Monday, September 21, 2020

Ida Sings

Petey Brown (Ida Lupino) is moderately successful as a torch singer in a New York club, but it is nearing Christmas and Petey misses her sisters and brother in California. She arrives on the West Coast to find her brother Joey (Warren Douglas) working for nightclub owner Nicky Toresca (Robert Alda); sister Sally Otis (Andrea King) dealing with her husband Roy’s (John Ridgely) post-war mental issues; and sister Virginia (Martha Vickers) avoiding the world. Petey decides she better stay to set things in order. Our film this week is The Man I Love (1947).

While there is nothing extraordinarily unique about the story, this is a fantastic film, with an exceptional cast. The focal point is the always stunning Ida Lupino as a determined and strong woman. Even when we think she is weakening, Petey bounces back and dominates every scene and the situation.  She is supportive of her sisters and brother, and glides in and out of their lives like the hero in a western - she stays while they need her, then rides off into the sunset! Ms. Lupino was not the first choice for Petey; Warner’s purchased it with Ann Sheridan in mind (AFI catalog). Peg LaCentra provided Ms. Lupino's singing voice in this film, though later (in Road House), she did her own singing (Ida Lupino, Director: Her Art and Resilience in Times of Transition by Therese Grisham and Julie Grossman).
Also providing a noteworthy performance is Robert Alda. A highly-regarded singer, Mr. Alda - the original Nathan Detroit on Broadway, (and the father of actor Alan Alda) - does not sing here. As Nicky Toresca, he is as far from the boy singer as you can get.  Nicky is sleazy - first he is on the prowl for Sally Otis, then Petey, and eventually Sally’s neighbor Gloria O'Connor (Dorothy Moran).  Mr. Alda bring a smoothness tinged with menace to Toresca.  It’s clear he is interested in Petey primarily because she is not interested in him, making the character all the more perverse. Like Ms. Lupino, Mr. Alda wasn’t even the first choice for the role - originally it was intended for Humphrey Bogart; later Jack Carson was scheduled to do it (Music in the Shadows: Noir Musical Films by Sheri Chinen Biesen). 

Bruce Bennett (San Thomas) spends much of his time in his films being a forlorn and moody victim (for example, his turn as Bert Pierce in Mildred Pierce), but it works in this film. San spends much of The Man I Love pining for his ex-wife; the audience gets to shake their respective heads at his denseness. Why on earth is he still mourning this feckless woman when he has the magnificent Ida waiting for him? However, faced with Petey's determination, the viewer is left with the feeling that San will be getting over his past in time. Dane Clark was also considered for the role; he surely would have brought an entirely different vibe to the character.

The film is blessed with an excellent supporting cast: Andrea King's almost matches Petey with her strength of character. Faced with a husband who has been hospitalized following his service in the Army, she is forced to work to support her young son, as well as deal with a husband whose illness causes him to expresses his hatred for her when she is able to visit. Dorothy Moran as the next-door neighbor with a husband, twin babies, and a penchant for the night life that husband Johnny (Don McGuire) can't afford, is convincing as a lady with more than housework on her mind. The few brief scenes in which Alan Hale appears are always a pleasure. As Riley, Toresca's good natured assistant, he brings a bit of comic relief to the proceeding. Both Craig Stevens (Johnson) and Florence Bates (Mrs. Thorpe) have minor parts - blink and you will miss them. Also worth noting are the beautiful gowns that were designed by Milo Anderson, one of which was so tight, Mr. Lupino had to be literally cut out of it (see below).

Ms. Lupino became ill during the filming, at one point fainting during a scene (partially caused by the tightness of her dress) - Mr. Alda caught her before she hit the ground. (Ida Lupino: A Biography by William Donati). As a result of her illness, the film ran 19 days overtime and $100,000 over budget (TCM article). It did earn a profit, however, and came in at number 71 on the year's list of top grossing movies (Ultimate Movie Rankings).

Based on the 1942 novel Night Shift by Maritta Wolff, Bosley Crowther's New York Times review of The Man I Love was not all that complementary, but it seemingly didn't hurt the movie.  Frequently cited as a film noir, Eddie Muller in a 2017 "Noir or Not" segment said it was not noir because "the protagonist (Petey) is not flawed". His book Dark City: The Lost World of Film Noir goes into detail on Ms. Lupino's career both inside and outside of noir. 

We'll leave you with a trailer and the suggestion you keep your eyes peeled for this one:

Monday, September 14, 2020

Gloria Hides a Refugee

Peter Kuantan’s (Vittorio Gassman), a refugee who has been in concentration camps for 10 years, stows away on a U.S. bound ship.  Immigration authorities have no options except to send him back to Hungary. In desperation, Peter jumps from the ship, breaking a rib, and runs, hoping to find the soldier he saved while working for the Underground. All he knows is that the man is named Tom (Jerry Paris), plays the clarinet, and worked in Times Square. Unbeknownst to Peter, there is a clock ticking - if he is not located by 7am, he will be barred from entry to the U.S. forever.  Our film is The Glass Wall (1953). 

Vittorio Gassman was new to American films (AFI catalog), though he had had starring roles on stage and in films in his native Italy.  His recent marriage to Shelley Winters brought him to the U.S. and his role in this film. He’s impressive as Paul, a man with nothing to lose if forced back to his native land. In Mr. Gassman’s hands, Paul is an intelligent man who has seen too much in his lifetime. He knows his rights - he quotes The Displaced Persons Act, which states that “priority in the issuance of visas shall be given first to eligible displaced persons who during World War II bore arms against the enemies of the United States and are unable or unwilling to return to the countries of which they are nationals...” (UCLA Film and Television Archive article). His problem is, he has so little information that the government officials determine he must be sent back. Gassman’s Paul is determined, but desperate. He’s trying to save his own life - returning to Hungary is a death sentence.
Gloria Grahame is excellent as the down-on-her-luck lady who is befriended by Paul. Fired from her job when she became ill, sexually harassed by her work supervisor and by the landlady's son, Maggie Summers is a woman who is literally down to her last teabag - she goes to a restaurant to get a free cup of hot water for said teabag, and to eat the remains of someone else's lunch. It's when she attempts to steal a coat that Paul becomes involved. Her affection for this man who is the only decent person she's met is palpable. Shelley Winters wanted the part, but her studio (Universal) would not allow her to go to Columbia (Gloria Grahame: Bad Girl of Film Noir by Robert J. Lentz). We sincerely believe this was a very good thing. It's hard to picture anyone else but Ms. Grahame explaining how she came to be broke and friendless.
Another characterization that impresses is that of Tanya aka Bella Zakolya, an exotic dancer played by Robin Raymond. Like Maggie, Bella has to deal with sexism on a daily basis. A working mother, and the primary support for her widowed mother, she has learned to cope with the indignities of her job. She's still a caring human being; she's not stupid, as we quickly learn, but she has a good heart.

Likewise, Tom (Jerry Paris) is a decent man, who is torn between his desire to marry his fiance, Nancy (Ann Robinson) and what he feels is his duty to assist the man who saved his life.  Mr. Paris had a long career in films as a character actor - you might remember him as Marty's (1955) cousin. In television, he's remembered as Dick Van Dyke's next door neighbor, Jerry Helper. Mr. Paris also had a career as a television director (TCM article). He died in 1986.
It's a delight to see New York City, primarily Times Square circa 1952 through the film's lens. You also get a tour of the newly opened United Nations Building - the first film to use it as a location.  Brian Camp's blog  outlines many of the film's locations (using screen shots), as well as some notes on the many film titles we see on marquees.

The reviews for the film were decent though not over the moon (Columbia Noir: A Complete Filmography, 1940-1962 by Gene Blottner). Regardless, this is a fast-paced, suspenseful, and thoroughly enjoyable film. If the ending of the film is a trifle abrupt, it still is a satisfying movie with an excellent cast, and still so very topical.

We'll leave you with the trailer and the suggestion that you add this to your viewing queue:

Monday, September 7, 2020

Mama Irene

Katrin Hanson (Barbara Bel Geddes) reflects on her life with her Norwegian immigrant family in San Francisco. Her sisters, brother, father, aunts, uncle, and cousin are all recalled, but Katrin tells us, mostly, I Remember Mama (1948).
 
When asked several years ago to list five movies I would have with me on a desert island, I Remember Mama was one of my choices. Our group had not watched it in recent memory (though all but one member had seen it before), and when the opportunity arose to view it, we were thrilled. No matter how many times you see this film, it is one of which you will never tire.

I Remember Mama is a series of vignettes, all centered around the Hanson family. Mama Marta (Irene Dunne) and Papa Lars (Philip Dorn) came to the United States just after their marriage to join Marta's family - Uncle Chris Halvorsen (Oskar Homolka), and sisters Jenny (Hope Landin), Sigrid (Edith Evanson), and Trina (Ellen Corby). The children were all born in San Francisco - Nels (Steve Brown), Katrin, Christine (Peggy McIntyre), Dagmar (June Hedin), and Sigrid's son Arne (Tommy Ivo). The Hansons and Halvorsens are hard working people. They are not wealthy, but they are getting by, and Marta and Lars are working and saving so that their children can have a better life through education. 
There are many memorable performances. But the film must anchor itself on Mama, and Irene Dunne does not disappoint. She was not the first choice for the role - Greta Garbo was approached (and said no), Katina Paxinou was also considered (the family would have been changed to Greeks), and Marlene Dietrich campaigned for the part (she was deemed too sexy) (AFI catalog). When Irene Dunne was asked, she said yes, on the condition that the director was selected from a list she provided.  Luckily, George Stevens (his first film since he returned from Europe during World War II), who was already on the film was also on Ms. Dunne's list (TCM article). He guides her to a subtle, yet strong performance as the heart of this family. Perhaps the incident that most demonstrates Ms. Dunne's power is that of Dagmar's hospitalization. Ms. Dunne gives us a purposeful and wise woman who does what is needed to get to her ailing child. 

Philip Dorn is a low-key actor who is used to good effect. He seems at first glance to be nothing compared to Mama, but he is clearly a partner in the marriage. He's a calming influence - he is observant, supportive, and acts when necessary. Watch him when he realizes his son has begun smoking, or when Katrin makes what is a very grown-up choice. It's Lars who is the leader in those situations. 

His counterpoint is Uncle Chris. Oskar Homolka provides a brusk, noisy man who loves his family, but brooks no nonsense. His conversation with his nieces, who he discovers fear him, is a remarkable one. His care for his grand-nephew Arne is warm and understanding - the scene with young Tommy Ivo is handled beautifully. Uncle Chris is a man who likes to shock. Marta knows this - watch her attitude to Jessie Brown (Barbara O'Neill in another beautifully, subtle performance), which is why she is the only one of his nieces Uncle Chris can stand!

Barbara Bel Geddes has to age over a period of nearly 10 years and does it splendidly. When we first meet her, she is a grade school student; we see her through her teen years, as she advances in school and in maturity. One incident in particular shows her growth - as she and her mother travel by train to visit the ailing Uncle Chris, we see the girl staring out the window of the train, a sandwich in her hand, almost oblivious to the import of what is happening. But the narrative tells us what she, in retrospect, remembers of the event and the scenes that follow reveal the impact of her uncle's distress.
Ms. Bel Geddes started on stage, most notably as the original Maggie in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.  After well-received performances in six films (including Panic in the Streets), she was blacklisted. Eventually she was cast by Alfred Hitchcock in Vertigo; he included her in four episodes of his television show Alfred Hitchcock Presents, among them "Lamb to the Slaughter," perhaps the most wicked of all his teleplays. In 1978, she joined the cast of Dallas as Miss Ellie Southworth Ewing, the matriarch of the family; with the exception of a one-year break in which she was recovering from surgery, she played the part until 1990; at which point, she retired from acting. Married twice, with two daughters, she died of lung cancer in 2005. 

The number of remarkable character performances in the film is astonishing. Edgar Bergen has a rare dramatic part as the shy undertaker Mr. Thorkelson, He's paired with Ellen Corby, equally shy and perhaps the sweetest of Mama's sisters.  Sir Cedric Hardwicke uses his impressive speaking voice to bring dignity to Mama's boarder, Mr. Hyde, the man who brings literature to the family. Rudy Vallee, also in a dramatic role, is Doctor Johnson, physician who cares for Dagmar. And finally, the frequently underrated Florence Bates as Florence Dana Moorhead, a successful author and gastronomist, who meets Mama for "two glasses sherry."
Some portions of the movie were filmed in San Francisco, which adds to the verisimilitude of the story.  When it opened at Radio City Music Hall in New York City, Bosley Crowther's New York Times review was glowing. It was also #24 on the list of top grossing films for 1948 (Variety). It was nominated for 5 Academy Awards: Irene Dunne for Actress (she lost to Jane Wyman in Johnny Belinda); Oscar Homolka for Supporting Actor (lost to Walter Huston in Treasure of the Sierra Madre); Barbara Bel Geddes and Ellen Corby for Supporting Actress (lost to Claire Trevor in Key Largo); and Nicholas Musuraca for Cinematography. Ellen Corby did win the Golden Globe for Supporting Actress.
The story was based on the novel Mama's Bank Account by Kathryn Forbes, which became a Broadway play by John Van Druten. The play starred Mady Christians and introduced Marlon Brando as Nels - Oscar Homolka was the only cast member to appear in the film. Later, Irene Dunne, Oscar Homolka, and Barbara Bel Geddes reprized their roles for the Lux Radio Theatre production in August 1948. The story aired as a television series with Peggy Wood, which ran from 1949 to 1957.  In June of 1961, British ITV did a television play with Stella Bonheur as Mama. There were also two musical versions. One, Mama, featuring Celeste Holm in the title role, but closed in 1972 before it reached Broadway. In 1979, it was made into a Broadway musical (with music by Richard Rogers) I Remember Mama with Liv Ullmann as Mama. 

If you've never seen this film, please consider finding it. It is heartwarming, but in a good way. We'll leave you with this trailer:


Monday, August 31, 2020

Paul Hears an Angel

Guffy McGovern (Paul Douglas) is the foul-mouthed, angry manager of the Pittsburgh Pirates. The team is in last place in the National League, and his players loathe him.  Sports writer Fred Bayles (Keenan Wynn) hates him - Guffy got him fired from his announcing job with the team - and Bayles is doing his best to return the favor. Then, one evening, Guffy hears a voice, which tells him that, if he can refrain from blaspheming, there will be Angels in the Outfield (1951) to help his team to a pennant.

When this film was suggested to the group, one of the members was reluctant to include it. She's not a baseball fan, and was sure the film would bore her. She later admitted that she enjoyed the film a lot. The beauty of this movie is that, if you are a baseball fan, the film resonates with the enjoyment of the game, and the passion of the fans. If you don't like baseball, it really doesn't matter. Guffy's journey is one that could be anyone - he's a man who has shifted his life into one of anger and misanthropy. The movie is about him searching for the joy that can be present in anyone's life. Baseball is just the jumping off place.

Paul Douglas is excellent as this very conflicted man. From his first appearance, his portrayal makes apparent that his conflicts are very deep. He dislikes everyone - no one on his team is exempt from his fury, not even players like Saul Hellman (Bruce Bennett) who used to be his friend. It's not just that the Pirates aren't winning; Guffy is pushing them into loss. His antagonism results in so much stress that the players freeze, and are unable to get past their anxiety (much like we saw with Pat Pemberton in Pat and Mike). It's enjoyable to see Guffy gradually relax and relate to those around him; we see the man beneath the acrimony and find he can be a pretty nice person. Mr. Douglas was not the first choice for the part - originally, Clark Gable was to have played Guffy (AFI catalog).
While it is true that Janet Leigh (Jennifer Paige) is rather young to play Paul Douglas' love interest (Mr. Douglas was 20 years her senior), she is very convincing as the household hints reporter who is sent to the ballpark to do a human interest piece on the Pirates and McGovern. It's made quite clear that Jennifer has no knowledge of baseball, but she has an inquiring mind, and quickly absorbs the niceties of the game. Ms. Leigh was on the verge of marrying Tony Curtis when she was filming this picture. A photo of her being carried from the ball field by Pirate outfielder Ralph Kiner hit the newspapers, intimating a relationship between the two. Mr. Curtis was assured by Ms. Leigh that it was all a fabrication (Janet Leigh: A Biography by Michaelangelo Capua)
This was Donna Corcoran's (Bridget White) first screen appearance.  She comes from screen stock - her siblings Hugh, Brian, Kelly, Noreen (Kelly on Bachelor Father), and Kevin (Moochie from Spin and Marty) were all actors. She's winning as the little girl who summons the angels to assist her beloved Pirates, and you can well believe the growing affection of the two adults for this winsome child. Ms. Corcoran had a brief acting career; by 1963 (at the age of 21) she had retired from television and film.

There are several other performances of note. The always enjoyable Spring Byington (Sister Edwitha) is fun as the baseball-loving head of the orphanage. Lewis Stone (Arnold P. Hapgood) as a judge tasked with deciding Guffy's competence gets one satisfying segment. Keenan Wynn is appropriately despicable as a nasty sports writer. There are brief appearances by Ellen Corby (Sister Veronica) and Barbara Billingsley (Hat-check Girl); by Bing Crosby (an owner of the Pittsburgh Pirates (TCM article)), Joe DiMaggio, and Ty Cobb. But the standout in his small role is Bruce Bennett. His portrayal of Saul fairly oozes with the exhaustion of a man who is in his last season in a game he loves. Mr. Bennett doesn't often get strong parts, but this is one in which he makes the most of a minor, but crucial role.
Because the marketers thought the overseas market would not understand the word "outfield", the name of the film in Europe was The Angels and the Pirates. In April, 1953, Ms. Leigh and Ms. Corcoran reprized their roles on the Lux Radio Theatre (with George Murphy as Guffy).

In his book Mr. Deeds Goes to Yankee Stadium: Baseball Films in the Capra Tradition,  author Wes D. Gehring discusses the influence of Frank Capra on this film. And certainly this is true. There is a certain Capraesque quality to the film. The New York Times review was primarily positive (though the reviewer wanted the New York Giants to win. I can sympathize). In short, this is an amiable movie well worth watching.  We'll leave you with the trailer.

Monday, August 24, 2020

Thomas Has a Theory

Professor Henry Todhunter (Thomas Mitchell) has been diagnosed by his friend, Dr. Lawrence Stevens (James Stephenson) with severe coronary disease; he has, at most, six months to live. University Dean Somers (Thurston Hall) forces Todhunter’s retirement; with nothing better to do, Professor Todhunter spends his days developing new theories. He hypothetically asks his colleagues what they would do if they had only six months to live. Professor Peterson (John Eldredge) has a disturbing idea - murder someone who the law cannot touch but deserves to die. Our film this week is Flight from Destiny (1941).

This is a nicely paced mystery story that will keep you guessing through the entire film. The cast is led by Thomas Mitchell, who is wonderful as the dying man. Mr. Mitchell keeps the character just teetering on the edge of sanity - when he proposes his theory that, as he is neither living nor dead, he has the authority to judge the right of another being to live, you wonder if he is sincere. Discovering he is indeed deadly serious (no pun intended), one is chilled to the bone.

Without going into too much detail, some of the plot focuses on an art forging racket.  This is worth noting, as Thomas Mitchell was himself and art collector, who it is believed, was the victim of a forger.  He reportedly purchased a forged Rembrandt, that is currently in the Fogg Museum at Harvard. (Hollywood’s Original Rat Pack: The Bards of Bundy Drive by Stephen C. Jordan)
First billing in the film is given to Geraldine Fitzgerald (Betty Farroway), but don't expect to see her very much. Her character is crucial to the film, setting Professor Todhunter on his mission of "justice," but Ms. Fitzgerald has little to do but look pained.  It's a shame really; she's a talented actress and uses what screen time she has well. 

Jeffrey Lynn (Michael Farroway) is also convincing in the part of the erring husband. Mr. Lynn doesn't often get roles that allow him to do much more than be handsome, but this one gives him a part he can sink his teeth in, and we were impressed with is performance.

On the other hand Mona Maris (Ketti Moret) left something to be desired in the part of the thief and seductress.  Ms. Marris is a striking woman, but but doesn't have all that much allure. The character was supposed to use her charms to win over her victims; while we only see her briefly with Michael, we do see her with Professor Todhunter at some length.  She is just too cold to be convincing as a woman whose primary gift is allegedly her sexual appeal. She does get to show off some remarkable dresses by designer Damon Giffard (who worked in Hollywood for only one year).
Mary Gordon as Professor Todhunter's housekeeper,  Martha is worth comment.  Though a small part, it's a good character that is well acted by Ms. Gordon. And, if you are a fan of Alexis Smith, she appears in a small role. That same year, she'd appear in Dive Bomber with Errol Flynn (TCM article).

Based on the 1937 novel Trial and Error by Anthony Berkeley Cox, it had two working titles: that of the book and Invitation to a Murder (AFI Catalog). It garnered a very positive review from Thomas M. Pryor in the New York Times, saying that "it was most fortunate that an actor of Mr. Mitchell's ability was selected to interpret [Professor Todhunter].

All in all, this is a little-viewed film that deserves some attention. Do try to find it. 


Thursday, August 20, 2020

William Has Amnesia

Newly married diplomat David Talbot (William Powell) is celebrating his three-month anniversary with his wife, Lucienne (Hedy Lamarr) when he receives a message, addressing him as Jean, and informing him that he needs to repay a million franc debt by tossing the money over a fence near a deserted farmhouse. Talbot decides to do so, but after advising the police that he is being blackmailed. At the trial, the accused claims that Talbot - who lost his memory after nearly dying in a train accident - is in actuality Jean Pelletier, a thief.  Our film is Crossroads (1942), and is posted to celebrate William Powell's day on Summer Under the Stars.

It's always a pleasure to see a William Powell film, and this one is no exception. He brings gravitas to any part he plays, and ably fits the bill of a diplomat.  Mr. Powell had played amnesia for laughs in I Love You Again (1940). Here, he brings sympathy to this man who has had to reconstruct his entire life following his near death accident. His relationship with Ms. Lamarr as his stalwart wife is convincing (though, as we'll discuss later, she is severely underutilized). He also is able to make the audience wonder throughout the film how much truth there is in the accusations leveled by his nemesis, Henri Sarrou. 

It's a shame Hedy Lamarr has such a small amount of screen time. Her early scenes with Mr. Powell bring some humor to an otherwise serious film, and the conclusion of the film uses her to good effect. She would later work with him in The Heavenly Body (1944). Certainly, she does not have the chemistry with him that he had with actresses like Myrna Loy, but we believe in their romance.

Marlene Dietrich was offered the role of Michele Allaine, but turned it down (TCM article); regardless, Claire Trevor is convincing as David's alleged former lover, and really a better fit for the role. Ms. Trevor keeps the viewer wondering - especially interesting is a scene in which a locket with a surprising photograph is dangled before the eyes of David's wife - just enough out of range that she cannot see it, but close enough to cause David - and the audience - concern. It's Ms. Trevor's adept handling of the scene that makes the audience hold their breath as the action proceeds.
When you have Basil Rathbone (Henri Sarrou) in the cast, you know you are in for a good time. Sure, it's hard to believe in the early scenes that he really is David's rescuer (of course, we are right - he is not), but wow, he is suave and scary as the head of the blackmail ring.  It is because of the interplay between Mr. Rathbone and Mr. Powell that you are never quite sure who to believe.  They verbally duel, and they make it easy to believe the one or both is hiding more than they are revealing.
Margaret Wycherly  (Mme. Pelletier) is excellent as an old lady, allegedly the mother of Jean Pelletier. Ms. Wycherly is a character actor who can turn on a dime - she can go from the sweet little old lady to the she-devil in the blink of an eye. She's probably best noted for her performance as Cody Jarrett's Ma in White Heat (1949).

Two other actors of note in the film are Felix Bressart as Dr. Andre Tessier and Sig Ruman as his nemesis in court,  Dr. Alex Dubroc. Their scenes together are well done, and Mr. Bressart is enjoyable as David's doctor, friend, and supporter. 
Crossroads was based on the screenplay for a 1938 French film, Carrefour, and had several working titles during production: The Man Who Lost His Way , 'Til You Return and The Man from Martinique (AFI catalog). The New York Times review by Theodore Strauss (T.S.) was not enthusiastic - except for Mr. Powell, calling him "particularly, flawlessly urbane and crisp...an actor whose talent for under-statement is perfectly adapted for a melodrama of this genre." The story was reprized with a Lux Radio Theatre broadcast in March of 1943, with Lana Turner and Jean Pierre Aumont in the lead roles. 

We enjoyed the film greatly, and recommend it for your viewing pleasure. In the meantime, here is a trailer: 

Monday, August 17, 2020

Laraine Wants Jewelry

On his wedding day,  John Willis (Gene Raymond) is approached by Dr. Harry S. Blair (Brian Aherne). Dr. Blair claims to be the ex-husband of John’s fiancée, Nancy Patton (Laraine Day). Her name was then Nancy Monks, and she was responsible for the deaths of three men, all because of The Locket (1946). 

This is by no means a simple movie. It employs the film staple of the flashback, and turns it on its head by taking a single flashback and embedding within it a flashback to a flashback, and another flashback from the second one. Yet, the film is so well written that the audience is always clear as to what is happening - unless, as Eddie Muller noted in his introduction, you arrived after the start of the film (as was so often the case in 1946!). It's a clever device, and keeps the viewer on pins and needles from the beginning to the end of this intriguing film noir.

Laraine Day is excellent in the part of Nancy. You are never really sure how much she knows of her own behavior - does she know about the thefts she committed, or does she forget the kleptomania-induced robberies once they are accomplished. Ms. Day uses her experience as the sweet ingénue to create an intelligent yet enigmatic woman, who is highly attractive to men without be openly seductive. She's a chameleon who adapts herself to the preferences of the men in her life. At one point, Hume Cronyn owned the script, which he intended to feature his wife, Jessica Tandy. When he sold it to RKO, the credited screenwriter (more on that later) wanted Joan Fontaine, but she was not available. Olivia de Havilland campaigned for the part, but producer Bert Granet wanted Ms. Day, and he won the day (TCM article). Interesting, the mother of Joan and Olivia, Lilian Fontaine, appeared as Lady Wyndham.

Robert Mitchum (Norman Clyde) had recently been nominated for an Oscar for his work in The Story of G.I. Joe, and was one year away from what is often cited as his best role - Out of the Past.  His appearance as Norman, a moody artist whose life is upended by his relationship with Nancy, is a strong addition to his film credits. He'd known Ms. Day when they worked with the Long Beach Players; she was looking forward to working with him. He however, had formed an idea that she ignored him at one point in their lives, and refused to speak to her during the production (he naturally never told her WHY he was cutting her).
Ricardo Cortez has a small, but pivotal part as Nancy's employer, Andrew Bonner. He manages to put just the right amount of the rake into his performance, making you did wonder exactly what was going on between him and Nancy.  Ms. Day was a long-time fan of Mr. Cortez, and asked that he be cast in the film (The Magnificent Heel: The Life and Films of Ricardo Cortez by Dan Van Neste). It is always a pleasure to see him, and he provides a memorable performance.

Ms. Day was also a fan of her other leading men - Brian Aherne and Gene Raymond.  Mr. Raymond has the smaller part; as the intended groom of the lethal Nancy, he serves as the audience's conduit to her story. Mr. Aherne is our narrator; it is he who tells Nancy's long, involved history. It is also worth noting that all three stories are told to us by him. The question becomes - should we believe him? Is he the victim of Nancy, or is she innocent of the his charges?

Laraine Day also had some talent as a dress designer.  She helped to create Nancy's wedding dress, and used a spun glass fabric which she discovered. (AFI Catalog) Her discovery is referenced in this lovely Press Kit from the William K Everson Collection at New York University. Before you read it, just know that there are a lot of spoilers included. 

Originally titled What Nancy Wanted, the screenplay was written by Norma Barzman. She heard the story of a woman who was accused of stealing a necklace as a small girl, which resulted in a life-long history of depression and kleptomania. It was that script which was purchased by Hume Cronyn.  When he sold it to RKO, they gave it to Sheridan Gibney, whose major  contribution was to set the middle section in England.  It took until 2014 for Ms. Barzman to finally was credited with writing the script (Los Angles Times, Eddie Muller extro). It probably didn't help that she was blacklisted for being a member of the Communist Party. 
In an interview, the credited screenwriter Sheridan Gibney, called Ms. Day’s performance “weird”. (Film Crazy: Interviews with Hollywood Legends by Patrick McGilligan). Regardless, Ms. Day got good reviews “Laraine Day gives what must be her most fascinating performance” ("Laraine Day Psychopath”. Los Angeles Times, May 27, 1947), and considered this her best role. The ending, which was to have been more oblique, was forced on them by the censors. And the film ended up being under-marketed because of the execution of an innocent man in the story. Some states (Massachusetts in particular) were leery of death-penalty error stories.

This is a remarkable film, that is only recently getting the attention that it deserves.  We'll leave you with an early scene, and the suggestion that you seek this one out: 


Monday, August 10, 2020

Kim Tempts Fred

A bank robbery results in the murder of a guard and the theft of $92,000. Police detectives Paul Sheridan (Fred MacMurray) and Rick McAllister (Phil Carey) are assigned to watch the girlfriend of the suspect, Lona McLane (Kim Novak).  But it’s not long before Paul finds himself a Pushover (1954) for Lona.  With a plot as twisty as a pretzel, the intrigue increases in intensity as Paul decides that he can have lots of money AND the girl by trapping robber Harry Wheeler (Paul Richards) and convincing his police colleagues that the money is long gone.

It's impossible to view this movie without mentally comparing it to Double Indemnity. While this is a decent film, the similarities to that earlier, brilliant picture, do it no service. As good as Fred MacMurray is - and he is very good - there is a major problem. Kim Novak is no Barbara Stanwyck.

This was Ms. Novak's first major role. She'd appeared in two other films (under her birth name, Marilyn Novak) (American Classic Screen Features edited by John C. Tibbetts, James M. Welsh). She's merely adequate as Lona - she has one expression, that of perennially unhappiness. As lovely as she is, it's difficult to understand why Paul falls so hard for her. She's not all that seductive, nor does she seem particularly intelligent or intriguing. Even her relationship with Harry Wheeler is haphazard - when asked why she was with him, her response is that he bought her nice things, but with a lack of enthusiasm that is numbing. Ms. Novak's casting is the film's weak link.
Fred MacMurray is excellent as a good cop gone bad for the love of a woman (and for a lot of money). Mr. MacMurray makes you believe his passion for Lona; to the very end of the film, Paul clearly is infatuated with her. As he spirals into more problematic actions, the audience can see, thanks to his deft performance, the guilt that plagues Paul for the choices he has made. 

Dorothy Malone (Ann Stewart) has a relatively small part as a nurse living next door to Lona. When we first meet her - seen through the binoculars of Rick McAllister - her presence seems to be merely a romantic interest for the honest cop in the team. That he is watching her constantly without her knowledge is rather creepy for a viewer in 2020, it does begin a theme that will be echoed more fully in Rear Window later that same year (TCM article). Ms. Malone gets her moment to shine towards the end of the movie. Ann is splendid under pressure and the audience is rooting for her because of her strength.
Philip Carey (he's Phil in this movie) is good as Paul's stoic partner.  A Marine, who served in both World War II and the Korean Conflict, Mr. Carey started his film career as a military man. At 6'4", he made an impressive soldier and police officer, and much of his film career cast him in those roles. He also made a convincing cowboy, and it is interesting to note that, the film marquee of the theater where Lona meets Paul is showing The Nebraskan - starring Philip Carey (Columbia Noir: A Complete Filmography, 1940-1962 by Gene Blottner). Mr. Carey would segue over to television, working as a guest star in a number of shows (including a highly regarded All in the Family episode as Archie Bunker's pro-football player friend, who turns out to be gay), and starring in the series Laredo and, from 1979 until 2007, the soap opera One Life to Live. Married twice, Mr. Carey died of lung cancer at the age of 83 in 2009.
Two supporting players should be noted - E. G. Marshall (Lt. Carl Eckstrom) as the stern lead on the investigation manages to make a character, who could have been an automaton, sympathetic. Allen Nourse (Paddy Dolan) is especially noteworthy as an alcoholic police officer who is on the edge of losing his job - and his pension - but who has a strict moral compass that will put him in jeopardy.
Based on the novel The Night Watch by Thomas Walsh, Pushover went through several working titles - The Killer Wore a Badge, 322 French Street and The Night Watch (AFI catalog). The reviews for the film were positive; the New York Times review by Howard Thompson (HHT) commented on the similarities to Double Indemnity, though acknowledged that the film should be reviewed independently (by the end of his review, Mr. Thompson did find it hard to completely eliminate comparison).

Pushover is a good but not great film. But, with the opportunity to see Fred MacMurray in another noir, playing a morally compromised character, it's one to see.  We'll leave you with a scene between Mr. MacMurray and Ms. Novak.

Monday, August 3, 2020

Katharine Plays Tennis (and Golf)

Women's athletic coach at Pacific Tech, Pat Pemberton (Katharine Hepburn) has a problem.  A gifted athlete, she freezes when she is around her fiance, Collier Weld (William Ching). She resigns her job when her presence at the college endangers funding from an irate donor (she wasn't respectful enough to his wife when they lost a golf game), and competes in a golf pro-am. There, she attracts the attention of Mike Conovan (Spencer Tracy), a sports promoter. He encourages her to go pro, with him as her manager. Our film this week is  Pat and Mike (1952).

In their seventh (of nine) film appearances together (TCM article), Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn are at the top of their game in this engaging and humorous film. When the two of them are together on screen, the fireworks are palpable. Their verbal sparring is part of what makes this film a classic.

The film was written specifically for Tracy and Hepburn by their friends, Ruth Gordon and Garson Kanin (they'd previously penned Adam's Rib for the couple), with George Cukor in the director's chair. The authors were particularly interested in highlighting Ms. Hepburn's athletic prowess with their screenplay, and Ms. Hepburn did all the sports scenes herself (Sports Cinema 100 Movies: The Best of Hollywood's Athletic Heroes, Losers, Myths and Misfits  by Randy Williams). Besides being excellent at golf and tennis, Ms. Hepburn swam on a regular basis, including dips in the ocean near her Fenwick, Connecticut home, even in winter (Women's World).
If there is one problematic aspect to the film, it's why someone as smart, sassy, and gifted as Pat would be involved with a dolt like Collier. William Ching is not all that attractive, and he is a bit of a stiff as an actor, so he brings nothing to the role that explains their relationship. On paper, Collier is a vile bully; he's verbally abusive and downright disgusting. He walks in late to his fiance's tennis match, making tons of distracting noise, openly laughing at her. He'd likely be thrown out of a real tennis match. We'd have like to have seen that happen. It was an absolute joy to see Pat throw her luggage out the window of the train and abandon her obnoxious fiance.
In the capable hands of Spencer Tracy, Mike starts as a conniver and learns the benefits of honest sports from his scrupulous charge. In their first scene together, Mike admires Mrs. Pemberton - "nicely packed, that kid. Not much meat on her, but what's there is cherce," he says. In the original script, the line was to read that Pat was "pretty well stacked." The film's producer Lawrence Weingarten objected - Ms. Hepburn, he said, was not "stacked."  So the line was rewritten to "choice." It was Mr. Tracy who put the New York spin of "cherce" into the performances (Spencer Tracy: A Biography by James Curtis). 
Chuck Connors (Police Captain) was a minor league baseball player - he'd been in the major leagues for 67 games (1 with the Brooklyn Dodgers; 66 with the Chicago Cubs), and was now working for the Los Angeles Angels (the Cubs minor league affiliate) - when he was approached by casting director (Memories and Dreams, 2018).  Realizing his days as a player were coming to a close, he tried his hand at acting - this was his first role, and he is just fine as the bemused policeman. Mr. Connors would continue in films (like Move Over, Darling (1963) and Old Yeller (1957). But it was television that made his career - his five years as Lucas McCain on The Rifleman would bring the actor fame and a career that continued until his death of pneumonia and lung cancer (he was a three-pack a day smoker until the mid-1970s) in 1992. 
Aldo Ray (Davie Hucko) had already done a few minor parts in films; the same year that Pat and Mike was released, he starred with Judy Holliday in The Marrying Kind. In his hands, Davie is child-like and trusting. His resentment of Pat blossoms into affection when she begins to look out for his career. He's a versatile actor, who doesn't always get noticed. If you've never seen him, Nightfall (1957), we strongly recommend you add it to your viewing list. 

Two other performances are worthy of note. Jim Backus (Charles Barry) has two small scenes as a tennis pro who encourages Pat to enter the golf pro-am.  Charles Buchinski (Hank Tasling) is a riot as a gangster who gets a pummeling from our lady athlete (she's boxed, by the way). Mr. Buchinski would later gain fame as Charles Bronson.
The New York Times review by Bosley Crowther was very positive, and in his introduction to the film, Ben Mankiewicz called it one of Tracy & Hepburn's "best." It did well at the box office, bringing in nearly $2.7 million.  Ruth Gordon and Garson Kanin received an Oscar nomination for Original Screenplay (AFI Catalog) - they lost to The Lavender Hill Mob.  

We agree wholeheartedly that this is a film well worth viewing - it's not often you get to see a film about a female athlete that makes you want to pick up a tennis racket (or golf club) -  and suggest this one for a day when you need a good laugh.  We'll leave you with this trailer:

Monday, July 27, 2020

Kay Loves a Thief

The Amateur Cracksman has struck again, and the police are baffled. Despite his success as a thief, A. J. Raffles  (Ronald Colman) is giving up his life of crime for Gwen (Kay Francis), the woman he loves. But that is before he discovers his best friend, Bunny (Bramwell Fletcher) is deeply in debt. To save his friend, Raffles (1930) decides to pull one more job - steal the diamond necklace belonging to Lady Melrose (Alison Skipworth).

This was a fun, enjoyable movie. It's very much like the 1939 remake, if a bit more static in places (this is 1930, after all. Sound is still an infant).  Regardless, the film's creative team tries to insert some movement and action to the proceedings, which does help to make the film seem less talky.

Ronald Colman is the perfect choice for A. J. Raffles. He's charming, debonair, well spoken, and someone you can imagine scaling walls - all the things that are needed to make the audience root for him. His relationship with Bunny is just the icing on the cake - Raffles is a loyal friend.  Bunny may not deserve him - he's in debt because of gambling - but this loyalty makes Raffles even more attractive. There was no question as to who would play Raffles in this version. Mr. Colman had proved so successful with Bulldog Drummond the previous year that Sam Goldwyn rushed this film into production (TCM article).
We wanted more Kay Francis.  Gwen disappears for much of the film (as Raffles cases the premises to steal Lady Melrose's jewels), then returns towards the end.  One thing that her absence accomplishes is to make sure that it takes some time before she realizes that her fiance is actually a robber. Had she been around, we might be shaking our head at how stupid she is for not realizing his hobby (shades of Lois Lane not recognizing Superman when he is wearing glasses!) Once we see her later in the film, Gwen is pretty quick to catch onto Raffles' objective, so it was sadly expedient to not have her around for a bit.
The clever, witty script caused the original director, Harry d'Abbadie D'Arrast, to push for a comedic style. It was deemed to be too fast by producer Goldwyn for Ronald Colman - Mr. Goldwyn saw Mr. Colman as less a comic than a wit, and changed directors; though neither Mr. D'Arrast nor his successor, George Fitzmaurice was listed in the credits (AFI Catalog). By casting actors like Ms. Francis and David Torrence (Inspector McKenzie), both of whom prove to have excellent repartee with Ms. Colman, the film is smart rather than silly.

With excellent reviews, like this New York Times review which said that Mr. Colman "does well  by the part" and Ms. Francis "is also excellent," the film turned a tidy profit (The Women of Warner Brothers: The Lives and Careers of 15 Leading Ladies by Daniel Bubbeo). It isn't surprising that it would be remade in nine years with David Niven in the lead. Both films are enjoyable and well worth a viewing.