaps, skimming along the edges of it, as well, if necessary) to make some money because, well, those were times that called for it. Cagney's high energy level and little boy charm would always win an audience over in these small comedies, even if his actions were a little larcenous, at times.


Clearly, Hard to Handle was a quickie, and it's no masterpiece. But director Mervyn LeRoy keeps this film in full speed again drive, propelled by his star's performance. This is the kind of larky little comedy that so helped to distinguish Cagney's pre-code period, an unpretentious phase in his career which the actor himself would later largely disparage but which contains little nuggets of comedic joy for viewers willing to invest a little of their time.




This is one of those moments in which "Momma" Ruth Donnelly is obviously on Cagney's side. And just look at the face of that cocky mutt of an actor!



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Tom, I love Cagney's movies from the 30's! Not only because he is young and handsome but because I love the type of movies that were made in the 30's. Fast, Funny, Short, Entertaining, Great Characters and Actors with a lot of personality! We don't see this today. I love Bing Crosby's movies from this time period too as well as Shirley Temple and many others. I also love Sherlock Holmes with Basil Rathbone as far as Mysteries go. I seem to favor The Golden Age of Hollywood. Getting back to the movie. Every movie doesn't have to be a deep intellectual story for it to be good. To me Hard To Handle is very entertaining and deserves to be classified as a good movie in that catagory. And like you said, Cagney and Donnelly are fun to watch! Cagney liked making this movie because he wanted to work with Donnelly and because it was a break from gangster type of movies.

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Everybody sing!




It's 1942, and Der Bingle appears to be leading the way, along with Hedy Lamarr, Jimmy Cagney and Kay Kyser at the piano.




Well, they certainly look like they're having a good time: that's a muscular Bert Lahr (sans his Cowardly Lion outfit) showing off his bare chested physique to Oliver Hardy, Bing Crosby and a clearly awe-struck James Cagney.

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This is just speculation on my part but Tyrone Power had just completed filming *The Long Gray Line* with John Ford directing. (A favorite film of mine I might add). Since Power had played already Mister Roberts on stage in England , and with great success, and if Henry Fonda had not wanted to do the film version John Ford might have then pushed for Ty Power to do the role. Warner Bros reportedly wanted Marlon Brando or William Holden (2 of the biggest box office younger men at the time) but director Ford wanted Fonda over anyone else. So Fonda got the part and the film was very successful with him in the lead. An awful lot of behind the scenes wheeling and dealing often goes on before you get a final cast and crew together.

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In the last week I have been looking through my very extensive ( big laugh) film collection of DVDs and tapes, and reviewed the 1947 EGR film *The Red House* . Definitely a low budget film and I have a rather poor quality DVD issue of it. But it is an intriguing little mystery (with a young Julie London in a supporting role) and just shows how a great actor like Robinson can take a film and raise it a notch or so above the normal. He starts out as a very decent normal man but he has a deep dark secret in his past. When his young adopted daughter gets a little too curious about the old red house in the woods, Eddie slowly starts behaving more and more erratic until he's literally gone mad at the films ending. I'm not sure if TCM has ever aired this one but its worth seeking out for viewing (you may still find a DVD copy in the $2.99 bin at your local discount store).

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Humphrey Bogart, Family Man




Image is everything, as Bogart poses with Lauren Bacall and son Steven, circa 1949. The marriage to fourth wife Bacall unquestionably had a positive impact upon the life of the screen tough guy, who had been trapped in a hard drinking, dysfunctional, self destructive marriage to third wife and frequent hubby battler Mayo Methot. (Bogie liked to needle people when drinking, some saying his comments could be cruel, while Mayo could be a really ugly drunk, inclined towards physical violence, at times).


Bogart's favourite pastimes had been drinking in night clubs through the night, and sailing on his yacht. This would continue throughout the Bacall marriage. He remained an alcoholic who (unlike some other famous film boozers) had enough self control that he didn't let his drinking affect his screen work, a fact in which he took great professional pride.


Dave Chasen, however, owner of Chasen's night club, said of the actor who hoisted more than a few glasses in his establishment over the years, "Bogart's a hell of a nice guy until around 11:30pm. After that he thinks he's Bogart."


Bogart became a star relatively late in life, in his early '40s. Legendary as he may be today, the fact still remains that his best performances were when he had the guidance of strong directors, be it Michael Curtiz, Raoul Walsh, Nicholas Ray or, in particular, John Huston.


That doesn't make him unique, of course. The same is true of many other stars, as well.


EDIT: I must add that on those occasions when Bogart gave those great performances with the above named directors he also had the benefit of very strong scripts, of course.


Edited by: TomJH on Nov 2, 2013 9:50 AM

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As a followup on my previous observation of the need that I believe Bogart had for a strong director to produce his best work, I would like to quote some pretty fascinating observations on the subject of directors made by James Cagney in his autobiography:


"With some Hollywood years under my belt, I have obviously had quite a series of experiences with directors. Directors, like human beings, come in all sorts: very talented, talented, quasi-talented, untalented. . . . Directing I find a bore. I have no interest in telling other people their business.


And that is just the heart of the director's job. . . . During most of my Hollywood time the directing business was not overcrowded with geniuses. My idea of a director was theater-derived: one who could get in and show the actor all the specifics if needs be, all moves, all intonations. In other words, a director, one capable of directing you to do just what was required. With the exception of Billy Wellman, Raoul Walsh, Bill Keighley, and their kindred, there were few directors I met who knew what they were doing in front of a camera to demonstrate. There was no reason why they should, of course. They probably never acted in their lives. But I always felt safer somehow with a director who knew first hand what the actor's job was like.


One time, having heard that I was a bit difficult (something I admit to being when I strive to get a thing right), a director I know decided to put me in my place. After I finished a scene I noticed he was looking at the ground. He paid no attention to what we were doing in the shot. I said, "Let's go again," and we did. Same as before. He sat there, eyes on the ground. "Uh huh," I said to myself, "I see. Alright." The next time I played the scene just as written without adding an iota of imagination to help it along. We went through that night, and the next day, in that fashion. I did nothing more than say the words and do the action only as required in the dialogue. On the third day, Darryl Zanuck appeared. He asked me what the matter was, and I said, "Nothing."


"Come on now. There is something the matter."


"No, no. I'm just doing it as required. I'm playing the script just as written."


"Now that isn't what we want," Zanuck said, in unconscious revelation, "Get with it, boys."


He left the set, and the next day the director came in, nice as pie, and there was no further trouble. This director and I became good friends and we worked together several times after that without the slightest difficulty.


Direction, I've always held, is implicit in the writing. One doesn't go to the post with a bad script if one can help it. If the script is right, the direction is all there, implicit in the writing. Consequently whenever I hear much ranting and roaring about this, that, or the other great director, I will admit there are some directors who are imaginative, who can get the most out of their material. Hawks, Wellman, Walsh, Keighley, Curtiz, Del Ruth, Ford, and others were all expert and did their job to the fullest. But many directors are just pedestrian, mechanics. Ostensibly they choose camera angles and on occasion they do, but I've often seen cameramen take over when needed. The director would indicate where he wanted it, and quietly the cameraman would indicate to his assistant a spot one good foot off the director's mark. Then the cameraman would turn to me, wink, and walk away.


There are some directors I've seen, and with great reputations, who couldn't direct you to a cheap delicatessen. One fella, a faker of the first order, developed a highly workable technique to impress the front office. Having at least the shrewdness to get a best seller for a start and the best actors available, he'd let them all do the work, and fine work it would be. Then, to associate himself tangibly with all this, this "director" as the cameras were turning would walk into the set and say, "All right, come on now, kids - give me lots of heart!" Then he'd turn around, walk out, and say "Action!" The action promptly ensued, and very good action it would be. Then, just before he said "Cut," he strolled back into the scene to say, "All right, that's fine. Very good scene. You gave me everything I needed, kids. Just what I wanted. Cut!" The big bosses would look at these rushes with this gentleman's self-serving little prologue and epilogue, and come to the conclussion that he was quite a guy. This man, by the way, who in my view was a distinct failure as a director, failed himself right into a fortune."


I'd sure love to know the name of that last well well known director to whom Cagney referred. The way Cagney describes him makes me think of Jack Buchanan's performance as the stage director imploring all his "kids" to give him something "great" in MGM's The Band Wagon.




Cagney on the set of A Lion Is In the Streets, his last film with director Raoul Walsh, who is handling the rifle. That's sister Jeanne and brother Edward sharing the shot with the actor. Walsh, a former cowboy before coming to Hollywood, knew a thing or two about guns. He was the real deal, one of the directors whom Cagney respected and regarded as a friend. Cagney would later write a forward to Walsh's autobiography, Each Man in His Time.

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