Monday, November 15, 2021

Jean is No Angel

Ambulance driver Frank Jessup (Robert Mitchum) is wooed by Diane Tremayne (Jean Simmons) after he responds to an emergency call involving Diane's stepmother Catherine (Barbara O'Neil). Diane convinces him to accept a job with her family as a chauffeur, ostensibly to help Frank earn enough money to open a garage. However, Diane has other plans for Frank.  Our film this week is Angel Face (1953).

One of the great attractions of this film is the presence of three really strong women.  Mona Freeman, who finally gets to play a character with gumption; Jean Simmons playing the determined murderess; and Barbara O'Neill as the bane of Ms. Simmons existence.  These are all performances worthy of these excellent actresses.

Jean Simmons stars as the malevolent Diane, who hungers to again be alone with her father.  In the way is her wealthy stepmother, Catherine.  When Diane meets Frank Jessup, she sees him as a possible accomplice in the removal of her stepmother from Earth. Ms. Simmons is excellent in the role that she really didn't want. She was under contract to Howard Hughes, who was furious at Ms. Simmons for cutting her hair, and with 18 days left on her contract, forced her into this film. Mr. Hughes told director Otto Preminger to make the set as uncomfortable for Ms. Simmons as he could, so Mr. Preminger felt quite comfortable slapping Ms. Simmons one day when he was annoyed with her.  He came to regret his actions - Robert Mitchum punched him back in retribution (TCM article).

Once Diane sees Frank, she is determined to lock him in.  That means getting him away from his long-time girlfriend, Mary Wilton (Mona Freeman). Frank is quick to cheat on Mary - we wondered how many times he had done this before. While Mary is willing to give him the benefit of the doubt in the beginning, a meeting with Diane makes Mary question her feelings for Frank.  Ms. Freeman plays the character with resolve.  She's no meek mouse allowing a man to get away with anything.  She wants her man to love her, not every female in the vicinity.

Catherine Tremayne, on the other hand, is satisfied with being second in her husband's life. She's aware that her writer-husband (who's been unable to produce a book for years) married her for her money. But he has affection for her, She is generous to him, and to Diane, but Diane is obsessed with her father, and sees Catherine as a barrier to her relationship with her father. Barbara O'Neil paints a portrait of a warm woman who is being maligned by her ungrateful stepdaughter.

Which brings us to the male members of the cast.  Robert Mitchum does a good job playing a not very strong man - Diane especially leads him around by the nose.  Shortly after we meet Frank, he's lying to his long-time girlfriend - and we don't trust him. Frank is a fairly unambitious man. He's interested in Diane, but it's a lazy kind of interest.  

Herbert Marshall (Charles Tremayne) is a good companion to Frank - he too is subservient to the women in his life - both Diane and Catherine.  Charles is weak and has lost any drive he might have had. One can see Frank becoming the same person in later years. 

The story was loosely based on the case of real-life case of Beulah Louise Overell and George Gollum who were accused of killing her parents (AFI Catalog).  The New York Times review by Howard Thompson (H.H.T.) was unenthusiastic, but this is an excellent, dark movie, with references to Out of the Past, Double Indemnity, and The Postman Always Rings Twice, without being a copy of any of them.  For more detailed information on the film, I invite you to view Eddie Muller's Noir Alley intro and outro to the film's airing.  Here's a trailer to give you a peek at the picture.

Saturday, October 23, 2021

Don't Disturb Doris

Having relocated to England for her husband, Mike's (Rod Taylor), job, Janet Harper (Doris Day) is busily trying to learn the local currency and find a place for them to live. Only Mike wants an apartment in London, close to work while Janet goes out and rents a house far outside the city.  They begin to bicker as Mike spends more time away from home with his assistant Claire Hackett (Maura McGiveney), and Janet spends her time redecorating with the help of Paul Bellari (Sergio Fantoni). Our film is  Do Not Disturb (1965).

This post is part of the Classic Movie Blog Association's blogathon Laughter is the Best Medicine. Click on the link to read other posts in this series.

On his deathbed, Edmund Gwenn said "Dying is easy. Comedy is hard." He wasn't kidding. And things that were funny in 1965 are not necessarily humorous in 2021. That's one of the problems with this film. Though blessed with an excellent comedienne in Doris Day, the movie today is one sexist trope after another.

Sex comedies were a thing in the 1960s: Sex and the Single Girl (1964), Sunday in New York (which also featured Rod Taylor) (1963), Under the Yum-Yum Tree (1963) are a few examples. Doris Day was in another one as well - Lover Come Back (1961), And while some of that film is dated, it has the benefit of Ms. Day working with Rock Hudson. One of the problems with Do Not Disturb is that there is precious little chemistry between Ms. Day and Mr. Taylor (they did a little better when they appeared together in The Glass-Bottomed Boat (1966)). 

Another problem with the film is that Janet is clueless. She complains that he husband is never home, but she's rented a house in the country - it takes him hours to get home from work (and Janet can't even find the train station). She says she wants to learn to use English money (back in the days of farthings and shillings) but never really figures it out. She also jets off to Paris with another man, and proceeds to get blind drunk. Unlike other Doris Day heroines, Janet is a dimwit, with little regard for her husband's feelings.

Not that he's all that liberated.  Mike is told by his colleagues that he needs to attend stag parties, which he does (without telling his wife). He's also hired an assistant, Claire Hackett (Maura McGiveney), who is eager to use Mike as a stepping stone for her own career in any way he might want.

There is also a problem in the relationship between Ms. Day and Mr. Taylor. He's a much better dramatic actor; he doesn't have the comic flair of, say, Rock Hudson or James Garner.  Even with a weak script, the chemistry between Ms. Day and the these wonderful actors mitigates some of the chauvinism in their respective films (Pillow Talk, The Thrill of it All). Because you don't feel that special relationship between Mike and Janet, it's hard to believe they're really married.

Despite a negative review from  New York Times critic, Bosley Crowther, the film did well financially (AFI Catalog) (proving indeed that times were different then). Though it was not her choice to do this film, her manager/husband Marty Melcher signed her up for it without her knowledge or consent (Doris Day: All American Girl). Here is the film's trailer:

This post is part of the Classic Movie Blog Association's blogathon Laughter is the Best Medicine. Please visit the link to read the other noteworthy posts in this blogathon.

Tuesday, October 19, 2021

Claudette Goes Mad

As Ellen Ewing (Claudette Colbert) is about to take her wedding vows to David McLean (Robert Ryan), a stranger accuses her of already being married to another man, Lucian Randall (Dave Barbour), a charge which Ellen denies.  Ellen and David attempt to disprove the charges, but a succession of people claim to have been a part of the so-called wedding.  Our film this time is The Secret Fury (1950).

This is a fun film, primarily because of the performances of Ms. Colbert and Mr. Ryan.  Though the script has more holes in it than a piece of Swiss cheese, it does have a decent mystery story, and you will be hard pressed to identify the villain until the very end.  Regardless, it is a lesser work of Ms. Colbert.

Despite that, she is very good as a woman being driven slowly mad for no apparent reason.  A gifted pianist, with a substantial inheritance from her father, Ellen seems rock solid. However, as more and more strangers contradict her beliefs, her mind deteriorates and she ends up institutionalized, giving Ms. Colbert the opportunity to play a character who has completely lost her place in the world. Ms. Colbert was interested in the part because Mel Ferrer was directing (TCM article).

One of the major attractions of this film is Robert Ryan, who gets to play a good guy.  David never loses faith in Ellen, despite the evidence piling up against her. He keeps digging to get at the truth. Mr. Ryan makes David a warm and engaging character. He's funny, he's loyal, and he is clearly in love with Ellen.

Also in the cast is Jane Cowl as Ellen's Aunt Clara. We're never quite sure of Aunt Clara. Like many of the other characters, she suspects that Ellen is either lying or has gone insane. Ms. Cowl manages to keep Aunt Clara ambiguous.  Likewise, Paul Kelly as DA Eric Lowell also questions Ellen's mental status and becomes suspect to the audience.  This, of course, keeps the audience guessing through the whole film. 

This was the film debuts for both Philip Ober (playing Ellen's lawyer Gregory Kent) and his then-wife Vivian Vance (playing Leah, the hotel maid) (AFI Catalog). Ms. Vance is quite interesting as the cagey maid.  The marriage to Mr. Ober would end nine years later; Ms. Vance would go on to play Ethel Mertz in I Love Lucy. One more actor to watch out for is Jose Ferrer in a cameo appearance.

As I've mentioned before, I'm always on the lookout for women playing physicians in films. We have one here - Elisabeth Risdon as Dr. Twining, Ellen's psychiatrist.  Dr. Twining is a competent physician and a kind person. As is often the case in these films, there is no questioning by the patient or their family of the presence of a female physician.

Bosley Crowther was unimpressed with the film in his New York Times review, puzzling as to why "a respectable cast...descends to such cheap and lurid twaddle."  While we would not quite call the film twaddle, we should note that it doesn't seem to be particularly film noir (it was advertised as such on the film channel), and the script IS inferior to the talents of the cast.  But we do recommend it to see Mr. Ryan and Ms. Colbert together.  We'll leave you with a scene from the film:

Monday, October 11, 2021

Bette Doesn't Age

Reknowned New York beauty Frances Beatrice "Fanny" Trellis (Bette Davis) is being pursued by most of the eligible bachelors in the City.  Fanny relishes the attention; even though she and her brother Trippy (Richard Waring) are deeply in debt. One evening, Mr. Skeffington (1944), Trippy's boss arrives to inform Fanny that Trippy has stolen $24,000 from his company.  Intrigued that Job Skeffington does not seem to respond like her other suitors, Fanny elopes with Job, alienating Trippy.

It's Interesting that the film is named Mr. Skeffington when Job disappears for most of the latter part of the film. As you can see from the Italian poster, they just changed the title to reflect the real focus of the film, the beguiling Fanny Skeffington. But the title change misses a point. Yes, the film is about Fanny, but it is Fanny as reflected by Job.  Even when he is gone, Job Skeffington is an influence on Fanny's life, much to her chagrin.

Bette Davis was not the first choice for the role of Fanny Skeffington - Katharine Cornell was originally approached; when she declined, Irene Dunne and Claudette Colbert also turned it down. Next up was Tallullah Bankhead; that deal was nixed by Hal Wallis (Dark Victory: The Life of Bette Davis by Ed Sikov), after which, Ms. Davis was approached. She was reluctant - she worried about the aging of the character, which originally had the story told in flashback (and Fanny going from old to  young and back again).  Adding to her anxiety, her husband, Arthur Farnsworth died just as production was to begin (TCM article),  Regardless of her fears, she is letter-perfect making it Fanny's charm that is the attraction, not her beauty.

The film, however, lives and dies on the character of Job Skeffington, and Claude Rains does not disappoint.  He is marvelous as a man floored by his love for a woman who is incapable of loving anyone but herself.  You might ask why such a sensible man would fall for such a woman, but Mr. Rains makes us appreciate his feelings, and his growing sorrow as he realizes that Fanny will never love him. Both James Stephenson (Mr. Stephenson died before production began) and Paul Henreid were considered for Job (AFI catalog).

Walter Abel (George Trellis) is also excellent as Fanny’s tolerant cousin.  A good man, who cares deeply for Fanny and Trippy, he also forms a bond with Job following Job’s marriage to Fanny.  George acts as a conscience for Fanny, reminding her when she is being more selfish than normal - not that she pays much attention!

There are some excellent performances by other members of the cast. Marjorie Riordan as the grown Fanny Rachel Trellis, who has lived in her mother's shadow all her life, is quite good as a daughter battling her dislike of her mother with her father's desire that she always treat her mother with affection. The trio of suitors played by John Alexander (Jim Conderley), Jerome Cowan  (Edward Morrison), and Peter Whitney (Chester Forbish) are delightfully ridiculous, with Jerome Cowan leading the pack in the last section of the film. 

New York Times review by Bosley Crowther was not enthusiastic. Regardless, the film did well at the box office.  It was adapted for the Lux Radio Theatre in October 1945 with Bette Davis and Paul Henreid as the two leads.

This is an excellent film, and while a tad long, well worth the time.  We'll leave you with a trailer:

Monday, October 4, 2021

Spencer's Daugher Gets Married

When Kay Banks (Elizabeth Taylor) informs her doting parents Stanley (Spencer Tracy) and Ellie (Joan Bennett) that she is engaged to be married, all hell breaks loose as Stanley tries to deal with the loss of his daughter to a husband he barely knows, and to the escalating wedding arrangements that Ellie is planning.  It's not easy to be the Father of the Bride (1950).

Spencer Tracy is perfect as the indulgent daddy forced to confront his daughter's big step into adulthood.  He's warm and loving and completely flummoxed by his wife's obsession with a fancy wedding party. Though director Vincente Minnelli wanted Mr. Tracy from the start, Dore Schary agreed to let Jack Benny (who badly wanted the part) to star. Mr. Minnelli insisted on a screen test; he found he could not get Mr. Benny to refrain from doing his famed double takes. Finally permitted to ask Mr. Tracy, Mr. Minnelli was turned down - Mr. Tracy wasn't interested in being second choice. When Mr. Minnelli told him that he would turn down the directing work if Mr. Tracy was not in the film (and Katharine Hepburn interceded), Mr. Tracy agreed to take on the part (TCM article). 

Joan Bennett is lovely as Ellie Banks.  A loving mother and wife, she's completely absorbed in the ideal of a fancy church wedding for her only daughter - something she missed when she got married. She had already worked previously with Spencer Tracy, and he was happy to work with her again. Mr. Tracy said obviously their marriage in Me and My Gal (1932) had worked and look at the offspring they produced!

Which brings us to the eldest of that offspring - Elizabeth Taylor is a delight as Kay Banks. Torn between pleasing her mother and her own desire for a smaller affair, Kay embraces the fancier reception, while trying to calm her panicked father.  Ms. Taylor was on the verge of marrying Nicky Hilton, and MGM was ecstatic at using Ms. Taylor's real wedding to publicize the film.  Besides stocking the wedding with every MGM star available to attend, the wedding was timed to coincide with the film's release (South Florida Sun-Sentinal); sadly, the marriage was over in less than a year, thanks to Hilton's drinking and womanizing. 

The movie is blessed with a remarkable supporting cast. The always wonderful Billie Burke teams with Moroni Olson as in-laws to-be Doris and Herbert Dunstan. Don Taylor is convincing as their son, Buckley. Sadly for him, most of his scenes are with Ms. Taylor, so one doesn't really spend much time looking at the groom! Rusty (Russ) Tamblyn has a small part as Tommy Banks, and Tom Irish is the other Banks son, Ben.  Mr. Irish appears as Ben in the 1991 remake of the story! Finally, Leo G. Carroll steals all his scenes as wedding planner, Mr. Massoula - a bit of snob, but that is part of his charm.

The film opened at Radio City Music Hall and received a glowing review from Bosley Crowther in his New York Times review.  Before the film has even opened, a sequel, Father's Little Dividend (1951) was put into production (AFI Catalog). In 1991, a remake with Steve Martin, which was also very successful, was released.  The film had previously been a TV series with Leon Ames as the titular character.

For anyone who has ever been married, been friends with someone who has married, or attended a wedding, this is the movie for you. The film manages to show the truths in wedding planning, but with warmth and humor. If you've seen the film before, it's worth a rewatch.  If not, treat yourself to a visit with The Father of the Bride.  In the meantime, here is a trailer:



Monday, September 27, 2021

Charles Painted

Coast Guard officer Scott Burnett (Robert Ryan) can't shake the trauma of a shipwreck. He resists becoming involved with Eve Geddes (Nan Leslie), a local woman who loves him, and spends much of his free time riding his horse on the shore.  But when he happens upon Peggy Butler, The Woman on the Beach (1947),  he is captivated.  Peggy, however, is married to Tod Butler (Charles Bickford), a renowned painter who has completely lost his sight.

This film showed such promise - a great cast and what could have been an intriguing story. Sadly, it's not. The characters are undefined, the plot is haphazard, and the actors are given precious little with which to work  

Let's start with Robert Ryan.  The film opens with the reveal that Burnett is badly affected by post-traumatic stress.  He has a woman who loves him and who he claims to love. But one look at Peggy Butler, and Burnett is obsessed.  Does it have to do with his illness? It's hard to say - Joan Bennett is at her alluring best in this film; at the same time, Peggy is not particularly pleasant, and as we quickly discover, has a proclivity for taking strange men into her bed. It's pretty clear from even their first meeting that she's not a particularly nice person.  

It might have worked had there been any chemistry between Ms. Bennett and Mr. Ryan, but there isn't - he's stiff - even his "lovemaking" is uninterested.  Would the film have been better with the original actor slated for the role - George Brent (TCM article)?  It's hard to say.

The other side of the triangle is Charles Bickford as the blind painter.  Tod Butler is a nasty piece of work - his wife was the cause of the accident that blinded him, and he is making sure she pays for her sins. It's hard for the audience to sympathize with him - he's a brutal bully. And you should have some pity for this man who lost his livelihood and much of his identity because of his drunken carousing. But he (along with Scott) spend so much time brooding, you just don't really care.

Ms. Bennett was very involved with the project - it was she who recruited Jean Renoir as the director (Val Lewton was originally slated to direct). She and Mr. Renoir were friendly - that she could easily converse in French added a level of comfort to their relationship. But, bad previews led to rewrites and reshoots to the point where the film was probably lost in the shuffle.

There are a couple of other actors worth mentioning. Nan Leslie as Eve is a totally useless character. She's a cypher, and adds nothing to the story. We don't know very much about her, she's not really appealing, and so we don't really want her to be with Scott.  Irene Ryan (Mrs. Wernecke) is supposed to provide some comic relief, but as good an actress as she is, there just isn't any humor in her part. 

Based on the novel None So Blind by Mitchell Wilson, the movie was filmed with the working titles of None So Blind and Desirable Woman (AFI catalog). The New York Times review by A, H. Weiler (A.W.) wanted to like the film, but felt it needed "a mite more clarity."

We can't recommend this film at all, but we'll still leave you with a clip from the film's opening:

Monday, September 20, 2021

Ida Goes Mad

Joe (George Raft) and Paul Fabrini (Humphrey Bogart) are trying to beat the odds by running their own trucking service.  With their one truck, They Drive by Night (1940) moving produce from one city to another. It's an exhausting and dangerous job, as they try to acquire enough money to pay off their truck and build a successful business.

This is a well-acted film with an engaging storyline that will keep you interested throughout.  It's got an impressive cast, but frankly, it's Ida Lupino (Lana Carlsen) who steals the entire film.  More on her later.

George Raft is convincing as the determined trucker who's trying to beat the odds in building his own business. While I'm generally not a fan of Mr. Raft, he does a good job in this film, primarily because of the actors he plays against. Raft and Humphrey Bogart make convincing brothers; there is a subtle intimacy between the two. While we witness the strain between the brothers - Paul wants to be home more with his wife, while Joe is convinced they can beat the system - there is affection and understanding too.

Humphrey Bogart's role in the film is relatively small. As Joe's brother, he is constantly complaining about the stress of their work and his ongoing reluctance to leave his wife alone yet again.  Gale Page (Pearl Fabrini) is in much the same situation - she's there to represent the wives who fear for their husbands' safety. She's a much better actress than the whining Pearl allows her to be.

Alan Hale (Ed Carlsen) fairs much better as the jovial, if hard drinking, owner of a major trucking company.  Ed came up through the ranks and built a thriving business.  He's a loyal friend, who's been trying to convince Joe to join his company. The fly in the ointment is Ed's wife Lana - unbeknownst to Ed, Lana has been pursuing Joe, who is having none of it.  Mr. Hale is awfully good in the part, and his loss is felt.

Ann Sheridan (Cassie Hartley) gets to wisecrack in her early scenes in the film but as she becomes more involved with Joe, she becomes more subdued.  By the end, we know who is going to be in charge in their marriage; Cassie is a strong and loyal woman who will always support her man. We particularly enjoyed the scene when Joe collapses on her bed in exhaustion, and Cassie spends the night on the sofa.

It was George Raft who recommended Ida Lupino for the role of Lana (TCM article), and as we mentioned previously, she steals the film.  She's crafty and scheming; disgusted by her husband but eager to spend his money. She dominates every scene in which she appears, but it is the last part of the picture where she rules. Her desire to get Joe into her bed, her growing guilt over her husband's death, and her resentment of Cassie all lead to a perfect storm in the film's conclusion. 

They Drive by Night is also blessed with a number of Warner Brothers contract players, including Roscoe Karns (as pinball addict Irish McGurn), George Tobias (as fruit seller George Rondolos), and William Bendix (as another truck driver).  All combine to make a very well-rounded film.

The story is loosely based on the 1935 film Bordertown (AFI Catalog).  It was aired by Lux Radio Theatre  in June of 1941 with George Raft, Lana Turner, and Lucille Ball.

New York Times review by Bosley Crowther was positive, calling it "an entertaining ride".  We concur; if you are a fan of Ms. Lupino, you must see this. And if not, there is still plenty of good acting to catch your eye. We'll leave you with the film's trailer:

Monday, September 13, 2021

Errol Escapes

When their bomber crashes in Nazi Germany, a group of Allied airmen make a Desperate Journey (1942) to get out of the country with information that may help the war effort. 

Let's begin by admitting that this is very much a wartime propaganda film.  According to this movie, five Allied officers can take down the entire Nazi war machine and defeat it without breaking into much of a sweat.  Regardless, it's an interesting adventure, with snappy (albeit somewhat jingoistic) dialog and a good rapport among the lead and supporting actors.

Errol Flynn gets top billing as Flight Lt Terrence Forbes, an Australian working with the Allied command in Europe.  This is one of the few times in which Flynn gets to play someone from his native land, and he's quite good as the cocky, but competent Forbes. Errol Flynn was examined by the draft board, but physicians discovered that he had tuberculosis.  Knowing that he would be unable to work (and would not be entitled to any money during his recuperation), Mr. Flynn declined to let the studio know of his illness, nor accept any of the treatments available to him (TCM article). As a result, he lost  a tremendous amount of weight (forcing wardrobe adjustments). Frequently late for work, he was difficult to work with during the shoot.

Ronald Reagan (Flying Officer Johnny Hammond) was just off his rousing success in King's Row (1942), and gets second billing above the title with Errol Flynn.  He's good as the devil-may-care American, and got to be the hero of the piece, knocking out Major Otto Baumeister (Raymond Massey), albeit off-camera.  Errol Flynn wanted to the the one to do that particular deed, but he was told no.  Mr. Reagan was called up for military service while shooting the picture - they allowed him a week to finish up the production.  His three years of service did not help his career; he was never able to regain the momentum following King's Row. However, he eventually had other career goals.

The role of Kaethe Brahms was originally intended for Kaaren Verne, but she was replaced by Nancy Coleman (AFI Catalog). It's not a big part, but Ms. Coleman does her best to make Kaethe heroic and appealing.  If there is one fault in the film, it is the scene where the escaping flyers share a meal with Kaethe's parents. Relaxing for the first time in awhile, the men talk liberally - something no soldier would do in these circumstances.  

Raymond Massey has the most thankless part. Major Otto Baumeister is downright stupid, and his Nazi soldiers resemble nothing more than the Keystone Kops.  Massey is a good actor, but you wouldn't know it here.  He's really given nothing with which to work.

We have a number of other good actors in the film - Alan Hale as Flight Sergeant Kirk Edwards gets to do some of the comic relief. Arthur Kennedy (Flying Officer Jed Forrest) is the conscience of the group - trying to keep them on task towards getting home with the information they've obtained.  This would be Ronald Sinclair (Flight Sergeant Lloyd Hollis) last acting role (he'd been a child actor) -  he became a film editor, working with Roger Corman.

Bosley Crowther, in his The New York Times review, was unimpressed with the movie - "an invasion of Nazi Germany which would put the Commandos to shame." It was nominated for an Oscar for Special Effects (it lost to Reap the Wild Wind). While this is not the best movie ever made, it's fun, with an enjoyable cast.  We'll leave you with this trailer:

Monday, September 6, 2021

James Defends a Murderer

Paul "Polly" Biegler (James Stewart) returns from a fishing trip to find an urgent message asking him to call Laura Manion (Lee Remick).  His secretary Maida Rutledge (Eve Arden) informs him that Ms. Manion's husband  U.S. Army Lieutenant Paul Biegler (Ben Gazzara) has been accused of the murder of popular innkeeper Barney Quill.  Ms. Manion wants to retain Paul's services as defense attorney in her husband's trial.  Our film this week is Anatomy of a Murder (1959).

An exceptional cast make this courtroom drama riveting. Led by James Stewart, the film, though dialogue driven, keeps the audience guessing from the second it starts. Mr. Stewart was nominated for an Oscar for the role, which he later said was his most challenging part since It's a Wonderful Life (1946) (TCM article). The laconic Stewart charm is still present, but he uses it to camouflage a cagey attorney, who employs every tool at his disposal to defend his client.

Lee Remick is remarkable as the rape victim who keeps the audience's sympathy from start to finish.  A kittenish vamp, who enjoys showing off her rather attractive body - and who tells us that her husband also enjoys showing her off, until he gets jealous - seems to be out looking for a lover. But, she informs Polly that she has never cheated on her husband, and we believe her when she says she was beaten and raped by Barney Quill.  We also know that she is an abused wife, who stays with her husband out of fear and sympathy.  Lana Turner was originally cast as Laura, but left the production after a run-in with director Otto Preminger.

Ben Gazzara is properly sinister as the accused murderer and abusive husband. He brings just the right amount of seething anger to the part; you know he is a dangerous man, but is he defending his wife or simply getting vengeance for Barney Quill's usurpation of Manion's personal property? This was only his second film.

The supporting players are equally remarkable. Arthur O'Connell was nominated for an Oscar for his portrayal of Polly's partner, Parnell Emmett McCarthy, a former lawyer with a drinking partner. The case provides Polly with a mean of getting Parnell on the wagon. Also nominated in the supporting actor category was George C. Scott as visiting prosecutor Claude Dancer. Mr. Scott would later comment on his regard for James Stewart: " Some actors have a tendency to...sort of phone it in from there. But not Mr. Stewart...(he) came and stood by the camera and performed for me alone. It was a lesson I've never forgotten."

Kathryn Grant (Mary Pilant) is excellent as Barney Quill's live-in bar manager. The mystery surrounding her relationship with the dead man haunts the proceedings, with a surprise reveal. Finally, there is Eve Arden; the wisecracking Maida is patience on a monument - the business has so little money, Maida can't pay her own salary. But her loyalty to Polly is unswerving.

Both Spencer Tracy and Burl Ives were invited to play presiding judge Weaver; both turned it down.  Instead, the part was offered to lawyer Joseph N. Welch who came to prominence in the McCarthy era.  Acting as counsel for the U.S. Army, which was being accused by Senator McCarthy of \trying to blackmail him into ceasing an investigation of Army security practices, Mr. Welch said to the Senator "Have you no sense of decency?" the beginning of the end of Senator McCarthy's reign of terror (AFI catalog).Mr. Welch bring a sense of veritas to the role. The judge is both amusing and professional.

Bosley Crowther's New York Times review was extremely complimentary, calling the film "the best courtroom melodrama this old judge has ever seen.". The film was nominated for seven Academy Awards, for Supporting Actor - Arthur O'Connell and George C. Scott; Actor - James Stewart; Film Editing; Motion Picture; Cinematography (Black-and-White); and Writing (Screenplay--based on material from another medium). It was added to the National Film Registry in 1993.

We'll leave you with a trailer and a strong recommendation that, even if you've seen it before, you give this excellent film a viewing.

Monday, August 30, 2021

Joan's "Lost" Film

Wealthy Letty Lynton (1932) (Joan Crawford) left the United States to live in South America. She's been in an assignation with the domineering  Emile Renaul (Nils Asther), who is insistent that she will never leave him. Letty escapes to a U.S. bound ship, where she meets Jerry Darrow (Robert Montgomery); romance follows, but the threat of Emile is a clear and present danger to Letty's happiness. 

The legend of Letty Lynton has existed since it was taken out of circulation in 1936, following a battle about the copyright of the story.  It was a film I’d always wanted to see (what WAS the Letty Lynton  dress??), and while I normally avoid pirated films, the opportunity to see it on stream from another country was just too tempting to resist.  The copy was pretty awful, which I expected, but the full film was there.  And so we got to watch this Joan Crawford movie we never expected to view.
This is Ms. Crawford's film - she is the focus of the story and is in nearly every scene. As good as her supporting cast is, that is what they are - support for the story of Letty's decision to try and change her life.  She's awfully good - we were especially impressed with a scene mid-film in which Letty tries to reconnect with the Mother (May Robson) who emotionally withdrew from Letty when Letty was a child.  Letty's meanderings have been an attempt to avoid her mother's coldness and find some semblance of love. With the possibility of a new life with Jerry, Letty makes one more appeal to her mother. Ms. Crawford never loses her cool but her face reflects the pain she feels as her mother yet again withdraws from her.

We always enjoy Robert Montgomery, and he is very good in what is essentially a minor role. Sure, he’s the romantic lead, but as we mentioned, this is Letty’s story, not his. Mr. Montgomery is able to bring Jerry to a higher level - he gives him an inner strength that is crucial to the film’s ending. Interestingly, he was not the first actor considered - Robert Young was also considered for the part. 

There is nothing in the least attractive about Nils Asther’s Emile. He’s a bully, abusive, and a stalker. If we were supposed to have any sympathy for his passion for Letty, it’s pretty much gone when he shows up at the dock in New York.  Nils Asther started his Hollywood career during the silent era, when his strong Swedish accent didn’t matter. While his career continued into the talkies, it was limited to playing foreigners, like the General in The Bitter Tea of General Yen (1933). He would continue in films and television until 1961. Briefly married to Vivian Duncan, the couple had one daughter. Mr. Asther died in Sweden in 1981 at the age of 84.

The film makes a nice counterpoint between the relationships of Letty and her mother to Jerry's loving and affectionate parents (played by Emma Dunn and Walter Walker). We do have a brief scene with them and Letty - Ms. Crawford again nicely shows the longing Letty feels for such a family dynamic without being over-the-top.

Letty's true mother is played by her maid and confidant, Miranda (Louise Closser Hale). She sweet, if at times a bit muddled, but her affection for Letty is very clear from the start of the film, and her desire to get her charge to a better place is also obvious.  Ms. Hale is a delightful actress, with great range; this film shows another aspect of her talent.

Finally, Lewis Stone  (John J. Haney) drops in as a policy investigator towards the end of the film. He's not very bright, and is rather superfluous to the story.  The scene itself IS necessary to mend a bunch of fences, but Haney is a head-shaker of a police officer.

The New York Times review by Mordaunt Hall was negative; however, the picture was popular - Letty's white dress becoming a fashion sensation.  When the studio attempted re-release, a lawsuit followed (for more information, the AFI catalog details the particulars), and the film was eventually relegated to the archives.  Letty's story may have been influenced by the murderer Madeleine Smith. Her story made the screen in 1950 in the David Lean film Madeleine with Ann Todd as the notorious Ms. Smith

We'll leave you with this scene of Letty and Jerry falling in love. Here's hoping the film is eventually able to be re-released with a decent print.