Posts Tagged ‘C. Aubrey Smith’

Two Classic Christmas Movies You Might Not Know

I’ve been away from my blogging due to Thanksgiving and travels, celebrating my parents 50th Wedding Anniversary, and getting the house decorated, cleaned for Christmas, and getting my gift shopping done.  Now that a lot of those activities have been dealt with, the quiet voice in my mind began to grow louder, “Get back to your Blog!” Hence today’s offering.

There have been a lot of movies made with Christmas as the theme or as the backdrop.  Many of these films are fan favorites: It’s a Wonderful Live, National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation, Elf, just to name a few.  I decided that for today’s purpose I was going to focus on some delightful Christmas movies, classics in their own right, but ones that might not be as well known to the movie viewing public.

First up, 1940’s Beyond Tomorrow. It stars some of Hollywood’s best character actors in their Senior years: C. Aubrey Smith, Charles Winninger, and Harry Carey(former silent film star).  These three elderly gents portray life-long friends, engineers by trade, now retired and living in a NYC mansion.  They have a devoted housekeeper in Madame Tanya(another great character actress, Maria Ouspenskaya) and butler, Josef(Alex Melesh).

Beyond Tomorrow poster

It’s Christmas Eve, the three friends are about to enjoy a wonderful meal prepared for them by Madame Tanya, but they admit to one another that they are lonely, they’d enjoy the meal more if guests could join them.  They decide to gather their wallets, putting $10 and their business cards into each one, and plant them around the neighborhood.  Whoever returns the wallets will be invited to stay for dinner.  Michael(Winninger) is the optimist of the three men and he’s sure someone will return a wallet.  George(Carey) is the pessimist of the group and is sure no one will.  Chadwick(Smith) is the happy medium between the other two men’s personalities.  Two of the wallets are returned, one by a young Texan, James Houston(Richard Carlson), a struggling singer and the other by Jean Lawrence(Jean Parker), a clinic employee.    The two young adults agree to stay for dinner and it’s obvious that they are falling in love! They also become good friends with the three elderly gents and all seems cozy and right with the world.

The movie takes a jarring turn when  the three elderly gents tragically die in a plane crash!  Their ghosts come back to their mansion and only Madame Tanya can sense their presence.  Michael, in his will, had left Jimmy some bonds that he is able to use to launch his singing career and he also draws the attentions of a radio star, Arlene Terry(Helen Vinson).  Ghost Michael can see that Arlene is no good for Jimmy, and that Jean still loves him and is crying over him a lot.  He is bound and determined to find a way to reunite the young lovers before he has to go to Heaven.   It’s a sweet little film with an endearing cast.  From an original story and screenplay by Adele Comandini, directed by A. Edward Sutherland,  you can catch it via TCM on Thursday, December 18th, but you will have to set your dvr as it’s airing at 2:15 am Eastern/1:15 am Central.   Beyond Tomorrow is also available to purchase at Amazon, at TCM’s Shop, and a kind soul has put the entire movie on Youtube.

My second movie to recommend is 1949’s Holiday Affair.  If the Hallmark Channel made romantic Christmas movies in 1949, this would have been at the top of their list!  Janet Leigh portrays Connie Ennis,  a young war widow with a 6 year old son, Timmy(Gordon Gebert).  She is employed by a large NYC department store as a “comparison buyer”; she pretends to shop at rival stores studying and taking notes about their merchandise, how it’s displayed, priced, and evaluates their sales staff.  One day she is at rival store Crowley’s and she is pretending to be interested in buying a toy train.  It’s the Christmas season, and the toy area is jam-packed with other shoppers.  The store clerk, Steve Mason(very handsome Robert Mitchum) wonders why this lady shopping for a toy train asks no questions about it and just buys it.  When Connie gets home she tries to hide the train as she is to return it the next day as part of her research on Crowley’s, and she doesn’t want Timmy thinking the train is for him.  That evening also brings by a visit from lawyer Carl Davis(Wendell Corey) who decides that after months of dating Connie, he is ready to propose to her.  Connie is in a dither, and after Carl leaves, she asks Timmy his opinion and he promptly tells her she shouldn’t marry Carl.   Holiday Affair poster

The next day, Connie tries to return the train at Crowley’s without a receipt. Steve has to handle the transaction and he says it’s against store policy to refund buyer’s money without the receipt.  Connie admits she is a comparison buyer and Steve threatens to turn her in to the store detective.  Connie then explains about being a widow with a son, and Steve reimburses her with money out of his own pocket.  A store manager finds out what Steve’s done and he is promptly fired.  Steve smoothly asks Connie to go for lunch with him and over lunch, she discovers Steve’s story and his ambitions to return to California and start up a sailboat building business with a friend.

This is one of those boy meets girl, boy loses girl, will boy get girl back?  Steve knows what he wants his future to look like.  Carl wants Connie to be his wife.  Connie is the character who doesn’t know which step to take.  She still has feelings for her dead husband, Carl seems like a safe choice to make as he has a good job but Timmy doesn’t like him, and then there is Steve, handsome, brash, and exciting.  TCM is going to air Holiday Affair twice: Sunday, December 21 at 4:00 pm Eastern/3:00 Central and on Thursday, December 25th at 12:15 pm Eastern/11:15 Central.

Holiday Affair was written by Isobel Lennart and directed by Don Hartman.  It is available to buy via Amazon, TCM’s Shop, and again, it’s been put on Youtube!

Mitchum, Gebert, Leigh, and Corey in a scene from Holiday Affair

Mitchum, Gebert, Leigh, and Corey in a scene from Holiday Affair

 

 

 

 

 

My Classic Movie Pick and for the Mary Astor Blogathon: The Hurricane

In 1936, writers Charles Nordhoff and James Norman Hall published their 7th adventure novel, The Hurricane.  Their 4th novel, Mutiny on the Bounty, published in 1932, had been  such a literary sensation that MGM turned it into a film in 1935 starring Clark Gable and Charles Laughton.   This time around, studio mogul Samuel Goldwyn wanted to make a movie based on a Nordhoff and Hall novel  and he hired John Ford to direct this tale of wrong-doing, injustice, and  love, amidst the onslaught of a South Pacific hurricane.book cover for The Hurricane

Goldwyn made a promise to Ford, that he could make the film in the actual South Pacific and even wait for a real hurricane to come along and use footage of it in the film!  With Ford’s love of the sea and his penchant for realism in his films, he jumped at this chance.  Unfortunately,  only a few weeks after agreeing to make the film, Goldwyn contacted Ford and said he’d changed his mind about filming on location.  He told Ford to just put wind machines on a back lot at the studio and film it there.  That  caused Ford to lose interest in the film but thanks to a strong cast, script improvements by Ben Hecht,  and outstanding special effects by James Basevi, The Hurricane was a hit  and it still holds up to today’s audiences.

The two main characters are Dorothy Lamour as Marama, this being only her second film, and Jon Hall as Terangi.  Coincidentally, Hall was the nephew of James Norman Hall, one of the novel’s authors.  Mary Astor is Madame De Laage, the govenor’s wife and Raymond Massey plays the govenor.  C. Aubrey Smith is Father Paul and Thomas Mitchell plays Dr. Kersaint.  John Carradine plays a sadistic jailer and Jerome Cowan plays Captain Nagle.The_Hurricane_Trailer_screenshot_Mary_Astor

The setting is the beautiful island of Manakoora.  Terangi is first mate on Captain Nagle’s trading ship.  Terangi also marries Marama, the daughter of Mankoora’s chief.  There is an elaborate and beautiful wedding ceremony and feast sequence where Governor and Mrs. De Laage are honored guests, and lovely leis are placed upon Mary Astor.  Father Paul is there to pray a blessing of thanks for the trading ship’s safe arrival and to perform the wedding.   The newlyweds happiness is short-lived.  While on a trading ship excursion to Tahiti,  a white man who is bullying Terangi gets a deserved punch in the jaw.  Unfortunately, the bully is a man with influence and he gets a Tahitian official to sentence Terangi to 6 months in prison.  Terangi’s friends go to Governor De Laage, the French Governor of Mankoora.  He is a hard-nosed, no nonsense, follow the letter of the law kind of guy.  He refuses to have Terangi brought back to Mankoora to be pardoned.  Even when Madame De Laage pleads with him to relent and bring Terangi back because his wife is expecting a baby, the Governor won’t listen.  After many escape attempts, Terangi manages to do so, but accidentally kills a guard in the process. He arrives back in Mankoora as a terrible hurricane is heading towards the island and in a selfless act, he ties his wife and daughter to a tree, then he ties a rope from that tree to the church, where  Mrs. De Laage, Dr. Kersaint, and Father Paul are sheltering, along with a large group of islanders.  Governor De Laage is out on the ocean on a schooner, hunting for the escaped Terangi.  Dr. Kersaint manages to head out to a canoe where a woman is in labor and he delivers that baby during the hurricane!  Terangi leads Mrs.  De Laage to the tree and ties her to its upper branches as he has done for his wife and daughter.  Father Paul won’t leave the church behind and tells all of them not to worry about him.  After the hurricane has blown through and utterly destroyed the island, we learn that Terangi and his family have survived, as well as Mrs. De Laage, Dr. Kersaint, and his tiny patient and the mother.  Governor De Laage can see with binoculars that Terangi is still alive, and that he has also saved Mrs. De Laage.  She, in turn, urges Terangi to grab a canoe and sail away with his wife and daughter.  When the Governor arrives at his wife’s side, he sees the canoe in the distance and she tells him it is just a log.  He knows it is Terangi, but embraces his wife and agrees that it is just a log.

In reading about Mary Astor and her career, I learned that she began acting in silent films in the 1920s.  She easily made the transition to talkies and was adept at playing in comedies or dramas.  Her role in The Hurricane was not that of the lead, but one of the co-starring parts.  With her elegance, and calm demeanor, she was the perfect choice to play the warm-hearted wife to a hard-hearted governor, such as the one Raymond Massey portrayed.

Mary Astor as Madame De Laage with Raymond Massey as Governor De Laage.

Mary Astor as Madame De Laage with Raymond Massey as Governor De Laage.

Director John Ford was known to choose one actor or actress to be the one that got “picked” on during the entire production run of a movie.  For whatever reason, Mary “won” that title during the filming of The Hurricane.  She reportedly took his jabs and comments with good humor and later said, “I think ‘laconic’ is a good word for John Ford and for his technique of direction”,…”No big deal about communication with John.  Terse, pithy, to the point.  Very Irish, a dark personality, a sensitivity which he did everything to conceal.”1

For the actual hurricane scene, Special Effects director James Basevi was given a $400,000 budget.  He spent $150,000 to build a native village on a back lot and then spent $250,000 to destroy it! The planning of the scene, the production of it, and the filming took 4 months.   Usually Basevi didn’t like to discuss how he made his special effects magic on any film, but The Hurricane was one film where he was quite open as to how he got that great scene completed.  His village set was 600 feet long with wharves, huts, a church, and palm trees.  The beach ran into a lagoon, which was actually a 200 yard-long tank. Across this tank were put up airplane propellors, mounted on towers to create the fierce winds.  Water from 12 fire hoses streamed in front of the propellors’ blades to send water and spray over the actors and the set.  Wave machines churned up the waters of the lagoon.  To show a tidal wave, Basevi let loose 2000 gallons of water down chutes topped by big tanks.2

A very kind soul has put the hurricane scene up on Youtube and  I have watched it over and over.  Those are really all of the main actors in that scene.  Mary Astor is soaking wet and trying to grasp that rope to safely get from the church to that giant tree, with Terangi leading her to safety.  It is a very impressive scene, and I am delighted to report that Turner Classic Movies will be showing The Hurricane on Wednesday, May 29th, at 11:00 p.m. CST.

To see an exciting film directed by John Ford and one of Mary Astor’s subtle and warm-hearted performances, set your dvrs and  don’t miss The Hurricane!

Terangi attempting to save Madame De Laage!

Terangi attempting to save Madame De Laage!

Thomas Mitchell as Dr. Kersaint, delivering that baby!  Mitchell was nominated for Best Supporting Actor for his role in The Hurricane.

Thomas Mitchell as Dr. Kersaint, delivering that baby! Mitchell was nominated for Best Supporting Actor for his role in The Hurricane.

The De Laage's elegant dining room.The De Laage’s elegant dining room.

This blog was written in conjunction with The Mary Astor Blogathon, hosted by two great classic movie bloggers: Tales of the Easily Distracted and Silver Screenings.  If you visit their sites, you will read other wonderful blogs all about the wonderful Mary Astor.

Sources sited for this blog: 1 Davis, Ronald L., John Ford: Hollywood’s Old Master, University of Oklahoma Press, Norman and London, 1995. Page 88.

2Zinman, David, 50 Classic Motion Pictures:The Stuff That Dreams Are Made Of: Vintage Films From Hollywood’s Golden Age, Limelight Editions, New York, 1992.  Pages 112-113.

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Father Paul(C. Aubrey Smith) and Madame De Laage

Father Paul(C. Aubrey Smith) and Madame De Laage

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